Things That Matter

Puerto Rico’s Governor Signs New Law That Removes Many Of The Island’s Protections For Women And The LGBTQ Community

Until recently, Puerto Rico had several laws on the books that dated all the way back to when it was a Spanish colony – some 130 years ago. It was widely acknowledged that the island’s civil code needed to be updated. However, the territory’s unelected governor has just signed into law an updated civil code that many say strips away hard won civil rights protections for women and the LGBTQ community.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed into law updates to the civil code that put several communities at risk.

Credit: Carlos Giusti / Getty

This week, the island’s governor, Wanda Vázquez, signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the territory’s civil code – and in doing so, many say legal protections for at-risk communities have been wiped away.

The civil code hadn’t been updated since the 1930s, and many of the island’s old laws dated back to when the island was still a Spanish colony. Therefore, many experts agree that there was a need to update several laws in a way that reflects today’s modern society.

After Puerto Rico’s constitution, the island’s civil code is the most significant legal document in the territory. But the new civil code infringes upon the “human rights gains of women and LGBTQI+ people” by giving rights to fetuses, limiting people’s ability to amend their birth certificates in ways that are consistent with their gender identities and failing to “explicitly prohibit discrimination,” according to the advocacy group Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de Equidad, which loosely translates to the Committee for Equity.

Law experts and civil rights activists were quick to express concern and outrage over the move.

Everyone from legal experts and civil rights activists to Puerto Rican celebrities (including Ricky Martin) have spoken out against the update and many say some of the laws represent a historical setback. In fact, the word “discrimination” doesn’t appear in the new civil code at all.

“Puerto Rico’s governor signed into law significant revisions to the island’s civil codes that shamefully ignore the urgent calls of local advocates to explicitly include vital, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David in a statement. “The government has failed to carry out its primary duty of ensuring the safety and well-being of all Puerto Ricans, including LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.”

The move also comes as Puerto Rico’s LGBTQ community – especially the trans community – is under increased attack.

The new civil code, which doesn’t even mention the word discrimination, was signed into law just as the island is experiencing a severe uptick in violence against LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

Five transgender Puerto Ricans have been killed in the U.S. commonwealth since the beginning of 2020. These include Serena Angelique Velázquez and Layla Pelaz, two trans women who were murdered in April in Humacao before their bodies were placed inside a car that was set on fire.

In what seems like a direct attack on the trans community, the new civil code prohibits people from changing the sex they were assigned at birth in their original birth certificates. That, according to the Committee for Equity, is effectively “jeopardizing the rights of trans people.”

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, a lawyer and the director of the nonprofit Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project at the National LGBTQ Task Force, told NBC News that “this type of action by the government, the Legislature, and the rhetoric that comes from the religious right inflicts physical harm” on trans people because it fuels “hate crimes and allows families to reject their trans relatives.”

Puerto Rico’s trans community had finally won some serious legal rights – these are being set back with the new laws.

Since 2018, transgender people in Puerto Rico have been able to correct their birth certificates to reflect their gender identities after winning a 15-year legal battle in federal court. Since then, a trans person can go to the Demographic Registry with an order from a social worker or a medical professional “who puts their credentials on the line” guaranteeing that a person lives with the gender of their preference.

The new civil code seems to roll back those protections when it says “no amendments to the sex a person was born with can be authorized in the original birth certificate,” adding that a court is the only entity with the power to “make an annotation next to the original sex designation” if a person wishes to correct their designation after birth.

The new civil code could also infringe upon the rights of women to maintain control over their health and body.

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is subject to Supreme Court rulings – so abortion rights continue to exist on the island through the Roe v. Wade ruling.

However, the new civil code recognizes an unborn child’s “condition as a person,” adding that it’s “considered born for all the effects that are favorable to him or her.” Granting rights to an unborn child means that the government could intervene and place more obstacles later on. Several experts agree that it opens the door to start limiting abortions in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is no stranger to such efforts. Over the past year, conservative lawmakers have tried to pass legislation to limit women’s access to abortions. Rep. María Milagros “Tata” Charbonier, president of the commission within Puerto Rico’s House in charge of creating the new civil code, supported bills looking to limit abortions. She also spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt to block same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico after the Supreme Court legalized it in 2015.

Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

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Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Another crisis is unfolding on the island of Puerto Rico, as a severe drought grips the territory and forces the government to take drastic measures. After a series of major earthquakes and hurricanes, Puerto Rico is now suffering through one of its worst droughts in history.

Water is scarce. And the government is implementing rationing measures that will leave hundreds of thousands of residents without regular access to running water.

