www.ambiente.us NOVEMBER | NOVIEMBRE 2008
Puerto Rican Sodomy Law - An Irony of Gay History
by Carlos T Mock, MD
Puerto Rico is lagging behind the queer curve--and
behind the environmental, civil rights and other
curves that Americans now take for granted--not just
because it is a Latin American culture, but, above all,
because it is a colony of the U.S. Until the important
Lawrence decision in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme
court decriminalized sodomy, any perfectly
respectable citizen in Puerto Rico caught having sex
with someone of the same gender can be sent to the
slammer for 10 years..
Of course Puerto Rican authorities fatuously claim
that hardly anyone has ever done time under their
imported Anglo-Saxon sodomy law. But the sodomy law is as entrenched in the legal system as the U.S.
colonial powers are on the island, and both are a sword of Damocles hanging over the respective
populations. Oppressing, abusing, and humiliating them. Keeping them in line.
Amparo Fidalgo, a speaker at Puerto Rico's June 4, 2000 Gay Pride rally at Luis Muñoz Rivera Park, knows
the score. She told a cheering crowd: "We demand peace for lesbian, gay, bi, transsexual and transgendered
people bombarded with taunts, contaminated with homophobia, abused by violence."
Fidalgo asked the crowd, among other things, to persist in demanding the repeal of the Puerto Rico sodomy
law. Nicaragua is the only other Latin American nation with a sodomy law.
Enforced, or not, the sodomy law is a kind of unofficial death penalty for lesbians, gay men, bi- and
transgendered people. As Fidalgo reminded the crowd, three queers had recently been brutally murdered in
Puerto Rico. The law also incites harassment, beatings, discrimination, and internalized homophobia.
Likewise, the colonial status of Puerto Rico leaves it vulnerable to abuses by the U.S. You get Vieques redux,
CIA/FBI interference in politics, and "carpetas" (slang for FBI surveillance files). Even worse, the island's
status fosters apathy, corruption, and self-hatred in its people.
We All Move Forward Together
In Puerto Rico as everywhere else, we all move forward together, or not at all.
This simple idea was apparent at the 10th annual gay rights march in San Juan, which preceded the rally,
both organized by the queer Rainbow Pride Coalition. For the first time, a number of non-queer organizations
joined the Pride Parade, among them the groups All Puerto Rico with Vieques, and the Women's Coalition
Puerto Rican protester Fidalgo explained the alliance. "It shouldn't be strange to anyone that, as people
embodying civil disobedience in our very existence, we support the fight of others who, like us, understand
that there are some basic rights that should never be violated. Just as we are the owners of our own bodies,
we are the owners of our lands and our dreams," said Fidalgo, speaking on behalf of the Rainbow Pride
Coalition. Behind her was a placard featuring the map of Vieques emblazoned with the gay coalition's flag
and the word "Peace." LGBT mainlanders will remember reading about Vieques in the newspapers - how
Puerto Ricans were protesting use of part of the island by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice. (The Navy
finally abandoned the bombing range.)
Instead of alliances, it is more common to hear the voices of bigotry snarling, "Don't muddy the pure issue of
our nationhood with your sexual hangups." Or... "Don't muddy the issue of gay rights with all that gender
stuff." "Don't mix up lesbian issues with race." "Or class." "Or..." Every minority jockeys for top underdog
Each wants their oppression to be distinct. And their oppression to be the best and the baddest. Here's a
news flash: the liver, brain, and heart are all separate, but rip one out and see where it gets you.
Demanding Civil Rights
It's high time Puerto Rican queers were welcomed by the mainland. After all, they have plenty of practice in
demanding civil liberties. They've been marching for gay rights and against the odious sodomy law for a
decade. The lesbian cleric Margarita Sanchez de Leon, party to an ACLU suit to challenge the law, even tried
to become a test case by turning herself in to the sex-crimes unit and demanding to be arrested. But the
male district attorney said she couldn't commit sodomy without a "virile member" and wouldn't touch her with
a ten-foot legal pole.
There have been weekly protests against the Cro-Magnon Puerto Rican legislators in front of the Capitol
Building in San Juan, and individual lawmakers have been lobbied. So far, not a single legislator has had the
courage to present legislation on the issue, which is dangerously being defined for the entire country by a
growing array of loudmouthed, fire and brimstone, Bible Belt-style televangelists.
Cowardly legislators say action is unnecessary, because, you guessed it, the law is rarely enforced. The
most successfully repressive laws are those that don't even need enforcement, as the disingenuous
legislators know perfectly well.
The Puerto Rican political class behaves not much better than the government and the legislature. All three
major parties mostly pretend queers don't exist. Most progressive groups are visibly uncomfortable with us,
even those who pay theoretical lip service to the cause. Sound familiar?
The real tragedy of Puerto Rico's anti-gay sodomy law is that it disenfranchises, humiliates, and often kills
some of the best and brightest of Puerto Ricans. More than for her queer children--many of whom leave
permanently for the States--it's a loss for Puerto Rico. The smaller and more embattled a nation is, the less it
can afford to destroy any of its own people.
Puerto Rico has long been paralyzed politically by the fratricidal dispute over its status vis a vis the United
States. It is ironic that, in a nation whose condition in the world is tenuous at best, an entire class of citizens
have been made even more tenuous by a sodomy law imported from the colonial power. The illegal status of
Puerto Rican queers makes them, in a way, the most Puerto Rican of all Puerto Ricans: they embody, in the
flesh, the illegal status of their homeland in the world!
About the Author, Speaker, Activist
Carlos T. Mock, MD
Carlos Mock has published three books and is the Floricanto Press editor for its GLBT series. He was
inducted in the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in October of 2007. He grew up middle-class in the
suburbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Author: Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey - Floricanto Press 2003.
Nominated for a Stonewall Award by the American Library Association Round Table
Author: The Mosaic Virus â€“ Book release scheduled for January 16, 2007 in Chicago, IL.
Author: Papi Chulo. Nominated for a Lammie from the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Author: Cuba Libe: "Mentirita" Currently working on the history of Cuban from the Santeria's point of view.
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