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Federal grand jury indicts men accused of murdering transgender women in Puerto Rico

Suspects allegedly killed victims before burning bodies in car

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Kirby, Conover v. Conover, hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

A federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on Wednesday indicted two men accused of murdering two transgender women last month.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Juan in a press release notes the grand jury indicted Sean Díaz de León and Juan Carlos Pagán Bonilla on four charges that include carjacking resulting in death, using a firearm in relation to crimes of violence and destruction of property using explosive materials.

Díaz and Pagán allegedly murdered Serena Angelique Velázquez and Layla Pelaz on April 21 once they learned their gender identity after they had “sexual relations.” The trans women’s bodies were found inside Pelaz’s car, which had been set on fire underneath a bridge in the municipality of Humacao on Puerto Rico’s southeastern coast.

Díaz and Pagán have already been charged under the federal hate crimes law.

The two men could face the death penalty if convicted. Activists in Puerto Rico have urged federal prosecutors not to apply it in this case.

The indictment was announced against the backdrop of growing outrage over the murders of five trans people in Puerto Rico since the beginning of the year. The Broad Community for the Search for Equity, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups in the U.S. commonwealth known by the acronym CABE, has also sharply criticized Gov. Wanda Vázquez and her government over its response to these cases and the murders of other LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

“Wanda Vázquez’s silence is deafening,” Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Blade on April 29 during a virtual press conference that CABE organized. “Her silence makes her complicit in these murders.”

Puerto Rico Senate approves controversial new Civil Code

Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is commonplace in Puerto Rico, and activists with whom the Blade has spoken say Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017, made LGBTQ Puerto Ricans even more vulnerable. The U.S. commonwealth’s hate crimes law is LGBTQ-inclusive, but prosecutors rarely use it.

The Puerto Rico Senate on Monday approved an amended version of the island’s Civil Code.

Lambda Legal in a press release notes the new Civil Code does not eliminate trans Puerto Ricans’ rights to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups nevertheless say LGBTQ Puerto Ricans would remain vulnerable to discrimination if the new Civil Code becomes law.

Serrano in a press release urged Vázquez to veto it, in part, because the Senate approved it “in secret” and “without any transparency.”

“As of now the final version of what was approved, in the shortest vote possible, by the Senate has not been published,” said Serrano.

“There is great concern about the rights of women, LGBTTIQ+ people, common-law couples, among other groups,” he added.

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David echoed Serrano.

“Puerto Ricans deserve a fair, transparent ratification process of their Civil Code, not a rushed, backroom deal by the legislature,” said David in a statement that also criticized Puerto Rican lawmakers who he said have tried to use the new Civil Code to target LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

The secrecy surrounding the codes and the legislative process is particularly troubling in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has critically hampered the ability for citizens to participate and make their voices heard. Governor Wanda Vazquez must stand up for LGBTQ Puerto Ricans and for democracy by slowing down this process and allowing all to participate in shaping the future of the island,” he added

Vázquez on Wednesday issued a statement that appeared to respond to critics of the new Civil Code.

“It is our understanding that amendments for which we asked — that guarantee the permanence of rights that had already been won — were included in the bill on the (Senate) floor on Monday,” she said in a tweet. “Specifically, the protection of the rights of women and those related to birth certificates and a person’s gender. However, the legislative process continues and now the measure returns to the House of Representatives.”

The Puerto Rico House of Representatives on Thursday approved the new Civil Code.

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Vermont

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary in U.S. House race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted in D.C. by teens shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

The men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one receiving stitches for a deep cut

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Photo credit: Washington Metropolitan Police Dept/Facebook

WASHINGTON – Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

Two persons of interest considered possible suspects in the Sunday, Aug. 7 assault of a gay couple on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. Police ask anyone who recognizes one or both individuals to contact police at 202-727-9099.
(Image courtesy of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department)

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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Federal Government

Biden administration ends ‘Remain In Mexico’ policy for asylum seekers

DHS had held off lifting the MPP protocols until after the Supreme Court’s ruling and then until the U.S. District Judge lifted his injunction

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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas meeting with Honduran Security Minister Sabillon, July 27, 2022 (Photo Credit: U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Monday that the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) colloquially referred to as the ‘Remain-in-Mexico’ policy for asylum seekers at the nation’s Southern border has ended.

In a statement issued yesterday, DHS noted;

“We welcome the U.S. District Court’s decision, which follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30th decision, to lift the injunction that required DHS to reimplement the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) in good faith.

DHS is committed to ending the court-ordered implementation of MPP in a quick, and orderly, manner. Individuals are no longer being newly enrolled into MPP, and individuals currently in MPP in Mexico will be disenrolled when they return for their next scheduled court date.  Individuals disenrolled from MPP will continue their removal proceedings in the United States.”

DHS officials had held off lifting the MPP protocols until after the Supreme Court’s ruling and then additionally until U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee in Amarillo, Texas, had lifted his injunction. 

“MPP has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs, and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said as DHS removed the MPP policy.

The DHS statement also noted that the Department will provide additional information in the coming days. “MPP enrollees should follow the directions on their court documents and tear sheets to appear for their scheduled court date as required.”

DHS continues to enforce our nation’s immigration and public health laws, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order as required by court order. Individuals encountered at the Southwest Border who cannot establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed or expelled, the statement added.

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