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“Complexities of Place” - Activist Roundtable

Complexities of Place” - Activist Roundtable

For the purposes of this collection, the Caribbean IRN Board posed the same questions through email and skype to several activists across the region between December 2011 and May 2012. We envisioned cross-regional yet local perspectives of sexual minority organizing in the Caribbean. We invite you to enter this roundtable of responses with activists from several countries, representing The Bahamas, Guyana, Martinique, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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The Bahamas – Erin Greene

1. Tell us about your work in the region and any organizations that you represent.

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.
 

2. This project is offering a space for Caribbean activists, writers, scholars, and artists to define and redefine homophobia. We think this is necessary because so much has been discussed and defined outside of the region. How would you define homophobia(s) in your country? What social, cultural, and political factors contribute to homophobia(s)?

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.

 

3. How useful is it for us to talk about different kinds of homophobia(s)? How would talking about different kinds of homophobia(s) help us to include concerns for transgendered and gender non-conforming people?

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.

4.  What changes have you seen and experienced (in the last 5 to 10 years) with regards to LGBT or sexual minority issues in the region and in your country in particular?

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.

 

5. What are the strategies you use for organizing against homophobia and its effects (ex. ostracism, depression, violence, etc.)?

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.

 

6.  What are the major challenges and successes you have faced in organizing?

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 protesters. 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.

 

7.  What kinds of regional or diaspora collaboration have been effective? What kinds of regional or diaspora collaboration have not been effective?

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.

 

8. Do you think the Caribbean as a region is shifting in terms of tolerance and acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities? If so, how?

Yes. The increase in visibility of LGBT themed literature and academic work and the emergence of LGBT artists and positive LGBT themes in popular music, like reggae and calypso, and the creation and success of lesbian/gay-themed films regionally and locally indicate a shift toward a more tolerant position. Portia Miller-Simpson's announcement that she will allow gays to serve in her cabinet after her landslide victory in recent elections in Jamaica, and an increase of support shown by Caribbean politicians in international organizations in general, and in particular, the case of The Bahamas’ (then) deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette expressing support for a United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution that affirms equal rights for LGBT people, are indications of this shift.

 

9. What are some specific changes you would like to see in your country to change or lessen homophobia(s)? In the Caribbean as a whole, how can we move towards these goals?

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.

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Guyana – Joel Simpson

1. Tell us about your work in the region and any organizations that you represent.

I work on sexual rights and health in the Caribbean; primarily in the countries I reside (and resided) and sub-regionally and regionally as well. I am the Founder and Co-Chairperson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in Guyana, Co-Founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Anti Violence Project (TTAVP) and founding member of 4Change, both of which have subsumed in Trinidad and Tobago’s Coalition Advocating Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO). At the regional level, I have been involved in the leadership of the regional lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) network – then called the Caribbean Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (CFLAG) but now re-named the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS) since its resuscitation in 2006 as Steering Committee Member, Focal Point, Spokesperson and Advisory Board Member. I am also a Legal Core Member of the Human Rights Working Group of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).

2. This project is offering a space for Caribbean activists, writers, scholars, and artists to define and redefine homophobia. We think this is necessary because so much has been discussed and defined outside of the region. How would you define homophobia(s) in your country? What social, cultural, and political factors contribute to homophobia(s)?

Homophobia in Guyana exists in multiple forms. Institutionally, it exists in laws, which criminalize sexual intimacy between adult men in private. These laws are indirectly enforced through police extortion and other state-sanctioned abuses, social stigma and direct discrimination that it festers. Laws against cross-dressing, vagrancy and loitering are used to target male-to-female transgender sex workers specifically and transphobic discrimination manifests itself in profound ways; not only through criminal enforcement, but in creating barriers which amount to the denial of access and rights to education, employment, housing, health and other social services which the state is obligated to provide. In state policies, it exists in the health sector where ‘men who have sex with men,’ ‘women who have sex with men’ and other such non-heterosexual behaviours which are officially excluded from donating blood, regardless of their level of epidemiological risk for sexually transmitted diseases. And in the housing sector, it exists where legally-married heterosexual couples with children are given priority to buy house lots from the government. Socio-culturally, it exists in dancehall music, which we have largely imported and adapted locally from Jamaica. Some theatre productions also reinforce stereotypes of gay men, in particular, and represent us as flamboyant, lewd cross-dressers for comedic entertainment.

 

3. How useful is it for us to talk about different kinds of homophobia(s)? How would talking about different kinds of homophobia(s) help us to include concerns for transgender and gender non-conforming people?

I find it is very important in the Guyana context, especially, to talk about transphobia as a specific kind of homophobia particularly because we have these unique laws that criminalise cross-dressing and are enforced from time to time. Because public opinion seems largely against this particular form of non-conforming gender expression, even more so than against same-sex intimacy, it seems more strategic and effective to use specific language to address issues around transphobia, than referring to homophobia, as the umbrella term.

