Puerto Rican activist Pedro Julio Serrano: “Unteaching” an Island

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Gay rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano speaks to ABC news’ CRISTINA COSTANTINI about his personal history and the struggle’s against WAPA’s show La Comay. Here are some excerpts from the lengthy article. For the complete article follow the link below.

The words “CUÍDATE, PATO” were scrawled across a piece of paper that had been tucked under Pedro Julio Serrano’s windshield wiper.

“‘Take care of yourself, faggot,’ it means in English’,” Pedro Julio said.

It was 1998 and the then-24-year-old Pedro Julio was running as the first openly gay candidate of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives. He spent a few seconds inspecting his blue Oldsmobile after reading the hateful words of warning, and noticing his car hood wasn’t pushed down fully, he called a good friend to take another look at the vehicle. His brake chords had been cut — an attempt to intimidate, injure, or kill the young candidate.

Anti-gay hate crimes are rampant on the island, which has a population of 3.5 million, about the size of Connecticut. Nearly two dozen members of the LGBT community were murdered in Puerto Rico between 2009 and 2011 alone.

Pedro Julio, who has led the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Puerto Rico over the past decade, still doesn’t go a day without some form of hate or bullying from the many who despise him. Now 38 years old, he is one of the most recognizable, and most controversial, public figures in Puerto Rico. For some on the island, he is a living historical icon, a Gandhi with a Twitter account, and for others, he embodies the erosion of a traditional Puerto Rico and its moral code.

From his dimly-lit office in Manhattan’s Financial District, Pedro Julio, a thin man with a school-boy’s part, influences many of tomorrow’s headlines in Puerto Rico’s top newspapers. With posts on Facebook and Twitter every hour which go out to his more than 30,000 followers, Serrano drives the news cycle.

Currently, he’s advocating that the gruesome murder of a member of the gay community be investigated as a hate crime and pushing for the passage of a gay marriage bill on the island.

“I hope to be married in Puerto Rico in June,” he said last month, in an interview on local TV. But, on the day I joined him in his office last month, he’d only slept a couple of hours in the previous two days, something not out of the ordinary for him. The night before, a key Puerto Rican political adviser on the government’s payroll called him a gross, promiscuous scoundrel over Twitter and Pedro Julio decided that he would bring the case to court. His phone buzzed every few seconds with messages of love and support, but also messages of derision, and bigotry from Puerto Ricans living on the island and from those who have migrated to the mainland as part of a larger boricua diaspora.

“My job is physically and emotionally exhausting,” he told me.

As I spoke with him, Pedro Julio’s face underwent extraordinary emotional shifts at a rapid pace. He smiled with large white teeth as he told me a story about how his future husband Steven Toledo fell in love with him. Seconds later, his face turned sharp, his jowls clenched, and his tone became authoritative, as he prepared for one of his four phone interviews with Puerto Rican media that morning.

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Dethroning the Queen of Puerto Rico’s Airways

Last month, Pedro Julio won perhaps the biggest victory of his life, when he helped bring down the most popular television show on the island, called SuperXclusivo. In 2006, La Comay, a sassy life-sized she-puppet who sat atop a red and silver throne tore Pedro Julio apart on television for his activism on the island. As part of his/her vicious attack (the puppet is voiced by a man named Antulio ‘Kobbo’ Santarrosa’), La Comay called him a “pato” — a word which literally means ‘duck,’ but is widely considered a derogatory term for gay men on the island.

At the time, Pedro Julio demanded an apology from the lady-puppet and his co-host Hector Travieso. But instead, La Comay responded:

“Look, Pedro Julio Serrano, we, the Puerto Rican people, are not at fault for the fact that you have these repressed desires, for the fact that you are a ‘pato,'” La Comay said on the show in Spanish, which aired on WAPA TV.

Following the broadcast, Pedro Julio told the Spanish news outlet EFE, “[Santarrosa’s] greatest punishment, as a homophobic man, will be that an open and proud gay man will be the one to oust him from television.”

But few believed it possible to dethrone the queen of Puerto Rico’s airwaves. The same show has also faced criticism for using the word “monos” or monkeys to describe black people, for attempting to “out” individuals they believed were gay, and for poking fun at women for their weight. But in December of 2012, Santarrosa would make his fatal move by presenting the possibility that the victim of a brutal murder on the island had brought it on himself by soliciting prostitution.

“Was this man, José Enrique, asking for this?” La Comay asked.

It was the last straw. The statement triggered Puerto Rican activist and I.T. specialist Carlos Rivera to start a Facebook group called “Boicot La Comay,” which in a few days ballooned to 70,000 people. Pedro Julio would be the driving force and spokesperson in the boycott which successfully pressured Coco-Cola, Ford, Chevrolet, WalMart, AT&T, and Sprint, and more than 40 other companies to pull their ad dollars from the program.

Pedro Julio says social media has provided the perfect tool to lead his movement.

“It’s an instrument which levels the field. No one has to go through intermediaries anymore,” Pedro Julio said. “Social media is like a public plaza, which allows us to denounce or support what we want, and people don’t even have to go to the street anymore to do it.”

Critics said the movement was censorship from a small minority, but Pedro Julio says that the mass outcry pressured companies, concerned for their image, to make good business decisions.

“Freedom of expression is not an absolute right. It reaches a limit when you abuse the dignity of another person,” said Pedro Julio. “And that’s what La Comay did constantly. She was a bully.”

Just over a month after the boycott started, Santarrosa resigned, and the show was canceled. A 12 year reign at the top was over.

[. . . ]

A Politician, An Activist, A Teacher

Above all, Pedro Julio is a teacher, his closest friend, Karlo Karlo said. Nearly every Facebook post, blog, and tweet that Pedro Julio shares has a moral to it. His favorite phrases repeat messages of peace and harmony: “Human dignity is inalienable,” “Equality is inevitable,” “With solidarity and respect for all.”

“He teaches us all so much,” Karlo Karlo said. When he told Pedro Julio’s father that his son was a teacher, Karlo Karlo says he’ll never forget how he was corrected.

“Pedro Julio is not teaching people,” Mujica told him. “He’s unteaching them and that is much harder.”

For the complete report go to http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/profile-pedro-julio-serrano-puerto-ricos-prominent-human/story?id=18458343

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