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Being Gay in a Homophobic Caribbean

Categories: Caribbean, Barbados, Cuba, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Education, Freedom of Speech, Gay Rights (LGBT), Health, Human Rights, Law, Religion

Today is being marked as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia [1]. The official website explains the purpose of this year's campaign:

After months of outreach and consultation with LGBTI rights activists and allies around the world, as to what to focus on for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 2014, we found that the most popular campaign call, in diverse country-settings, was Freedom of Expression.

The post [1] detailed instances, across the globe, where vulnerable communities are being targeted [2] and its defenders silenced [3], and where religious doctrine, cultural norms [4] and archaic laws are being used to rationalise ostracism of the gay community. The statement made the point that while many in the mainstream may be under the impression that such laws and policies are intended for the public good, the reality is very different:

Activists in a number of countries also pointed out that, although these laws might be targeted at LGBTI communities on paper, in practice, they also interlock with the policing, and stigmatisation, of all different kinds of communities including sex workers, migrants, ethnic minorities, the socio-economically at risk, and women.

One Caribbean blog, The Bajan Reporter [5], has taken notice of today's occasion, saying:

Nelson Mandela reminds us that the dignity of each of us can only thrive if we embrace the freedom of all.

We must respect everyone’s freedom to love who they want to and to express who they are. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI [6]) people have shown immense courage and are sparking a social transformation.

The blog addressed the issue of the criminalisation of homosexual acts (many regional territories still carry outdated anti-homosexual laws [7] on their books), and made a connection between that attitude and the incidence of HIV:

Criminalization of LGBTI people puts entire communities at risk. It keeps those in need of prevention and treatment services out of reach of life-saving interventions.

Not just in the streets, but in courtrooms, classrooms and clinics.

Stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity drive new HIV infections.

We can only be free when we respect the freedom of our LGBTI brothers and sisters.

Let us walk the road to freedom together.

On this International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia [6], I call on everyone to join the transformation to realize our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Havana Times posted an article [8] written by a gay man, who shared his experience of what it is like to be homosexual in Cuba:

I, at least, have always fought back against those who didn’t accept [my being gay].

Our life is our own, and as long as we don’t harm any other person, all is well. That a man should feel love or idolatry for another man is something that I don’t consider an aberration, much less a mortal sin.

But, of course, that’s my point of view. I think that way because I’m gay and I’ve experienced in my own flesh the results of my obvious homosexuality.

He acknowledged that straight people may disagree:

The person who isn’t gay, nor has a family member with these traits, thinks very differently.

Many still maintain the false idea that we’re sick, that we don’t have the same feelings as other people. And for another large segment of society the possibility of feeling love in a union of two men or two women is seen as shocking.

I’ve known many people, generally heterosexual men, who feel repulsion when they see a person who is too openly gay.

The blogger discussed the pressures [8] that some homosexuals feel to stay in the closet:

Many gay men are not considered gay in the eyes of society because they simply deceive people. They have heard the comments made around them about homosexuals, and because of this they prefer to remain anonymous.

Averse to confronting their families and society, they choose to lead a double life, which not only damages them, but also affects other people.

The issue became personal to him when a former partner was ashamed to let his family know he was “with a man”:

So, once more my homosexuality is a problem, and I don’t know if the problem is his or if it belongs to a society which at this point in the game isn’t capable of understanding that differences exist and will continue to exist forever.

He thought that the braver approach, no matter what society's attitude, was to be true to yourself:

In my opinion, when you’re gay, you’re gay.

The most important thing is to know that however roughly society may treat you; your life is your life…you should live well with yourself and accept yourself as you are.

If others don’t accept us, that’s not a problem we should take on as our own, but rather, it’s their problem.

Perhaps, but when wider society attempts to exclude or punish people for non-conformity, then it becomes a human rights issue. The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia [9] is trying to name the problem and raise awareness of the inequity which many members of society – in the Caribbean and worldwide – grapple with every day.