LATINO VOICES

Car Service Refuses To Carry Gay Activists At Puerto Rican Day Parade

A painful reminder of intolerance just hours after mass shooting in Orlando targets LGBT club.

NEW YORK -- A car service contracted to carry honorees at the Puerto Rican Day Parade was booted from Sunday's event after refusing to carry gay participants, according to LGBT activist Pedro Julio Serrano.

Serrano, who is from Puerto Rico, now lives in New York and works on the staff for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, told The Huffington Post that parade organizers had partnered with The Custom Shop in Queens to help with transportation. But the company wanted nothing to do with Serrano or other members of the LGBT community at the event.

“When they saw the gay pride flag, when they saw me, they said, 'We’re not going to take those people,'” Serrano told HuffPost.

Every year the parade receives donations for cars to carry the honorees. This year The Custom Shop offered to donate five convertible jeeps, but when they came to pick up Serrano and they saw him draping one of the cars with a pride flag the driver refused to take him.

“And I said, 'OK, get the [expletive] out of here then,'” Serrano said.

Ululy Martinez, vice chairman of the Puerto Rican Day parade, said the driver and owner refused to carry Serrano saying that he didn't want his brand to be associated with the pride flag.

"He not only left but encouraged all of the cars to leave," Martinez said. "It was horrendous, he left all our honorees stranded."

Serrano said he planned to file a civil rights complaint with the city of New York over the alleged act of discrimination.

The Puerto Rican Day Parade tweeted its support of LGBT rights as the parade marched:

HuffPost reached out to the owner of The Custom Shop Monday but he declined to comment on the alleged incident, except to say that he is currently speaking with his lawyer.

For Serrano, the incident was more painful because of the timing. The alleged act of discrimination came just hours after a gunman shot and killed 49 people at an LGBT club in Orlando in what law enforcement is calling the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. More than 50 others were injured in the attack.

The shooting during the early hours of Sunday morning targeted Pulse night club on Latin night, in the city with the second-largest Puerto Rican population on the U.S. mainland.

At the same time, Serrano's position as an honoree bearing a sash emblazoned with the words in Spanish, “Orgullo Puertorriqueño,” or “Puerto Rican Pride,” offered a measure of progress. The first time he attended the parade a decade ago wearing pride colors, people in the crowd hurled insults and plastic cups at him.

“They called me ‘pato,’ they yelled ‘maricón,’ they said ‘get out of here,’” Serrano said ahead of the parade, according to El Diario/La Prensa, using Spanish slurs used to insult gay men.

In response to the Orlando shooting, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Sunday that the city would deploy additional police to the streets, including around LGBT landmarks. Authorities had uncovered no credible threats of an attack on New York, he said.

“We don’t know all the details, but we do know it was directed at an LGBT club and that was a club that was having a Latino Night,” de Blasio told reporters Sunday, referring to the Orlando shooting. “So, the investigation will look into all of the motivations, but from what we can see now both an act of terror and an act of hate.”

New York planned to light city hall with the pride colors and to hold a vigil for the Orlando shooting victims on Monday night, de Blasio said.

Tanisha Ramirez contributed reporting.

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