While the world’s attention is fixed on the coronavirus crisis, often-marginalized communities continue to face silent battles.
In Puerto Rico, the bodies of two transgender women were found burned in a car on Wednesday, drawing renewed attention to the crisis of violence against the island’s LGBTQ+ community.
The women were identified as Layla Peláez, 21, and Serena Angelique Velazquez, 32, residents of New York, who join the six deaths reported in Puerto Rico so far this year.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, Sanchez and Velazquez are the latest victims of an epidemic that has plagued the island for decades, and that has targeted trans and gender non-conforming people more aggressively.
“HRC is mourning alongside the loved ones of Serena and Layla, the people of Puerto Rico and the entire transgender community. Serena and Layla, like us all, had family, dreams, hopes — and they did not deserve to die,” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “Transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially women of color, are too often the victims of a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny. People and policy must work together to protect our lives and our well-being. HRC stands in solidarity with all who knew and loved them.”
According to NBC News, authorities found the car before dawn on Wednesday in the coastal town of Humacao after receiving a 911 call.
The criminal investigations department has not yet arrested any suspects and is hesitant to call the incident a hate crime.
But for Pedro Julio Serrano, an activist for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Puerto Rico and a member of the Broad Committee for the Search for Equity, there is no other way to describe the murder.
“They are hunting us,” Serrano said in a telephone interview with the media.
While Puerto Rico has seen a significant rise in the rate of violent crime and murder in general over the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community is considered to be at double risk, especially “as a minority whose resources for protection under the law are almost non-existent,” according to a study by the Puerto Rican Journal of Psychology.
“This is an epidemic of violence, anti-L.G.B.T. violence that has resurfaced in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Serrano said Thursday. “We haven’t seen this type of violence in this quantity in a very long time — I would say 10 years.”
In February alone, Alexa Negróon Luciano, a well-known personality on social networks in Puerto Rico who was transgendered and homeless, was shot to death “after a McDonald’s customer complained that Negron had spied on her in the women’s room,” according to the New York Times.
“Ms. Negrón’s final moments — framed in the headlights of a car amid a cackle of laughter — were posted on social media, a fact that activists said underscored the impunity homophobic attackers feel when committing such crimes,” the media added.
However, according to the Department of Social Sciences of the UPR-RUM, the figures that are known up to now of aggressions against the LGBTQ+ community in Puerto Rico could be only the tip of the iceberg, considering that there is no recognition from the government to operationalize a program to collect this type of statistics.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people die and succumb to daily violence, in silence.