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The New Faces of Puerto Rican Lesbian Activism

This article shared 4238 times since Thu Sep 1, 2005
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Pictured Carlos Mock with Ceci and Juli.

by Carlos T. Mock

What happens when one of the best-known lesbian activists of Puerto Rico joins forces with a younger Puerto Rican lesbian?

Cecilia ( Ceci ) de la Luz ( CDLL ) —known to most of the Puerto Rican GLBT community as the voice of 'Saliendo del Closet' ( Coming out of the Closet ) that airs every Thursday on WIAC Radio 740 a.m. & WEKO Radio 930 a.m. ( West Coast ) —has a new partner. Ceci was past president of Fundacion de Derechos Humanos in 1998 ( Human Rights Foundation ) , founder of the Organization 'Unidos por Igualdad' in 2001; she also organized the softball tournaments in the GLBT community in 1997, and she has been a delegate to LLEGO 1997. She helped pass the San Juan Human Rights ordinance in 2000 ( under the then mayor of San Juan, Sila Calderon ) , providing basic civil rights based on sexual and gender orientation. She has owned a market research firm: 'Research Unlimited' for 23 years. She also writes a weekly column for 'El Nuevo Dia,' the leading Spanish-language newspaper in Puerto Rico.

About a year and a half ago, a chance encounter with Julizzette Colon-Blibraut ( JCB ) at the lesbian venue Cups turned both of their lives around—an encounter that makes them laugh with what seems like slight embarrassment and fond memories.

To find out how their lives have changed, my partner, Bill Rattan ( BR ) and I met with them at a restaurant in San Juan for an interview and a chance to catch up. Of course, the conversation happened in Spanish, English and a little bit of Spanglish, so I'll try to translate appropriately.

JCB: I was at the bar for a drink and all of a sudden, I hear a very heated political discussion at the bar—something that is not quite the norm. So I was immediately intrigued. I very gently cut in and asked them if I could buy them a drink. Ceci looked at me and gave me that look of 'who are you and how dare you interrupt this conversation.'

CDLL: I had a reputation and I tried to keep strangers away from me. I even had had stalkers, so I always remained private.

JCB: The thing is she was somewhat annoyed, but I was able to keep up with the conversation and it was fine after awhile. After the meeting, we remained friends. Ceci was just out of a relationship and she was not thinking about a new one. I had never been in a relationship, so that was the furthest thing from my mind. Ceci is 20 years my senior so that was also a consideration.

CTM: Julizzette, were you active when you met Ceci?

JCB: Nooooo, I had another set of mind. I did not think of myself as a lesbian, nor was I ready to deal with the subject. The year before I met Ceci I considered myself straight. All of a sudden, I have all these women throwing themselves at me. It was hard to deal with my emotions and the excitement of my new life. I was just entering the scene.

CDLL: I had been single for awhile and was not looking for a lover. So, I was involved in politics and Julizzette just started helping. I made many contacts through Sila Calderon and that helped our movement. One day we woke up and realized that Julizzette and I were sharing our lives both politically and in the bedroom.

CTM: How did the LLEGO demise affect your movement?

CDLL: It was devastating. I had the chance to talk to Martin Ornelas-Quintero, the last CEO for LLEGO, at an activity that Puerto Rico Para Todas had organized. I am a person that always speaks my mind. I told Martin that there was something very wrong with the organization when I, a member, could never reach them. We would always leave messages on machines that no one ever returned.

JCB: I think the fault with LLEGO is something that I have written a lot about. We Latinos are isolated. It is even worse for the ones that live in Puerto Rico. We seemed to be left out of all the movements that are happening in the States. I see the Puerto Rico GLBT movement completely isolated and abandoned by our community on the mainland. Even though I appreciated LLEGO, I do not see a need for one. We need to integrate ourselves into all the movements that are happening in the USA. I feel that there should be a Puerto Rican HRC Chapter.

CDLL: I have always been a 'Popular' ( member of the pro-commonwealth party ) , but lately I see more chances for our movement with closer tires to the USA. Because of the success of the Lawrence decision, we have now eliminated sodomy from our books. Lately our Governor-elect Anibal Acevedo Vila has strengthened his ties with the religious fundamentalists.

CTM: I think that Ceci is right. With the development of the Internet, it is much easier to communicate amongst ourselves—we find people connecting and gaining access to resources that until recently were unavailable. We need to develop a larger network to help each other. There should be no barriers within our movements.

JCB: But it goes beyond the Internet. Puerto Rico has a historical challenge, we have had it since we were discovered in 1493—insularism. We think the world is 100 miles by 35 miles ( the dimensions of the Island of Puerto Rico ) . This is a major obstacle for the movement. We need to deal with the insularism before we can think of ways to further our GLBT movement. Another important problem is the status. Puerto Ricans will not do anything that would take their American citizenship away from them. They are too proud of the American flag.

CTM: Ceci, remember the first time you interviewed me on your radio program and you asked me which flag I kept in my bedroom.

CDLL: Yes, you said the rainbow flag ...

CTM: So as I recall we said that the problem is that the New Progressive Party ( pro-statehood ) activists, just like the Populares ( pro-commonwealth ) would not cross over their party to get rid of an elected official that is harming our movement.

