What is it like to be gay in the Caribbean? The Travelling Trini occasionally gets emails from young gay Trinidadians who “have the burning desire to go abroad, travel, and see the world”. She deduces that this wanderlust stems from the fact that “the Caribbean is a incredibly homophobic place with a raging macho-man culture, and coming out is an incredibly difficult, and often dangerous, thing to do.”
The post goes on to list several songs that promoted homophobia and gay violence back in the nineties: Buju Banton's Boom Bye Bye was unsurprisingly at the top of the heap, but the blogger describes them all as “dark, violent and downright disgusting.” She asks:
Why is it not considered hate speech? Why are radio stations allowed to play it? […] The question is, why is it okay to still be so violently anti-gay in 2015?
She connects this constricted reality with the desire many gay Caribbean people have to migrate and testifies that the Far East, where she currently resides, “is a very gay friendly place, indeed”:
There are thriving gay scenes in every country, from the liberal far east to the conservative Middle East and everywhere in between.
The whole world is not straight. It never has been, and it never will be. […]
Unfortunately these liberal lifestyles are not tolerated in the Caribbean, and are in fact still criminalised under law. There is no legal protection for LGBT citizens […] just as people fought for equal rights based on race, and equal rights based on gender, the next step in our human evolution is equal rights for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
Sigh! I wished when GV reblogged stuff with the opener “What is it like to be gay in the Caribbean?” we talked to people who know what it’s like to be gay in the Caribbean, not straight expats in Asia.
Anyone living in T&T knows that the very real bias violence that happens here too often, and too often in families is absolutely NOT this: “There have been countless stories in the T&T newspapers about gay people being brutally beaten up, often by gangs of men, for being gay. Many have died.” Perhaps those stories were about gay people in the US, as there have been a number of such incidents there. But there are no such news stories about T&T.
Of course young gay people living in small, homophobic places are “dying to escape”. Just like the kids in small homophobic places in the US, UK and Canada. And just like us, they escape to London, Toronto, New York and Miami.
Are Caribbean people full of self-hate? We often join bloggers in the Global North in a dangerous and racist investment in cynically and relentlessly characterising the Caribbean as a hopelessly backward and homophobic place. For Travelling Trini, the region seems to be the only exception to her observation that “there are thriving gay scenes in every country, from the liberal far east to the conservative Middle East and everywhere in between”. Though some of the links she posts prove otherwise. It’s really easy for folks who’ve left T&T to use the power of the net to define us.
But we have our own voices. And there are young people here telling the Prime Minister “We Can’t Wait to end LGBT discrimination: http://www.facebook.com/WeCantWait.TT. Straight young people who organised a 2010 protest against a visiting ex-gay ministry and casually walked through a shopping mall in T-shirts saying “The Homosexual Agenda” on a busy Saturday evening: http://wp.me/pzQlW-IK. In one of Travelling Trini’s links is a petition started by a student. And young people formed a youth organization, the Silver Lining Foundation when a bullied gay friend killed himself. They’ve received funding, started a successful support group with the University of the West Indies counselling service: http://www.facebook.com/safespacett. They researched and submitted a brief to the Law Reform Commission on homophobic bullying and are lobbying the Ministry of Education to do a school-based survey and start programmes. And one of them was elected youth representative on the national executive of a political party. They are nation-building and making T&T a safer place. In neighbouring Barbados, a young Trinb and her Bajan girlfriend founded a group that has become the leading LGBT advocacy voice on the island. She was just selected as one of the inaugural Commonwealth young leader awardees: http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/62013/queen-award-donnya-piggott. Today an ad appears in the Express newspaper telling the new Attorney General he should “include protecting young people from discrimination they face at school and when seeking jobs and services” in the legacy he leaves after seven months in office. “As young people who vote, we’d love you to hear our ideas about protecting our rights.”
The reality of T&T is that it is NOT a one-dimensional, violently homophobic place. And wishing it so is simply shitting on the young LGBTI people here who can’t leave. It just helps them feel worse about who they are and where they live.
Instead of encouraging them to move to the Far East, let’s encourage their bravery and vision to transform their nation beyond the cynicism of our generation and the convenience of our exile. Give money to the young people in the Silver Lining Foundation, who are trying to stay on the islands: http://www.facebook.com/SLFTT.