4.  What changes have you seen and experienced (in the last 5 to 10 years) with regards to LGBT or sexual minority issues in the region and in your country in particular?

The debate has definitely shifted from the time I started this work officially in 2003 when forming SASOD from one which focused predominantly on religious views to a rights-based discourse. This took years of constant advocacy consistently framing the issues as human-rights concerns for public engagement, rather than religious perspectives that dominate private morality debates. I have also found that because we have increasingly articulated LGBT issues as human rights concerns and created more social spaces for community engagement, fellowship and entertainment, young LGBT people in particular appear more empowered to live openly, despite pervasive social stigma and discrimination which still exists in Guyanese society today.

5. What are the strategies you use for organizing against homophobia and its effects (ex. ostracism, depression, violence, etc.)?

The strategies are many and include public education, media advocacy, community mobilization, alliance building and the list can go on and on. I hope the effects have been to create a more tolerant and respectful Guyanese and Caribbean societies, though I have no way of proving this.

6.  What are the major challenges and successes you have faced in organizing?

I suspect these are not unique. Challenges range from lack of resources, community apathy to downright indifference. The movement is generally unrewarding and fosters a lack of appreciation for the personal sacrifices many of us make in order to do this thankless work. Successes have been small wins like filing the cross-dressing constitutional suit – the first legal challenge in the Caribbean region to challenge laws which discriminate against our community – and the inroads we have made in the Inter-American human rights system on LGBT issues. I had the distinct honour of representing the Caribbean region at the first-ever thematic hearing on sexual orientation issues at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October 2008. I also lead a project which culminated in a thematic hearing specifically on LGBT issues in the Caribbean in October 2010. I managed the production of SASOD’s first documentary short film, “My Wardrobe, My Right” which looks at the cross-dressing crackdown in Guyana. There have been very many ‘firsts’ of this sort that I would consider as organizing successes.

7.  What kinds of regional or diaspora collaboration have been effective? What kinds of regional / diaspora collaboration have not been effective?

I struggle to think of any diaspora collaboration in which I have been involved. At the regional level, there have been many effective collaborations. One of the first success stories was the Grenada Shadow Report project in 2007. At the time, I was a steering committee member of CFLAG and some INGOs wanted to engage Caribbean activists on producing a shadow report for Grenada’s review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in a manner which would see the work being done in the Global North by persons who were not from the Caribbean. CFLAG intervened, mobilized other regional partners and garnered resources to have the report produced and edited in the region by Caribbean people to build our own capacities. The media furor around Grenada’s ICCPR review saw their government take a pro-LGBT position publicly, for the first time I believe, in light of a possible tourism boycott.

In terms of less effective collaborations at the regional level, I think the ongoing international Stop Murder Music campaign could benefit from more Caribbean leadership and involvement, though it has had its fair share of global successes. The deficiency in that one, I think, is that Caribbean LGBT activists outside of Jamaica were not originally envisioned as key stakeholders in a campaign which largely saw North America and Europe as the sites to contest hyper-violent, anti-gay music from Jamaica, which was largely penetrating and becoming part of the wider “region’s psyche,” to quote some of the scholarly words of the late Dr. Robert Carr.

8. Do you think the Caribbean as a region is shifting in terms of tolerance and acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities? If so, how?

Definitely! I think the level of debate has risen in many of the larger territories like Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and even some of the smaller islands like St. Lucia and Grenada. This is in large measure due to the unwavering advocacy of local LGBT groups. The more reasoned, rights-oriented debates I think signal progress in the level of tolerance and respect for LGBT Caribbean people. Our issues are now highly visible in the region’s media. Even in notorious Jamaica, the incidence of homophobic violence does not appear to be as high as a few years ago. But there is still so much more work to be done. We have only just begun.

9. What are some specific changes you would like to see in your country to change or lessen homophobia(s)? In the Caribbean as a whole, how can we move towards these goals?

For Guyana, I would like to see the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing repealed. I would also like to see “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” enacted as grounds for discrimination in our constitution. Attitudes will not change over-night and public education is long-term work. But if we do not strip away institutional forms of homophobia and provide means of protection and redress, then LGBT Guyanese cannot even hold the state accountable for violating their fundamental rights. Legal and policy reforms are important first steps to full equality and citizenship I believe. In the Caribbean region, we can only achieve these with the development of highly sophisticated advocacy strategies and powerful agents and allies, which strengthen the movement by winning hearts and minds and becoming politically significant. The region’s political leaders seem to be following public opinion on these issues, so we have work to do in this regard; but also, the movement needs to become a political force that cannot be ignored by prejudiced politicians where the populace is supportive of our humanity and rights.

