U&S is among a new coalition of young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from across the Caribbean that issued a passionate call for change in society and the law to embrace equality and inclusion for all at a unique conference in Trinidad on June 7. 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.
Jessica St. Rose, Secretary of the board of United and Strong and co-chair Kenita Placide represented the organisation. Says Placide, “There is continuous change and the vision of the future is always placed in the hands of the youth. Generation Change starts here, it starts now. No more segregating LGBTI youth and their issues; sexuality is not an issue, equality and respect for every person is.”
In a press release issued after the event, Jeremy Steffan Edwards, one of the event organizers noted, “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.” He said, “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 supported by The Kaleidoscope Trust.
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:
– SAINT LUCIA: 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 Jessica St Rose from United and Strong in Saint Lucia said she believed change was driven by the actions of youth who by their very nature are revolutionary, always challenging norms and values.
– BARBADOS: 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.”
– JAMAICA: 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.”
– BELIZE: 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.”
– GUYANA: 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.
Generation Change representatives are drawn from
“Our generation is impatient for change and the time to do it is now.”
PRESENTATION BY UNITED AND STRONG TO GENERATION CHANGE
Ninety percent religious, with strong loyalty to British laws that have helped shape its democracy, Saint Lucia is not always kind to the LGBT community. This small island’s profile is slowly changing and part of that gradual shift, is the work done by United and Strong. This arduous change is also driven by the actions of the youth, who by their very nature revolutionary, always challenge norms and values.
Saint Lucia’s first and only LGBT Human Rights organisation, United and Strong Inc. was formed in 2001 in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic to reach men sleeping with men. However U&S has always worked actively with women sleeping with women. The organization officially targets persons 25 – 50 years old due to societal attitudes that link paedophilia and homosexuality and stymies our efforts with allusions to recruiting youth. However we are aware of the gaps in services and work is in progress to tailor services for young people. We do provide assistance to youth as they reach out and get involved in the organisation. I… Jessica St. Rose, am an example of this.
Saint Lucia’s Constitution recognizes every person is entitled to all fundamental rights and freedoms and is endowed equally with inalienable rights and dignity, and speaks of the right to privacy, expression, assembly and association. Despite this, various legal and socio-cultural conditions deprive LGBT people of the enjoyment of these very fundamental rights and freedoms and organs of the law often cast a blind eye to visible expressions of this homophobic and transphobic climate..
A Constitutional Reform Commission in 2011 was expected to see expanded civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for ALL Saint Lucian’s, so that their rights will not be violated by virtue of sexual orientation and gender identity but be expressly protected. However we have yet to follow the example of South Africa, which has the first Constitution in the world that prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The right to privacy is denied by the very existence of the “buggery law” Criminal Code section 133.— 1, 2, and 3 and the “gross indecency law” Criminal Code section 132.— 1 and 2. These laws place the State in the bedroom of its citizens and constitutes a violation of their rights. “Gross indecency” is an act other than intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire but subsection 132(2), clearly states that it will not apply to private acts between a consenting male and female.
The social effect of these two laws is to strengthen social stigma and discrimination against homosexuals. This is especially troublesome with the potential to be applied to young people, whether gay or straight, at the point of exploring their sexuality. Anecdotal evidence indicates our youth are disproportionately affected by discrimination, partially due to lack of knowledge of their rights exacerbated by their own sense of their helplessness, and society’s general perception of them being their parents’ responsibility.
Very little statistical data is available on the situation of LGBTI youth in Saint Lucia however U&S has compiled anecdotal evidence that indicates a high level of youth displacement from family homes, bullying, violence and marginalisation. This includes a high level of violence for LB women. Many counter threats of corrective rape by engaging in a bisexual or down-low lifestyle.
LGBT youth face heightened levels of discrimination when seeking employment, securing adequate housing or getting proper medical treatment or services. U&S has received reports of young women facing dismissal from their job for not adhering to feminine norms of dress, young men attacked in public because of their perceived sexual orientation, our young women also face verbal and physical attacks due to their non-conforming gender expression.
It is difficult particularly for young people, to access appropriate medical care due to the imposition of personal moral codes which many doctors see as part of their responsibility. Youth are further hampered by laws that dictate the presence of a parent to access certain health services beyond the age of consent.
U&S works actively with the organisation that advocates on youth issues, RISE and that we plan to implement an “It gets better” campaign directly targeting youth and also an in the workplace training that will help ease the situation of gender-non-conforming youth at work. We are also seeking to sensitize youth generally. An example is a debate/discussion project I initiated this year with the Ministry of Youth.
U&S is currently seeking to provide services to pursue legal recourse for many of these instances. The organisation has also actively increased the number of young people trained in peer counseling to help inform youth and encourage them to report cases of stigma discrimination and overt homophobia. Over and above this however, we have and continue to seek to provide counseling and support to improve the psychological state of LGBTI youth, reminding them that they are part of a community and that life does get better.