NYC and Chicago lawmakers, activists meet with murdered gay Puerto Rican teenager’s family

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Jan 21, 2010

A delegation of elected officials and activists from New York and Chicago met a murdered gay teenager's family during a trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Illinois state Sen. Iris Martínez [D-Chicago,] who heads the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus and Illinois state Rep. María "Toni" Berríos [D-Chicago] were among those who met with Jorge Steven López Mercado's parents and younger brother Gabriel in a San Juan restaurant. Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Guillermo Chacon of the Latino Commission on AIDS, Jorge Cestou of the Chicago-based Association of Latino Men of Action and New York activist Karlo Colon also traveled with the delegation.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the restaurant when she (Mercado) spoke," Quinn told EDGE earlier today.

New York City Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito, Danny Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer and Rosie Mendez also traveled to Puerto Rico. Quinn told Mercado people in New York and elsewhere continue to support her and her family.

"I wanted her to know her speaking out - in particular about how she loved her son - was so appreciated by the community," Quinn said.

Members of the Association of Latino Men for Action gave Myriam Mercado and Jorge López more than $2,100 they raised at a New York fundraiser last week so they could cover some of their murdered son's funeral costs. Chicago-based ALMA board member Jorge Cestou conceded to EDGE he and others felt mixed emotions during their meeting with the Lópezes because they did not want to force them to relive the murder. Cestou, who is also a co-chair of the national LGBT Latino organization [email protected], added, however, it was important for him and fellow ALMA members to show their solidarity with the family.

"It was definitely extremely powerful," he said.

In addition to their meeting with the family, the delegation also met with Puerto Rican lawmakers and local religious, civil and activists. Hectór Ferrer, the minority speaker of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, Ada Conde of the Foundation for Human Rights and Episcopal Bishop David Alvarez were among those who took part. And at a press conference earlier in the day at the Puerto Rico Bar Association, Quinn once again criticized Gov. Luis Fortuño for his continued silence around López's murder and LGBT hate crimes on the island.

Mark-Viverito echoed these sentiments.

"We in the delegation certainly hope that Governor Fortuño will hear our message loud and clear, that his response to Jorge Steven's murder has been absolutely unacceptable," she told EDGE. "I am profoundly disappointed in the governor's lack of leadership on this matter. We must expect greater accountability and responsibility on the part of our elected officials."

Activists and elected officials in Puerto Rico and on the mainland have repeatedly criticized Fortuño and others - most notably Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and investigator Angel Rodríguez Colón - since López's decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found alongside a remote roadside near Cayey on Nov. 13. Fortuño sparked further controversy earlier this month when he told a group of religious leaders he would seek an amendment to the Puerto Rican Constitution that would ban marriage for gays and lesbians.

An emotional Colon described the territorial government's response as a "disgrace." Serrano went further.

"I [hold] responsible those public figures, you know, including religious, political and media public figures that have used hate rhetoric against LGBT communities; I make them responsible for the this terrible crime against Jorge Steven," he said.

A Puerto Rican psychologist found López's accused killer, Juan José Matos Martínez, competent to stand trial at a hearing in Caguas earlier this month as EDGE reported. The 26-year-old returns to court on Feb. 2 for a preliminary hearing.

Quinn said before the trip she and other members of the delegation will continue to monitor the investigation; and make future trips to Puerto Rico if necessary.

Serrano added he feels Mercado's own words remain a source of strength.

"We are better people because of their presence in our lives," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


  • Domino, 2010-01-25 13:47:05

    It’s incredible that not a single LGBT rights activist from Puerto Rico is quoted in this article. They do exist you know. (You mention Ada Conde but do not quote her.) This stunt by New York based NGLTF activists (Serrano), and Chicago and New York politicians have set back relations between the real local activists (you know the ones who actually have to live in the place and work with the government) and the government by months. Imagine if NY and Chicago politicians had done this in California or New Jersey without so much as a by your leave from local elected officials or activists. And, what exactly is it that is so unacceptable and disgraceful about the government’s response? They have set up a Hate Crimes committee in the Justice Department; the Chief Prosecutor and the Attorney General (both appointed by the Governor) have repeatedly stated they will prosecute all hate crimes, including this one, to the fullest extent of the law given the evidence; and the U.S. Attorney is acting as an oversight officer in the process as agreed to in a meeting between activists, Chief Prosecutor Dominguez and U.S. Attorney Rodriguez. Yes, the Governor hasn’t made a speech, but we want action not speeches. It’s great that EDGE reports on Puerto Rico issues but it should get quotes from Puerto Rico activists to do so. Here is a partial list: Cecilia La Luz - (LGBT Newspaper editor and radio personality) [email protected] 787-607-3939 Rafael Mayoral (President, Article 2 Foundation) [email protected] Rafael Ruiz-Ayala (Spokesperson Article 2 Foundation) [email protected] Guillermo Mena (Stonewall Democrats) [email protected] Sophia Marrero (TTM Transgender Association) [email protected] Thomas Bryan (Main attorney advising the Transgender witnesses for the prosecution) [email protected] There are others. These are just the ones I have on hand right now.

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