Puerto Rico Lawmakers Seek to Exclude LGBTs from Hate Crimes Law

Michael K. Lavers READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Puerto Rican lawmakers are poised to consider a revised penal code that includes a provision that would eliminate LGBT-specific protections from the island's hate crimes law.

The Puerto Rico Senate late last month approved a provision that would eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity and religious beliefs from the hate crimes statute that was included in the penal code that lawmakers approved in 2004.

Representative H�ctor Ferrer and Sen. Eduardo Bhatia joined LGBT and Dominican activists at a press conference on Sunday, Dec. 4, to criticize the proposed amendments.

"To eliminate these groups as protected categories is to invite the commission of hate crimes in Puerto Rico," said Ferrer, as Vocero reported on Dec. 4 "It is a setback in the country's public policy."

"In an advanced society, this is dangerous for society," added Bhatia, as Primera Hora reported.

Political affiliation, age and disability would remain part of the revised hate crimes statute if legislators approve the new penal code and Gov. Luis Fortu�o signs it into law. Fortu�o indicated to reporters during a Friday, Dec. 9, press conference that he supports an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law, but Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force accused both him and Senate President Thomas Rivera-Schatz of homophobia.

"Basically they took out the communities hardest hit by hate crimes in Puerto Rico out of the hate crimes statute," Serrano told EDGE, referring to both LGBTs and Dominicans who work on the island who continue to suffer disproportionate rates of hate and bias-motivated violence on the island. "It's an outrage and now we're calling upon the House to restore this to where it should be."

Nearly two dozen LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered on the island since late 2009 in what Serrano and other activists have repeatedly described as an epidemic of anti-LGBT violence. These include gay teenager Jorge Steven L�pez Mercado, who was stabbed to death before his decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was dumped alongside a remote roadside near Cayey in Nov. 2009. Three LGBT Puerto Ricans-Alejandro Torres Torres, Karlota G�mez S�nchez and Ram�n "Moncho" Salgado-were found dead within a 72-hour period in June.

The Justice Department cited in inadequate response to hate crimes as among the Puerto Rico Police Department's numerous deficiencies in a damning report it released in September. The Puerto Rico Department of Justice's own reports indicate that prosecutors have yet to convict anyone of a bias-motive crime on the island.

A federal DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on the proposed penal code provision. Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who lived in Puerto Rico before he attended college in Chicago, noted the island's spiraling homicide rates as he blasted the proposed provision.

"To say this is appalling is an understatement," he said, noting record homicide and other crime rates on the island. "Excluding more people from protections under the law is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially right now."

New York Congresswoman Nydia Vel�zquez, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and New York City Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez, Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer urged lawmakers to reject the measure in a joint statement they issued on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

"When we take into account the horrific hate crimes that have occurred in recent years, this decision is even more egregious and nonsensical," said Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan. "The Puerto Rican government is creating a dangerous environment for those who have been and potentially could be attacked or even killed solely on the basis of their identity without any additional penalties for the perpetrators. This strategy to de-classify hate violence directed against LGBT Puerto Ricans and ethnic groups as a separate crime cannot stand."

Puerto Rico House President Jenniffer Gonz�lez announced on Monday, Dec. 5, that she would review the proposed provision, but singer Ricky Martin spoke out against it when he criticized the move on his website.

"All citizens are equal under the law and have, without exception, the right to equal protection under the law," he wrote, citing the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It appears as though lawmakers will vote on the new penal code next month.

by Michael K. Lavers , National News Editor

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.

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