Pedro Julio Serrano: "Unteaching" an Island

Growing Up and Coming Out

Born in the Southern city of Ponce in 1974, and raised in Isla Verde, in the San Juan metropolitan area, Pedro Julio's biological father left shortly after he was born. The second of four brothers, he was raised by his mother Alicia Burgos and her husband of 30 years, Hector Mujica, who Pedro Julio now calls his father. Burgos and Mujica say their son has been defending people, asking questions, and fighting for justice from a very young age.

PHOTO: At age 13, Pedro Julio organized his first rally after a schoolmate was killed in drug-related gang violence.

The grandson of journalist who fought injustice through his reportage, Pedro Julio initially pursued a degree in media at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. But at the age of 19, after having unprotected sex with his first sexual partner, Pedro Julio tested positive for HIV.

"He knew, but he didn't tell me," Pedro Julio said. "But you know, I take responsibility for it, I have to."

On the same day that Pedro Julio came out as gay to his parents, he also told them that he had HIV.

"The gay thing, I didn't care about. I only cared about the health of my child. It's impossible for a mother to think that her son will die before [she will, and it was very hard. It was hard because of the HIV, not because of the gay thing," Burgos said. "It was a shock, I won't deny it."

And so Pedro Julio dropped out of school, unable to balance his school work and his recent discovery. From there, he entered the world of activism and politics, working to promote awareness and fair treatment of the LGBT community on a not-so-receptive island.

The incident with Pedro Julio's blue Oldsmobile wouldn't be the first, or the last threat on his life. A couple of months after the unsolved crime (most crimes in Puerto Rico go unsolved), Pedro Julio was followed by a pickup truck, and narrowly escape the four men with shotguns that pursued him.

"Their intent was to scare me, and it worked," Pedro Julio said. "I was terrified."

On a third occasion, Pedro Julio was followed through winding streets and back alleys by yet another car in San Juan while with his mother was in the car. To this day, Burgos believes that her son is risking his life with his work. As a mother, she has tried to convince him that sticking his neck out isn't worth it.

"A lot of times I say to him, 'Please, go slow,' but you know I talk to him about it, and he always turns me around," she said. "I leave understanding what he's doing, and that's his life, and that's what he wants to do and I'll respect him for that and I'll back him all the way."

Burgos says she feels relieved that her son moved to New York City ten years ago, where he works as a spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, because he's less subject to be a target of the widespread anti-gay violence on the island.

But that doesn't mean Pedro Julio doesn't return periodically to stir up controversy.

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