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Martinique - Fred Cronard

1. Tell us about your work in the region and any organizations that you represent.

Since 1998, I worked in the field of fight against AIDS in Martinique. In 2002, I started my first preventive actions in the LGBT groups of Martinique. It was the first actions implemented in Martinique for this group. In 2004, a group of people living with HIV and gays, we have created Association Martinique Vivre Ensemble [Martinique Living Together Association] (AMVIE). AMVIE was working on the principle of community engagement of people living with HIV and LGBT. In 2005, AMVIE has developed the first programs to prevent HIV and STIs and the fight against discrimination of LGBT people in Martinique. In 2007, I was elected president of the AMVIE. In 2011, AMVIE has decided to merge with the AIDES association, based in Pantin (France). AIDES is the largest association of fight against AIDS and hepatitis in France. Currently, I'm president of AIDES Martinique.

There are no laws against homosexuality in French law. There are laws that protect the privacy of individuals, and who condemn homophobic acts. However, there are homophobic attacks, and it is always difficult for LGBT people assaulted to complain.

This is especially true in Martinique and other French departments of America of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and St. Martin (French part). The police sometimes refuse to accept the complaint of a person LGBT assaulted. There are few (or not) programs for LGBT rights developed in the French Department of America (Martinique (1), Guadeloupe (1), French Guiana and St. Martin (French part)). There are few (or not) of cooperation between the associations of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana and St. Martin with NGOs in the Caribbean region, in the fight against AIDS and the fight for LGBT rights.

In 2006, a seminar was held in St. Maarten by the Ministry of Health of France. There were 153 participants from France, and various Caribbean countries (Dominican Republic, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, St. Lucia, Suriname, etc.). A workshop was devoted to relations between men (MSM). Few links have been developed and maintained by the associations of French Department of America and the Caribbean NGOs.

In 2010, a program of cooperation with the Caribbean, funded by the European Community, and entitled "Setting up of a regional HIV observatory between French territories and other countries in the Caribbean" was implemented. The project leader is the University Hospital Centre (CHU) of Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe). Investigations are carried out in the public men who have sex with men (MSM), crack users, sex workers, migrants. The scientific coordination of the investigations is provided by the Clinical Investigation Center - Clinical Epidemiology (CIC-EC) French Guiana (Hospital Centre (CH) Cayenne). AIDS coordinated some of these investigations, including MSM, Martinique, Guyana and St. Martin.

AIDES Martinique priorities for 2012 for LGBT people are:

- Strengthen our prevention efforts : preventing HIV/STI, testing HIV rapid tests
- Develop actions for the rights of LGBT people
- Develop visibility actions
- Develop advocacy at local and regional
- Develop links with NGOs in the Caribbean

2. This project is offering a space for Caribbean activists, writers, scholars, and artists to define and redefine homophobia. We think this is necessary because so much has been discussed and defined outside of the region. How would you define homophobia(s) in your country? What social, cultural, and political factors contribute to homophobia(s)?

There are few known studies on homophobia in Martinique, and more generally in the French Departments of America. The experiences of the associations are very recent and provide some data. As part of the "Setting up of a regional HIV observatory between French territories and other countries in the Caribbean ", an inventory was made. An inventory of work (surveys, studies, and other academic work) made in Martinique and out of Martinique is in progress.

In Martinique, homosexuality is lived hidden, due to discriminatory behavior of the population. We cannot really speak of "community" LGBT in Martinique. There is no sense of belonging to a community. We identify people who claim to be gay (known in Martinique "Macoumè"). Beyond these gays, men have sex with men, without being defined as gay or bisexual. It is a male sexuality lived hard, "shameful?" Among gay people, the experience of homosexuality is different according to the generations and social class. Without speaking of visibility, there is a display of homosexuality among young gays.

A small group of transgender people is identified with an activity of prostitution. These are people of Martinique, with possibly one or two people of St. Lucia. These people are not integrated into the group of gays. Their clients are mostly men "heterosexual" socially integrated, often married and a father.

The meeting places are:
- Outdoor meeting places, which are often frequented the night in Fort de France (the capital of Martinique) and on the beaches. The absence of security makes these places dangerous places, favorable to attacks.
- The private dances are also meeting places.
- Internet networks

 

3. How useful is it for us to talk about different kinds of homophobia(s)? How would talking about different kinds of homophobia(s) help us to include concerns for transgendered and gender non-conforming people?

Homophobia manifests itself in a number of attitudes, behaviors and actions that it would be important to identify. We need to identify the foundations of homophobia to develop strategies to combat it. The arguments most often advanced are: religion (it is forbidden by the Bible, God wanted that the woman is the natural companion of man) or societal (requires men and women for the reproduction of the human species and the sustainability of the society).

