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LGBTQ Rights in Puerto Rico Slowly Improve Step by Step

On Friday, May 24, the House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 238, which offers protection against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. The measure, approved in its final version, suffered a number of amendments [es] that many believe to considerably weaken it after passing in the Senate. Now, the Senate has to approve the amended version.

One of the amendments eliminated the language that protected citizens against discrimination when applying for and receiving government services,. The law would also not apply to organizations funded by churches. Many reacted on Twitter: 

‏@daisysanchezpr: Pasa el 238 cocido a la medida de los fundamentalistas.Tienen patente de corso para el discrimen en sus iglesias y negocios.

@daisysanchezpr: 238 passes catered to the order of the fundamentalists. They have the carte blanche for discrimination in their churches and businesses.

@g_laborde: Wait. ¿Cómo que el 238 se aprobó para que la empresa privada y pueda discriminar? ¿Qué mierda de proyecto es ese?

@g_laborde: Wait. How is it that 238 passed so that private companies could be discriminatory? What kind of shitty bill is this?

@cecilialaluz: Se acaba de aprobar el 238 con tajos y curitas. Hay q trabajar en el Senado para darle garras!

@cecilialaluz: 238 was just passed with cuts and bandages. You have to work in the Senate to knock it down!

@GissellePR: Yo no necesito 238 razones para saber q todos somos IGUALES!!!! Como está el inepto de prepotencia coja, usando a Dios d bastón!!! #Equidad

@GissellePR: I do not need 238 reasons to know that we are all EQUAL!!!! How inept this crippled arrogance is, using God as a cane!!! #Equality [es]

@ukagreen: No entiendo el estreñimiento mental cuando el asunto es tan sencillo: todos somos iguales.

@ukagreen: I don't understand the mental constipation when the issue is so simple: we are all equal.

@DrOrtizCardona: Este estúpido debate del #PS238 ha dejado meridianamente claro que cualquier pendejo puede llegar a ser legislador o representante.

The massive march on May 16 against discrimination based on sexual orientation on the south side of the Capitol in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo taken from the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=526573290711363&amp;set=pb.109928545709175.-2207520000.1369443020.&amp;type=3&amp;src=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F965146_526573290711363_2142259580_o.jpg&amp;smallsrc=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F942682_526573290711363_2142259580_n.jpg&amp;size=1632%2C1224" target="_blank">Students of the UPR Inform</a> Facebook Page.

The massive march on May 16 against discrimination based on sexual orientation on the south side of the Capitol in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo taken from the Students of the UPR Inform Facebook Page.

@DrOrtizCardona: This stupid #PS238 debate has made it abundantly clear that any idiot could become a legislator or representative.

It was not easy getting the necessary votes to approve the bill. Despite the fact that the party currently in power, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), made a commitment during the election campaign to expand protections to the LGBTQ community and recognize their rights, various legislators from this very party expressed reservations and opposed the measure, largely because they have bowed to pressure from Christian fundamentalist groups, who have intensely lobbied in recent weeks against nondiscrimination bills discussed in the Legislature. One of the legislators that has opposed the bill is Representative Brenda López de Arrarás, Vice President of the PPD, who is also ironically the President of the House Committee for Women and Equality. A petition to impeach Representative López de Arrarás [es] from her position at the House Committee for Woman and Equality began circulating on social networks. Pressure from citizen groups and other members of her own party forced the Representative to vote in favor of the bill.

The House Bill 488 was also approved, which extends protections against gender violence to same sex couples. The consideration of this bill provoked a march on behalf of Christian fundamentalist groups on February 18 in front of the Capitol in the capital city of San Juan. The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Groups in favor of LGBTQ rights celebrate the passing of the measures in front of the Capitol building. Photo taken from <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=349589555162990&amp;set=a.334035140051765.1073741828.333428936779052&amp;type=1&amp;relevant_count=1" target="_blank">LGBT Puerto Rico</a>'s Facebook page.

Groups in favor of LGBTQ rights celebrate the passing of the measures in front of the Capitol building. Photo taken from LGBT Puerto Rico‘s Facebook page.

One family's struggle

On the other hand, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court reiterated its decision to deny Ángeles Acosta the right to adopt the biological daughter of her partner, Carmen Milagros Vélez, after they had submitted a petition for reconsideration to the Court [they had their daughter as a couple]. The only way that Ángeles Acosta could legally adopt her daughter would be for the biological mother to give up all of her rights as a mother to her partner. Both mothers have raised their daughter together from birth.

With this last decision from the Supreme Court, the women have exhausted all possible legal appeals. It now remains in the hands of the legislature to decide if it will pass Senate Bill 437 [es], which would eliminate gender distinction as an obstacle for adoption. Joelle González-Laguer, writing about the case in La voz del paseo boricua [es], says:

El caso de Ángeles y Milagros  es extraordinario y altamente humano. Estamos frente a un atropello, donde no existen recursos legales para apoyar el derecho humano y civil que ellas tienen: legalizar su vínculo como familia.

Ángeles and Milagros's case is extraordinary and highly human. We are facing a violation, where no legal means exist to support a human and civil right that they have: legalizing their bond as a family.

The decisions taken in the upcoming weeks will determine whether Puerto Ricans will live in a more equal country or if the vision of some groups based on myths and unfounded fears will prevail. It remains to be seen how the three bills that are currently up for debate in the Legislature regarding equality will be passed and if the Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, will sign them [the Governor has already said he will sign the Senate Bill 238]. Daniel Nina, writing for El Post Antillano, described [es] the historic moment that Puerto Rico is experiencing very well:

Al final, no sé aún si en cuanto al proyecto 238 del Senado por el no discrimen en el empleo por razón de orientación sexual, sea avalado por la Cámara de Representantes y luego firmado por el gobernador, Alejandro García Padilla. Lo que si sé es que la comunidad LGTTB ha abierto un debate por la igualdad, con mucha simpatía y creatividad, el cual ha constituido un hito revolucionario en Puerto Rico.

Ultimately, I still do not know if Senate Bill 238 for nondiscrimination in the workplace for reasons of sexual orientation will be supported by the House of Representatives and later signed by the governor, Alejandro García Padilla. What I do know is that the LGBTQ community has opened up a debate for equality, with great sympathy and creativity, which has constituted a revolutionary milestone in Puerto Rico.

*Title page photo taken from the UPR Students Inform [es] Facebook page.

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