Wilfred Labiosa: One Year After Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico’s Struggles Continue

For Wilfred Labiosa of Puerto Rico, the recovery efforts to help his community continue to challenge LGBTQ advocates — even as we approach one year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island.

Labiosa is the executive director of Waves Ahead, which works with LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities in Puerto Rico, and a founding member of #ReconstruyeQ, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied organizations leading recovery and restoration efforts for LGBTQ people on the island.

Earlier this year, HRC joined the project and, together with more than fifty volunteers from across the U.S. and the U.K., offered hands-on support for LGBTQ Puerto Ricans recovering from the devastating storms.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to overcome the cascade of problems unleashed by the deadly storms, including widespread power outages and lack of clean water. A recent George Washington University study estimates that the death toll from the storms and its aftermath is 2,975 people.

HRC spoke with Labiosa about the latest developments in the region.

As the one year anniversary of Irma and Maria approaches, what is the feeling among communities on the island?

We are resilient people, and we have noticed this now more than ever. Although there is a lot of anxiety during hurricane season, we are ready to act and help each other. There is so much to do, but we know we can do it together.

Have recovery efforts been sufficient after the devastating events?

No. Although we have received some support, it has not been enough. The Puerto Rican government has received funds to rebuild roads, but we are still waiting for them to take action. There are many corners without street lights, and many businesses that closed because they weren’t able to recover.

Tell us about the importance of the #ReconstruyeQ project?

#ReconstruyeQ is the only hope for many who struggle to be assisted by public institutions due to an array of legal issues and a widespread lack of understanding of needs unique to the LGBTQ community. Along with nonprofits and community members, we are committed not only to rebuild homes, but also to assist those in need with emotional support and mental health services.

What specific challenges are experienced by LGBTQ people after the hurricanes?

I’ve heard so many stories of LGBTQ people asking for help from public institutions and being denied because of who they are or how they look. Our community needs respect. There are no official records of LGBTQ victims of the storms because the government fails to recognize the importance of collecting data on LGBTQ people within our society.

Any lessons you would like to share?

When we unite as a both a Puerto Rican and LGBTQ community, we can do so much more. We need to unite and use our vote to bring change!

 As tropical storms continue to hit the U.S., HRC stands in solidarity with those affected by Florence in the Carolinas and across the region. HRC is proud to partner with #ReconstruyeQ and help LGBTQ community members of Puerto Rico rebuild their homes and lives.

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