Advocates Tell Puerto Rico: Do Not Eliminate Hate Crimes Protections

In the past two years more than two dozen LGBT people in Puerto Rico have been murdered, often in very graphic and violent crimes. Puerto Rico's own police department has been singled out by the Justice Department for failing to deal with the high levels of violence faced by LGBT citizens.

Yet at a time when violence toward the LGBT community in Puerto Rico is high, the country's legislature is poised to remove protections from their existing hate crimes law for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Outraged that the government would consider removing hate crimes protections for a population already facing epic levels of violence, Jorge Supelveda started a petition on urging the Puerto Rico House of Representatives to keep the country's hate crimes laws intact.

Jorge grew up in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico and went to college in San Juan. In 2003 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he works for the federal government. Jorge's parents and brothers still live in Puerto Rico.

Having lived in D.C. for the last several years, he has learned how good life can be for gays and lesbians, but someday he would like to return home.

"I saw how different things can be," Jorge said. "I would hate to return home to a place where me and my people are not protected."

In recent years, Puerto Rico has been plagued with hate crimes against LGBT people, yet the police neglected to prosecute anyone under this statute. As Michael Lavers reported:

Nearly two dozen LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered on the island since gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado's decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found along a remote roadside near Cayey in 2009. With more than 1,000 reported homicides so far this year, 2011 has already proven to be the deadliest year in Puerto Rico.

Many elected officials, including U.S. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, spoke out against the possible elimination of hate crimes protections for LGBT Puerto Ricans.

"Prejudice, discrimination, and hate crimes cannot be tolerated, whether they are based on race, religion, or sexual orientation," said Velázquez. "The current effort to weaken hate crime protections is an unconscionable affront to our community, and Puerto Rico's legislature should defeat it."

Jorge hopes his petition on will show Puerto Rico's House that Puerto Ricans want all people protected under the law.

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