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Nov 28, 2009
On Friday November 13, the body of 19-year old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, an openly gay teen was found decapitated, dismembered and partially burned on the side of a street in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Lopez Mercado was well known in the Puerto Rican gay community and was well loved by family and friends. As shown in the video above, his murder not only galvanized the gay community in Puerto Rico but advocates here in the mainland have joined this campaign for justice in solidarity with their Puerto Rican counterparts.
The suspect Juan A. Martinez Matos is being charged with murder although it is still being determined whether or not this case will be tried as a hate crime. Advocates are calling for the hate crimes trial and if it is tried as such it will be the first hate crime tried on the basis of sexual orientation under the Matthew Shepard Act. Crimes against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are now considered hate crimes under this act. Named in rememberance of Matthew Shepard who was a young gay man that was led to a deserted area and then tied to a fence, assaulted and then left for dead. He was later found and brought to a hospital where he died of his injuries. It is hoped that this act will serve as a deterrent against hate crimes which are sadly on the rise especially those hate crimes motivated by sexuality or religion.
Another disturbing aspect of this case is that the suspect is now using the "gay panic defense." According to CNN, the suspect is blaming his uncontrollably violent reaction to the victim on on the victim bringing out his previous traumatic experiences with homosexuals:
According to Telemundo and other local reports, Martinez Matos confessed to authorities that he picked Lopez Mercado up from the street, thinking that he was a woman.
When he realized that Lopez Mercado was a man, Martinez Matos said he regressed to an incident when he was sexually assaulted during a prison term, Telemundo and local reports said.
That’s when a conflict started between the two, authorities said, leading to the teen’s death.
According to PinkNews.Co.UK:
The gay panic defence is a controversial plea which is used by a suspect who claims they were violent because of a moment of temporary insanity.
It often sparks outrage from the gay community around the world because it places the burden of blame on the victim.
It has also been used in cases of violent against trans people.
There is also no equivalent defence relating to heterosexual encounters.
The defence is most frequently used in the United States, particularly in areas where homophobia is widespread.
I can definitely understand why this defense is so controversial because it is essentially blaming the victim for the crime. I can not understand how a 19-year old can be blamed for his own brutal murder and grotesque disemberment. However, in my anger over this crime I have sought solace and strength in the words of Lopez Mercado’s mother who has released statements that show her strength, love for her son, resilience and hope in this extremely trying time:
Love Conquers Hate.
And she is right. Many have come out in support through vigils and celebrity statements on the matter. It has been quite moving to see so many people embody such a simple yet triumphant message.
Would you like to join in?
A tumblr site has been set up that has information on vigils and other ways to get involved.