Hundreds of people gathered in New York City’s historic Greenwich Village Sunday, Nov. 22 to take a stand against anti-LGBT violence. The vigil was held in honor of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, the 19-year-old openly gay man who was brutally murdered more than a week ago in Puerto Rico.
The vigil, run concurrently with vigils in 15 other cities, was organized in conjunction with GLAAD and featured several prominent elected officials. GLAAD’s President Jarrett Barrios was a featured speaker.
"A lot of us who grew up Latino, grew up with this machismo ingrained in us, we need to examine what's underneath,” said Barrios, a sentiment that echoed throughout the mostly Latino crowd.
The vigil was the latest public outcry after Juan Martinez Matos, 26, pled guilty to murdering Mercado. Matos, was also charged with three weapons and one count of hiding evidence.
Despite the evidence against Matos, the Puerto Rican government says it’s still “unclear” how it will prosecute him. Law officials speculate the government may try the case as a simple murder case (without it being designated as a hate crime) because Matos claims he “didn’t know the gender of Mercado.” But for many vigil attendees and elected officials across the country—that is unacceptable.
“This is a hate crime!” City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, the first openly lesbian Speaker of the City Council, told reporters. "The attack against any American because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable, and will be prosecuted to the highest and fullest extent of the law," she said.
There is mounting pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to pressure the Puerto Rican government to try the case as a hate crime. If Puerto Rico agrees, this could be the first case tried under the new Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
For more pictures from the vigil, visit: "Remembering Jorge Steven Mercado, a vigil"