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Puerto Rico "is on the forefront" of advancing LGBTQ rights, Pedro Julio Serrano, a leader of the LGBTQ movement in Puerto Rico, told a small gathering of about 30 in List 120 Monday evening.

The event, QUEERican, is part of the Third World Center's annual Puerto Rican Identity Week, said event organizer Gabriela Alvarez '11. Serrano is the communications manager of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce and in 1998, became the first openly gay
candidate to run for political office in Puerto Rico, Alvarez added.

Serrano said he encountered homophobia and misunderstanding when running for office.

"A man who cannot be a man and wants to be a woman cannot run for office," Serrano recalled one of his fellow party members saying at the time.

Serrano recounted the sabotage, vandalism and death threats that forced him to give up on his bid for office and leave Puerto Rico, though he ultimately returned four months later to continue his work for LGBTQ rights.

"If something were to happen to me, I'm not afraid anymore," Serrano said.
Serrano also spoke about the murder of Jorge Steven Lopez in November 2009. The murder will be the first case to invoke new federal hate crime legislation that protects victims on the basis of gender identity, Serrano said.

But homophobia remains a barrier to achieving justice for victims of hate crimes, he said. "There's an institutionalized homophobia that we still have to combat so that these crimes are prosecuted," he said.

Serrano praised the Puerto Rican LGBTQ movement for its advances so far, but said it required greater openness in order to move further.

"In Puerto Rico, there's a rights movement that's very vibrant and progressive," Serrano said. "We have to demand our rights. The only way we can win them is if we come out."

Aida Manduley '11, who is from Puerto Rico and attended the event, said she had not encountered much activism in support of LGBTQ rights until she came to Brown. Her experiences have motivated her to bring more dialogue and openness to Puerto Rico, she said.

"It gave me more of an impetus to reach out and make things really happen," she said.



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