LGBTQ Hunted Down in Puerto Rico, Activists Criticize Local Officials' Lack of Action
Another transgender person was found murdered in Puerto Rico following reports of two other killings the previous week.
Penelope Diaz Ramirez, 31, became the third transgender victim this month and the fifth this year on the island. Police found Ramirez at the Bayamon correctional complex on April 13 but failed to report her death until Monday, two whole weeks after she was murdered.
Two transgender women were killed last week, April 21. According to reports, both transsexual women - 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velazquez Ramos and 21-year-old Layla Pelaez Sanchez - were shot and burned inside their car.
Ramos was visiting Puerto Rico on vacation and was to return to her home in New York at the end of the month. Sanchez had just moved to the island and was living in Las Piedras.
Yampi Mendez Arocho was killed in Moca on March 5. The 19-year-old transgender man was assaulted five hours before his death. Arocho's mother contacted the police to file a report. There is, however, little information about the investigation.
In February, a homeless transwoman named Neulisa "Alexa" Luciano Ruiz was fatally shot in Toa Boja. Authorities suspect she became a target after a social media post claimed she used a women's restroom at a local fast-food chain. Her attackers reportedly followed her car and posted footage of her brutal killing online.
Epidemic of Violence
Dozens of activists and advocacy groups have called out the government of Puerto Rico over its lack of action to the murders of the LBBTQ people reported on the island. They believe the homophobic rhetoric from government officials and religious leaders fueled the "epidemic" and the bloodshed.
The opposition urged the government to acknowledge and thoroughly investigate the cases as trans people are now living in fear for their lives. Pedro Juliano Serrano likened the killings to hunting season. "They're hunting the LGBTQ community," he said. "They're killing us."
Puerto Rico has introduced legal reforms allowing trans people same-sex marriage and changing their gender on birth certificates. However, the predominantly Roman Catholic island has a bloody history of violence towards people who identify with the LGBT+ community.
There are hate crimes and nondiscrimination laws in Puerto Rico that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Prosecutors on the island rarely apply them. Response from the law enforcement authorities is also inadequate.
In 2019, Governor Ricardo Rosello resigned after his chat messages were leaked. Among the hundreds of insulting and offensive chat messages were homophobic and misogynistic comments about gay pop singer Ricky Martin.
Protestors took to the streets after Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 scathing pages of the conversation. The governor and 11 other members of the government exchanged the profanity-laced messages from December 2018 to January 2019.
Rosello was caught using the Spanish word for "whore" to describe the former speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito. He also revealed "wanting to shoot" Yulin Cruz, who is a frequent critic of the governor.
"A person who uses that language against women should not govern Puerto Rico," Mark-Viverito said. "This type of behavior is unacceptable."
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