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BY TYLER SEECOF

PHOTO BY LAUREN DESBERG

While my friends and I enjoyed a beautiful vacation laying back in Puerto Rico’s blue waters, sipping on mojitos and devouring Mofongo, we couldn’t help but notice the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria. Buildings are still being renovated, stores are permanently closed, and tourism is minimal. However, I’m most unsettled by the recent statistics revealing that the death rate from Maria is approximately 1.5 times more than 9/11, and the suicide rate has also increased. Some estimate that nearly 40% of suicides are attempted or committed by elderly LGBT community members.

During my time in Puerto Rico, I first noticed struggle in the LGBT community at the bars. Circo, a popular gay bar known for its multi-level dance floors, severely lacked patrons. According to locals, many LGBT people moved to New York and Miami due to the storm. Although they’re slowly returning, these bars have taken a hit—both figuratively and literally. While running on generators, Circo—located in a very LGBT friendly part of the territory—was bombed. This hate crime hints to the homophobia in Puerto Rico, which is most apparent in rural areas. Unfortunately, these rural areas also happen to be where people struggle the most to recover from Hurricane Maria.

As important as the gay nightlife is to our community’s visibility, there’s a larger problem afloat. In these rural areas, many LGBT people simultaneously fight against bias and for survival on a daily basis. While LGBT people are learning to navigate discrimination, they must also go about their daily lives without power, food, and even homes in some cases. Yet, relief is scarce.

This Pride, please remember our history. The LGBT community has been ignored by our government during a fatal crisis before—referring to the AIDS epidemic. Let’s not watch as our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico get left stranded.

After my trip, I linked with WAVES AHEAD, a local organization that expanded its mission from helping elderly LGBT people to full throttle hurricane relief for all marginalized households. WAVES AHEAD offers home support, including therapy, goods, and even home rebuilds and renovations. Here’s how they say we can help:

· Visit Puerto Rico. Tourism is a major cash flow for the territory. Stay at the beautiful hotels, spend money at local shops, and help rebuild their economy.
· Volunteer your time. Many organizations are still looking for volunteers to help rebuild. If you don’t want to spend your entire vacation volunteering, consider spending a few days relaxing and a few days volunteering.
· Donate money and/or goods. Organizations like WAVES AHEAD are working tirelessly to get resources to people in need and anything you can donate will make a difference.

Through devastation, Puerto Ricans stand tall and show their resilience. I am enamored by their pride and strength, and as we celebrate Pride Month, I won’t forget those in need. I hope the same will go for you.

To learn more about WAVES AHEAD and to donate, visit WavesAhead.org.

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