LGBTT Students and Allies Break the Silence at UPRM Press Conference

By Claudia E. Irizarry Aponte

At a press conference held on Thursday, October 24 2013, a group of four panelists assembled by seven University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez students discussed matters concerning the LGBT rights movement and its struggles in Puerto Rico and on campus.

            Panelists also debated the lack of counseling provided by the Department of Education and UPRM for LGBT students struggling with their identity and with harassment.

            The panel consisted of two UPRM professors, Drs. Rafael Boglio and Bernadette Delgado, both from the Department of Social Sciences; and two students: Gaddiel Ruiz, a Hispanic studies major, writer and activist, and Roberto Rivera, a spokesperson for the Gay-Straight Alliance-UPRM.

The GSA-UPRM is one of the few, student-governed club available for the LGBT community on campus, although it is not the first. Rivera claims, though, that what sets the GSA-UPRM apart from past clubs is the fact that it includes and encourages the participation of non-LGBT students. “We have to create an alliance between all of us, and it is then when we’ll actually make a difference,” he says.

        He also transmitted the GSA-UPRM’s commitment to the campus community: to spread the message that LGBT students and allies exist, provide counseling, and to spread their message through respectful dialogue. The GSA-UPRM’s long-term goals are more ambitious: they strive to impact and educate the community outside of UPRM.

        But how is the university helping its LGBT students? Rivera said that the campus’ counseling services is “not prepared” to handle an extreme case of hate crime against an LGBT student if it would ever occur. Dr. Delgado added that, not only is LGBT counseling a fairly new training in graduate schools across the nation, but that the lack of counseling on campus is mirrored across the country. The School Psychology Association of Puerto Rico (APEP in Spanish) states that there is only one school psychologist per 500 students in Puerto Rico.

        Gaddiel Ruiz stated that there are only four counselors or psychologists available to the whole UPRM campus, which consists of roughly 12,000 students.

        “Mental health is not a priority in Puerto Rico, and there is a shortage of resources for struggling young adults because of this,” she said.

        Delgado affirmed that the best way to handle bullying cases is by preventing them, and praised the fact that the Department of Education has done a “good job in that sector”. In 2008, the Puerto Rican Senate passed a law prohibiting bullying from schools (PC 3942).

        The discussion broadened to subjects of gender, stratification and marriage equality in Puerto Rico. Dr. Boglio stated that the Puerto Rican LGBT community has done a good job at questioning conservative logic: “they may not have numbers, but they do have arguments.” Rivera added that by doing this, Puerto Rico’s political parties have been forced to recognize the importance of the LGBT community, both as a civil rights group and as a source for votes.

        As the press conference ended, attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions. One student asked the panelists how they saw the LGBT movement in Puerto Rico in 10-20 years. Gaddiel Ruiz said that although one cannot predict the future, the Puerto Rican community has to become more integrated in how it deals with social struggles and ideological debates, and called for an alliance of ideas for the better of the community.

            Dr. Boglio chose to compare the movement to the feminist and gender equality movement from past generations, stating that when one battle is over, more struggles emerge. “Gay marriage isn’t the end-all argument: there’s job market, adoption” he said, “but it’s a good start.” 

Image

The Gay-Straight Alliance at UPRM recruiting members on August 12, 2013. (Picture property of GSA-UPRM, via their Facebook page.)

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