Caribbean LBT Troublemaking: ‘You don’t have to be a dog to know it’s not okay to kill a dog in the street’
Even before I started working with Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, and before I knew I wanted to be involved in advocacy work, I was being chastised for having friends who identified as members of the LGBT community. For quite some time I was called a lesbian, and I was actually okay with that. However, when I began advocacy work I started thinking about why people thought I had to be a lesbian in order to be friends with members of the LGBT community, and to be an advocate for human rights (which includes LGBT rights – this is still shocking to some). So I began coming out of the closet, as an ally of the LGBT community and a straight human rights (and LGBT rights) advocate.
This is what propelled me to apply for the scholarship to attend the 3rd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in Trinidad and Tobago, in addition to the fact that I am currently working on a project which focuses on sexual risk factors of SGMY (sexual & gender minority youth). As I waited with bated breath to find out whether I was accepted, I began thinking about what the conference would be like. However, after being accepted, flying to Trinidad, almost dying from hunger on the first night, arriving at the conference hotel and entering the conference room – I realised this conference was nothing I could have imagined. It presented such a welcoming environment; it was almost uncomfortable being so comfortable.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Angelique Nixon, began the conference with a thought-provoking presentation on “Caribbean-ness” and defining the role of the LGBT advocate, and women in general, in this space of “Caribbean-ness”. She charged us with the task of rebuilding consciousness; sharing HIS- and HER-stories; and decolonising minds, bodies and spirits. This was a great way to begin a conference on Actioning Women’s Leadership – building the foundation for this leadership is critical.
The rest of the conference was framed around this speech from Dr. Nixon, looking at different issues related to the overall goal – to achieve women’s leadership. Something that really stood out to me after all the sessions was how much latent factors – like previous experiences with family – can affect our life decisions. This came to light during Dr. Celiany Velazquez’s presentation on Grassroots Funding, where she had an activity which asked us how we thought about money and where we got these notions about our own finances. One think I learnt from this, was that as an advocate, it is important to remember that there are always varying reasons a person thinks, believes or acts the way they do.
There were also very interesting points to note regarding issues for advocacy within the LBT community:
- Negative stereotypes and how it leads to violence
- Mental health issues
- Creative activism (not just holding placards)
- Self care (for the advocate whose life is taken over by advocacy – she must remember that she also needs some attention)
- Use of social media in advocacy
- International mechanisms for advancing LGBT rights (how the UN can provide support for advocacy efforts)
- Building community
All the presentations really made me think about the work I am currently doing and how I can be more effective, not only in my approach to LBT advocacy but also in my day to day relations with people. Some people think that the LGBT or the LBT community is so much different from everyone else when really we’re all just people trying to exist in society. But as Maria Gomez said in her presentation on stereotypes and violence – ‘nothing creates stronger bonds than a shared lie’, hence, the uphill battle every LBT advocate has in rebuilding consciousness.
The final day of the workshop focused on presentation skills (including how to introduce yourself and your company in less than 140 characters, or within 15 seconds) and then we played a game – Stepping Up – which taught us about LBT Women’s Movement Building and Feminism. The game really taught me quite a bit about cohesion and teamwork. It also highlighted some of the challenges presented to women in the world in a very practical way, for example, if you throw the dice and it lands on an opportunity square, you get to choose an opportunity card; however if that card says ‘GIRL’ you have to take three steps back (highlighting gender inequality).
Overall, I think the conference has really made me think a little bit more about my advocacy efforts and how effective partnerships can be in the ‘fight’ for equality. While the event seemed a bit disorganised in parts, the information gleaned was invaluable and I hope to attend next year’s conference in St. Croix.