Lawsuit Filed After Puerto Rico Rescinds Protections For Trans People

On Thursday, trans advocates interrupted a legislative hearing in protest.

An LGBT rights group filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, demanding that Puerto Rico let transgender people update the gender listed on their birth certificates.

That same day, a group of trans advocates interrupted a legislative hearing to protest a bill prohibiting transgender employees of Puerto Rico’s Senate from using bathrooms and wearing clothes that match their gender identity.

Late last month, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz rescinded an administrative order that allowed employees to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. That order had been signed by then-Senate President Eduardo Bhatía in 2014.

Rivera Schatz has long been an opponent of LGBT rights, having blocked equal-marriage legislation and fought to remove LGBT victims from the country’s hate crimes laws.

“You have to be a real bastard, Thomas Rivera Schatz, to eliminate well-designed protections in an administrative order [and] to express and blatantly discriminate against the Senate’s transgender and transsexual employees,” said Puerto Rico Para Todos’ Pedro Julio Serrano. “Not allowing them to use the bathroom or wear clothing that matches their gender identity is a violation of 2013’s Law 22 that precisely prohibits this type of discrimination.”

Lambda Legal maintains the territory’s birth certificate rule denies trans people their First Amendment right to free speech, and is at odds with an earlier order allowing them to change their driver’s licenses.

In 2015, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla issued two executive orders that extended rights to transgender people: One addressed the driver’s license issue, the other barred hospitals from discriminating against emergency-room patients based on their gender identity.

New York, UNITED STATES:  Raynell Valencia waves a gay pride and a Puerto Rican flag as he watches the 36th annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride March in New York 25 June 2006. Thousands of marchers from New York's homosexual community took part in the city's annual Gay Pride parade, although high spirit were dampened slightly by recent conservative efforts to reverse political gains by US gays and lesbians. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas ROBERTS  (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS ROBERTS/AFP/Getty Images)

“My administration is committed to the eradication of all types of discrimination,” said García at the time.

Gender identity and sexual orientation were added to Puerto Rico’s domestic-violence laws in 2013. Two years later, Gov. Padilla said the government would no longer defend its ban on same-sex marriage.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.