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Suriname - Tieneke Sumter, Chair of Women’ S Way Foundation and Chrystabelle Beaton member and LGBT advocate from the LGBT Platform Suriname.
Women’ S Way was founded in 2008 but became a foundation in may 2011. It is our mission to create a platform for women who (also) Love women in Suriname and the rest of the CARICOM. Our goals are to strengthen the emancipation of women who (also) love women, promote and stimulate the wellbeing and health of women who have sex with women (WSW) and advocate for social acceptance. We offer a meeting place for women (also on FB), organize discussions, lectures, training and leisure activities like parties and trips. We also collect data of the needs of the WSW community.
The LGBT Platform Suriname was established in August 2011. It is a network of 5 organization (Suriname Men United, He + HIV Foundation, Women’ S Way Foundation, Club Matapi and Proud 2 be) who decided to work together after a member of our parliament, Mr. Assabina, requested an anti-homosexual policy from the government in Parliament. He called for the destroying of the root courses of homosexuality, which according to him is a disease. We were pleased to see that the chair of our parliament stopped him and asked him not to discriminate since our constitution respects and protects every individual. Also other parliamentarians came up for the rights of LGBT’s. This was the start of a long discussion in the Surinamese society and even Human Rights Watch came with a statement. Mr. Assabina was forced to apologize.
The LGBT Platform Suriname wants to secure the rights of LGBT’s and create more awareness about the rights of LGBT’s and acceptance of people with a different sexual orientation or gender identity. Our first activity was to organize the National Coming Out Day (NCOD) and walk in October 2011. We receive an official permission from our President to use the park in front of the presidential palace. A group of 250 and 300 persons participated in this activity. We were able to dominate the news for more than one week. Parents and member of parliaments walked with us while the police guided us. With help of the Dutch Embassy we were able to organize a training for aspirant LGBT advocates; to develop information material about homosexuality which was distributed at several public events. The COC Netherlands made it possible for us that one of our members could attend the UPR meeting in Genève and could give a statement on behalf of the LGBT Platform Suriname.
We would like to define homophobia almost as a disease that spreads fear and hate against LGBT’s in our societies. Most of the time some out of content taken religious scripture is being used to do so. Heteronormativity and the fear for sexual freedom is the main cause of all homophobia in Suriname and in other places in the world. Although we don’t have laws is Suriname that prohibited homosexuality in practice, LGBTs are being stigmatized and discriminated. Our laws don’t provide any regulation in case someone has changed his or her gender. Many experience discrimination in their family, workplace and school etc. Suriname has many different ethnic and religious groups and some of them are against LGBT practices. Women’ S Way is often confronted with women who knows that they love women but feel the pressure to choose a man for their love ones. Some are afraid to have relations with women since they fear they will burn in hell when they die.
According to our government, Suriname is not ready for a specific LGBT policy. To do so, a public discussion is needed with several (religious) groups. We don’t agree with this statement since it is the task of the government to protect ALL her people and should not leave that to any opinion of a religious group. Assabina is a maroon man and when he made his statement, he said that according to his cultural background homosexuality can’t be accepted. The statements of Assabina has stimulated anti gay organization and people to bring their opinion forward and create fear and hate. Some (maroon) LGBT’s have told us they would stay in the closet because they are more afraid of the negative responses from their loved ones in the community.
We think it is important to talk about homophobia since daily LGBT people are being discriminated. Not too long ago a transgender person was being beaten and threatened by her/his neighbors because of who s/he is. S/he was brave enough to go the media and tell her/his story. We also are aware that many transgender persons are not getting the medical treatment they need since the medical system doesn’t know them by their ‘new’ gender. We heard that they are buying illegal hormone injections and injected themselves without any doctor guidance. They are not aware that they put themselves at great risk. At this moment, there is a lawsuit of a transgender who wants to change her gender in her passport. Our law does not provide for this so we expect that this case will be brought to the OAS.
We have noticed that in the Caribbean LGBT issues are being placed in the health corner in the last years. The HIV epidemic and the funding that came with it has contributed it to this. We think it was a safe start and helped bring the MSM, transgender and the health issues of Sex workers on the agenda. Unfortunately the specific issues of lesbian and bisexual women were absolutely not addressed.
In Suriname, we saw the same pattern, but in the last 5 years, we have seen the first shifts to an also more human rights approach. Suriname Men United has helped to create this path with the help of the Schorer Foundation from Holland. Homosexuality is in Suriname a topic that is almost every week in the media. This was not so 10 years ago. Last year the journalist price was given to a news agency who covered a topic about the recognition of LGBT rights in Suriname. The LGBT rights are becoming more and more on the political agenda in the region and Suriname. And hopefully this will lead to move it out of the health corner.
