Pulse nightclub

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2016 Comes to an End with a Bang

The year 2016 is coming to an end with a bang on many fronts. Let’s turn to a few less obvious but newsy items that merit attention for their importance.

Pulse

From the first news of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, a tug of war erupted between the LGBTQ and Latino communities over who would take the lead in speaking for the 49 victims, most of whom were Hispanic, many of them Puerto Rican.

The LGBTQ community won the struggle, as evidenced by the six-month anniversary of the shooting at the Orange County History Center, where the Hispanic component of the shooting was nearly absent.

As reported in Orlando Latino, the ceremony host  “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Not one of the survivors or family members was called to the podium. Not one. The host mentioned only in passing that the history center opened a display of the tributes to Pulse collected from around town.

Government and others have now also buried the grass roots efforts that took place in the Latino community to help survivors and families, where groups such as Somos Orlando offered – and continues to offer – mental health counseling to the affected community.

But the Hispanic community has not been totally forgotten. In an Orlando Sentinel poll conducted before the six-month anniversary, 21 percent said Pulse was an attack of terrorism, an attack against gays and Hispanics (italics mine). That was up from 13 percent in June.

Full disclosure: I was named to the board of Somos Orlando but have resigned this month.

Latinos Elected

Newly elected Cong. Darren Soto

Central Florida has about 11 Latino elected officials as a result of the 2016 elections, including Darren Soto, the first Florida Puerto Rican in Congress. About five are a net gain, meaning a Hispanic did not previously hold the seat.

Here are the winners:  Víctor Torres, former state representative to state senator, District 15; Bob Cortés, re-elected to House District 30; John Cortés, re-elected to House District 43; René Plasencia, re-elected to the State House but representing a new area: District 50; Amy Mercado elected to House District 48 previously occupied by her father Víctor Torres; Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to District 49; Emily Bonilla elected to the Orange County Commission, District 5; Armando Ramirez, re-elected as Clerk of the Court of Osceola County; José Alvarez elected the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee; and Olga González, elected to Kissimmee City Commission Seat 1.

Early Voting

An important lesson about early voting in the presidential election:  About 70 percent of all Florida votes were cast before election day but the latest analyses indicate there is no correlation between early voting and higher voter turnout.

Early voting simply changed the way people voted, which is important for organizers to keep in mind for future elections.

Undocumented Immigrants

President Barack Obama will have deported more than 2.75 million undocumented immigrants by the time he leaves office in several weeks, the highest number of any president – and some presidents combined, earning Obama the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.”

Of those deported, 84 percent had criminal records. That leaves over 820,000 of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. If Trump delivers on his promise, there won’t be as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records to deport.

Obamacare

One of every five people or 20 percent enrolled in Obamacare lives in Florida, the highest percentage of any state. That’s over 1.3 million people, which is going to make it difficult for Washington to undo the Affordable Care Act without causing massive healthcare headaches for millions of people without other health care recourses.

There would be up to 800,000 more Obamacare customers in Florida if the state had expanded Medicaid, a key component of the health care act.

As of December 19, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services reports about, 6.4 million people had signed up for Obamacare for 2017, or about 2 million more than the year before, indicating that Obamacare has become more – not less – relevant.

Puerto Rico Financial Crisis

At year end, the new fiscal control board that’s poised to take over Puerto Rico in 2017 projected the island’s financial predicament is worse than had been reported, which was already pretty bad.

Puerto Rico Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló.

As reported in Orlando Latino, Puerto Rico’s projected 10-year deficit is $67 billion, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.

Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló must present a balanced budget, which would be a first in decades, requiring significant government cutbacks as well as deep reforms to keep the island economy from toppling completely.

Bottom line for Florida: The pain is likely to send more economic migrants to the Sunshine State, continuing a dramatic shift in the state’s Latino population. Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, compared with about 1.3 million Cubans, the state’s largest Latino group.

Zika

The final Zika numbers for Puerto Rico fell short of earlier predictions but are still alarming. The Puerto Rico Health Department reports nearly 36,000 islanders contracted mosquito-borne Zika, accounting for the lion’s share of locally transmitted cases under the U.S. flag.

Only 216 local cases were reported in the 50 states, with Florida making up 210 of those.

Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly in pregnant women. About 2,500 island women were infected in 2016, which is significantly below the 43,000 cases per year that were projected for Puerto Rico, as reported earlier in Orlando Latino.

Of those 2,500 cases only seven (7 ) resulted in infants with birth defects. The island has projected 1,000 fewer births this year due to Zika.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Father Refused to Claim Pulse Nightclub Shooting Victim

pr flags at city hall
Puerto Rican flags were planted on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips center in honor of Pulse nightclub shooting victims. /city of Orlando

All the Pulse nightclub shooting victims’ bodies have been released to next of kin. Even the shooter’s body has left the Orange County Medical Examiner’s building off Michigan Avenue, according to information released this week.

“We effectively and efficiently completed the identification, notification and autopsy process within a 72-hour period – a monumental task,” according to an earlier statement by OCME, which worked with the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System to complete the gruesome task.

But it was touch and go for one particular shooting victim whose father didn’t want to claim the body. Because the son was gay. Because the father was ashamed. Finally and after much convincing, the body was released to Orlando-area relatives and he has been buried. (Thanks to the commenters on this post for your concern.)

This young man shall remain anonymous so as not to further victimize the deceased, who was Puerto Rican. But Orlando Latino confirmed the information with several sources. The tale is part of the untold stories of the Latino victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Social Conservative

The fact is, Puerto Ricans on the island are socially conservative and oftentimes anti-LGBT. While the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in June 2015, gay marriage didn’t reach Puerto Rico until April 2016 – 10 months after the highest court’s ruling – because a San Juan district court said the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t apply to Puerto Rico.

“The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin,” wrote the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in slapping down Puerto Rico’s claim.

But the local court didn’t “err” in reflecting the island’s social conservatism, an attitude it shares with many other Spanish-speaking pew gay pollcountries.

In Puerto Rico, 72 percent of Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study of social and moral issues in Latin America. Among island Catholics opposition was significantly lower –  45 percent. Puerto Rico is about evenly split between Protestants and Catholics. Overall, about 55 percent of islanders oppose same-sex marriage.

 The highest opposition – over 80 percent – is in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Meanwhile, Uruguay scored the lowest, 31 percent opposition, which is even lower than the 34 percent of U.S. Hispanics who do not support gay marriage, according to the study.

 

Support for same-sex marriage is higher among younger generations. About   48 percent of the 18 to 34 year olds in Puerto Rico favor it, a figure that drops to 26 percent for people over age 35.

The pain of being Puerto Rican and gay is real. In the island’s macho culture (relative to the states), anti-gay bias is not subtle and has reached the highest levels of government.

Bias None too Subtle

In 2009, Puerto Rico’s Senate president alleged during a radio interview that a fellow senator was like  “el petardo que no explota” or like a firecracker that doesn’t explode, insinuating he was gay. The statement was denounced by pro LGBT groups.

Perhaps this why it took pop star Ricky Martin a while before declaring his sexual orientation. He is now the most famous gay Puerto Rican and no doubt his coming out in 2010 helped many others to do the same. In Puerto Rico, everybody loves Ricky Martin – he is famous, wealthy, good looking and more.

But nobody knew the Orlando shooting victim. No coming out on Oprah for him. And the victim’s family – or at least his father –didn’t accept the son’s sexual orientation, adding further insult to the sad and sensational circumstances of his death.