Transgender Rights Threatened in Puerto Rico

Transgender Rights Threatened in Puerto Rico
@NYCCouncil/Twitter

Transgender rights are under attack in Puerto Rico.

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Two weeks ago, President of Puerto Rico's Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz rescinded an administrative order from 2014 that allowed transgender employees at the Puerto Rican senate to dress and use the restroom of their gender identity. Rivera Schatz, an opponent of LGBT rights on the Caribbean island, also called the order “unnecessary.”

Critics have gathered in Puerto Rico and New York condemning Rivera Schatz’s decision, many even claiming that it goes against Law 22 from 2013, which prohibits discrimination of any kind based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

"From this City Hall to Puerto Rico's capitol, we're here to send a loud and clear message to Rivera Schatz," New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said during a rally in New York on Monday. "What Rivera Schatz did not only violates the island's discrimination law but it goes against the very core value of this nation: to respect and to defend the most vulnerable."

She added: "Humans should always be entitled to be themselves, whether you're trans, gay, lesbian, Latino, queer, Black, or Muslim. That should never be a partisan issue because we're talking about basic human rights.”

Even more, just last week, LGBT rights group Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit demanding Puerto Rico to allow transgender people to correct the gender listed on their birth certificates. Puerto Ricans are already able to change the gender marker on their identification cards, so lawyers are arguing that the birth certificate policy is “not supported by any compelling, important or even legitimate government interest.”

“Puerto Rico’s policy categorically barring transgender people from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates establishes a barrier to the full engagement in society by transgender people and subjects transgender people to invasions of privacy, prejudice, discrimination, humiliation, harassment, stigma and even violence,” the lawsuit reads. “For transgender people who suffer from gender dysphoria, being denied the ability to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates interferes with their medical treatment and may increase their dysphoria and distress.”

Two of the plaintiffs in the case are Washington, D.C.-based trans Puerto Rican women, showing, once again, that the struggle for transgender rights and justice is important to both Puerto Ricans on the island and in the diaspora.

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"We cannot be silent. 'La Isla del Encanto,' the Island of Enchantment, as we Latinos call it, has been disenchanted. There's nothing enchanting about hate and discrimination," said Cecilia Gentilli, assistant director of policy at GMHC, in New York.