Activist set to walk 120 miles for LGBTIQ+ equality
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The STAR
From a dream, she turned it into reality.
With the mission of urging the island Legislature to pass Senate Bill (SB) 485, which would establish a Bill of Rights for LGBTIQ+ people, activist Joanna Cifredo set out on foot Thursday from Mayagüez on a weeklong walk to San Juan to raise awareness on the violence trans people continue to face day to day.
Cifredo, who held a conversation with students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Mayagüez Campus on the importance of the legislative branch approving the bill penned by Citizens’ Victory Movement Sens. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl, told the STAR that the “Walk for Equity” commenced on Wednesday night with a vigil in San Germán in remembrance of the life of Michelle “Michellyn” Ramos Vargas, a 33-year-old trans nursing student who was found fatally shot in the municipality.
Ramos Vargas’ killing was one of the six transfeminicides that occurred in 2020, along with 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos and 21-year-old Layla Pelaez Sánchez, according to the report of the Gender Equity Observatory.
Cifredo said the trans-island walk is expected to end on Sept. 30 with a demonstration at the Capitol in Puerto de Tierra, a year after Ramos Vargas’ slaying, to “make the government understand that this discrimination, this hatred that some members of our own government foster against our own community is costing our own lives.”
“More than providing us with a legal tool in cases of discrimination, it is also important to send a clear and forceful message to Puerto Rican society about what kind of country we want to be,” she said. “We want to be an inclusive country that celebrates diversity among us.”
According to feminist outlet Todas, SB 485 would recognize the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community and could be used as legal protection in cases of discrimination in health, housing and education.
“I don’t know what the government will do, but I’m doing this to push the Legislature to move this bill forward,” said the sustainable development student from Sagrado Corazón University. “It will all depend on what the other collectives will do, on calling for our senators to do their part.”
“Whether they pass the bill or not, our society will be inclusive, or it will not be,” Cifredo added. “We will keep on fighting because we know that, even if this bill passes, this will not stop violence or the discrimination against us until the government recognizes us.”
Along the 120-mile route, Cifredo and her allies have scheduled a visit to Moca, the hometown of 19-year-old trans man Yampi Méndez Arocho, who was killed in March 2020. They will also camp in Toa Baja, the municipality where 28-year-old Neulisa “Alexa” Luciano Ruiz was murdered amid defamatory posts on various social media outlets, and take a stand in Bayamón, where 31-year-old Penelope Díaz Ramírez was slain in the town’s correctional complex.
It is expected that Cifredo will hold a conversation with students at the UPR-Arecibo Campus next week, and will join forces with cultural organization La Borivogue to celebrate LGBTIQ+ lives and demand equal rights in San Juan.
In 2021, violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people in Puerto Rico continued as 21-year-old Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, a transgender man, was found dead on Jan. 9, with multiple gunshot wounds, in the Trujillo Alto Expressway.
Valentín’s slaying would be the second killing of a trans person in 2021 within the U.S. jurisdiction, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Meanwhile, independent outlet Real Change reported that in the first 25 weeks of 2021, 29 trans and gender-non-conforming people have been slain in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, which, they said, represents “a rate of more than one person killed each week among a group of people who make up about 0.6% of the population.”