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Gay-Rights Movement Growing In Puerto Rico
By Matthew Hay Brown
June 3, 2002
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- As they embraced in the Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera, Enrique Virella turned his face and kissed Jose Rodriguez playfully on the neck. Even in the relatively cosmopolitan capital, it was an extraordinary show of affection between men in Puerto Rico.
And it was just the sort of thing Henry Guerrero was looking for. Camcorder in hand, he was one of several scanning the crowd that packed the park's open-air Pavilion of Peace on Sunday to quietly capture the action for Pro-Life of Puerto Rico. The group said the footage would be posted on the Internet.
The presence of Pro-Life at Puerto Rico's 12th annual gay-pride parade was only the latest evidence of the growing conflict between an increasingly vocal gay-rights movement and a similarly rising opposition campaign on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island.
On one side, gay-rights activists say homosexuals feel persecuted in a society in which homosexuality remains illegal and politicians still try to score votes by starting rumors that their rivals are gay.
"We're still living in the 19th century," said 25-year-old Amy Fuentes, who attended the parade with her partner, Cindy Reyes.
On the other side, religious conservatives express alarm about recent legal gains for homosexuals -- including decisions to apply the island's domestic-violence law to same-sex couples and to consider hate-crime prosecution for anti-gay attacks -- which they say lend official support to a lifestyle that threatens traditional Puerto Rican values.
"You have their opinion, and you have God's opinion," Pro-Life president Carlos Sanchez said. "In the Bible there are men and women. There's no third sex."
In recent months, the sides have made Puerto Rico's anti-sodomy Article 103 the battle ground for their conflict. Legislators are considering scrapping the law, which criminalizes homosexuality, as part of wide-ranging revisions to the island's penal code.
The international human-rights group Amnesty International recently cited anti-sodomy laws in 16 states, including Florida, and Puerto Rico among evidence in listing the United States as one of 30 countries that discriminates against homosexuals.
Conservatives, many with ties to the island's growing evangelical Protestant movement, characterize the proposed revision as the latest attempt by the administration of Gov. Sila M. Calderon to undermine the role of the traditional family in Puerto Rican society.
But gay-rights activists say attitudes remain well behind those in much of the United States. They cite recent comments attributed to Comptroller Manuel Díaz Saldaña, who was reported in the local press to have said the behavior of homosexuals was "as deviant as any pedophile."
In a parade organized by a coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual groups calling itself the Rainbow Pride Coalition, hundreds marched the main strip of the hotel district of Condado, which were adorned for the occasion with rainbow flags.
Loudspeakers mounted on trucks blared club music while marchers carried signs that read "Arrest Me -- I Practice Article 103" and "Let's Live With Pride -- Let's Change the World." Some of the men modeled heels, stockings, feathers and makeup, but many more donned more conventional clothing as they walked, skated, cycled or danced.
One woman watched with her granddaughter from the steps of their apartment house.
"What explanation can you give for this to a child?" said the woman, who did not want to give her name. "We tell them it's like Halloween. I respect everyone, but they should do this in their own place. There are so many children here."
But Condado resident Cristina Nuñez called the parade "wonderful."
"They have a right to express what they feel," agreed her husband, Pedro Romero. "They're human beings just like us."