Many other arguments can be identified:
- The homophobic attitudes of men who have sex with men and who seek to protect themselves? Homophobic, so I'm not gay!
- Homophobic assault offenders, because homosexuals abused rarely report, and are therefore easy targets. Often these attacks take place on outdoor meeting places without security
- Attacks (racketeering) homophobic people who think that homosexuals have money, they rarely report and are easy targets
- The homophobic acts of people that do not support LGBT visibility, but that can be tolerated if they are hidden (they stay in their private sphere)
- The homophobic acts of people who think that homosexuality is against nature, that LGBT people are perverse
- Acts homophobic people (macho) who think that homosexuals are weak, do not represent the criteria of masculinity, virility?

4. What changes have you seen and experienced (in the last 5 to 10 years) with regards to LGBT or sexual minority issues in the region and in your country in particular?

The main change in recent years, since 2004, was the creation of associations involved in LGBT. These associations are An Nou Allé, AMVIE (now AIDES Martinique) and CAP. These associations were able to develop preventive actions and actions of visibility and advocacy. They mainly concern gay men. The only active association to date is AIDES Martinique. Recently an association of lesbian was created.

Apart from the associations, there are Internet networks, which are places of exchange and encounter for gays. Speak publicly about homosexuality and attitudes of discrimination and stigma is likely to fight against homophobia.
 

5. What are the strategies you use for organizing against homophobia and its effects (ex. ostracism, depression, violence, etc.)?

The strategies we are considering:
- Building capacity, self-esteem, removing guilt of the LGBT
- Ensure the visibility of homosexuality
- Respond to homophobic actions

Actions can be:
- Implementation of group discussion among LGBT
- Develop community action (peer)
- Establishment of an observatory of homophobic violence, for a systematic response and assistance to persons victimized
- Encourage discussion in schools about sexuality, emotional and sexual orientation
- Conduct public debates by seeking the involvement of political, artistic, sporting, etc.

 

6. What are the major challenges and successes you have faced in organizing?

This is the creation of the association and actions implemented. The association may develop a public debate within the population, through the various media, newspapers, television. In May 2012, we will organize a "Diversity Week" as part of World Day against Homophobia. During this week, several actions will be implemented in the direction of the students, the general public and LGBT. On this occasion, we will invite NGOs in the Caribbean.
 

7. What kinds of regional or diaspora collaboration have been effective? What kinds of regional /diaspora collaboration have not been effective?

For now, we have no regional collaboration or relationship with the Diaspora. This is one of our concerns for the future. The French departments of America are fairly isolated from each other and with the countries of the Caribbean.
 

8. Do you think the Caribbean as a region is shifting in terms of tolerance and acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities? If so, how?

We have few links and rather limited knowledge of the initiatives developed in the Caribbean. We need to develop links with the actors of the Caribbean to find ways of collaborating and joint actions.

9. What are some specific changes you would like to see in your country to change or lessen homophobia(s)? In the Caribbean as a whole, how can we move towards these goals?

We are at the beginning of a process rather recent, dating back six years. We still need a method, action and collaboration to better evaluate our work and develop the society of Martinique. I think we are the right direction. Interesting initiatives are being developed. We need to pursue them.

I hope that this early work with you and others in the Caribbean will allow us to have a better understanding of our region and to identify actions that we can develop together.

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Suriname:

Tieneke Sumter, Chair of Women’ S Way Foundation &
Chrystabelle Beaton, member and LGBT advocate from the LGBT Platform Suriname.

1. Tell us about your work in the region and any organizations that you represent.

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.
 

2. This project is offering a space for Caribbean activists, writers, scholars, and artists to define and redefine homophobia. We think this is necessary because so much has been discussed and defined outside of the region. How would you define homophobia(s) in your country? What social, cultural, and political factors contribute to homophobia(s)?

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.
 

3. How useful is it for us to talk about different kinds of homophobia(s)? How would talking about different kinds of homophobia(s)  help us to include concerns for transgendered and gender non-conforming people?

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.
 

4.  What changes have you seen and experienced (in the last 5 to 10 years) with regards to LGBT or sexual minority issues in the region and in your country in particular?

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.
 

5. What are the strategies you use for organizing against homophobia and its effects (ex. ostracism, depression, violence, etc.)?

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.
 

6.  What are the major challenges and successes you have faced in organizing?

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!
 

7.  What kinds of regional or diaspora collaboration have been effective? What kinds of regional /diaspora collaboration have not been effective?

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.

 

8. Do you think the Caribbean as a region is shifting in terms of tolerance and acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities? If so, how?

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.
 

9. What are some specific changes you would like to see in your country to change or lessen homophobia(s)? In the Caribbean as a whole, how can we move towards these goals?

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.