LGBTQ activist Justin Santiago, pictured here at a rally against gender violence on May 2nd in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after the death of Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz as well as other women who have been killed. Jose (Tito) Fuentes

‘Don’t hurt your children’: A history-making trans man warns against conversion therapy

Article written by Angélica Serrano-Román, a New York-based journalist. Originally published on nbcnews.com on 5/14/2021

Justin Santiago, 66, the first trans man in Puerto Rico to change his name and gender on his birth certificate, remembers the long-ago incident that led to years of pain he hopes other teens don’t have to endure.

During biology class in the mountain town of Barranquitas, Santiago would sit at his desk, take a wooden pencil, grab a sheet of paper and write love letters to his teacher.

She had a voluptuous body, Santiago recalled, and wore her curly blonde hair tied back. He wrote the letters hoping that one day she would reciprocate his feelings. Every time Santiago wrote a love letter he would leave it in the teacher’s mailbox and hope for the best.

One day, the school counselor asked him to visit her office. She told him that leaving such notes was wrong.

“Because she is my teacher?” Santiago asked.

“No, because she is a woman, like you,” the counselor replied.

She had a voluptuous body, Santiago recalled, and wore her curly blonde hair tied back. He wrote the letters hoping that one day she would reciprocate his feelings. Every time Santiago wrote a love letter he would leave it in the teacher’s mailbox and hope for the best.

One day, the school counselor asked him to visit her office. She told him that leaving such notes was wrong.

“Because she is my teacher?” Santiago asked.

“No, because she is a woman, like you,” the counselor replied.

She had a voluptuous body, Santiago recalled, and wore her curly blonde hair tied back. He wrote the letters hoping that one day she would reciprocate his feelings. Every time Santiago wrote a love letter he would leave it in the teacher’s mailbox and hope for the best.

One day, the school counselor asked him to visit her office. She told him that leaving such notes was wrong.

“Because she is my teacher?” Santiago asked.

“No, because she is a woman, like you,” the counselor replied.

She had a voluptuous body, Santiago recalled, and wore her curly blonde hair tied back. He wrote the letters hoping that one day she would reciprocate his feelings. Every time Santiago wrote a love letter he would leave it in the teacher’s mailbox and hope for the best.

One day, the school counselor asked him to visit her office. She told him that leaving such notes was wrong.

“Because she is my teacher?” Santiago asked.

“No, because she is a woman, like you,” the counselor replied.

“But I’m a man,” said Santiago, then 15 and a trans youth.

The incident led to years of conversion therapy — an unscientific practice that seeks to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity through psychological techniques, causing guilt and shame.

“They broke me and turned me into a sick person,” Santiago said. The treatment involved prescribing him psychiatric drugs that led to other dependencies, he said, with no one ever held accountable.

On May 6, a Puerto Rico Senate committee killed Senate Bill 184, which would have banned conversion therapies in Puerto Rico. The failure to advance the bill was a blow to LGBTQ advocates like Santiago, who had told his story before the Committee on Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction.

Though former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had signed a 2019 executive order banning conversion therapies in the U.S. territory, the bill’s sponsors wanted the ban codified into law, to prevent a future anti-LGBTQ+ rights governor from annulling Rosselló’s mandate.

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Attribution:

This post was originally posted on nbcnews.com website on May 14th, 2021.

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