Puerto Rico's New Hate Crime Law May No Longer Protect LGBTQ Citizens, or Anyone Else, Really

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Puerto Rico House of Representatives President Jenniffer González has announced that she will review proposed legislation that will eliminate LGBTQ people from protection from hate crime statutes. The legislation may also eliminate hate crime provisions that protect people based on ethnicity (which could harm Dominican workers) and religious beliefs. This, of course, begs the question, who will be protected?

Apparently, if those pushing the law get their way, it will be possible to charge someone with a hate crime for violence motivated by a bias against a person’s politics, age, or disability, but not their race, creed, sexual orientation or gender identity. Weird.

Besides charges that the President of the Puerto Rican Senate Thomas Rivera Schätz (of the Republican party affiliated Partido Nuevo Progresista) is openly homophobic – he opposed 2009 legislation to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace  – it’s difficult to see why these provisions make any sense. In addition to removing people from protection under hate crime laws, changes will also make abortion illegal (even though it is legal on the federal level) and decrease the penalties for crimes committed by police officers, which I have to imagine the Department of Justice will think is an awful idea. There have been over a dozen murders of LGBTQ Puerto Ricans since 2009, including the case of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, whose body was found decapitated, dismembered, and burned on a road.

A number of US activists and elected officials have spoken out against the possible changes, including Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez. “To say this is appalling is an understatement,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “Excluding more people from protections under the law is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially right now. This year, violence has been on the upswing in Puerto Rico, particularly crimes — including scores of murders — against women, against members of the LGBT community and against immigrants, especially those from the Dominican Republic. The ruling party is aggressively rebuking these victims….The attacks by the current government of Puerto Rico against the rights of its own people appear to be limitless, both in scope and audacity.”

Governor Luis Fortuño has distanced himself from the proposed legislation, claiming not to have seen the senate version but that it “is not his version.”

If the Justice Department report issued earlier this year on the PRPD is any indication, of course, then Puerto Ricans can at least take solace in the fact that even if everyone remains protected under the hate crime laws, the police may simply choose not to enforce them, anyway.

With another statehood referendum coming up next year, I can’t help but wonder what this sort of lawmaking means for the question of Puerto Rico’s future political status. What implications does this have for the kind of country Puerto Rico would be if it were independent? And what the hell good is the associated status if the federal government doesn’t just head this sort of thing off at the pass?

UPDATE: Human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano has come out against self appointed religious leader Wanda Rolon and other “family organizations” who promote the passage of these provisions. Serrano criticizes Rolon’s description of the hate crime laws as “privileges” afforded LGBTQ individuals. As Wapa.TV reports:

“Este es el colmo del descaro. Estos no son ‘privilegios’ como aduce Rolón, son derechos humanos que nos tienen que proteger a todos sin distinción. De hecho, los derechos civiles se tienen que proteger ya sea para una sola persona o cuatro millones de personas”, aseveró Serrano.

“No tan sólo con su retórica de odio e intolerancia continúan incitando a la violencia en contra de las comunidades LGBTT, sino que nos pretenden dejar sin protecciones para que los crímenes de odio queden impunes. La sangre de las personas LGBTT está siendo derramada en los altares de pastores fundamentalistas como Wanda Rolón. Esta actitud no tan sólo es irresponsable y temeraria, sino que es inmoral, criminal e inhumana”, sentenció el líder comunitario.

Glad to see that more voices are coming out against this. For good measure, here’s a video of Rolon with a Puerto Rican dance choreographer who claims to have prayed away the gay and blames his orientation on sexual abuse.

Testimonio Arnaldo from Tabernáculo La Senda Antigua on Vimeo.

Sources: Washington Blade

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