First Steps on Becoming the Revolutionary Intellectual
‘Working against the sexist, capitalist, heteronormative, racist, classist oppressive system…a revolutionary intellectual.’ -Dr. Angelique V. Nixon
I had the privilege of being offered a scholarship from the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Havana to attend the 3rd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference 2015, which was hosted by United and Strong St. Lucia, CariFLAGS Eastern Caribbean Hub and Womantra, and turned out to be quite intense!
After a day at the beach, shopping and exploring Trinidad and Tobago, it was time to get to business. The conference, was held at the Kapok Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad, from October 5 to 11, 2015. There I met a diverse and complex group of just under 50 lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) persons, as well as allies from the Caribbean and Latin America. They were activists and volunteers from various feminists, LGBT and health organisations across the region.
The conference was organized into sessions which addressed a wide range of topics and interests including how to address security issues in advocacy, fundraising, navigating international organizations such as the UN, stereotypes, creative activism and the LBT women’s link through feminist lens.
The first day of the conference was a great launch into what the conference’s aims and goals were. The keynote speaker, Dr. Angelique V. Nixon really resonated with me as she spoke about the different intersectionalities of identities that existed in the Caribbean. She was able to make links between different forms of oppression that not only affect our advocacy work but also the way we interact and see ourselves. She challenged me to start thinking about the realities of women, including queer women, of this region from a post-colonial lens rather than the neoliberal Western lens a lot of international and local media use. This really resonated with me and set the tone for the conference as I was being asked to look into my history, my personal experiences and bring them into the world of advocacy.
This theme of examining the historical then personal continued into the first session of the day as we took an in-depth look into stereotypes and a few essential points on the role it currently has in society. While I had already understood a lot of what was being said by the facilitator, one of the participants raised a very interesting point that the “the responsibility of ending a stereotype is not on the person being stereotyped to break the stereotype, it’s on the person doing the stereotyping”. I found that interesting because as a black queer woman from a small island, it’s always been expected that I (dis)prove something to the majority, but that moment in the session was a wake up call for me that I can only advocate and educate, I can’t force anyone to see things my way- that’s their job and choice.
Afterwards, we had a fun and quick gift exchange session where I got a little taste of Antigua and Barbuda(n Rum). I think it was a cute and nifty idea on the part of the organizers so we can all feel more interconnected at the conference and as a region.
The following day we looked at the role of media in advocacy work. We explored how the media often portray women, LBT people, and advocates in general, then we learned how to change that narrative. To aid Maria Fontenelle in her presentation, Latoya Nugent from WE-Change, demonstrated how we may use social media to educate, inform and report in advocacy. What stood out for me the most was the need to tell our own stories in a world that likes to assume and nitpick.
The session on Creative Activism – telling our stories as a community – really hit home. Lysanne Charles Arrindell, from SAFE, examined the use of art as a form of propaganda for and against human rights in recent history, and how we can use art to our advantage here in the Caribbean. We explored Caribbean literature, visual arts, writing, music and plays in the Caribbean that have been pro-LBT people, and how we can create our own art.
I was really glad that we explored fundraising activities right after the session on creative activism because art is rarely ever cheap nor is it a great income generator if you’re new to it. The fundraising session was facilitated by GIFT, and continued with the unwritten theme of examining your history and personal life and how they affect our advocacy. We had an interesting conversation on how we spend money in our personal lives, and our willingness to ask for loans. It was revealed that a lot of people who valued certain luxuries in their personal lives (extravagant food, nice clothing) would also bring those values into their professional lives (excessive food and decor at organisations’ events, for example). Also, a lot of people, myself included, who did not feel comfortable asking for loans would ask for the minimum from donors or just wouldn’t be as demanding as they could be. I hadn’t thought about how closely my professional and personal life and development were interlinked in terms of finances so this was eye-opening.
