The Lives Of LGBTQ+ Youth In Puerto Rico Are In Danger — More Than Ever

A transgender woman, Mila García, was 12 years old when she started conversion therapy in Puerto Rico. Her parents found a love letter she had exchanged with a boy in her class, and they forced her into three years of the pseudoscientific practice that seeks to reverse an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity by psychological or spiritual intervention. Some of the counselors and social workers her parents had her meet with told her that queer romance and sexuality are “sinful” because “she was a boy.” Others instructed her to write essays on why her attraction to boys made her “wrong” and “bad.” Overcome by shame and self-hate, she attempted suicide during her years in treatment. But her torment doesn’t fall solely on the hands of her family, but also that of a government that has yet to outlaw the practice of conversion therapy on the archipelago. Last month, Garcia, now a college student, was one of several queer and trans Puerto Ricans who offered their testimony in public hearings for Senate Bill 184, a measure that would have banned the practice. These individuals spoke about the mental, emotional, and, in some cases, physical violence experienced under conversion counseling, which has been linked to causing “serious potential harm,” such as depression and suicidal ideation, by The American Psychological Association and even classified as “torture” by the United Nations. Though former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed an executive order in 2019 that prohibited conversion therapies in the U.S. territory, it risks being annulled by future anti-LGBTQ rights governors while the practice continues to be used by religious-based counselors. SB 184 could have codified the ban into law. Even more, it would have established professional consequences, like fines or license suspensions, for therapists who conduct these forms of therapies. Still, on May 6, 2021, a Puerto Rico Senate committee voted to kill the bill.