SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Puerto Rican Senate has approved an amendment to the island’s penal code that would strip protections for LGBTQ persons in the hate crime statues.
LGBTQ persons were not the only affected group of citizens as lawmakers also voted to remove protections for ethnicity and religious beliefs as well. The lower house is expected to vote on the amended penal code that would eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression as soon as this week in a special session called by the island’s Republican Governor Luis Fortuño.
In a press conference Sunday, lawmakers Representative Héctor Ferrer and Senator Eduardo Bhatia joined with LGBTq Equality Rights and activists criticizing the amendment to the penal code’s hate crimes provisions:
“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.
Edge Media’s National News Editor, Washington D. C.-based Michael K. Lavers, reported Monday that political affiliation, age and disability would remain part of the revised hate crimes statute if legislators approve the new penal code and if Fortuño signs it into law.
Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force accused both Senate President Thomas Rivera-Schatz and Fortuño 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 López 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 Gómez Sánchez and Ramón “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.
“Puerto Rico’s recent rash of hate crimes against the LGBT community is a sad reminder of why hate crimes laws are needed,” added Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Paul Guequierre. “Removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the law would set Puerto Rico back and endanger LGBT people in the commonwealth.”
Puerto Rico is an U.S. territory. Islanders are residents of the United States, and are able to travel freely to the mainland, but do not vote in national elections.