In the past 18 months, there has been a radical spike in homophobic murders in Puerto Rico, with at least 18 reported anti-gay homicides within that time. This epidemic of anti-gay violence escalated scarily within the past week, in which three LGBT people were found murdered in a span of thirty-six hours, and comes on the heels of President Obama’s historic visit to the island planned for next week.
According to a press release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, on Saturday, June 4, Alejandro Ponce Ponce was found stabbed to death. That Monday, Karlota Gomez Sanchez, a transgender woman, was fatally shot in Santurce, considered a somewhat liberal suburb to San Juan. The following day, Ramon Salgado’s body was discovered near a highway in Humacao.
“We haven’t seen this spike in violence against LGBT people since the ’80s, when we had a serial killer who killed 27 gay men,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Manager for the Task Force who’s currently working from the island.
Although Puerto Rico has long had a thriving gay tourist and bar industry in its major cities, it remains a place where many gay people are not out and those who are often face danger in certain circumstances and remote areas. Additionally, a majority of member of both the Puerto Rican clergy and government officials remain adamantly against expanding gay rights and the President of the Puerto Rican Senate has called homosexuals “twisted” and “mentally ill.” LGBT activists and their allies on the island and in the United States are urging Puerto Rican police authorities to investigate the wave of murders under the island’s decade-old hate crimes law, which includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Some members of the victims’ families have also joined the crusade against these hate crimes. The mother of nineteen year old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, whose dismembered body was found alongside a desolate road in November 2009, spoke out shortly before her son’s funeral, saying: “When my son Steven told me he was gay, I told him, ‘Now I love you more.’ I want to tell the world that hatred is not born with human beings, it is a seed that is planted by adults and is fostered by creating a climate of intolerance and violence. We must change our ways and understand that anyone….could have been my son. And I want everybody to know that Jorge Steven was a very much loved son.”