Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez signed a new civil code that removed language protecting LGBTQ+ persons last week. The action was met with outrage from experts and civil rights activists.
“Puerto Rico’s governor signed into law significant revisions to the island’s civil codes that shamefully ignore the urgent calls of local advocates to explicitly include vital, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement. “The government has failed to carry out its primary duty of ensuring the safety and well-being of all Puerto Ricans, including LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.”
The law in effect reverses a decision by a federal judge that that the commonwealth’s former policy, which prevented citizens from correcting birth certificates, was unconstitutional. The law appears to restore the ban on correcting gender markers, although the 600-page document is still being reviewed. The proposed law was approved in the territory’s legislature in May with no discussion, much to the consternation of pop superstar Ricky Martin and others who had campaigned against the measure.
The streets of San Juan, the territory’s capital, have been filled with protestors calling attention to recent violence against trans men and women, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement and the impending law change. Social media captured the size and spirit of the marches, as protestors waved Puerto Rico Pride flags and paraded a makeshift guillotine to the front door of the governor’s mansion.
Vázquez was not actually elected to the job, but was elevated to the position following a series of scandals. She is not a politician but a career attorney and prosecutor who formerly handled domestic violence and sexual abuse cases before she was appointed as the territory's justice secretary. When Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned last year following allegations of corruption and mismanagement, he appointed former politician Pedro Pierluisi as his successor. The Senate failed to approve Pierluisi to the position, but Rosselló swore him in anyway. A federal judge later invalidated the move, and the line of succession then fell to the Justice Secretary Vázquez.
While some had hoped Vázquez would choose to protect LGBTQ+ rights, this has not been the case. Her approval of the new law is particularly alarming for activists who see an escalating level of violence against LGBTQ+ persons on the island in recent years.
“This year, there has been an alarming uptick in killings of LGBTQ people on the island,” said David. “The government should be doubling down on passing legal protections for the LGBTQ community and sending a clear message that LGBTQ people’s lives are worthy of equal dignity and respect.”
David went on to echo many voices in the community who feel disheartened by the new law.
“It is altogether disappointing, disrespectful and unacceptable,” he lamented.