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social sciences

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Puerto Rico and the Caribbean  
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Pedro Julio Serrano became the first openly gay man to run for public office in Puerto Rico when he announced his candidacy for an at-large seat in the commonwealth's House of Representatives in 1998. Although he had been a lifelong worker for the New Progressive Party, its leaders failed to support him, some even claiming that they did not know him.

Serrano's independent campaign was fraught with danger; his life was threatened and his property vandalized. Although forced to abandon his campaign due to lack of funds, Serrano remains strongly committed to the cause of glbtq rights in Puerto Rico. The founder of Puerto Rico para Todos ("Puerto Rico for All"), he is a vigorous and courageous defender of glbtq Puerto Ricans.

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A recent political struggle was the campaign to repeal Puerto Rico's anti-sodomy law, Article 103. The commonwealth's Senate finally struck it down in 2003, one week before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas voided all American laws against sodomy.

Tourist guidebooks typically refer to Puerto Rico as the most gay- and lesbian-friendly destination in the Caribbean, citing San Juan's Condado quarter with clubs, cafés, and lodgings that welcome the glbtq public. Other cities have smaller gay scenes. The island of Vieques (which the U.S. Navy no longer uses for target practice), with a number of gay- and lebian-owned restaurants and guest houses, is a favorite with glbtq travelers.

Despite the glowing recommendations of the travel books, in 2004 conservative Representative Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer took objection to a statement on the official tourism website that "Puerto Rico has a diverse product directed to satisfy many segments of the market, including the gay market," demanding that the anodyne sentence be removed.

It is clear that progress must still be made before glbtq people enjoy full equality in Puerto Rico. There are, however, some hopeful signs. Through the efforts of organizations like Puerto Rico para Todos glbtq citizens are gaining greater visibility and a stronger voice.

The United States Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands--St.Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John--are an unincorporated territory of the United States. Residents are American citizens and send one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.

Sodomy was decriminalized in the Virgin Islands in 1984.

With a small population to begin with, the islands do not have much of a gay scene. St. Croix, however, has two gay-owned hotels. The Cormorant Beach Club offers packages that include commitment ceremonies. Glbtq locals and tourists alike enjoy the resort's fine restaurant, bar, and beach.

The Dominican Republic

Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492, and four years later Santo Domingo, the oldest European settlement in the Americas, was founded.

Haiti conquered and occupied the Dominican Republic from 1822 to 1842, and United States troops controlled the country from 1916 until 1924. Rafael Trujillo, elected in 1930, headed a brutal regime until 1960. Under his and succeeding administrations wealth and power have been in the hands of a few, while the majority of the citizens struggle with poverty and the lack of good job opportunities.

Dominican law makes no distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex relations. The age of consent is eighteen for all. Article 330 of the Penal Code, however, which forbids "every violation of decorum and good behavior on public streets" and carries a penalty of up to two years in prison, is occasionally used to target gay men. In 2003 Luis Villalona-Pérez succeeded in gaining political asylum in the United States based on evidence that he had "suffered threats, beatings, harassment, and humiliation" in the Dominican Republic because of his sexual orientation.

Travel writer Richard Ammon reports that outside Santo Domingo "there is very little identifiable LGBT life in the Dominican Republic" and that, as in most spheres of Dominican life, socioeconomic class plays an important role in the nature of the experience of glbtq people. Members of the more affluent classes may patronize trendy clubs without fear of harassment, but they show little solidarity with low-income glbtq people, and they look down upon "boogie boys," young men who do sex work (prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic) and do not make them feel welcome in nice restaurants and clubs.

There is a small lesbian community in the capital, and younger women feel freer to make non-traditional life choices than do those of earlier generations. Nevertheless, in a culture dominated by the Catholic church, the expectation is that girls will become wives and mothers. Both young men and young women may enter into a heterosexual marriage or simply remain in the closet rather than reveal their sexual orientation to their families.

With many gay men reluctant to be publicly recognized as such, providing education about and treatment for AIDS has been a challenge. Since the 1990s, however, non-government organizations including Amigos Siempre Amigos have made vigorous efforts to provide counseling and help.

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