Kissing the Hate Away
When I visited Pedro Julio in his office, a yellowed newspaper cover hung on the wall behind him.
The image of Pedro Julio kissing Steven Toledo, his then-boyfriend, spread across the front page and the caption read, "Amor gay sacude al Capitolio" or "Gay love shakes the Capitol." Pedro Julio, wearing a white suit, eyes-closed, and Steven, head-angled to the side, were caught in a momentary kiss, which occurred while Pedro Julio was attending a hearing on civil unions on the island. The two men say they were aware that the act of kissing would cause controversy, but felt that it was being true to who they are to kiss in public.
"There was a tacit understanding that we're in the public eye," Toledo told me. "But we wanted to be who we are consistently, as part of maintaining our integrity, and so we kissed normally."
The front page cover, which scandalized a conservative Puerto Rico at the time and upset some even with the pro-gay movement for being "too extreme," might seem distinctly conventional for anyone who has lived in an LGBT-friendly city in recent years.
"People told me we were moving too fast, that we were doing the movement a big disservice," he said."But it was just a kiss."
Pedro Julio's controversial tactics have brought him dear friends, as well as outspoken enemies.
He receives dozens of messages of love and solidarity from his many ardent supporters, including celebrities like singer Ricky Martin and Rene Perez Joglar of Calle 13. A text from his 19-year old brother Antonio that said he'd stand by his brother through anything, moved Pedro Julio to tears as he read it aloud to me at his desk.
Pedro Julio must also face those who despise him, and cope with a constant barrage of bullying through the very same means which has empowered his movement.
"Muerete, marica," read one tweet directed towards Pedro Julio and myself last month after I tweeted an article about the La Comay controversy. Translation: "Go kill yourself, fag."
But not all of Pedro Julio's opponents are anonymous homophobes on Twitter. One Puerto Rican blogger Emmanuel Serrano Hernández, who blogs under the moniker Gazoo Starr, is an outspoken critic of the activist.
He wrote a blog earlier this month called "Un peligro para todos" (Translation: A danger for everyone), which is a play on the name of Pedro Julio's organization which advocates human rights on the island called "Un Puerto Rico para todos." The post received more than 2,000 likes on Facebook, and prompted the creation of a Facebook and Twitter accounts called Boycott Pedro Julio, which each have over one thousand followers.
In his post, Hernandez sticks with some of the most popular critiques of Pedro Julio. Hernandez says that Pedro Julio actually censors free speech, that he purports to speak for an entire Puerto Rico, even though he speaks for a small minority, that he craves media-attention, that he doesn't even live on the island that he seeks to influence, and that he's an indiscriminate complainer.
"What happened here was victory of the censorship by a few, lead by the hysterical Pedro Julio Serrano," Starr wrote. "Pedro Julio, you don't represent me nor do you represent Puerto Rico, and you especially don't represent us residing in New York and coming here to complain and brag."