The second half of the GIFT fundraising sessions explored the best practices in garnering financial support across the region. We were split into groups and given a checklist of many diverse ways non-profit organizations would solicit funds. The groups were expected to go through the list and explain if we’ve tried any of the methods, if they worked, and what we would recommend.
From my group, I learned a lot about the importance of making personal connection with donors and the importance of doing frequent check-ups with them to keep them in your favour. From the general list, I learned the various regional and international donor organisations that were LBT friendly, LBT centered, feminist, and human rights. I am certain this will act as a great reference list in the future.
The following day we explored UN mechanisms and how we could use the UN resources to our advantage. The session started off with a fun interactive game of Heads-Up modified to include UN phrases and facts. Our team placed second by only one point! Ha. Just the idea of turning something as content-heavy as the UN into a game was a cool and innovative learning tool.
After the game we explored the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and how to access Special Procedures that can aid advocacy organizations and individuals. I was taken aback by how straight forward it was to access the resources of the UN and how you can strategically use it to your advantage.
The next session that also helped with my professional and personal development focused on keeping safe and learning how to balance being a visible advocate with staying safe. We explored best practices across the region and many organisations shared how they kept their location, staff and property safe – I hadn’t really thought about how much planning is required to keep safe as an advocate for LBT rights here in the Caribbean. Many women shared how it determined which neighbourhood they could live in, what and when they post things to social media, if they could take public transportation, the need to hire a professional company to secure their homes etc. This session was not only informative but made me realize that there were a lot of things I hadn’t considered if I plan to become more visible in my advocacy.
The following sessions on Presentation Skills and LBT Women’s Movement Building in Feminism, facilitated by Amilcar Sanatan and Dr. Gabriel Hosein respectively, were the perfect way to end the conference. Sanatan had a very simple and straightforward presentation about the dos and don’ts of making presentations. He stressed the importance of making sure our presentations were always clear in what the key message and concepts were, and the importance of knowing our audience and tailoring our delivery to match the audience.
He not only spoke about the usual PowerPoint style presentation but also addressed the way we dressed, our tone, and even how we introduced ourselves. For our activity, we were challenged to introduce ourselves, mentioning our name, our organisation and what we do in our organisation in less than 15 seconds. Many of us failed at first but then we got better at using the time and becoming more effective in our presentation.
The session on LBT Women’s Movement Building in Feminism took the form of an activity where the entire conference room floor was laid out like a board game and we were our own pieces. The game was one of strategy, as we were split into groups of five and from the starting point were presented with questions and possible answers from which to choose. The questions were framed around the themes of feminism, LBT issues, and broader political issues.
My team and I sped through the game, answering all the questions and choosing the best answers that gave us all the highest points. We thought we won the game, but in the end it was revealed to us that everyone in the room had misinterpreted what the game could have been. The presenter had designed the game to parallel life as an advocate. She designed the game in a way to teach us that we often misinterpreted things based on our history and personal experiences and we missed many opportunities to learn.
Firstly, while my team and I blazed through the questions and answers to move forward, we didn’t read what the other outcomes would’ve brought. By neglecting to do this, we missed the chance to learn about what would happen if we had chosen differently. Additionally, my team and I mistakenly saw the game as a competition, so we didn’t share any of our answers with the other teams because we wanted to stay ahead. This was parallel to how many organisations mistakenly see each other – instead of sharing our best practices and moving towards the same goal, we tackle a hurdle and move on without sharing how we did it with other advocates. This game was a great eye-opener for me and the perfect way to end the conference.
I’m truly grateful I was given the opportunity to attend the #CWSDC2015. It was an excellent experience that not only developed and strengthen my skills and abilities as an advocate but also showed me the importance and necessity of developing personal skills and capacity as it affects my work as an advocate.
I feel empowered and inspired to become the ‘revolutionary intellectual’ that Dr. Nixon spoke about because of this conference. I would recommend that advocates to try and attend this regional conference as it is an indispensable step into becoming a more regional-driven advocate for the rights of women.