05/23/2013 11:51 am ET Updated Jul 22, 2013

Puerto Rico's LGBT Movement and the Diaspora

This is a joint op-ed written by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez. Mark-Viverito and Mendez are Puerto Rican members of the New York City Council. Mark-Viverito traveled to Puerto Rico last week to lobby legislators in support of LGBT rights legislation. Mendez is a member of the Council's LGBT Caucus.

Puerto Rico is in the midst of an incredible moment in its history. The momentum around civil rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters has never been stronger. Last week, the Senate adopted a piece of legislation that extends anti-discrimination protections to all Puerto Ricans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This week, the anti-discrimination legislation, and one other bill to cover the LGBT community in the domestic violence law, are expected to come up for a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. The third bill in the package, which would extend adoption rights to same-sex couples, has not yet begun to move aggressively through the Legislature.

The historic strides that Puerto Rico's LGBT rights movement is making should matter to all of us as Puerto Ricans, whether we live on the island or are part of the diaspora. To see the island making such historic progress in support of civil rights for the LGBT community should make us all feel very proud.

In fact, the anti-discrimination bill passed by the Senate actually goes further than the current law in New York State, which does not currently prohibit discrimination based on gender identity (though New York City's does). Efforts to pass the landmark Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would codify anti-discrimination protections for the transgender community across New York State are picking up speed as we speak. Imagine GENDA advocates telling legislators in Albany that New York needs catch up with Puerto Rico on LGBT rights... ¡que orgullo!

This week, as we deal with a horrific wave of hate violence against the LGBT community here in New York City, we have been reminded of the importance of having strong laws on the books that send a strong message of "no tolerance for intolerance." The bills before the legislature in Puerto Rico will send the same message, as the LGBT community on the island has also faced mounting discrimination and hate crimes. In fact, speaking of the diaspora, how many LGBT Puerto Ricans have left the island, or would consider doing so, because they do not feel they can live their lives openly?

Last year, the Puerto Rican people sent new elected officials to all levels of government with the promise of tackling LGBT equality, among other critical issues. By making such historic progress on this legislation already, supporters of these pieces of legislation are delivering.

Still, we cannot take this historic momentum for granted. A small but vocal minority of fundamentalists will work hard to stand in the way of equality, and the LGBT community and its allies must be ready to fight back every step of the way.

We believe strongly that the day will soon come when this legislation is signed by the Governor. As these bills continue to move through the legislative process, elected representatives in Puerto Rico should vote on the right side of history, by guaranteeing the civil rights of the island's LGBT community.