Caribbean LGBT youth group issues urgent call for equality and inclusion
The Kaleidoscope Trust is proud to be supporting a new coalition of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from across the Caribbean, as they issued a passionate call for change in society and the law to embrace equality and inclusion for all at a unique conference in Trinidad.
Coming together under the banner 'Generation Change' in Port of Spain they called on political leaders to live up to their commitments to put an end to discrimination against LGBT citizens.
"We have heard fine words from some of our Prime Ministers and people with the power to make change happen but so far we see nothing being done," said Jeremy Steffan Edwards, one of the event organisers. "The younger generation of LGBT people are not prepared to wait forever to be treated equally. We are not asking for any special rights, just the same rights as every other Caribbean citizen. It's our future and it's time for those who can make change happen to do so."
'Generation Change' brought together activists from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia and Jamaica at a conference at the Kapok Hotel. Contributions were heard from Belize and Guyana and the British High Commissioner, Mr. Arthur Snell, also spoke and expressed his support.
The initiative was part of a project run by the Silver Lining Foundation with partners across the region.
The meeting heard first accounts of how discrimination blights the lives of young gay men, lesbians and others who don't conform to heterosexual norms. Among the evidence presented was:
In response to an appeal from the local LGBT group B-GLAD, Prime Minister Stuart declared that he will remain dedicated to lobbying, both regionally and internationally against discrimination against any Barbadian citizen, including LGBT. Yet Donnya Piggott from B-GLAD says, "The laws still discriminate and sometimes the police do not take attacks or threats against LGBT people seriously. The situation causes great physical, emotional and psychological damage."
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Prime Minister Mrs Kamla Persad-Bisessar was on record in 2012 saying she wanted the National Gender Policy to "forge the way forward for Trinidad and Tobago as my government seeks to put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation". Rian Merrick of the Silver Lining Foundation said, "Despite the PM's words young LGBT persons and LGBT advocates were compelled to argue before a National Constitutional Reform Commission that their recognition under the law should not need to be up for discussion. The priority is to find ways in which discrimination and prejudice can be reduced."
Same sex intimacy can carry penalties of up to ten years in jail. Christian fundamentalists continue to fight every effort to change attitudes and the law. But Jassica St Rose from United and Strong in St.Lucia said she believed change was driven by the actions of youth who by their very naturae are revolutionary, always challenging norms and values.
The media often describes Jamaica as one of the most homophobic nations in the world and the conference saw footage of LGBT youth forced to live in drains under the city. Jae Nelson of the Jamaica Youth Network said, "Young people are visibly defiant to status quo-a kind of way being that says that there is only one way of being; that some of us are more equal than others and that those who are LGBT do not belong in our society. Many young people are doing this by just embracing their lesbian and gay friends, being open about their sexuality and declaring they believe in equal rights and justice for all."
Caleb Orozco, who is challenging the discriminatory laws in his country was unable to attend at the last minute. But in a speech read on his behalf he reported that LGBT youth had been physically attacked and faced mockery, ridicule and a denial of their rights to free expression. He said: "The struggle of the Caribbean LGBT youth is a struggle of invisibility, quiet resistance and passive protest that has its foundation in the need to protect individual expression and dignity."
The conference heard testimony from Ceara Roopchand of Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness (CADVA). She said that same sex couples and transgender people were able to enjoy the freedom to socialise in some parts of Georgetown and other areas, but that abuse and harassment were still common, including from police officers.
Read the project report here.