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Puerto Rico advocacy group moves Pride event after venue bans drag queens

Distrito T-Mobile owners spoke with local newspaper before Waves Ahead



Waves Ahead moved a Pride month event after a popular entertainment venue said drag queens could not perform. (Poster courtesy of Waves Ahead)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ advocacy group has moved a Pride month event from a popular entertainment venue after its owners refused to allow drag queens and a Drag Queen Story Hour.

Waves Ahead’s Express Yourself Glitter Pride event was to have taken place at Distrito T-Mobile adjacent to the San Juan Convention Center on Saturday.

Waves Ahead Executive Director Wilfred Labiosa this week during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said his organization last year “did this event the same way” at the same venue with a Drag Queen Story Hour.

“Last year we were approached by the owners and the administration of Distrito to do a Pride event there for the first time,” said Labiosa.

Labiosa told the Blade that Distrito T-Mobile contacted Waves Ahead in February and asked if it could host the same event this year. Labiosa said he told Distrito T-Mobile the event is “the same one as last year.”

“They said yes, exactly the same. Don’t do any changes,” said Labiosa.

Labiosa said Distrito T-Mobile’s owners on June 11 called him and asked him about the Drag Queen Story Hour that was scheduled to be part of the event. Labiosa said he told them to “talk to your administrators because they have the schedule and everything is there with all the details and so forth.”

Distrito T-Mobile’s owners later told Metro Puerto Rico the event “will continue without drag queens as hosts and without Drag Queen Story Hour.” The newspaper published the article hours after Sen. Joanne Rodríguez Veve of Proyecto Dignidad, an anti-LGBTQ+ political party, criticized the event on social media.

“Let kids be kids,” she said in a post that contained the event’s flyer.

Labiosa spoke with Distrito T-Mobile’s owners on Monday after Metro Puerto Rico published the article.

“I said this is unacceptable, that the news told me that we are not having this event as scheduled,” Labiosa said. “[The owners] said no, you cannot have this, you cannot have that. You can only the three musical bands and that’s it, and we said that’s discrimination against segments of our community that are so rich and so important to us and to all the movement. They said, well take it or leave it and I said no.”

Labiosa said the owners called him back and said the event could have a 10-minute segment with a “potpourri of drag queens performing one song after 10 p.m. without books or anything else.”

“I said, well, sorry, no,” Labiosa told the Blade.

Labiosa said Waves Ahead decided to move the event to their San Juan community center. It will take place there on Saturday from 1-9 p.m.

“We’re going to have all the components,” he said.

Amnesty International, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Hispanic Federation and Centerlink are among the groups that have expressed solidarity with Waves Ahead.


Puerto Rico

LGBTQ+ groups support Hurricane Fiona recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

Storm caused widespread flooding, island-wide blackout on Sept. 18



Hurricane Fiona damage in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

UTUADO, Puerto Rico — Eliana Rodríguez and her father Javier floated on a mattress and pieces of broken debris in flood water in Utuado, Puerto Rico, praying help would come for hours.  

“The rain kept falling and never stopped,” Rodríguez said of the flood water that filled the home she shared with her father. “We sat in the dark when we lost power and when the water became too much, we prayed.”

Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast on Sept. 18, inundating Utuado and the surrounding area with 30 inches of rain.

Neighbors eventually rescued Rodríguez and her father. They have now relocated to New York with family, unsure when or if they will return. 

 Rodríguez still grieves for the things she lost in the flood that made her house a home.

Mi isla es mi alma (my island is my soul),” Rodríguez said, choking back tears.

Fiona, which made landfall two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, knocked out power across Puerto Rico. People in the U.S. commonwealth since Fiona’s landfall continue to struggle with a lack of electricity, drinking water, food and medical necessities. 

Rodríguez’s father, who has a heart condition, went without his medication until they reached the U.S. mainland, where they battled medical red tape to finally get the medication her father needs.

As recovery efforts continue to evolve on the island, humanitarian and grassroots organizations have flocked to “la Isla del Encanto” (the Island of Enchantment) to help Puerto Ricans rebuild. 

Agriculture and infrastructure are among the hardest hit industries on the island.

“Hurricane Fiona destroyed $159 million bananas and other crops,” the island’s agricultural minister said.  

Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead Puerto Rico, an organization that offers support to marginalized and vulnerable communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, is helping with recovery efforts. 

