Story at a glance
- The bodies of two transgender women were found badly burned in a car on April 23.
- At least four transgender people have been killed in Puerto Rico this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
- The Broad Committee for the Search of Equity, or CABE in Spanish, held a press conference denouncing the latest anti-LGBTQ violence.
“They are hunting us and they are killing us,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the Broad Committee for the Search of Equity, or CABE in Spanish.
Serrano spoke during a press conference following the killing of two transgender women on April 23, identified by locals as 21-year-old Layla Peláez and 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velázquez, from New York City, whose bodies were found badly burned in a car. The two women are at least the third and fourth transgender people killed in Puerto Rico this year, including a transgender woman known as Alexa who was murdered after using the women’s restroom at a McDonalds in Toa Baja.
In the press conference, held over Zoom, CABE asked for police to disclose the status of investigations of several cases involving violence against LGBTQ+ Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced addressed Alexa’s death in February, but has not specifically spoken about the recent killing of Peláez and Velázquez.
“We are asking the government of Wanda Vázquez Garced to denounce these killings and to say that hate crimes have no place in Puerto Rican society,” Serrano said.
According to CABE, 10 LGBTQ+ people have have been killed in the past 15 months, including five transgender people murdered in the past two months. Only one of the cases has been solved, according to Serrano, who said the killing occurred in a prison, where the culprit was already behind bars.
“The other nine victims have not had justice,” he said.
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Between 2017 and 2018, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) reported a 34 percent increase in hate crimes against transgender people. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported 22 transgender people killed in the United States, although other estimates put the number as high as 40.
“These are crimes that are structural, violence that is structural and the government is responsible for dealing with this at all levels,” said Carmen Velaz Vega during the press conference.
Violence against transgender people can be particularly hard to track, because police and media will sometimes misgender the victim, referring to their sex at birth. This is particularly common in Puerto Rico, where initial reports of Alexa’s death referred to a “man who was dressed as a female.” In response, hundreds of tweets and social media posts condemned her killing under the hashtags “Her Name Was Alexa” or, in Spanish, “Se Llamaba Alexa.”
“We haven’t seen this amount of violence in this magnitude in 10 years. We have taken great strides in Puerto Rico to make sure hate crimes don’t happen, but they are happening again. Our people are in danger and they are living in fear,” Serrano said.
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