July 7, 2016 at 2:37 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Puerto Rico ‘still mourning’ Pulse nightclub massacre victims

Pedro Julio Serrano, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, gay news, Washington Blade

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, shows his tattoo that pays tribute to the LGBT Puerto Ricans who died inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A prominent Puerto Rican LGBT activist on Wednesday said the U.S. commonwealth is “still mourning” the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican advocacy group, noted to the Washington Blade during an interview outside San Juan City Hall that 23 of the 49 people who died inside the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12 were LGBT Puerto Ricans.

“We’re still mourning,” he said.

Serrano traveled to Orlando the day after the massacre took place.

He told the Blade that he has met with the families of 14 of the 23 LGBT Puerto Rican victims.

“It’s devastating,” said Serrano. “The one thing that was the common denominator was that when they saw me — no one told me — but I could feel it that when they saw me they saw their child or the family member that they lost. And the hugs and the love that I received from them was so embracing and so powerful that I could feel that they were trying to hold on to me because they were trying to hold onto their loved ones”

“It was something I’ve never experienced before,” he added.

A plaque with the names of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre is located in San Juan’s Third Millennium Park. It is adjacent to the U.S. commonwealth’s first LGBT-specific monument that San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz officially dedicated on June 26.

Serrano received a tattoo of a ribbon on his forearm that contains the Puerto Rican and rainbow flags.

“We could see us in the faces of the victims,” he told the Blade, speaking about the LGBT Puerto Ricans who died inside the Pulse nightclub. “Anybody could see their daughter, their son, their loved one in the faces of the people that we lost.”

Shooting has ‘shaken the conscience of Puerto Rico’

The Pulse nightclub massacre took place three decades after Ángel Colón Maldonado, who was known as “The Angel of the Bachelors” or “El Ángel de los Solteros” in Spanish, killed 27 gay men in the U.S. commonwealth.

The brutal murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado near the town of Cayey in 2009 sparked outrage across Puerto Rico and among LGBT activists in the mainland U.S. Serrano told the Blade that the gay teenager’s death, Colón and the Pulse nightclub massacre “have shaken the conscience of” the U.S. commonwealth.

“Those three events have shaken the conscience of Puerto Rico in a way that has crystalized the (fact that) homophobia is very real,” he said. “People have realized that the worst act of discrimination and of hate is killing someone.”

“So this killing — the killing of 23 of our brothers and sisters — is overwhelming,” added Serrano, referring to the Pulse nightclub massacre.

the Pulse nightclub massacre, gay news, Washington Blade

A plaque in Third Millennium Park in San Juan, Puerto Rico, pays tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Serrano told the Blade that he refuses to describe the massacre as an act of terrorism.

“It really is a hate crime more than anything,” he said. “It was the worst hate crime that we have had.”

Serrano rejects Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the days after the Pulse nightclub massacre reiterated his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and suspend immigration from areas where “there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.” The billionaire also boasted that he would do more to protect LGBT Americans than Hillary Clinton if he were elected president.

Serrano — who previously lived in Jackson Heights, an ethnically and religiously diverse neighborhood in New York City’s Queens borough in which many LGBT people live — rejected Trump’s rhetoric.

“We respected each other,” Serrano told the Blade, referring to his old neighborhood. “We loved each other and we have learned to live with each other so any attempt from him or anyone to try to divide us will not work.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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