Gov. Wanda Vazquez has announced a state of emergency as the government begins rationing water.

Puerto Rico is once again in the headlines for an ongoing crisis that is affecting hundreds of thousands of island residents. On Monday, Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency as a worsening drought creeps across the territory.

Starting July 2, nearly 140,000 customers, including some in the capital of San Juan, will be without water for 24 hours every other day as part of strict rationing measures. Puerto Rico’s utilities company urged people to not excessively stockpile water because it would worsen the situation, and officials asked that everyone use masks and maintain social distancing if they seek water from one of 23 water trucks set up across the island.

“We’re asking people to please use moderation,” said Doriel Pagán, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewer Authority, adding that she could not say how long the rationing measures will last.

The order signed also prohibits certain activities in most municipalities including watering gardens during daylight hours, filling pools and using a hose or non-recycled water to wash cars. Those caught face fines ranging from $250 for residents to $2,500 for industries for a first violation.

Puerto Rico is experiencing a drought ranging from moderate to severe in some parts of the territory.

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of last week more than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought and another 60% is under a moderate drought. Water rationing measures affecting more than 16,000 clients were imposed this month in some communities in the island’s northeast region.

The island’s access to water is complicated by the fact that many residents rely on a system of reservoirs in Puerto Rico for water. However, due to budget constraints, several have not been dredged for years, leaving sediment to collect and allowing the excess loss of water. 

Aside from drought, the island is still recovering from a pair of deadly earthquakes and Hurricane Maria.

Credit: Eric Rojas / Getty Images

Over the last few years, Puerto Rico has suffered a one-two punch that has left much of the island’s infrastructure in shambles. In fact, Vasquez cited the lasting impacts of the December and January earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic as exacerbating the water crisis.

The current water crisis has threatened the safety and wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. The earthquakes also disproportionately impacted the southern region where the drought is most severe. Vázquez also extended the coronavirus curfew for the whole island, which began in March, for three more weeks, making it the longest continuous curfew in the United States so far.

Chrystul Kizer, A Sex Trafficking Victim, Accused Of Murder Freed On Bail Thanks To The Chicago Community Bond Fund

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Chrystul Kizer, A Sex Trafficking Victim, Accused Of Murder Freed On Bail Thanks To The Chicago Community Bond Fund

Chrystul Kizer / Getty

Chrystul Kizer, a 19-year-old, who had been charged with the murder of her abuser and trafficker Randall P. Volar, III in 2018, has finally been released from police custody. The news comes after the Chicago Community Bond Fund, an organization that posts bails for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois, posted her bail.

In 2018, Kizer was charged with murdering her abuser and sex trafficker in Wisconsin.

At the time, of her arrest, Kizer was 16. She has been in federal custody for two years awaiting trial on a $1 million bond. Kizer had been charged at the time with first-degree murder, arson, and possession of a firearm.

In June 2018, Kizer had been a human trafficking victim who was being abused by Valor for at least a year. Valor was found shot and killed in his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the time of his death, his entire house went up in flames. In the hours before the arson, Kizer allegedly shared a photo of herself in Valor’s home, and days later filmed a video of herself waving a gun.

According to police, Kizer allegedly confessed to killing Valor and said that “she got upset and was tired of Volar touching her.”

After Kizer was arrested, the Kenosha Police Department revealed that they had been investigating him since at least early 2018. The police had been investigating his role in a  human trafficking scheme that abused underage girls. The Kenosha Police Department was also looking into Valor for possible “child pornography.”

Since her arrest, Kizer received an overwhelming amount of support from activists and celebrities like Alyssa Milano.

Former human trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown-Long also spoke out on her behalf. Jennifer Bias the Trial Division Director at the Office of the State Public Defender. called Kizer a “traumatized child” who had been “enticed and abused repeatedly by Randy Volar, will continue to suffer for the rest of her life. While Chrystul will never be able to erase what Mr. Volar did to her, she now has a fighting chance to assist in the preparation of her defense to these very serious charges from outside of a jail cell.”

Kizer’s bail bond was paid off by the Chicago Community Bond Fund after it was lowered from $1 million to $400,000. The organization said that they had managed to pay off Kizer’s bail thanks to donations pushed by the Black Lives Matter movement. They explained that all excess donations would be used to “establish a national bail fund for criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence under the direction of Survived & Punished and housed at the National Bail Fund Network.”

Fortunately, the Chicago Community Bond Fund has committed themselves to fighting for Kizer’s rights as a victim and survivor of human trafficking