According to Labiosa, necessities like electricity, drinking water and mental health aid continue to be grave needs that are still unmet and the government is unsure when relief will come. 

“They’re saying water is coming sooner than electricity, while getting electricity to some parts of the island could take months,” Labiosa told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview shortly after Fiona’s landfall.

Labiosa, along with many other Puerto Ricans, has sharply criticized the government for its lack of adequate leadership and oversight of LUMA Energy, the company that holds the exclusive contract to provide electricity to the island. LUMA Energy, which faces zero competition, has consistently failed to provide stable electricity to residents, even before the hurricane. 

Waves Ahead, in collaboration with World Central Kitchen and José Andrés, provides meals for those in need across the island. 

Like most small nonprofit organizations, Waves Ahead relies on donations and funds from the government to provide for those in need. And despite multiple visits by federal legislators, Waves Ahead has not been selected to receive federal aid funds, and Labiosa says that lawmakers do not mention the LGBTQ+ community in discussions of relief efforts.

Fiona’s effect are traumatic, Labiosa says the storm’s destruction hurts more because of the response from Puerto Rico’s central government and local municipalities.

“We haven’t learned anything in the last five years,” Labiosa said, referencing to Maria’s devastating effects.

Labiosa highlighted the burden of outdated infrastructure on the island, which the government has received millions of dollars to improve yet has not.

“The temporary bridge was supposed to be replaced two years ago,” Labiosa said in reference to Bridge PR-123 in Utuado that was built after Maria, and washed away the day Fiona made landfall. 

Waves Ahead is also working on a partnership with the Ricky Martin Foundation to provide resources and help to all affected by Fiona, including focused efforts on the LGBTQ+ community.  

Waves Ahead provides food to a resident of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the island. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

Just like Labiosa, Arianna Lint, executive director of Arianna’s Center, is calling for mental health aid as well as other necessities. 

“We have a very high suicide rate in our community,” Lint said. 

For more than five years, Arianna’s Center has worked extensively in Puerto Rico, serving people of the LGBTQ community through community development and federal legislative efforts. 

Recently, Lint delivered survival kits donated by Gilead Sciences around the island. 

Lint and Gilead Sciences have partnered in an effort to ensure that those living with HIV/AIDS are receiving the medical care they need in the aftermath of the hurricane and destructive flooding.

“One of our largest aliados (allies) is Gilead Sciences, who is promoting the use of PrEP,” Lint said. 

Parts of the island that remain inaccessible due to mudslides and debris from the storm are finding it hard to receive help, especially when it comes to health services for the elderly.

“Our greatest focus is on people left behind and senior people in our community,” Lint said. 

As cleanup and recovery efforts continue in Puerto Rico, one thing is for sure: Cleanup will be a slow process, and many, like Rodriguez and her father, will be faced with the decision to leave their island or stay, uncertain when the cavalry will come. 

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Puerto Rico

Federal authorities arrest three men in connection with trans Puerto Rico woman’s murder

Alexa Negrón Luciano was killed on Feb. 24, 2020



Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image by Nicolas Raymond; courtesy of Flickr)

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico — Federal authorities have arrested three men in connection with the 2020 murder of a homeless transgender woman in Puerto Rico.

David Begnaud of CBS News reports the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has charged Anthony Lobos Ruiz, Jordany Laboy Garcia and Christian Rivera Otero under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 for allegedly harassing Alexa Negrón Luciano on Feb. 24, 2020, and shooting at her with a paintball gun.

Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan. The murder took place hours after police responded to a report that Negrón was “peeping” on people who were using a public restroom.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, on Friday noted to the Los Angeles Blade that Puerto Rican authorities never filed charges in connection with Negrón’s murder.

Begnaud notes Lobos, Laboy and Rivera have not been charged with murder in the case.

Negrón was one seven trans Puerto Ricans who were known to have been murdered on the island in 2020.

Puerto Rico’s hate crimes law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, but prosecutors in the U.S. commonwealth rarely apply them. Serrano and the other activists have described the Puerto Rican government’s response to anti-LGBTQ hate crimes as woefully inadequate.

The Justice Department last spring charged the two men who allegedly murdered two trans women in Humacao, a municipality near Puerto Rico’s southeast coast, under the federal hate crimes law. A state of emergency declaration over gender violence in Puerto Rico that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi issued earlier this year includes LGBTQ people.

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