Puerto Rico’s State of Transgender Emergency
(Originally published in Prism & Pen on 21/02/03.)
Last Tuesday Governor Pedro Pierluisi declared a state of emergency in the American territory of Puerto Rico. Why? Because of the prevalence of gender-based violence. This includes violence against women and transgender people.
The announcement follows the brutal killing of Samuel Edmund Damian Valentin, a young trans man, who was found dead by a motorist whose car struck his body, which had been dumped on the highway. Sammy had been killed by multiple gunshot wounds across his body, which authorities say points to the murder being driven by rage.
A hate crime.
NBC reports that the Transgender Law Center say Sammy was the seventh trans person to be killed in Puerto Rico since last February. Indeed he was the second trans person killed in 2021, following the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Tyianna Alexander earlier in the month. Last April three trans women were killed within a week.
By any metric these are staggering figures, given the size of the trans population. And this is central to the problem. In 2020 the Gender Equality Observatory reported at least 60 women killed, six of them trans women. Given that the trans population is estimated at less than 1%, basic math shows that trans women in Puerto Rico are at least ten times as likely to be killed as cis women, with the added caveats that trans women are very often killed for being trans alone, along with all the other slights men repay with misogynistic and/or racist and homophobic violence, and that violence against trans people is under reported because of post-mortem misgendering.
Does it go without saying that the police initially misgendered Sammy?
And so, I applaud Gov. Puerluisi for what is a powerful response to a serious problem of fatal misogyny and endemic violence against an incredibly beleaguered subset of the population. If ever there was a time for such an action it is now. The Human Rights Campaign, who have tracked violent transgender deaths since 2013, have noted that 2020 was the deadliest they’ve seen with 44 GNC and trans people having been killed in the US.
So Gov. Puerluisi is doing a good thing. And indeed he is directly answering calls levied at his predecessor by activist groups. Democracy in action. (Shame about the 6th Jan huh?)
The press release reads:
“Gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have space or tolerance in the Puerto Rico that we aspire to. For too long vulnerable victims have suffered the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all lack of action.”
So what does this executive degree amount to? Well, not a huge amount to be honest — a committee and an app. Yeah. They’re going to look at the issue and make reports every 30 days for a year and a half (the order ends on June 30th 2022), and issue a mobile app that acts as a panic button.
Look, it’s a start. It’s a payoff for all the hard work by groups like Feminist Collective who led the demonstrations in September 2020. It’s not nothing. I’m trying to be hopeful for the women and trans folk of the island.
Why didn’t the rest of the US give a shit?
CNN, NBC, and a few other outlets picked the story up, but then it died. Immediately. Why? Typically States of Emergency in mainland US are used for storms and other natural disasters. And what ensues across the media is a rolling cavalcade of sensational coverage of the situation. Why not this particular executive decree?
Leaving aside Puerto Rico’s historic substandard treatment by the USA, their placement as second-class, the very simple and appalling fact is that gender-based violence being endemic is not news.
Gender-based violence is the status quo in western civilisation.
There’s no interest in covering an existing situation, as it continues to exist.
This is patriarchy in action .
Gender-based violence against women, trans, and gender non-conforming people is an emergency across the world.
But it isn’t news.