‘A Space Where You Could Be Free’: Puerto Rico’s L.G.B.T. Groups Rebuild After a Hurricane

“It hurts me, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Moire Díaz, a 24-year-old transgender woman, said of legislative attempts to cater to religious conservatives. “I grew up in a Catholic school. My grandfather was a deacon. My religion teacher told me, in front of all my classmates, that I needed an exorcism.”

Ms. Díaz used to work as a bar-back at Polo Norte, a gay bar in San Juan that closed after the storm. She also performed there once a week as Nansicótica, a drag queen who raised awareness about mental health issues. Since Polo Norte shut down, she has only been able to perform twice, Ms. Díaz said.

“Many of the regulars stopped going, because they left the island,” she said. “The clientele started to diminish. People started going out a lot less. I think they had to raise the price of many things, and there were infrastructure problems. We reopened when there were still blackouts. People would come and then have to leave.”

Luis Pares, the owner of El Escondite, lamented that closing his bar meant not only losing a gathering spot for L.G.B.T. people but also laying some of them off, since he had made a point of hiring them.

“It was a space where you could be free — there was no discrimination, no fights,” said Mr. Pares, 33. “The hurricane killed the space.”

Jhoni Jackson, 33, used to organize drag shows at El Escondite. In August, she hopes to open a new bar at the same location, near the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico in the Río Piedras neighborhood of San Juan. Ms. Jackson plans to hire only L.G.B.T. employees, she said.


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