Trans activist asks to meet with governor to ‘solve problems’
Insists island trans community must organize and unite
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
A year after Alexa Luciano Ruiz’s murder, which sparked conversations on the discrimination and violence trans people face in Puerto Rico, the trans community still demands to be heard and for their basic needs to be addressed by the island government.
As part of the call to action, trans activist Jennifer Orellano, also known as Jennifer St. Cartier, called on Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to meet with her and other trans leaders to listen to them, identify their problems and develop public policies to address the issues that have brought inequality, violence and tragedy to the community.
In a letter St. Cartier read, recorded and posted on various social media outlets Wednesday, she urged Pierluisi to meet with the trans collective because, she said, the gender violence state of emergency declared a month ago “does not protect us from transphobic people who continue depriving us of our lives.”
St. Cartier told the STAR on Thursday that the letter includes claims such as creating a rights bill that includes protections for children of trans, gender-non-conforming, and gender-expansive experience; developing a healthcare plan that covers medical services such as hormonal procedures and gender-affirming surgeries; legislation that includes providing equal labor access for trans people at both commonwealth and municipal governmental entities; decriminalizing sex work on the island; and providing access to justice for sex workers when violations occur.
“This letter was based on a letter I wrote a year ago to then-governor Wanda Vázquez Garced when the island found out that Alexa was murdered, which I decided to read because there was an alarming rise in trans murders and femicides and the government was doing nothing about it,” St. Cartier said. “I consider that they [the authorities], as leaders, are the ideal people to apply pressure or establish laws that try to tackle what’s happening and make justice not only for all of the trans people who have been murdered, but also for the families, friends, and collectives such as feminist organizations and LGBTQI+ community, [who need to see] that something is being done for them.”
As for calling for justice in Puerto Rico while living in the state of New York, St. Cartier, who has been working in the sex trade for 21 years, said she is demandiing to meet with the governor as she has noticed “the trans community in the island is still struggling with the same issues that made me move off the island 20 years ago.”
She said that before becoming a sex worker, she worked as a nurse practitioner in different hospitals on the island, but left the workplace in 2000 as she began growing tired of discrimination, rejection and transphobic epithets.
“The problems that the trans community faces are more visible and challenging than the issues that the gay and lesbian community face on the island,” said St. Cartier, who advocates for Decrim NY, a non-profit organization working to decriminalize, decarcerate and destigmatize the sex trades in New York City and statewide.
“You could easily see gay and lesbian people becoming doctors, lawyers or obtaining executive positions, you could see gay people being able to adopt children and get married now, but trans people, no matter how smart, how prepared or how capable we are, we never get a chance to progress because we are judged on first sight and aren’t given a chance,” the activist said. “Our issues have not been attended to, because I don’t even have a chance for a job, I don’t have the opportunity to have quality of life. … I cannot purchase my own car, house, or any other property because I will be discriminated against because I make my living as a sex worker, which is the only job that some people have to bring a hot plate of food to the table.”
Pierluisi told the STAR on Wednesday that he would be promising the trans community representation and an opportunity to be heard at the Gender Violence Prevention, Advocacy, Rescue and Education Committee, a task force established amid the emergency decree.
“That is one of the communities that we must protect after any incidence of violence; they can count on that,” the governor said. “The order is very broad, I want there to be a culture of respect among all Puerto Ricans.”
When the STAR asked again if trans people were to be included in the committee meeting, Pierluisi said “the order speaks for itself.”
“It’s a very holistic measure that wants to address every branch of violence,” the governor said.
But St. Cartier is requesting a meeting apart from the committee because, she said, trans community issues are far more challenging and deserve their own space.
“Why do I not want to have a meeting with this collective? Because this collective will speak based on the issues that they face as a community, but they won’t discuss the issues that we, the trans community, face,” she said. “Even if we belong to the LGBTQI+ community, our needs are so much more aggravated.”
“I want a meeting with him and with my trans community only because our problems are greater than some might believe,” St. Cartier added.
She said she has extended the letter to trans activist Ivana Fred and, if there is no response after Fred relays the letter, St. Cartier said she would be visiting the island herself this summer to deliver the letter personally.
“The trans community must make themselves heard,” she said. “We need to organize, unite and insist every day until the government manages to handle everything concerning matter. This is not something where you scream now and keep your mouth shut later.”
Meanwhile, trans activist Joanna Cifredo de Fellman said “the trans community in Puerto Rico needs many things.”
“We need equal access to employment, housing, and health care services,” Cifredo de Fellman said. “We need a strong commitment on behalf of our elected officials to address the inequities within our communities that are a direct result of widespread systematic discrimination.”
She stressed to the STAR that the Pierluisi administration needs “to continue to address the violence facing trans people in all its forms, from administrative, to sexual, to other forms of physical and physiological violence.”
“The new administration needs to be clear about where they stand,” she said. “Will our communities be a priority for them and, if so, what does that look like in policy? We need a comprehensive policy agenda for our communities, especially to address the issues facing LGBTQ+ young people.”
In addition, as a Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teachers Network report claims that up to 90% of K-12 students have been harassed due to their gender expression, Cifredo de Fellman said the island government must implement “an educational curriculum that is inclusive and reflects the realities of the world we live in and the people who make up that world.”
As for legislation, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago told the STAR that bills and resolutions have been filed.
“We have filed Senate Resolution 78, where we order the Puerto Rico Human Rights and Work Rights Committee to investigate which measures and protocols are being implemented at the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, the Department of Justice, and the Courts Administration Office to guarantee that crimes motivated by the crime victim’s gender identity and sexual orientation are classified and addressed under the circumstances,” Santiago said of the resolution she filed along with Citizen Victory Movement senators Ana Irma Rivera Lassen and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl, Popular Democratic Party senators Ada García Montes and Rubén Soto Rivera and independent senator José Vargas Vidot.
Furthermore, Santiago said Senate Bill 136 was filed to amend Article 1 from Act 23-2013 to expand discrimination protection to the LGBTQI+ community in both private and public government management spheres, as it only protects the community that works within the government.
As for legislation that could harm the LGBTQI+ community, the senator said none has been filed at the moment that could concern her and the community.