When Philadelphia couple Allison Harris and Raquel Salas Rivera launched a campaign to help LGBTQ hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico, they had no idea it would garner $10,000 in less than a week.
Harris, 38, said they launched the Emergency Relief Fund for LGBTQ Boricuas on October 1. They hoped to raise at least $5,000, but the donations skyrocketed to twice that in just a few days, she said.
“It makes me feel very grateful, and it makes me feel like there’s solidarity out there,” Harris told NBC News.
Hurricane Maria ripped through the island in September. As of October 10, officials said the category 5 storm has led to 43 deaths and has left 84 percent of the population without electricity and 63 percent without drinking water. President Donald Trump’s administration has been criticized for its response to the crisis, which some have likened to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Harris and Salas Rivera said survivors who identify as LGBTQ face discrimination and other unique challenges that can impact their ability to survive. The couple said they are using the money they raise to bring evacuees to the U.S. mainland and to fund hormone therapy and new IDs for transgender survivors who lost their belongings in the flooding.
Salas Rivera, 31, said people living with HIV — many of whom are LGBTQ — are in grave danger.
“They are unable to access their medications,” Salas Rivera said. “There’s an exposure to contaminants and a lack of access to clean water and food. There’s an increased spread of illnesses right now because of all the flooding.”
“It’s like a nightmare,” Salas Rivera added.
Identifying LGBTQ evacuees is a complicated process since phone and internet services are down all over the island, the couple explained. They said they are relying on volunteers from the Puerto Rican Transgender Taskforce, who are going from town to town, shelter to shelter, to find and identify LGBTQ survivors.