Violent antigay assaults on the rise in Puerto Rico

Miami HeraldJune 20, 2011 

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Francheska González looked into her attacker’s eyes as he kicked and punched and saw her own death.

“He kept saying, ‘Faggot! You have no right to exist!’’’ said González, a 41-year-old transsexual. “I’d cry and scream, ‘What happened? Why are you hitting me?’ He said: ‘For being like that.’’’

González’s vertebrae was broken and right breast implant ruptured in the April beating, making her a survivor of a series of deadly attacks against transgender and gay people in Puerto Rico. When transgender teenager Jorge Steven López was decapitated, dismembered and set ablaze in November 2009, it marked the start of what activists say is an escalating wave of hate crimes in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Eighteen gay or transgender people have been killed since then. Three were murdered in a single week earlier this month.

The murders have been committed in various areas across the island and by different perpetrators, which advocates say underscores their belief that widespread homophobia — not a serial killer — is the culprit.

“A lot of church people are not teaching peace and to love thy neighbor,” González said. “They are teaching to hate gays. For me, the people who do this are men who know they are gay and don’t want to be.”

The attacks come amid growing fundamentalist rhetoric on the island, where senior politicians are often influenced by conservative religious leaders who speak out publicly against homosexuals. Even as arrests are made and long sentences handed out, experts here say murders and harassment have continued, because the government has failed to implement anti-discrimination policy and remains largely mute on the disturbing trend.

In Puerto Rico, gay and transgender people say, it has become socially acceptable to despise them — especially men who dress as women.

“You have religious and political leaders saying: ‘Gays don’t matter; they are the devil and twisted,’” said Pedro Julio Serrano, the communications manager for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “That’s inciting violence. We have not seen anything like this here since the 1980s.”

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