Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash A window in Humacao, Puerto Rico, a year after Hurricane Maria.
Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash

A public theologian to the political class: How long will the members of the LGBTQ community need to be uncertain about being allowed to live?

Washington D.C.— The 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando still makes me reckon with the daily threat to my humanity. The 15 confirmed LGBTQ people killed in Puerto Rico in the past 10 months shakes me to my core as I am reminded of how much my community is targeted. 

As a gay Puerto Rican, every day the world shows me what little regard too many have for my life and for the lives of those in my community. At least 22% of hate crimes in Florida target people based on their sexual orientation. Based on data collected by the Human Rights Campaign from 2013 to the present, Florida ranks the highest in the nation in terms of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people. Home to one of the largest Puerto Rican diasporic communities, Florida is a dangerous place to be LGBTQ and Puerto Rican. I’m compelled to ask of the world, daily: Are we allowed to live in peace? 

Are we, Governor Wanda Vazquez? Are we, Governor Ron DeSantis? Are we, President Donald Trump? 

And not only is our right to live in peace in question, but our right to live is open to debate. 

RELATED: Why the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBTQ Workplace Protections Is a ‘Watershed Moment’

Governor Wanda Vázquez recently rushed through a legislative project to update Puerto Rico’s civil codes — a Spanish colonial holdover meant to govern many aspects of civil life. The process was carried out in an overwhelmingly clandestine manner that was an affront to the most basic democratic principles.

Nor did the process make sufficient efforts to listen to or include feedback from the island’s LGBTQ people – feedback that was offered up generously and voluntarily. 

In light of the drastic resurgence of violence against the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico, this refusal to listen is both dangerous and reprehensible. Lives are at stake. 

RELATED: UPDATED: Puerto Rico’s New Civil Code: Here’s What’s Really In It

Pedro Julio Serrano of Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de Equidad (CABE) attributes the danger to the lives of LGBTQ to the conservative mores of Puerto Rico’s ruling party and religious community. This has been exacerbated by the fact that anti-LGBTQ sentiments are circulated on major platforms, most notably the one held by Kobbo Santarrosa, the man behind “La Comay,” a puppet host of a popular news/gossip television show. Santarrosa’s show has been a cesspool for anti-Black, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric that continues to breed hatred and violence on the Island and throughout the diaspora. 

A Scorecard That Speaks Louder Than Words

Meanwhile, when serving in Congress, Florida’s current governor Ron DeSantis scored zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard, an index for support to LGBTQ equality. This, despite the fact that Floridians have repeatedly called on DeSantis to enact urgently needed reforms to protect LGBTQ Americans from harm and discrimination. 

Trump’s repeated failures to treat Puerto Ricans as full citizens, as evidenced by his disastrous response to Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 crisis on the island, says enough about how he values my life as a Puerto Rican. His inhumane record of stripping hard-won LGBTQ discrimination protections speaks for itself.

When the massacre took place at Pulse, I was working for an evangelical organization. My sexual orientation was highly scrutinized, and I was being subjected to various forms of abuse, like the dangerous practice of “conversion therapy” — a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. I was forced to grieve Pulse in private. At that moment, I lived, breathed, and had my very being at the heart of the anti-LGBTQ movement. 

A Constant Heartbreak

A lot has changed for me since then, but I remain a person of faith. It breaks my heart to see people of faith continue to use religion — meant to liberate and spread love — as a tool of hatred and violence. As a theologian, I am baffled, albeit unsurprised, by the continual spiritual abuse and physical violence carried out against the LGBTQ community in the name of God. 

We are not second-class citizens in the eyes of the Divine. What remains an outstanding question for Vázquez, DeSantis, and Trump is when will they decide to see us for who we are people of inherent dignity and value, worthy of full protection under the law. 

We need leaders who will come to the protection of all of their citizens. We need leaders who will fight for the most vulnerable in society. Leaders who commit themselves to the defense of Black lives. Leaders who will advocate for comprehensive non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. Leaders who will commit to ending gun violence and the epidemic of violence against the transgender and gender non-conforming community. 

The decision from the Supreme Court making clear that it is illegal to fire someone for being LGBTQ does give me some reason to hope. And daring to hope in the face of brutal injustice is an act of bravery. The system was not made for people like me, but we can collectively work to change that reality. 

And so I hope, with audacity in my heart, with eyes wide and feet marching, for a world where the answer to the question of whether others in my community can live is met with an unequivocal “yes.” I hope, too, for a world where the question doesn’t need to be asked.