The LGBT Platform tries to create more public awareness by providing information about homosexuality. Several members has shared their personal stories in the media to empower those who struggle with their sexuality and the response of their love ones. We try to build alliances with women organizations, NGO’s, members of the union, media, religious leaders, parliamentarians and companies. We are now in the process of developing a long-term lobby and advocacy plan. Based on the response we are getting out of the (LGBT) community, people tell us it was time that the LGBT organizations decided to work together which will help to the further reorganization of the rights of LGBT’s.
Women’S Way Foundation is providing several activities to women who (also) love women. We are working together with social workers and a psychologist if counseling is needed. Self acceptance and coming out yes or no are some of the topic we address in our activities. With the help of Mama Cash, we were able to create a safe place were women can come and meet each other in the last year. By being part of the LGBT platform we promote the rights of LGBT’s and create more awareness in our society.
The major challenges we face is how to find answers to deal with the homophobic response of several religious groups and persons in Suriname. We are aware that the more we will become stronger in our call for equal rights for ALL the louder the voices will become of the homophobes. Building the capacity of the LGBT community and our organizations is the next challenge we face. Working on the rights of LGBT’s is a full time job and we do it now in our spare time. In order to get the job done it will be important to receive more support and (financial) resources. We are still weak in documenting all the cases of discrimination. We are a were that only data will convince our government that LGBT’s are being violated and discriminated although our constitution says that they should be protected. We need to involve more relevant groups, (non) governmental organizations and companies to include sexual orientation in their policies.
Our successes are the establishment of the LGBT Platform Suriname, the activities in relation to National Coming Out Day; the first steps in establishing dialogs with several groups; the development of the information kit; the training of 14 LGBT junior advocates ; the several public awareness activities; the several activities we were able to organize for lesbian and bisexual women. But most of all we gave LGBT’s a face in our community and we made it very clear that we are everywhere and not going anywhere!
The LGBT Platform Suriname and Women’ S Way are just starting to be part of CariFLAGS. As being of one of the few Dutch speaking organizations in the region, we were more focused on collaborating with Dutch organizations. As an organization for lesbians and bisexual women, who are assumed not to be at great risk to contract HIV and so we have had no voice in the region’s activities in the last years. We are glad that we can contribute in changing this for the years to come. We are also aware that Suriname is in a relatively better position as compared to other countries in the region since we don’t have laws that prohibit homosexuality (or homosexual acts). But because of that we feel we have a responsibility to support our fellow LGBT’s in the region in their struggles.
We think that the region is making steps in shifting to tolerance and acceptance of divers genders and sexualities. The HIV epidemic and the funding that came with it has contributed to this. The fact that PANCAP is refining the draft Regional Anti-Discrimination Model Policy, ‘as we speak’, could be a big step forward. Unfortunately it is still in the health instead of the human rights corner. But it is important to start somewhere. It is our assumption that the region will be almost ‘ forced’ to make some bolder steps in the years to come since LGBT rights is high on the political agenda of the USA and a relative big amount of money will be invest in the region to bring LGBT rights and the tolerance of diverse genders and sexualities on the political agenda of our governments.
Collecting data on violation and discrimination of LGBT’s will help us to provide the scientific basis to convince our governments where actions should being taken to ensure that each (LGBT) citizen of Suriname can live a life free stigma and discrimination. We want our government to make a bold statement that homophobia will not be accepted and tolerated. Our long term goal is that it is possible to have civil marriage or unions for LGBT’s in Suriname. That means that some laws and policies must be reformulated to be inclusive and more neutral formulated. We have an example of one big Surinamese company who has a policy where the (LGBT) partner is fully recognized. The (LGBT) partner who is being registered as the formal partner at the company receives all the rights as pension etc. It would be nice if we can interest other companies to do so since we are aware that chancing laws will take time.
It is important that we create a support system in the region for all LGBT organizations. We think that CariFLAGS will be able to fulfill that role. Building regional capacity in addressing LGBT issues (not only from a HIV or health perceptive) will become more and more important in the near future. Develop a regional lobby and advocacy plan to ensure that the rights of LGBT’s not only become part of our governments but also be addressed is important. In our opinion, a regional LGBT NGO with full time staff should be established or identified (if this already exists). This NGO should be the secretariat of CariFLAGS and its job should be to push the LGBT agenda in the region and help to feed the LGBT movement in the Caribbean.