When Philly couple Allison Harris and Raquel Salas Rivera launched the Emergency Relief Fund for LGBTQ Boricuas on October 1, they hoped to raise at least $5,000. In less than a week, their fundraiser for queer victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico garnered $10,000—something they never imagined was possible.
The two told NBC they'll use the money to bring evacuees to the U.S. mainland, and fund hormone therapy and new IDs for transgender survivors. Puerto Ricans living with HIV are especially in danger. "They are unable to access their medications,” Salas Rivera said. "There’s an exposure to contaminants and a lack of access to clean water and food. There’s an increased spread of illnesses right now because of all the flooding."
Because phone and Internet services are down across the island, identifying LGBTQ evacuees is a difficult process. Harris and Salas Rivera are relying on volunteers from the Puerto Rican Transgender Taskforce to help locate queer Puerto Ricans in different towns and shelters. They'll pick up their first evacuee on Monday—a transgender survivor, who will be placed with a Spanish-speaking social worker.
"We’re going to help them get connected with services, case management and stuff like that, so they have some outside support to help them do the basic life stuff like getting a job and finding an apartment," Harris told NBC. She's also finding ways to support LGBTQ Puerto Ricans who wish to remain on the island.
Despite feeling "powerless," Harris said she's leaning on her background as a LGBTQ therapist to help make an impact. "Change happens from the ground up and not the top down," she said, encouraging people who're feeling disempowered by our current politial state to realize "they are absolutley capable of making change themselves."
Click here to donate to the Emergency Relief Fund for LGBTQ Boricuas.