February 11, 2019 at 6:09 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Puerto Rico government issues LGBTI-friendly guidelines to public employees
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló‘s administration on Feb. 8, 2019, issued guidelines that urge public employees in the U.S. commonwealth to become more sensitive to transgender people who are seeking to change the gender marker on their birth certificates and to same-sex couples who are applying for a marriage license. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration on Feb. 8 issued guidelines that are designed to make the U.S. commonwealth’s public employees more sensitive to the needs of transgender people and same-sex couples and their children.

The guidelines specifically refer to trans Puerto Ricans who want to change the gender on their birth certificates and children whose parents are legally married same-sex couples.

A press release that Rosselló’s administration released notes the governor’s Advisory Council on LGBTT Affairs visited Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry on Dec. 18, 2018, “in order to inspect how the process of changing genders on birth certificates were carried out and how the transgender people who went in to have the said change done were treated.”

“We decided to make these guidelines, in order to address any possible event that may arise and to be able to provide the necessary tools to our public employees about how to treat this population with the utmost respect,” said Alberto J. Valentín, executive director of the Advisory Council on LGBTT Affairs, in the press release.

“It is as a result of this view that we decided to make these guides, in order to address any possible event that may arise and to provide the necessary tools to our public employees on how to treat this population with the utmost respect,” he added.

All of the Demographic Registry’s employees on Feb. 5 attended workshops and trainings that Puerto Rico Civil Rights Commission Executive Director Ever Padilla moderated.

“These workshops allow Demographic Registry employees to have the necessary understanding about the application of these guidelines; about how to treat members of the LGBTTQIA community with respect every day, understanding there are times when they are afraid to go government agencies to receive different services because they are afraid of being judged or mistreated,” said Padilla in the press release.

Trans people in Puerto Rico have been able to legally change the gender marker on their birth certificates since July 2018.

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of three trans Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a local advocacy group, against a 2005 Puerto Rico Supreme Court decree that said trans people could not amend the gender marker on their birth certificates. A federal judge in 2018 ruled the provision was unconstitutional.

The governor’s press release says 104 Puerto Ricans have changed their gender marker on their birth certificates. It also notes more than 1,000 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in Puerto Rico since 2015.

Advisory Council on LGBTT Affairs President Johanne Vélez told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, the new guidelines go “hand and hand” with policies implemented by the Puerto Rico Department of Health and other government agencies that are designed to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vélez said the new birth certificate and marriage license policies were “new” for Demographic Registry employees when they took effect. She told the Blade that many of them simply did not understand them or know how to react when a trans person asked to change the gender on their birth certificate or a same-sex couple asked for a marriage license.

“We realized there was a need for sensitive training,” said Vélez, specifically referring to the birth certificate policy.

Guidelines are ‘the first step’

Puerto Rico’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws include both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rosselló on July 5, 2017, signed an executive order that created the Advisory Council on LGBTT Affairs. The council, which includes activists, advises Rosselló and his administration on LGBTI issues.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017.

A George Washington University study that Rosselló commissioned attributes nearly 3,000 deaths to Maria.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal champion of LGBTI rights who is expected to run against Rosselló in 2020, is among those who has sharply criticized President Trump over the federal government’s response to the hurricane. Activists in the U.S. commonwealth have told the Blade that discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and poverty are among the factors that have left LGBTI Puerto Ricans even more vulnerable after Maria.

Hurricane Maria destroyed this bridge over the Río Grande de Manatí that connected Ciales and Morovis. Sept. 20, 2018, marked a year since Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and the bridge had yet to be repaired. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rosselló announced the new guidelines roughly a month after Kevin Fret, a well-known openly gay Latin trap artist, was murdered in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood.

“It is the first step of many other steps to take,” Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead, a San Juan-based advocacy group that is helping LGBTI Puerto Ricans recover from Maria, told the Blade on Monday in a text message. “There is a lot more work to be done.”

Vélez stressed the Rosselló administration remains committed to fighting anti-LGBTI discrimination in Puerto Rico. She noted to the Blade the Advisory Council on LGBTI+ Affairs is scheduled to hold its fifth public forum in the San Juan suburb of Bayamón on Feb. 21.

“This is a governor that excels in listening and responding and looking for balance in a society as a whole,” said Vélez. “We are emulating in that sense that style of leadership. We want to make sure that things happen correctly.”

A monument to LGBT Puerto Ricans in Third Millennium Park in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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