The Secretary and Spokeswoman of Transexuales y Trangeneros en Marcha, Ms. Sophia Isabel Marrero Cruz, Speaking at the opening of the 1st LGBTTHealth Conference in Puerto Rico celebrated on March 2, 2011.





November 18, 2011

Sophia Isabel Marrero Cruz
Spokesperson, Transexuales y Transgeneros en Marcha (TTM)
Director, Network for LGBT Health Equity
Fenway Community Health
Yanira Arias
Director of Community Organizing
Latino Commission on AIDS

San Juan, P.R.
A year ago Puerto Rican lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and transgender (LGBTT) advocates conducted their first LGBTT health and tobacco survey. Half a year ago they joined with several national health organizations to convene a highly successful daylong summit on LGBTT health and tobacco in the island. The Puerto Rican Department of Health responded warmly, highlighting LGBTT health issues in their following conference and even committing to collect LGBTT data. Then just a month ago the community organizers showcased their skills again, holding a community half-day transgender and transsexual health fair. But despite a level of volunteer community organizing that in many ways is leading the country, local health advocates can’t get traction on one issue: the horrible epidemic of anti-gay and most particularly anti-trans violence.

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.”

While the number of murders are staggering, Ms. Marrero Cruz emphasized these numbers could have been much higher, “We also have eight women who were beaten severely and left for dead. We are lucky they survived.”

While there has been increased focus on this violence after media reports earlier this year, 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.”

In August of this year, there were calls for LGBTT leaders to join a newly formed anti-discrimination committee with local police representatives from each of the different jurisdictions in Puerto Rico, but Ms. Marrero Cruz cautions that current leadership is not yet reaching out to the communities most affected by this violence, transsexuals, transgender people, and especially the transsexual sex workers. The organization she represents, Transexuals and Transgenders on The Move (TTM), was convened out of response to the escalating violence and they’re working hard to monitor every incident. But Ms. Marrero Cruz and every other member of TTM are completely volunteering their time, many while being unemployed themselves. Their organization does not yet have the resources to expand their work into the different priority areas they have identified.

Dr. Scout, the Director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity at The Fenway Institute, represents another one of the national groups that has partnered with TTM on several projects. “I’ve been really amazed by the grassroots health organizing occurring in the LGB and especially transsexual and transgender communities in Puerto Rico. And my heart breaks when I think of the danger and disrespect they are encountering. But I think we have to ask a real hard question, how are LGBT organizers in the rest of the country helping our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico? I see a group like TTM that can get such amazing things done with so little, but here we are on the eve of National Trans Day of Remembrance and the stories of these women who died might have gone unnoticed? Local transgender and transsexual health and advocacy groups like TTM, doing such important work, need not just our attention, but our brains, our hearts, and frankly phones, computers, offices.”

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. But even more than that, they ask that people everywhere join them in calling for immediate changes to safeguard the lives of our LGB and trans people there through the coming year, namely:

  1. An immediate move to categorize all trans murders as hate crimes unless there is evidence to indicate otherwise.
  2. Immediate cultural competency training, emphasizing safety strategies for trans women, for all police, public defenders, and judges.
  3. That LGBT and allied funders provide resources directly to LGBTT health and advocacy groups and individuals in Puerto Rico, particularly those with trans leadership.


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