Photo: Transgender murder in Puerto Rico
While Trans Day of Remembrance websites currently list only one 2011 murder of a trans woman in Puerto Rico, Sophia Isabel Marro Cruz, the spokeswoman for Transexuales y Transgeneros en Marcha (Transexuals and Transgenders On The Move) says there are six or possibly even seven total trans women who have been murdered since this time last year. “The most notorious was Karlota, a 19 year old who was murdered on gay pride day in Santurce. But that isn’t the only murder here. We know of one young woman who was murdered in Ponce in September. Two more were shot and then run over in the south near that same time. Another was shot in a fight while trying to help another woman. The last one was beaten until she died. We even think there’s another one from Manatí, in the northern part of the island, but we cannot confirm it yet.”
There has been increased focus on this violence after media reports earlier this year but Ms. Marrero Cruz says the situation has not changed, “None of these cases have been considered by the State as hate crimes despite offenders even admitting that their motivation was the ‘homosexual panic’. This shows an extreme level of homophobia and transphobia.”
Yanira Arias, an organizer with Latino Commission on AIDS and a frequent collaborator with local organizers is outraged, “Transgender women are fighting for their lives in Puerto Rico. It’s unconscionable that the national and state justice systems are not doing more to protect them and document these beatings and murders as hate-crimes, we are talking about human beings, which today continue to be the most marginalized and violated when it comes the full respect of human and civil rights.”
Juan Carlos Vega, the Coordinator of the Citizens Alliance for LGBTTA Health in Puerto Rico emphasizes just how broad this issue is, “The health of all Puerto Ricans is affected by the trans crimes and the violent environment in which all women, including heterosexual women, are daily victims of abuse. This is not only about solving a crime but about providing a voice for women affected by violence, especially, trans women. This is a health and social justice issue that affects Puerto Rican society today.”
Dr. Elba Diaz, a professor at University of Puerto Rico who has been providing LGBTT cultural competency trainings to doctors, reminds us how the national environment around LGBTT health affects them locally, “Many people here are trying to reduce LGBTT health disparities, but the lack of consistent acknowledgement or data from federal agencies makes our local social justice and health goals that much more difficult to achieve.”
As we honor National Transgender Day of Remembrance this Sunday, LGBTT advocates in Puerto Rico and their allies ask that we acknowledge the six women killed there in 2011 and the countless others from previous years.