The online social collective Groundation Grenada recently launched an anti-LGBT discrimination campaign, #BunDiscrimination, collaborating with graphic designer Joshua Lu to create several posters featuring altered lyrics from popular songs to highlight the double standards at work. According to the organizers:
Our campaign -‘Discrimination is Discrimination’ – addresses the fact that most people in the Caribbean reject other forms of arbitrary discrimination; they understand why it is problematic and toxic for our societies. Sadly, the same understanding isn’t extended to discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI). This is not to say that all forms of discrimination are the same or operate the same. There are, however, crucial parallels between various forms of discrimination that are often ignored. Our campaign visually juxtaposes discriminatory remarks in popular media in a way which makes the parallels apparent.
Global Voices spoke to Groundation Grenada co-founder and attorney Richie Maitland to discuss the campaign, the current state of LGBT issues in the Caribbean and their plans for the future.
Global Voices (GV): What has been the response to your campaign been thus far?
Groundation Grenada (GG): We’ve received both positive and negative feedback. The negative feedback consists primarily of what I perceive as closet homophobes emphasising the differences between discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity and race. Some are attempting to belittle the negative discriminatory experiences of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people or suggesting that it falls below issues of race in some ‘discrimination hierarchy’. Some of our allies thought we should have included more text, making it explicit that we are against all forms of discrimination and explaining our campaign more because they felt that people may have misconstrued our intentions and thought we were advocating other forms of discrimination, thereby offending some viewers. We understand this, but we think that people will get the message without us having to be explicit. The title of the campaign, ’Discrimination is Discrimination’, helps to contextualize what we are trying to say. The ultimate message is that sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination is as bad as other forms of discrimination and while there is a shock value to the posters, we think by and large people conceptually understand our message. Otherwise, the feedback has been quite positive and individuals and organizations have been sharing the campaign across their social media platforms.
GV: Your campaign involves the use of lyrics from popular songs in the region. While Caribbean artists have faced protests abroad for the content of their songs, this does not seem to be true at home. Were you consciously referencing these campaigns from overseas? And, to what extent is homophobia in the Caribbean still fueled by popular culture?
We were not consciously referencing the campaigns from overseas. The campaigns you refer to are campaigns to sanction artistes with homophobic lyrics. The lyrics [are] not our focus. We are not trying to bring awareness to the fact that some music in the Caribbean – as in other parts of the world – advocates violence against LGBTQ people, for the purpose of reprimanding artistes as a deterrent to them.
We wanted to use Caribbean relevant lyrics that many people, and particularly, a youth demographic, would identify with so that people would see how easily we normalise expressions of violence and expressions of discrimination against LGBTQ people and how much we are culpable in that normalisation. We wanted people also to interrogate why they were able to morally excuse lyrics which promote violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people and by extension, why they thought of sexual orientation/gender identity as different from other forms of discrimination, the expressions of which they would never endorse. The popularity of the lyrics was crucial to the campaign. The Indo-Caribbean woman who was jumping in a carnival band and singing Wanskie’s song must now be forced to think about her prejudices; same with the black man in the club singing Buju’s tune. They both may have experienced being discriminated against, depending on their other contexts, they would now be forced to think about the ways they endorse other forms of discrimination.
I think homophobia in the Caribbean is fueled by many things and that people are socialised into being homophobic. Children and people generally living in a space are constantly exposed to expressions of the values and attitudes of that space, which in many cases are internalised. Homophobia as a package is part of the value and attitude system of the Caribbean, expressed in many fora, including in popular media and internalised by people who don’t think about it critically. So popular media plays its part in fueling homophobia in so far as it parades value systems that are internalised. But we have to remember that the music reflects society. Families fuel homophobia a lot more than popular media does in my view.
GV: Trinidadian artist LeRoy Clarke has recently made controversial comments about gays and the arts. What would be your response to Clarke’s comments, particularly given the way he framed them?
I currently do LGBT related human rights work in Trinidad and Tobago and I actually responded on a morning talk show to some of Clarke’s comments. I think Clarke falsely contemporaries the issue; he presents homosexuality as this recent phenomena responsible for the progressive ‘feminisation of man’. This is ridiculous. Homosexuals have been part of every society across time and space and in many instances have contributed significantly to their respective cultural communities. Clarke points to the disappearance of ‘masculine’ mas characters as evidence. I think the commercialization of carnival is a major factor in a decline in more traditional mas elements, whether one sees them as masculine or feminine.
Clarke mentions gang members being initiated through anal sex and says people told him it happens, then goes on to draw a theoretical link between that and violence. I don’t think anyone takes that shit seriously, and thankfully so. Even gang leaders responded to Clarke’s statements in the press explaining that they were not homosexual and that Clarke was disrespecting them. I nearly died laughing when I read a quote from the gang leader in the paper where he says that God told him homosexuality is wrong. I wonder what God told that gang leader about his gang activities?
GV: Recently, several states in the US have made gay marriage legal, even while in Africa, particularly Uganda, there have been stringent laws passed outlawing homosexuality. Where does the Caribbean fit in this context?
Same sex unions and marriages have a very long history, existing throughout time and across continents. In modern history Denmark became the first country to legally recognize same sex unions. Now, same sex marriages marriages are allowed in Denmark and 16 other countries with Mexico and the US recognising these marriages only in some jurisdictions. Many countries in the Caribbean still outlaw consentual intercourse between same sex adults and so as a region generally, LGBTQ people don’t enjoy as much protection and freedoms as other countries. On the other hand, nowhere in the region is as bad as Uganda, which makes even advocacy illegal.
It’s also difficult to generalise the Caribbean [as a region]. Bahamas, for instance, has decriminalised buggery since the early nineties. Other places, like Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, are much more tolerant of same sex expressions of intimacy than Jamaica, for instance. It’s also difficult to generalise countries. The same Jamaica has thriving LGBTQ communities, people who do not have homophobic views and various safe spaces, depending on where one is.
I don’t think marriage is currently part of the LGBTQ equality narrative. Though it would be nice for LGBTQ people to reap the benefits of legal unions, there are issues that are a lot more pressing and urgent to the community; issues of violence, homelessness and discrimination that need addressing. While marriage equality advocacy has got a big audience within the US conversation, LGBTQ people (especially those that are people of color, immigrants or low income) are still grappling with these other issues.
GV: What further initiatives do you have planned?
One of our main upcoming initiatives is a collaboration with ARC Magazine called ‘Forgetting is Not An Option’. This multimedia cultural memory project focuses on the events and experiences surrounding the Grenada Revolution 1979-83. There are politics behind what gets remembered/forgotten and we found that the Grenada Revolution was slowly being forgotten, with many post-revolution born people remembering the demise of the revolution only. We want to keep its memory and the memory of other powerful Caribbean movements alive. It’s important to present an alternative historical narrative to the colonial and inept governance we largely experience. People need to understand their power, as well as their mistakes. We relaunch our open call to artists, writers, musicians etc. this month and the selected works will culminate in an interactive virtual archive, which will launch in March 2015 alongside a series of exhibitions and live events.
We are also organising ‘Groundation Radio’, a blog radio program to expand our platform and improve our outreach. We continue to publish creative and critical pieces from Caribbean and diasporic thinkers and writers on our website.