JCB: We are political animals that live in the 100 by 35 that only care about Rosello, Santini, Acevedo Vila, Bhatia—even though they are stepping over our rights. Until we create a defined political block that will make them accountable to us as a political community, they will continue to step over our rights. We need to educate our GLBT community that the only way the abuse will stop is if we get organized politically. Ceci and I went to most of the bars before the last election to talk to the GLBT community and point out the candidates that are harming our community. It was frustrating to see that people would rather give up their GLBT rights just to see a popular or a nuevoprogresista victory, regardless of the consequences for our community.

CTM: I was very upset when Santini plucked a 'pato' at a rally: ( a duck—which is a pun for homosexual—referring to his adversary Bhatia ) . I was so offended by that that I even campaigned against the NPP ( pro statehood ) from Chicago. I am embarrassed that, in this day and age, a supposedly civilized society would tolerate such a show of hatred by one of their elected officials.

CDLL: Yes, but we must be specific. There is a New Progressive Party Representative by the name of Albita Rivera who has introduced a bill in our legislature for same-sex domestic partnerships. Can you believe that? We need to support progressive people like her, no matter what their party affiliation is. And now, Acevedo Vila, our Governor, has gone back on his word to defend the GLBT rights. He is working on an alliance with the radical religious groups. Ceci and I are marching at our parade this year with a banner reminding him that he won by only 3,500 votes and many of those votes were from the GLBT community.

JCB: We went to the Democratic National Convention and talked to Kenneth McClintock, the current President of the PR Senate. He is on record saying that he believes in the rights of GLBT citizens to adopt children, to have visitation rights at the hospital, and he also told us something that we ourselves did not know—the NPP party ( according to McClintock ) believes that 17% of the electorate in San Juan belongs to the GLBT community.

CTM: But that means that you had the power to decide both the San Juan election AND the governor's race. What happened?

CDLL: Well Puerto Rico Para Todas decided to endorse Ruben Berios from the Independence party. And a few respected Independentista activists refused to put the GLBT agenda ahead of Status and would not vote for Bhatia.

CTM: So you delivered Santini the election on a platter.

CDLL: We have a lot of educating to do.

JCB: We need a new GLBT movement in Puerto Rico that is fully politically oriented. We need to infiltrate the political machine of all three major parties in Puerto Rico. We need to be credible and able to deliver votes to the candidates that support our causes. ... Puerto Rico is long overdue to form an organization that pays a full-time salary to a GLBT activist ... .

CTM: How do you see the current organizations that are here in Puerto Rico in this 'future'?

JCB: They will always be there; there is nothing to do about them. The future of our movement belongs to the organization that can infiltrate all three political parties.

CTM: That is so true. I can speak from experience that there are just as many horrible Democrats as there are horrible Republicans in the USA. We need to be careful and vote only for those that help our cause. So, am I to infer that there will be a new GLBT movement being formed soon?

JCB: I do not have the time for it because of my law career. Ceci is thinking about it. I was just humbled by being asked to be a speaker at a conference at the Law School of the Inter-American University here. ... There was something I realized there in front of the future of my profession: 'True change begins with everyday people.' ... Now, I believe that the few organized LGBT organizations in existence in Puerto Rico are ineffective. It will take too much energy to fight the egos that are battling to be our voice. I am more afraid of being hurt by them than I am of the religious right.

CTM: One thing that I have noticed about the only two movements that I get e-mails from is that the GLBT causes have taken a back burner to the status issue. I am posting more events to solve the status issue than I am about GLBT rights.

JCB: The problem is that the only people we can get to march with us at the Parade are the Frente Socialista Unido, a very left wing group. So, we have formed an alliance with these people.

CTM: But how about your 'A' list homosexuals?

BR: The way I see Puerto Rico today is the way most of the USA was in the '70s. Everyone is afraid to be out of the closet, people with influence to change things are impotent because they're afraid to stick their head out because everyone else will chop it off at the neck the first chance they get.

CTM: You advise gays on your program to move to major metropolitan areas so that they can come out of the closet, but do they?

CDLL: The problem is that if they were to come out in Patillas or Barranquitas they would be literally run out if town.

BR: The same thing happened in the U.S.—people moved to the major metropolitan centers. It took a Stonewall revolution for people to stop being afraid of who and what they are and then they started to come out of the closet and cause effective change. The only way you will get change is if you can convince these powers that be to back you. I think financially would be a first start, but eventually you will need their faces. It is always harder to be a bigot when the person you are trying to hate is your brother, sister, mother, father, cousin ... . You need to put a face on your movement to stop the hatred.

JCB: The other big factor is the economic one. Ceci's column in 'El Nuevo Dia' has gotten her invited to a big marketing convention. I believe that if we can convince the private sector that there is a great marketing opportunity in catering to the GLBT community, it will greatly advance the cause.

CTM: That is one of the most frequently used tactics in the mainland. Bring the big companies on board, the government will follow.

After a wonderful dinner, we said goodnight. We agreed to meet sometime in the near future to see how things are developing in our beloved Island of Puerto Rico.

Carlos Mock is the author of Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey

This article shared 4238 times since Thu Sep 1, 2005
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