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The Bahamas - Erin Greene
I joined CAFRA (Caribbean Association for Feminist Research in Action) in The Bahamas in 2000 and became the Bahamas’ National Representative for CAFRA in 2002. I am now the interim deputy chairperson of CAFRA. I was a member of CRAFFT (Constitutional Rights Reform and Facilitation Team) that conducted a six-month lecture series culminating in a two-day workshop and the submission of draft legislation to the Bahamas constitutional reform committee in 2002-2003.
I was an executive member of and spokesperson for the Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas when it formed in 2003 until the organization was closed in 2008. I joined CARIFLAG (Caribbean Forum for the Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities) in 2007.
I am a member of Bahamas Human Rights Network, which was formed in 2007. I now work as a human rights activist and host an Internet television show "The Culture of Things" where I discuss various issues surrounding human rights. I have made numerous television and radio appearances to discuss Human Rights and LGBT Rights.
Homosexuality is accepted as a silent affliction in the Bahamas: its okay once you don’t maintain a higher social status than me, or maintain a real or perceived position of power over me, or in any way force me to acknowledge your orientation or gender expression. Bahamians are also agitated by individuals who are perceived as attempting to blur gender lines and by Bahamians that challenge the Christian Church’s perceived position on homosexuality or the Church’s authority on social issues. But Bahamians generally are still uncomfortable with issues of sex, sexuality and relationships, and often behavior that is instantly labeled as homophobic is based in a fear or lack of understanding of human sexuality in general.
I believe that the response to the “StopMurderMusic” campaign on the ground in Jamaica was less about believing in, or supporting, or an unwillingness to challenge homophobia and more an issue of defining sovereignty. The campaign was formed outside of Jamaica and it seems with disregard to the economic impact of the campaign and to the needs and strategies of activists and the LGBT community in Jamaica.
Bahamian politicians and civil servants faced with an apathetic electorate generally, and an invisible community, in particular, are not motivated to enforce existing legislation and protections or to create special protections for the LGBT community. The continual misinterpretation of the Preamble of the Constitution of the Bahamas is an example of a willingness to ignore existing statutory protections and perpetuate a ‘church’ state where a self-appointed Christian Council participates in the creation and enforcement of legislation as it concerns mainly the media and entertainment and even education.
Before we can talk about homophobia(s), we must be able to talk about Human Rights. In the Bahamas using the word homophobia makes Bahamians uncomfortable and puts them on the defensive, they feel their anti-gay position is in accordance with biblical scripture and Christian belief and constitutes a Christian duty. An attempt to discuss LGBT rights is often considered as an attempt to convert the individual to that “lifestyle” or to be bad Christians. Many Christian fundamentalists believe that the only rights a human has are the rights that the Christian God gave them: the right to live and the right to die at a predetermined time only known by God. However many more Bahamians understand Human Rights and the right to be in a relationship of one’s choice (implicit in the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of conscience) in the context of same sex couples and attraction.
There has been a significant increase in coverage of LGBT issues in both traditional and alternative media throughout the region. In the Bahamas publications that once would ignore local and international discussions of LGBT issues and crimes directed towards or involving the gay community have now become some of the community’s biggest allies. Government agencies and private and religious institutions have shown increased willingness to support (both publically and privately) the LGBT community and its needs. Although we have not reached nearly acceptable levels, the Royal Bahamian Police Force has shown an improvement in its willingness to respond to crimes against members of the LGBT community. Radio and entertainment personalities have consciously participated in the decrease in homophobic material being broadcasted in public and private arenas and spaces. Regional and local festivals have increased support to LGBT artists and LGBT themed works.
Currently, I am not a member of any local LGBT organization but refer members of the community to existing advocacy and support groups like Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA) and Society Against STI’s and HIV (SASH Bahamas) or to LGBT affirming lawyers, doctors, churches and support groups.
Challenges: The gay community has continuously shown an unwillingness to maintain the levels of visibility required to ensure the enforcement of existing legislation and legal protections that offer recourse for discrimination and crimes against sexual minorities. Most members of the LGBT community are Christian and still wish to maintain strong ties to their church but face difficulties being visible in any activity that challenges the church or established religious doctrine. No programs currently exist for LGBT youth. Activists, including myself, fear being accused of ‘recruiting’ or cultivating sexual relationships with minors, and have found the government and existing social organizations unwilling to create or support such programs to address LGBT youth issues. I have found that the LGBT community is also unwilling to organize across class and race lines, with many Bahamians fearing repercussion from even this level of visibility.
Successes: The Anglican Church and the Royal Bahamas Police Force have expressed a willingness to improve the dialogue between these institutions and the LGBT community and to work together to improve services to the community. In July 2004, the Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas held a welcome demonstration to support members of “Family Values” cruise hosted by Rosie O’Donnell and her family in Rawson Square – and offer a counter demonstration to the local protestors. The Royal Bahamas Police force carried out their duty to monitor and protect the members of our demonstrations and visitors in a professional and respectable manner.
The Caribbean IRN (and particularly the web event for the launch of the Jamaica Gay Freedom Movement Archive in June 2011) has proven to be an effective tool, allowing individuals to participate in an event and speak to activists and LGBT people around the world, while maintaining anonymity, if desired. Engaging dialog and activism via the internet allows participation without fear of the repercussions that often accompany visibility.
The introduction of civics and constitutional law classes in secondary schools would be an effective tool in the reduction of homophobia. Creation of training programs for law enforcement and peace officers including customs, immigration and prison officers, for medical and emergency medical staff and civil servants generally to facilitate an understanding of fulfillment of professional duties without regard for personal belief systems will also cause a reduction in homophobia. The enforcement of existing legislation at governmental and professional levels would help to address homophobia and many of the issues concerning the LGBT community.
The creation of programs that focus on personal development for LGBT youth and temporary housing for these young people transitioning to adulthood would also lessen the effects of homophobia. Another tool that can effectively reduce homophobia would be the creation of legal and media industry standards and penalties for the broadcasting or publishing of material that promotes or perpetuates violence towards the sexual minority community.