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

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07/07/2019

Puerto Ricans mourned so many losses after Hurricane Maria that the closing of a beloved tiki bar in San Juan might have seemed of little consequence, another casualty of the battered post-storm economy. But the bar — El Escondite, or the Hideaway — was not just a place for a strong screwdriver cocktail. It was also a mainstay for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patrons wanting to share a good time or enjoy a drag show. For Roma Rodríguez, a 23-year-old transgender woman, and her friends, the bar’s closing last year meant the loss of one of the few hangouts in Puerto Rico’s capital where they felt safe being themselves. “I needed someone to laugh at my jokes, to hug me, to tell me I looked beautiful,” Ms. Rodríguez said. Only a handful of establishments directly served an L.G.B.T. clientele before Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September 2017, splintering thousands of homes and leaving the island’s power grid in shambles. The economic hardship that followed the storm forced at least three well-known establishments in the San Juan area to close their doors, leaving even fewer places for regulars to socialize and feel connected to a larger community.

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