LGBTQ activists in Puerto Rico are among those who have joined earthquake relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth.
A group of volunteers with Waves Ahead, a group based in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, over the weekend traveled to Guayanilla and other municipalities on the island’s southwest coast that suffered extensive damage from a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck on Jan. 7.
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the area the day before caused Punta Ventana, a natural rock formation in Guayanilla that was popular among local residents and tourists alike, to collapse into the Caribbean Sea. The Associated Press reported the U.S. Geological Survey has recorded more than 900 earthquakes in Puerto Rico since Dec. 31.
Pictures that Waves Ahead sent to the Washington Blade show cracked buildings in Guayanilla and local residents sleeping in tents they have set up in area parks. Buildings in nearby Ponce, which is Puerto Rico’s second largest city, have also been damaged.
The earthquakes have caused blackouts across Puerto Rico, and have damaged one of the island’s largest power plants that is located in Guayanilla. Waves Ahead Executive Director Wilfred Labiosa told the Blade the first assistance that residents of a neighborhood in Guánica, a municipality that is west of Guayanilla, received since the earthquakes began came from members of his organization on Sunday.
Waves Ahead also continues to raise money for the relief effort.
“It is devastating to see how the southwestern towns of Puerto Rico are literally crumbling down,” said Labiosa. “People are living in the streets and parks. Older and LGBT (people), we are all impacted and affected.”
“The anxiety and trauma are palpable everywhere,” he added, while criticizing Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s response to the earthquakes. “The central government didn’t learn and continues holding back aide and blaming municipalities and citizens for not following procedures. The earth shakes a lot and it hasn’t stopped.”
Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, another Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, is among those who has worked with Waves Ahead. Bear Tavern PR, a gay bar in San Juan’s Ocean Park neighborhood, and HIV/AIDS service organizations that include Pacientes de Sida Pro Política Sana are also supporting the relief effort.
“We are a collection center for the people in the southern part of the island,” Gabriel Acosta, who co-owns Bear Tavern PR with his partner, Ismael Acosta, told the Blade over the weekend. “We are trying to help in any way that we can.”
Earthquakes strike less than three years after Maria
Maria, which made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017, killed upwards of 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.
Labiosa and other activists with whom the Blade has spoken say discrimination, violence and a lack of employment opportunities for LGBTQ Puerto Ricans since Maria has made them even more vulnerable. Waves Ahead and SAGE Puerto Rico, along with Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, is among the groups that continue to help LGBTQ Puerto Ricans recover from the hurricane.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz — a vocal LGBTQ rights supporter — is among those who sharply criticized President Trump’s response to Maria. Ricardo Rosselló, who was Puerto Rico’s governor when the hurricane made landfall, resigned last summer amid outrage over homophobic and misogynistic comments he and members of his administration sent to each other on the messaging app Telegram.
Rosselló, among other things, mocked Maria victims in the messages that became public. They also included homophobic and misogynistic comments against Ricky Martin, Cruz and other prominent politicians who include former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan.
Trump last week declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico.