“Summer” (Poem)

by Shaunee Morgan

we brought a New York love affair
back to Kingston to save it
to save us
what if we could just love this place
back to salvation
and us
bringing confusion and resentment
back to other people’s paradise
maybe the sea only heals the believers
and means to wash weh the sodomites
maybe ours is not a love worth saving
not in this place
not this time


Shaunee Morgan is currently a law student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School pursuing a juris doctorate and a certificate in global human rights. She left, or more accurately, was taken from St. Mary, Jamaica as a child and has been on a winding journey back ever since. Books, in all their forms and subject matter, were her saving grace as a child in a foreign land and journaling a therapeutic way to try to make sense of the feeling of ‘placelessness’ that comes with forced migration. She is personally and professionally interested in Blackness, feminism, (im)migration and the intersection of all three.

“Breath Erotica” (Visual Story)

by Alexis DeVeaux and Sokari Ekine

I pray for us
as evening glides over
implore the gods
pray for us pray
for this breathing
planet the milky way
dreams us
into galaxy
no need for heaven
this is how it started:
way out beyond we
below
the sweet of your lips
dipped in promise
anxieties claim us
bark and skin
what we cannot
remember we give birth
to
we have poetry so
we will not die
of history”
only

we are trees
live under water
howl with want
this is how 2 women
in their 60s
I could say
this is how it started:
there was a shore line
crisp as fresh white
sheets
a movement of clouds
a duvet even
I longed for you before
it was
I heard you calling me
this is how 2 women
in their 60s
suck breath
as plants
clear away carbon
monoxide
fertilize oxygen

we are bodies of water
merging, continents
the slippage of time
Harlem and Lagos and
London
how Haiti shadows
desire
we search for
definition across the
musk of blackness

I want to say
this is how it started:
there was a mystery
it begged
to be stroked


“Breath Erotica” is one of a series of visual stories from the collaboration Veve Love; a sign or symbol marking love as growth, as spiritual endeavor. The collaborators are black queer feminists: writer, activist and public speaker Alexis De Veaux, is the author of several works including the highly acclaimed biography of Audre Lorde, Warrior Poet, and the novel Yabo, winners of Lambda Literary Awards in 2004 and 2015. Sokari Ekine is a photographer whose exhibitions include the McKenna Museum of African American Art, the AWID Conference, Brazil, the Berlin Foto Biennale 2016, and the Calabar Gallery, New York City.

 

Four Poems

by Cheryl Boyce Taylor

Saints Singing Pretty: Pork Browning in Butter
In memory of Susie Jackson 87

They say in summer limes are sweeter
sliced and doused  in a jar of blush wine

white rose petals,  strawberries
tart and prickly pears

at church blue haired ladies with wrist gloves
clutch their handbags too tight

breath of Jesus on their lips
summer breeze makes Christians  happy

imagine a stone kitchen
stout magnolia tree outside its window

lush smells of green hair pomade gleaming
one cup hot oil bubbling on the stove

at church, service is long
wooden fans swirl lazy round and round

saute’ garlic and onions in butter, one jalapeno
pepper  add grilled beef   wrap in banana leaves

peel green plantains, slice diagonally
fry plantains in hot oil turn once

hear the saints singing pretty
nodding side by side  summer breeze make saints happy

prayers waltzing off the scattered
pauses of their last breath

Miss Susie’s perfume a mixture of baby powder
and blue geraniums that morning when we kissed her

her prayer stool  smooth redwood
draped in shawl of olive green

stained glass windows
with their retinas shining

at home in the stone kitchen
we brown the pork in garlic butter

salt and pepper  chopped onions carrots
zucchini  birthday dinner must be fine for Miss Susie

after church she will serve hugs to everybody
we will dish out that meal and belt Stevie Wonder’s version

outside her stone kitchen
a darkening afternoon breeze

kisses her face
stout magnolia tree waving in wind.

Note: The Charleston terrorist killed mostly black women.

 

Continue reading “Four Poems”

A Tribute to Michelle Cliff

By Antonia MacDonald

Born: November 2, 1946. Died: June 12, 2016. Cause of death: liver failure.

These are the bald facts of Michelle Cliff’s life.

But these facts do not speak to the personal history of a mixed-race Jamaican-American lesbian whose prodigious creativity centered around her anxiety to give lyrical and impactful voice to those silenced by injustice, prejudice, and oppression “I have involved myself in finding my voice, unique to me, and that I see as a journey into my imagination without regard to the boundaries of genre.” (Michelle Cliff, interviewed by Julie R. Enszer, June 2010.) These facts do not speak to the life of a writer who worked tirelessly to construct into being, a self that represented all those who have been hidden by histories of conquest, and the traumas of colonial conditions. “Something had happened to her –was happening to her. And it didn’t really matter that there was not another living soul to tell it to” ( Abeng, 166).

In her novel, No Telephone to Heaven, Cliff’s crossroad character, Clare Savage imagines herself as an albino gorilla. Different from the members of her tribe, the albino gorilla paradoxically struggles to be part of even while simultaneously resisting belonging to the tribe. Clare’s search for roots, her need to connect herself to Jamaica, its people and its landscape is part of the personal history of Michelle Cliff, her own story about her dark colonial past and the hyphenated condition it engendered. This condition is one that she unceasingly sought to discursively resolve. “Her story is a long story. How she came to be here. There are any bits and pieces to her. For she is composed of fragments. In this journey she hopes is her restoration” (No Telephone to Heaven, 87).

In many of her early interviews, Cliff talked about her journey into speech –her triumph over the forces that had brought her to speechlessness. The search for her creative voice, the anxiety to tell her personal story after having been long silent: “I could speak fluently but I could not reveal. . . when I begun finally to approach myself as a subject, my writing was jagged, nonlinear almost shorthand” (The Land of Look Behind, 12). That journey was an ongoing one. It was marked by different rest stops. It was facilitated by different guides: “We live in an oral society where everything, every move, motion, eyeflash is commented upon, catalogued, categorized, approved or disapproved. The members of this society are my writing teachers. But I don’t know this yet” (Store of a Million Items, 35).

The process, the cathartic benefit of telling her life stories, stories she wished she could write in fire, led Cliff to communities of similarly silenced – be it by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality. And it is in, and to those communities that she testified to the healing power of stories. “Sometimes I think all we have is stories, and they are endangered. In years to come will anyone have heard them—our voices. . . . once something is spoken, it is carried on the air, it does not die” (Free Enterprise 58-9).

Indeed stories do not die. That is what Michelle Cliff taught me.

In 1998 I met Michelle Cliff at the Association of Caribbean Women writers and scholars conference in Grenada. As a youngish scholar, one who was fresh off the PhD boat, I recall still the trepidation I felt seeing her in the audience when I presented my paper on her first two novels. How would she receive my exposition on her work? She sat quietly at the back of the room, dark glasses on. I kept looking in her direction, speaking to her, telling her my story of her work. And as I warmed up to my story about her construction of Caribbeanness in Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven, I stopped thinking of her as the author of these novels. Now she was a Caribbean woman whose stories about voicelessness had brought others like me to voice – albeit not in my case creative voice. I ended my paper by dedicating my presentation to her. She smiled her acceptance. Said nothing. Now everyone turned in her direction. Applauded. She never stood up, never stepped out of the background, her expression one of the quiet humility in the face of this loud praise for her literary contribution. At the end of the panel session, long after the room had emptied, I sat there waiting for my equilibrium to return. Michelle Cliff reentered the room. “In the distance is a mountain of glass. The light grazes the surface and prisms split into colour” (Everything is Now, 128). “Thanks,” she said, “for such a moving analysis of my work.”

In her online tribute to Michelle Cliff, Jamaican poet/novelist, Opal Palmer Adisa talks about the generosity with which Michelle Cliff supported fellow Caribbean women writers. I concur. That generosity was extended to me and, I suspect, to many other Caribbean scholars. She was also generous in her affiliations with other writers, her way of inserting herself into a Caribbean literary tradition, defining herself both in terms of it and against it. In her collection of short stories, Bodies of Water, one of the characters affirms: “I am in the world to change the world” (191). Cliff was in the world to change her world. And she did so in poetry and prose. Writer of four novels, three collections of short stories, two collections of prose/poetry and numerous essays, Michelle Cliff returned, with unceasing passion and polished creativity, to themes of wholeness and healing, reconciliation and homecoming. “You have no mother, save for language” (Into the interior, 121).

A special issue of Cliff’s life and works will be published by Sinister Wisdom, a journal that she, along with her partner Adrienne Rich, once edited. I hope this collection is just the first of many special tributes to Michelle Cliff. Let us keep alive her contribution of our Caribbean literary heritage.

Silhouette of Ashes, scorched, return to earth, release of soul through fire”
(If I could write this in fire, 77).

Honor and respect.


Antonia MacDonald was born and grew up in St. Lucia.  She now lives in Grenada where she is a professor in the department of Liberal Studies, Senior Associate Dean in the School of  Arts and Sciences, and Assistant Dean in the Graduate Studies Program. Professor MacDonald-Smythe writes on contemporary Caribbean women writers and more recently, Derek Walcott and on St. Lucian Literary Studies.  She has published articles in Journal of West Indian Literature (JWIL), Callaloo and MaComere and is the author of Making Homes in the West/Indies.

Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in Trinidad and Tobago and the Southern Caribbean

Alana D. D. Griffith and Peter W. Wickham

Abstract

This article provides an analysis of the public’s attitude towards homosexuals in the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago through a survey conducted in 2013. It explores the drivers of acceptance and rejection of homosexuals as well as negative and positive attitudes. Reference is also made to two other country studies of the populations of Barbados and Guyana.  The paper offers an analysis of the public’s attitude toward homosexuals in the three islands and its attitude towards key legislative issues related to homosexuals and same-sex relations. It is found that there is a dissonance between the attitudes towards homosexuals expressed by Trinbagonians and their support of discrimination against gays, their hatred of gays, and support for anti-gay laws. While 36% of the population surveyed expressed outright hatred of homosexuals, 60% supported the maintenance of laws that criminalised same sex intercourse.

Keywords: homosexuality, public opinion, discrimination, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana

Resumen

Este artículo provee un análisis de las actitudes del público hacia homosexuales en la República de Trinidad y Tobago a través de una encuesta realizada en el 2013. Explora los impulsores de la aceptación y el rechazo de los homosexuales, así como las actitudes negativas y positivas hacia este grupo. También se hace referencia a otros dos estudios nacionales de las poblaciones de Barbados y Guyana. El ensayo ofrece un análisis de la actitud del público hacia los homosexuales en las tres islas, su actitud hacia las cuestiones legislativas fundamentales relacionadas con los homosexuales y las relaciones entre personas del mismo sexo. Se encuentra que existe una incongruencia entre las actitudes expresadas por los Trinidenses en su apoyo a la discriminación contra los homosexuales, su odio de los gays y su apoyo a las leyes anti-gay.  Mientras el 36% de la poblaciǿn encuestada expresó odio hacia los homosexuales, el 60% aportó el mantener a las leyes que criminalizan las relaciones sexuales entre el mismo género.

Palabras clave: homosexualidad, opinion pública, discriminación, Trinidad y Tobago, Barbados, Guyana


Introduction

Societal laws serve as a guide for moral behaviour; they purportedly serve to protect people from harm and ensure freedom. As a result of its functions, the criminal justice system serves as a social institution through which new and existing members of society are socialised to accept its position as authoritative. Like many of its Anglophone neighbours, Trinidad and Tobago (TT) has legitimised the government’s position on homosexuality through its laws. However, whilst laws and the criminal justice system do exist, laws are broken, changed, and in some instances made redundant by the actions of the members of society. Their outmodedness is evident in the lack of prosecutions made for infractions of the said law(s) and the disregard of such laws can also be evident in the actions and attitudes of those supposedly guided by these laws. This article explores such possible disconnection as well as the factors that impact on these incongruities where they do exist. Although the analysis in this article focuses on TT, an overview of the policy context of TT, Guyana and Barbados is respectively provided.

This article contributes to existing research surrounding the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Questioning and Intersex (LGBTQI) community in the Caribbean. More significantly, this research provides the first national cross-country comparative work on attitudes to homosexuality and its decriminalization in these countries. Although these studies were motivated by both curiosity and the interest of the sponsors, the wider purpose goes beyond a Human/Minority Rights issue which is bound up in the public’s attitude towards homosexuals.  Certainly if the public has a generally negative opinion of homosexuals or attitude towards such persons then there is good cause to document such attitudes in order that a case can be made for special protection.

The Main Context: Trinidad and Tobago

There has been no better an example of an incongruous message in the lives of the LGBTQI community in TT than in the expressions of the former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and that government’s Norms and Values Report. The Norms and Values Report of Trinidad (Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the People and Social Development, 2011) stated that in the context of Trinidad, dissonance towards this community existed in the population, and was attributed to a contradiction between anti-homosexual religious beliefs and the politically correct acceptance of homosexuality. Further, it was stated by Baboolal in the Trinidad Guardian of December 18, 2012 that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was planning to introduce measures in a national gender policy that would “put an end to all discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.”[2] By September 26, 2014, the Trinidad Guardian was reporting that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was saying that gay rights were not legally possible given a lack of consensus on the issue. Such a statement gives one the impression that all government decisions are made by consensus. The irony is that withstanding the imprudence of the pursuit of decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fact that these issues were not central to the United National Congress (UNC) party’s platform in 2015, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s government was nonetheless not re-elected.

It is pellucid that the postcolonial state in Trinidad has imposed “a veiled sexual order on the chaotic legacy of colonialism” (Alexander 8).  Rather than use the opportunity provided by the repeal of its laws relating to sexual crimes in 1986 to eliminate archaic legislation, Trinidad and Tobago introduced legislation to further criminalise sexual activity between persons of the same sex. Ironically, TT’s former coloniser, England, had decriminalised such activity by 1967, some nineteen years prior. Trinidad and Tobago’s Sexual Offences Act 2000 (Chapter 11:28) Section 13 criminalises anal sex between both men and women, while Section 16, in addressing serious indecency, naturalises heterosexual sexual intercourse and introduces the illegality of sex between women. It therefore represents a solidification and consolidation of the State’s attitude toward homosexuality. When this is considered along with the country’s Immigration Act (1995 A.8) that prohibits homosexuals from entering the country, it is evident that the laws of Trinidad and Tobago support homophobia by criminalising same sex relations. The conflation of sexual intimacy in same-sex relations with violent sexual offences like rape in this anti-homosexual legislation possesses a symbolism that underlies homophobic attitudes in the Caribbean (Gaskins 436). These “[a]nti-homosexual laws stigmatise non-heterosexual subjects and this stigmatisation is used to rationalise sexual prejudice” (Gaskins 436).

The dynamics of homophobia in the twin island republic depict a nation where residence in either Tobago or Trinidad can impact the level of support for homosexuality. When Trinbagonians’ perceptions of homosexuality were ascertained in 2009 in response to the questions “[t]o what extent do you support equal rights for gays/lesbians/homosexuals,” 69% of Trinidadians and 86% of Tobagonians indicated that they were unsupportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians (Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the People and Social Development). Ironically, Tobago hosted the openly gay singer Elton John at its jazz festival in 2007, though his entrance into the Republic violated its Immigration Act (1974). Withstanding the outcry from a small group of clergy, then Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Orville London, indicated that the THA would not support any discrimination against the singer (Cupid 2007). The economic benefits of hosting such a show would not have gone unnoticed, not to mention the publicity for the tourist destination of Tobago. It is therefore interesting to see how quickly the State can separate its “morality” and human rights when finances are part of the equation. Research by Puar suggests that Trinidad’s Carnival similarly circumvents this moral argument as it has been growing as a gay and lesbian tourist event. Carnival in Trinidad can create a covert lesbian space as women may openly gyrate on each other without being deemed lesbian (Puar, 1043).

Findings from other research in TT indicate that several factors appear to influence attitudes towards homosexuality. In the Trinidad Norms and Values Report, while the sex of the respondents made little difference in the level of support for homosexuality, other factors such as the level of education, age, and income did. More specifically, the higher the level of education, the higher the income, and the younger the age group, the more likely the respondents were to be supportive of equal rights for gays/lesbians/homosexuals (Section 9: 158-160). When this support was extended to willingness to associate with homosexuals in the form of liming (hanging out), approximately half (48%) of the respondents were unwilling to do so, although females were more likely to be willing to socialise with homosexuals (Section 9: 161). The impact of religiosity on attitudes towards homosexuality in Trinidad has also been documented (Genrich and Brathwaite 2005; Chadee et al 2013). Chadee et al describe their findings of intrinsic religious orientation being related to greater exclusion of and more negative attitudes towards homosexuals as ironic (1). This irony is further compounded when one considers that Chadee et al’s research was conducted at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus (a tertiary education institution) with 55% of the respondents being in the age group of 18-22 years (younger respondents), given that these two factors were found to be associated with less homophobic attitudes.

Offending Against Morality: The Guyana Context

Whereas in TT and Barbados, legislation regulating sexual behaviour is contained in Sexual Offences Acts, in Guyana the criminalisation and “unnaturalisation” of same sex intercourse is explicit. Under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap. 8.01, Title 25 Offences Against Morality, homosexual relations are illegal in Guyana and are captured under Sections 352 (Committing Acts of Gross Indecency with Male Person), 353 (Attempt to Commit Unnatural Offence) and 354  (Buggery). These offences can result in punishments of imprisonment for two years, ten years, and life imprisonment respectively. Efforts at a constitutional amendment to ban discrimination against lesbians and gays in Guyana lapsed in 2002, although the Bill had the support of all 55 legislators in Parliament and only required the President’s support (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada). Even more recently, a special select committee was to be established and a motion to review homosexual laws was to be moved by then Prime Minister Samuel Hinds based on an appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council (Kaiteur News). A 2006 Report of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board refers to correspondence from a co-chair of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) which suggested that homophobia in Guyana is widespread. The Guyana Human Rights Association further suggested that there was physical danger in publicly declaring one’s sexual orientation as gay or lesbian.

More complex still and not addressed in this article is the discrimination faced by transgender Guyanese. Even the recent ruling that challenged the very archaic and colonial 1893 Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Cap. 8:02 of Guyana Section 153 (xlvii) that criminalises cross-dressing has not completely eliminated the challenges faced by its trans community. It was ruled that cross-dressing is a criminal offence only if it is done for “improper purposes,” with the improper purpose being left to interpretation by the criminal justice system (Davidson and McFadden, 2013). It is clear that in the context of Guyana, legislation like that in TT may reinforce negative attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Trotz has argued that legislation such as those under discussion here can be manipulated in their application to the detriment of those from less affluent and powerful backgrounds as they reinforce the status quo. There is generally a dearth of research on homosexuality in Guyana, a situation that makes clear the contribution of this article to the literature in offering some insight into the attitudes of Guyanese to homosexuality.

Barbados: The Tolerant Context

Research dating back to 1987 revealed that Barbadians exhibited a “double standard” of morality where homosexuality was concerned as sexual relations between males was less acceptable than sex between females (Dann 64). This double standard is upheld by its legislation that metes out more severe punishment to men under buggery offences than women under serious indecency (Laws of Barbados Sexual Offences Act Chapter 154 Section 9, 1993). While the legislation does not make a distinction between male-male and male-female anal sex, sex between two females still receives a lesser punishment. Furthermore, it has been found that the meaning of homosexuality varied in the island as it was found that 31% of the population thought it applied to male-male relationships and only 2% thought it applied to female-female relationships (Caribbean Development Research Services, CADRES). When compared with the findings of Trinidad’s Norms and Values Report (157), the CADRES research indicates that in Barbados, unlike its southern neighbour TT, there are clear differences in the attitudes to homosexuals based on sex, as men are twice as likely than women to express attitudes of hatred towards homosexuals. However, as in Trinidad, persons in lower income groups were more likely to express hatred for homosexuals (CADRES).

Barbados has also not escaped the residue of colonial morality as early efforts to engage a national debate on the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003 by then Attorney General Mia Mottley were largely uneventful. One outcome was the Report on the Legal, Ethical, and Socio-economic Issues Relevant to HIV/AIDS in Barbados (Waldron). The Report noted that legislative props encourage the marginalisation of some minority groups that are already at high risk for transmission of this disease among themselves and by extension the wider community (Waldron).  It specifically mentioned changes that were needed to remove the ambiguities in relation to sexual conduct by minors and also the criminalisation of same-sex activity.  The implication of Waldron’s perspective is that legislative change might be necessary and therefore it is important that the political environment be considered to determine whether this would encourage any politician to pursue such changes.

Whilst there has been no dramatic shift in the legislation criminalising same sex relations in Barbados, there has been a shift in the attitudes of its population with regards to homosexuality and its criminalisation. Comparative data available for Barbados for the years 2004 and 2013 (Figure 1) demonstrate that over the 9 years since the first study was conducted, there has indeed been some movement in public opinion on this issue with 11% more Barbadians being accepting of homosexuals than was the case in 2004, and 1% more hating gays (Griffith and Wickham).

Figure 1: Comparison of Attitudes of Barbadians to Homosexuality 2004 & 2013

The increase in acceptance is directly related to a decrease in tolerance, suggesting that Barbadians have progressed from tolerance of gays to acceptance of gays; this implies a consolidation in national attitudes (Griffith and Wickham). Support for the buggery law has also changed. Figure 2 demonstrates that between 2004 and 2013 there has been a dramatic fall in the support for the buggery/sodomy laws to the extent of 33%, with a slight rise in the cohort that opposes the laws by some 18% (Griffith and Wickham).

Figure 2: Comparative Support for the Decriminalisation of Homosexual Acts in Barbados 2004 and 2013

Methodology

Three national surveys were conducted in Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). In each instance the national sample size was approximately 1,000. Keeping in line with national polling methods, the surveys in each country had a margin of error of -/+5% as it was understood that a 95% confidence interval could be achieved with this sample size. In all instances, the surveys employed a stratified random sample, which identified as primary strata age and gender in geographical areas associated with polling divisions in each constituency in each country. One in every three households in the polling division was selected for a total of 12, 24, 36, or 48 households and one respondent in each of these households became the interviewee. In addition, other demographic information was solicited and collated. However, the survey was not designed to replicate these characteristics in a manner that was proportionate to the population. Interviewers were each assigned areas based on a random selection normally associated with Polling Divisions (PDs) in each country, and the survey was largely interviewer administered.

A regional team that included representatives from the Coalition for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), SASOD, University of the West Indies and the United Gays and Lesbian Association of Barbados (UGLAAB) developed the questionnaire used in the survey.  This process was deliberately made regionally inclusive “regionalised” since the partners were all regional organisations researching and advocating for LGBTQI issues and therefore had similar concerns. The preceding literature review demonstrated the extent to which the legislative environment is similar and cultural environment is also roughly similar in the islands.  It was therefore prudent to take a similar approach that would ultimately also allow for regional comparisons.  The regional team agreed on broad guidelines for the conduct of the exercise and one critical agreement was that the survey should be executed by interviewers who would be perceived as heterosexual or at least not exclusively confined to members of the LGBTQI association in any of the countries involved.  It was agreed that this arrangement would enhance the credibility of the research exercise and reduce any bias in the respondents.

This research analyzes the consistency in the relationship between support for discrimination against gays, the expression of attitudes of hatred for gays, and support for anti gay laws. The chi square (Χ2) measure was used to assess the impact of sex, age, place of origin, and education level on the attitude towards homosexuals in TT using a confidence interval of 95%. This article does not specifically address issues related to religious beliefs or income and their impact on homophobia.

Another comparative exercise sought to determine the impact that sexual orientation and gay associations had on the respondent’s attitude.  In this instance, respondents were asked to state their sexual orientation and also whether or not they knew homosexuals who were friends, family, business associates, and political or religious leaders.  The methodology in the first instance varied from that of the broader survey since the question was deemed to be sensitive.  As such, respondents were provided with a response sheet (which was discretely coded to the remaining interviewer-administered document) and asked to self-administer this question along with one about their political persuasion. The interviewer was not privy to the respondent’s declaration as the completed questionnaire was thereafter deposited into a bag that was provided to assure confidentiality.

The legal issues explored in this study as they relate to TT were all relatively simple and in all instances the language used was tailored towards an audience that was neither legally nor academically trained.  The questions sought to discover:

  • The extent to which there is public support for the laws “as is”;
  • The extent to which people actually understand what the laws “regulate”;
  • The extent to which people are familiar with and support the perceived objectives of the laws; and
  • The extent to which people are comfortable with the unintended consequences of these laws.

Apart from soliciting opinions on the retention of the buggery/sodomy laws, the study also sought to establish whether people thought the laws “made sense” since debates over national dissonance emerged and moreover because it is generally accepted that the laws are not enforced.  The questionnaire provided a series of responses that appeared to reflect the most frequently cited reasons for the preservation of the buggery/sodomy laws and respondents were asked to say in each instance if they thought the rationale was “valid.” A link to the complete survey is located at the end of this article.

 Findings

 The demographic characteristics of those who “hate,” “tolerate,” and “accept” homosexuals in TT are presented in Figure 3. It graphically depicts a comparison of the demographic factors and their impact on the respondent’s attitude towards homosexuals. It was found that sex, age, place of origin, and education are the variables, which had a significant impact (p<0.05) on homophobic attitudes in TT. That is, these are the variables that recorded a chi square (Χ2) statistic in the 95% confidence region.  Specifically, women, young people, those with more education and non-native born Trinbagonians were found to be generally more tolerant and accepting of gays. With the exception of the impact of the respondent’s sex, the findings here are fairly consistent with those in the Trinidad Norms and Values Report.

Figure 3: General Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in TT

The Impact of Gay Association on Attitudes to Homosexuals in TT

In investigating the impact that sexual orientation and gay associations had on the respondent’s attitude, it was found that persons with some gay association on a personal level were less inclined to be homophobic. This speaks to the impact of familiarity (Figure 4).  It is also interesting here to note the analysis with respect to the sexual orientation question, which revealed that 13% of self-identified gays and lesbians hate gays, which may indicate self-hate. Given that these self-declared gays also declared hatred of gays it presents an area for further research to delve into the homophobic attitudes expressed by self-identified homosexuals. Research has found homophobia to be more pronounced in people whose homosexual desires were suppressed as a result of authoritarian parenting (Weinstein et al, 2012).

Figure 4: Impact of Gay Association on Attitudes to Homosexuals in TT

In addition to the more straightforward question about the respondent’s gay associates, they were also asked about the extent to which they accept or reject such homosexuals. More specifically, respondents were asked “[i]f you became aware that any of these friends/relatives/associations of yours was a homosexual, would you,” and then given the options: accept them, publicly reject them, quietly withdraw, or whether they were uncertain. The details of this response are presented in Table 1 below.  This table ranks the responses from “1” to “8” with “1” being the most acceptable to the respondent and “8” being the least acceptable.  Trinbagonians are most willing to accept gay friends and least willing to accept gay religious leaders.  It is interesting that respondents were as willing to accept a gay child as they would a public official and moreover that a gay religious leader with whom they were not necessarily affiliated was more “offensive” to them than a gay child.  Similarly, the gay friend or family member is apparently viewed differently to the gay child when it comes to the scale of acceptability.


Table 1
: Scale of Acceptability (TT)

Legal Issues in TT, Guyana, and Barbados

Respondents were told, “Presently the laws of Trinidad and Tobago outlaw the act of Buggery/Sodomy, whether between two men or a man and a woman and regardless of whether this act is in public or private, consensual or forced.”  Thereafter they were asked if they support or oppose this law. The responses with respect to TT, Guyana, and Barbados are presented comparatively in this instance.

Figure 5: Support for Buggery/Sodomy Laws in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, and Barbados

It can be seen that in all instances, a clear majority of people in each of these countries supports the buggery/sodomy laws (Figure 5). Moreover, the support for these laws is highest in TT, while Barbados and Guyana have similar levels of support reflecting the fact that half of those populations support the buggery/sodomy laws.  In all instances, about 20% of persons were not sure of their views on this question and almost a similar quantity opposed the laws. However, it is significant here that the level of uncertainty is quite low and the level of support for the laws does not dip below 50%, suggesting that this is an issue people have a clear opinion about and that they have come to clear conclusions on this matter as the level of those expressing indecision (unsure/won’t say) are less than half of those indicating support in all three countries.

In response to the general question about whether or not the laws make sense, the single largest quantity of Trinbagonians (59%) said they thought the laws made “perfect sense” while 15% said the laws were illogical and 26% opted not to answer the question.  It is noteworthy here that the quantity of persons who thought the laws made sense was similar to the quantity of persons who supported the law.

Figure 6: Rationale for “Buggery Laws” in TT

Figure 6 demonstrates several of the reasons Trinbagonians identify with the preservation of the buggery/sodomy laws. When advised that the laws were not enforced in Trinidad and Tobago, respondents were asked what they thought was the rationale for the maintenance of these laws in that light. The most popular reasons were the suggestion that the laws were “a fair and reasonable expression of moral and religious standards” (42% and 41% respectively) and the suggestion that the laws served an important public health purpose (43%).  It is noteworthy that respondents were not convinced in any large number that the laws helped stop the spread of homosexuality, as only 22% of them held such an opinion. When it is considered that 23% of the respondents also indicated that homosexuality is an illness, implied in the responses of the 22% is the perspective that homosexuality is “contagious” and that the laws help to stop the “spread” of homosexuality. It also reflects some of the sentiments expressed in the media for denying Elton John entry into TT by Archdeacon Philip Isaac and other clergy as it was felt that he might entice others towards his lifestyle (Roberts 2007).

Attitudes Towards Sexual Intercourse

When this issue was further pursued with respect to what respondents thought the laws should be targeting in terms of sexual activity, Trinbagonians generally thought that the laws should penalise anal sex in all regards (gay or straight). This is reflected in responses to the questions of whether the laws of TT should penalise two men for having sexual intercourse in public or two men having sexual intercourse in private, which were all above 85%. Here the options were explicit statements of gay and straight sexual intercourse in both private and public. There was little interest in penalising straight sex in private (4%); however, 39% felt the laws should penalise two men for having sex in private, with 35% wishing to see two women having sex in private penalised and 34% wanting to see private group sex penalised in TT. These data are significant since there is a clear indication here that Trinbagonians wish to see private sexual activity prosecuted even though this should theoretically not be of concern to respondents.  The debate centres on the extent to which the private sexual behaviour between consenting adults should be penalised. This effectively rejects the concept of private morality, which is one of the fundamentals of UK Common Law, which is the foundation of legal principles in Trinidad and Tobago.

Attitudes Towards Discrimination

The issue of discrimination is explored from a regional perspective separately here with an emphasis on whether it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and whether violence against sexual minorities is discrimination.  In this instance, the data presented are national and provide a comparative perspective of the three countries investigated using the same variable.  It is evident that respondents in all three countries have a very low tolerance for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, since between 15% and 22% of respondents in each country stated that they believed that persons SHOULD be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation (Figure 7).  The other aspect of this issue spoke specifically to violence and asked respondents if they believed that violence against sexual minorities WAS discrimination. Here also there was an overwhelming response in all three countries, which demonstrated that people properly understood that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation included violence (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Attitude Towards Discrimination in TT, Barbados, and Guyana.

Against this background, respondents were asked what they thought the state ought to do regarding discrimination and specifically which types of discrimination they thought the state should target as a priority.  In this regard, respondents were most concerned about discrimination against children (76%), persons with disabilities (76%) and persons living with HIV/AIDS (55%).  In all other instances, a minority of respondents thought that the state should prioritise discrimination with respect to minority racial groups (38%), persons who identify themselves as gay (28%) and those who appear to be gay (23%).  These data and the fact that there is also minority support for the prioritisation of discrimination on the basis of race, which is a sensitive issue in Trinidad and Tobago, is suggestive that Trinbagonians generally do not believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a priority that warrants special attention by the state. More explicitly, in Figure 8 below it is seen that the majority of respondents in all three countries expressed the view that recognising the rights of gay people is not a priority. While a greater percentage of Trinbagonians (73%) expressed this sentiment when compared with Barbadians (66%) and Guyanese (64%), the difference between the countries was not significant.

Figure 8: Gay Rights Priorities

Attitudinal Issues: The Incongruous Truth in TT

Figure 9 below speaks to the crucial point being made in this article, which is based on data from the Trinidad and Tobago survey. It diagrammatically presents the critical responses to three different questions presented to respondents at different times in the survey. Further, it can be said to provide greater depth on the country’s contradictory position (national dissonance) or confusion.  The support for buggery laws stands at 60% of the population of Trinidad and Tobago and implies that these respondents are comfortable with the criminal pursuit of persons who engage in “gay sex” in private. While the buggery laws penalize anal sex between males and females and two males, buggery is often conflated with gay sex in the context of TT. It is important to note that is it was explained to respondents that buggery involved anal sex between two males or a male and female before an answer was solicited so there could be no confusion regarding their misunderstanding the implication of the law.  It is therefore ironic that only 15% of this same population does NOT support discrimination against gays and only 36% admitted to “hating” gays.

Figure 9: An Apparent Contradiction in TT

The implication here is clear since there is no relationship whatsoever between support for the buggery laws and support for discrimination.  This means that either Trinbagonians do not see the buggery laws as discriminatory or they think the laws have some greater purpose that outweighs their discriminatory effect. It is possible that this greater purpose may be linked to respondents understandings of how the laws are an expression of TT moral standards, religious standards, and are important from a public health perspective, to protect young people from abuse and to help stop the “spread” of homosexuality. Due to the nature of survey, further exploration of respondents’ reactions to the term buggery and what it meant lie beyond the scope of this paper. The inclusion of the “hate” question here also reflects a contradiction born of the assumption that one would want to criminalise a group that one hates, which would justify the support for anti-gay laws.  In this instance it can be seen that although twice as many persons “hate” gays as do persons who support discrimination, still only half the quantity of persons that support the buggery laws hate gays.  In this instance respondents were given the opportunity to indicate they “hate,” “accept,” or “tolerate” gays, and it is entirely possible that the 64% of persons who do not hate gays could fall into either of these categories (accept or tolerate), or may not have answered the question at all.  One presumes that support for the criminalisation of “gay-sex” approximates most closely with an attitude of “hatred.”

Discussion

The foregoing presented select results from a CADRES three-country study, with an emphasis on Trinidad and Tobago in support of specific contentions.  It is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the data, but conveys a clear perspective that TT is not largely homophobic. When the expression of explicit hatred, tolerance, and acceptance is examined, the level of homophobia in Trinidad and Tobago is below 40% and is counterbalanced by the fact that close to 20% of the respondents identified with the most positive attitude towards homosexuals (“acceptance”) as distinct from the those who were prepared to “tolerate” homosexuals (39%).  In addition to this, the point was made that Trinbagonians are generally opposed to discrimination against homosexuals and properly understand what such discrimination is, although there is a clear misunderstanding of the extent to which the state itself discriminates by way of the maintenance of the buggery/sodomy laws.

The legal perspective is also fascinating since Trinbagonians clearly support the buggery/sodomy law and properly understand that it speaks to private sexual activity, which a majority believes should not attract the attention of the state, in respect to heterosexual activity.  There is, however, clearly some amount of concern about what Trinbagonians appear to think “sexual deviance” is.  Based on the data presented on TT attitudes towards sexual intercourse, this is any activity which goes beyond two heterosexuals, since there was an expression that the state should penalise gay sex between both men and women, as well as sex among groups in private.  This supports the central contention that there is an intense fear of the implications of the removal of a law that is not enforced and that would indeed be difficult to enforce.  Conversely, it can be argued that there is a general belief that the buggery/sodomy law serves a useful purpose other than to form the basis of criminal prosecution.

In addition to the human rights issues at stake, there are associated gender issues, since it would appear as though much of the public’s attitude towards homosexuals is reflective of skewed gender perspectives. The gender aspect is especially interesting since some would have presumed that women have more to fear from gay men with whom they interact in ignorance of their sexuality.  In this regard, ignorance relates to the possibility that a woman may have sexual intercourse with a man who has not self-identified as gay or bisexual and in so doing, places herself in a vulnerable position. Consequently, in circumstances where the heterosexual man is more intolerant, he is unlikely to experience the same vulnerability as a heterosexual woman given that his heterosexual orientation makes him unlikely to pursue a sexual relationship with a man.  Therefore, if men are more intolerant, it could perhaps be interpreted to mean that straight men feel in some way threatened by gay men. The fear of gay men by straight men could be having a damaging effect on their psyche, and this too presents an area for further research.

Conclusion

The outdated legislation criminalising same-sex intercourse and which seldom prosecutes offences is contributing significantly to national dissonance in TT and quite possibly the other islands of the Caribbean. It is questionable whether these laws can realistically prevent private sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex in the absence of other ‘moralising’ factors in society. What is more important is that the attitudes towards this archaic legislation produce great anxiety amongst decision makers in their efforts to change the laws given international and growing domestic pressure from human rights groups and their desire to maintain power.

The findings of this research make clear the need for continuous and consistent research on the attitudes towards homosexuality in TT and by extension the other two islands used for reference – Barbados and Guyana. This article primarily relates to TT and one of the shortcomings is the fact that there are no comparative studies in that country.  In much the same way that public attitudes towards homosexuals have changed in Barbados between 2004 and 2013, it is at least possible that Trinbagonian public opinion can also change. It is only by conducting future national surveys that any significant shifts in attitudes can be determined.

A sample of the CADRES TT survey can be found at: https://gspottt.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/tt-poll-data-media-release.pdf

 

[1] This paper is a version of a presentation made by one of the authors to a course in Human Sexuality which was mounted by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) in association with Trinidad’s Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) (August 2013, Trinidad and Tobago).

[2] Then Prime Minister Bissessar wrote a private letter to the Executive Director of Kaleidoscope, a United Kingdom-based NGO that campaigns for gay and LGBT rights globally. The letter was reprinted in the Guardian article “PM Promises Rights for Gays in Gender Policy,” by Yvonne Baboolal.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, M. Jacqui. “Not Just (Any)Body Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas.” Feminist Review 48 (1994): 5-23. Print.

Baboolal, Yvonne. “PM Promises Rights for Gays in Gender Policy.” Trinidad Guardian 17 December 2012. Print.

Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES). Attitudes Toward Homosexuals in Barbados 2004. Survey. Bridgetown: CADRES, 2004. Print.

Chadee, D, et al. “Religiosity, and Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in a Caribbean Environment.” Social and Economic Studies 62.1 (2013): 1-28. Print.

Cupid, Karl. “Tobago Will Not Discriminate.” Trinidad & Tobago Newsday 30 March 2007. Print.

Dann, Graham. The Barbadian Male: Sexual Attitude and Practice. London: MacMillan, 1987. Print.

Gaskins, Joseph. “’Buggery’ and the Commonwealth Caribbean: A Comparative Examination of the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.” In Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change. Eds. Lennox, Corrine and Matthew Wiates. London: Insitute of Commonwealth Studies Human Rights Consortium, 2013. 429-454. Print.

Gengrich, G. L. and B. A. Brathwaite. “Response of Religious Groups to HIV/AIDS as a Sexually Transmitted Infection in Trinidad.” Biomedical Central Public Health 5 (2005): 121. Print.

Griffith, Alana and Peter Wickham. “Attitudes to Homosexuality: Barbados Then & Now 2004 vs 2013.” Caribbean Studies Association 39th Annual Conference. Merida, Mexico, 2014. Presentation.

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Guyana: The Attitude of Society Towards Same-Sex Relationships/Activities, Especially Lesbians; Availability of State Protection (1985 – February 2003) GUY40837.E.” 26 February 2003. Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

—. “Guyana: Treatment of Homosexuals and State Protection Available to Them (2004 – September 2006) GUY101803.FE.” 20 October 2006. Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Kaiteur News. “Parliament to Start Review of Homosexual, Death Penalty Laws This Week.” Kaiteur News, August 2012. Print.

Puar, Jasbir. “Global Circuits: Transnational Sexualities and Trinidad.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture in Society 26.4 (2001): 1039-1065. Print.

Roberts, Genevieve. “Elton John Will Corrupt Tobago, Archdeacon Claims.” The Independent. 27 March 2007. Web. 10 March 2016.

Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the People and Social Development. “Norms and Values Report: A Nationwide Study on the Degree of Conformity of Social Norms and Values in Trinidad & Tobago.” Section 9: Perceptions of Homosexuality. May 2011. Web. 15 Aug. 2015.

Trinidad Guardian. “PM: Gay Rights Not Legally Possible.” 26 March 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Trotz, Alissa. “The Constitutional Challenge to the Cross-Dressing Law.” Diaspora Column. 23 Sept. 2013. Stabroek News. Web. 23 Aug. 2015.

Walrond, Errol R. “Report on the Legal, Ethical and Socio-Economic Issues Relevant to HIV/AIDS in Barbados: A Consultation for the Attorney General’s Office Barbados.” Bridgetown: Government of Barbados, June 2004. Print.

Weinstein, Netta, Ryan, William S., DeHaan, Cody R., Przybylski, Andrew K., Legate, Nicole, and Ryan, Richard M. “Parental autonomy support and discrepancies between implicit and explicit sexual identities: Dynamics of self-acceptance and defense.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102.4 (April 2012): 815-832. Print.

Wilkinson, Bert and David McFadden. “Guyana Judge Rules That Cross-Dressing is not a Crime Unless It’s Done for ‘Improper Purposes.’” Fox News. 8 September 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2015

* Essay submitted February 1, 2015; accepted July 14, 2016.


Alana Griffith is Lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. She teaches courses in Caribbean social policy, Caribbean social problems, social planning, and social inequality and marginalization. Her research interests include welfare systems and social protection in developing country contexts and comparative social policy.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and Principal Director of the Caribbean Political Research Company for Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). This organization conducts social and political surveys and research on behalf of governments and political parties, along with NGOs, regional, and international organizations.

“Hay que tener una fortaleza fuerte:” Catholic Coloniality, Sexual Terror, and Trans Sobrevivencia in the Dominican Republic

by Ana-Maurine Lara

Abstract

Dominican transgender persons’ lives, deaths, and struggles are marked by on-going practices of sexual terror arising from the expectations of a Catholic colonial morality. For trans persons, sexual terror is experienced in the intimate spaces of family and in the public spaces of school and the street, generating a specific ontology requiring the transcendence of biblical conceptions of manhood/womanhood. Faced with the impossibility of being or belonging, the ontological violence that trans persons experience builds on the imagination of murder and death as the only legitimate future for those who fail to perform biblical masculinity or femininity. Based on ethnographic interviews with Dominican trans activists, this article presents key insights into how they “enter into being” their experiences of family, school, work, and daily life. It also discusses the concept of sobrevivencia as a key ontology and strategy in Dominican trans people’s lives and struggles.

Key words: transsexual, Dominican Republic, sexual terror, Catholic coloniality, sobrevivencia

Resumen

Las vidas, muertes y luchas de las personas trans en la República Dominicana están marcadas por el terror sexual, cuyos efectos surgen a base de las expectativas de una moralidad formada por la colonialidad católica. Para las personas trans, el terror sexual se experimenta en los espacios íntimos de la familia, al igual que en los espacios públicos, incluyendo en las escuelas y las calles. Esto genera una ontología específica a la experiencia trans, lo cual requiere una transcendencia del “ser hombre” y del “ser mujer” bíblico. Confrontados por la imposibilidad de ser o de pertenecer, la violencia ontológica que las personas trans experimentan se basa en imaginarse su asesinato o muerte como el único futuro legítimo para los que no pueden realizar una masculinidad o femininidad bíblica. Basándome en una serie de entrevistas etnográficas, este artículo presenta ideas claves de cómo los activistas trans “llegan a ser” a través de sus experiencias familiares, en la escuela, en el trabajo y en la vida cotidiana. También presenta el concepto de sobrevivencia como una ontología y estrategia clave en las vidas y luchas de las personas trans dominicanas.

Palabras clave: transsexual, República Domincana, terror sexual, colonialidad católica, sobrevivencia


This article presents the perspectives and experiences of ten Dominican trans activists from the group TRANSSA (Trans Siempre Amigas: Organización de Transexuales, Travestis y Transgéneros (TRANS) de la República Dominicana) in the Dominican Republic collected through in-depth interviews in 2013. I had met several of the activists at human rights forums, protests, and other sites of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activity such as parks, clubs, the LGBT Caravana del Orgullo, and the LGBT film festival during my research period from 2010–2013. The interviews focused most explicitly on their personal experiences as Dominicans, as trans persons, and as activists within the LGBT movement.[1] I also asked pointed questions about violence, protest, and religion. Their responses were richly layered, passionate, and adamant. Their overall responses signaled to me that Dominican trans persons experience modes of violence that are related to, but different from, the violence experienced by Dominican gay and lesbian activists.[2] This article presents some of the responses collected from trans activists, positing that a) the boundaries of Catholic coloniality and the institutionalization of biblical manhood and womanhood are challenged by continual trans existence; b) the sexual terror implicit within Catholic coloniality is most explicitly played out against gender non-conforming people in both intimate and public spheres; and c) trans sobrevivencia is a profound response to this sexual terror.

When in 1566 Bartolomé de las Casas wrote, “[there are those men who] wear the apparel of women [who] also labor alongside them and perform feminine tasks. The others in the town adore and revere these effeminate men,” he was deploring indigenous gender and sexual ways of being and using this as a justification for the evangelization of the indios.[3] However, his account also reveals the extant attitudes already present within indigenous island society, attitudes that enabled the full expression of “men” who donned the apparel of “women” performing “feminine” tasks. While a Spaniard’s etic account of indigenous experience cannot completely reveal the contours and layers of how gender was fully lived, or the boundaries that made particular kinds of genders acceptable versus unacceptable, what this passage does reveal is the fact of its existence. All the trans interviewees I spoke with were adamant in assuring me that they are “proud” to be trans; that is, they are proud to exist. When asked what being trans meant for him, Junior[4] responded:

God gave me many things, and one of the things he gave me was to be transvesti. Because I can experiment with this male body, changing it in a matter of minutes – like creation itself, like a work of art. To see a body that is so rigid, so strong, so masculine become something so feminine. To play with makeup, heels, wigs, the way I dress and walk. These are things in which you condition yourself. At first it looks like a game, but it’s a way of being because you have to not only be in the role of being a woman, you have to feel that you are a woman. But when you are in the world as a man, it is not the same. The patterns change. Transvestism for me is a work of art. It is not about a definition. I can have double roles: I can be as much of a man as a woman at the same time.

Paloma, in turn, responded:

When I realized and discovered that I am trans, it is because I felt an attraction to those of my same sex at the same time that I started to explore my body. I liked girl’s toys and accessories. I felt something different. I am transgender because I began to change, physically. I wax my eyebrows. I have my ears pierced. I do more feminine things than masculine, and I use clothes with more fine details. I like all things feminine and I feel feminine physically and spiritually.

Junior positions himself as a transvestite, someone who lives in the world as a man, but enters the “trans world” (el mundo trans) through a particular kind of self-fashioning (Allen 2011) that is as much about crafting a feminine self as it is about re-shaping the basis of the self. Paloma sees herself as transgender because of the process of self-realization and discovery that occurred through her affective development, a sense of “feeling attraction” to someone such as herself that accompanied the physical changes she experienced as an adolescent. That something different is ambiguous: it could signal a particular kind of homo-eroticism, if we are to think of Paloma as a young man or boy; but because it is accompanied with an equal attraction to feminine things, it shifts Paloma’s sense of being from being “gay” to being “trans” – to transcending the implicit rules of homoerotic and homosexual being into a different ontology.

It was Monday afternoon. I was in the offices of the national trans advocacy organization in Santo Domingo, interviewing trans activists, including Shakira – whose words form the title of this article. I had asked her how it is for her as a trans person in the Dominican Republic. In response, she smiled the acquiescent smile of an all-knowing aunt, her right hand in a fist, indicating gathered strength, as she leaned slightly forward to utter the words “Hay que tener una fortaleza fuerte.” Her statement translates as “You have to have a strong strength,” and it struck me not only because of how Shakira said it to me –with a quiet conviction and firmness– but also because of the resilience and determination it implies.

As we sat in a small meeting room overlooking the busy street, one of the other trans activists poked their head in through the door, interrupting us with only a murmur. Shakira stopped mid-sentence to listen. She nodded and turned back to me.

“We just found out that one of our compañeras was murdered this weekend.”

I paused, gauging whether or not it was appropriate to continue.

“Do you need to go?” I asked.

“No, let’s continue. Let’s finish.”

“Was she a friend of yours?”

“We knew each other, but [sigh] these things happen.”

Shakira’s was the first in a series of interviews. That afternoon, and the days following, none of the activists cried or expressed sadness. One activist spoke to me under her breath, “You have to know how to take care of yourself.” The director of the trans organization took the occasion to speak to me about the high tally of trans murders, with the formality of recounting a yearly report. Throughout the week, as I returned to the space to continue interviews and to attend meetings, I heard different narrations of the murder.

“They followed her home and murdered her there. They say she knew the guy.”

“No one is saying anything because she, well – you know: she comes from a family.”

“She leaned into the guy’s car and he shot her point blank.”

“She was working, and she got in the guy’s car, and then he shot her.”

When I asked if they were going to memorialize her, one of the activists told me, “Maybe. Her family doesn’t want anybody to know. And, well, I’m not sure how many people here really knew her. But, we always try to do something when they murder one of our girls.” The “murdering of our girls” was a frequent occurrence –something I know from what activists have told me, but also from my own observations– and there was a palpable sense of frustration about how the victim’s family was making the circumstances of the murder invisible – nobody could publicly bring attention to the case because the family was powerful enough to cause problems for the organization should the victim’s name, gender or type of work be revealed. Because the compañera was from either a wealthy or politically visible family (implied in the expression: “she comes from a family”), her death marks various registers of silencing. First, the family would want to silence the fact that their child was trans; second, that their child was a sex worker; and third, that their child was killed in the act of trans sex work. The death, in this case, would be marked as anonymously and silently as possible, so as to not draw attention to the circumstances of the person’s death – or life.

Several interviewees informed me that as a sex worker, the compañera’s death brought judgment both from her family and the trans community, which has been seeking claims to respectability as one of its political tools in the fight for trans human rights. Within the trans community, the trans activist Michelle pointed out that there is significant discrimination against those chicas who choose sex work as a primary means of sustenance, even though all of those interviewed spoke about how sex work is often “the only option.” The narration of this trans murder by trans activists told me a great deal about their social anxieties more broadly. The murder of one of their compañeras was a reminder of the fragility of their own lives, and the undignified ways in which trans persons may die. It also increased the urgency of focusing on the struggle for trans human rights and dignity. What could be sorrow was channeled into survival, and into the impetus necessary to continue in their struggle as activists. One interviewee, Chantal, with turned-down eyes, expressed the following:

There is a lot of mental, physical and verbal discrimination. Killing one of us is like killing a cigüita (a palmchat [a type of small bird]). I’ll tell you, they even killed one of my compañeras. They killed her because the damn jerk thought my compañera was a woman and when she got in the car –they didn’t even do anything– he just killed her. Just because she got in the car and he thought she was a woman. She got into the car and he shot her and threw her out like she was a bag of garbage, like something that you throw from the side of your car on the highway, and then he ran away.

The constant repetition of “she got in the car” served to emphasize the almost quotidian nature of murder as yet another specter haunting the lives of trans persons. Unlike other people I spoke to, who referenced the need for trans sex workers to take care of themselves –who expressed a sense of control over their own lives and the circumstances of their lives– for Chantal, this sense of control was diminished by the circumstances of her compañera’s murder. “They didn’t even do anything,” she said, not because murder would have been excused had her compañera done something (i.e. engaged in a sexual act or exchange), but rather, because the “not doing” implied that the murder was provoked as a result of being trans.

For Chantal, her compañera’s murder was an insult that highlights the ubiquity of transphobic violence. When she states that “they didn’t even do anything” and “just because she got in the car,” Chantal is pointing to her compañera’s innocence. Trans collective fragility and innocence –as human beings, but also as trans persons– was contained within Chantal’s use of the metaphor of the cigüita – a small bird known for its melodic birdsong. The cigüita is small, delicate, rare. This metaphor is not incidental. The cigua palmera is also the national Dominican bird. Chantal’s use of the cigüita as a metaphor was meant to not only mark trans fragility, but also, trans life and national belonging.

The anxiety generated by the instance of her compañera’s death was directly expressed by Chantal, but in other cases, it reared its head when we explicitly discussed discrimination and violence against trans persons in the Dominican Republic. What constitutes exceptional forms of violence for many non-trans people exists as everyday forms of violence for trans ones.[5] These everyday forms of violence shape the struggle and movement of trans people throughout Dominican society. When asked if they experienced discrimination, the trans activists I interviewed generally began by telling their story in chronological order, a mode of oral history. They often started with their childhood. In response to the question “How was it for you to grow up in your family?” they detailed the violence experienced in their homes. The majority described experiencing violence from the earliest part of their lives, beginning with their families:

Jeisha: When my dad found me [wearing women’s clothes], he would spank me, he would slap me. I would be punished and it was a strong punishment.

 Chantal: At first they would hit me [for not acting like a boy], and they would lock me inside my room. I would stay locked in for several hours. When I was a child.

Junior: In the beginning [after I entered the life], they rejected me. They didn’t want to know anything about me. They would treat me like a contagious disease, like a cold, or the black sheep of the family.

Shakira: [When I was 14] my mother told me to leave the house. It lasted three months and then she slowly accepted me. I had to confront my family for being transvesti, for being gay, for being trans. One has to confront one’s family much as we do the population in general.

The kind of body policing allowable within the rubric of parental upbringing is one enactment of the hegemonic social forces that give definition to gender and sexuality as a biblical binary in which men and women exist as separate natural categories of being with strict boundaries defining behavior, relationship, dress, and identity. These notions of biblical manhood and womanhood that are so central to Catholic coloniality are largely maintained within the country’s political and social fabric. Since the signing of the 1954 Concordat between the Dominican government and the Vatican, the local Catholic church sets the public discourse around civil rights as well as legislative priorities through a range of mechanisms, including direct participation of Church representatives in government legislative processes, the enforcement of mandatory Catholic education in public schools, and the direct and indirect management of media reporting by church officials and conservative Catholic elites. Through this all, reproductive rights and homosexuality are the touchstones against which upright moral nationalism is measured. The familial experiences of violence among trans persons may also result from the extension of specific Catholic colonial modes of biological hegemony that privilege the hyper-heterosexual male, such as those that emerged from the masculinist authoritarian state elaborated during the Trujillato (the 31-year regime under Rafael Leónidas Trujillo that lasted from 1930 until his assassination in 1961).[6] As noted by numerous researchers such as Horn, Krohn-Hansen, and Rodríguez, gender regulation in Dominican public discourse has been a key element in the construction of Dominican national belonging. In particular, the relationship between sexuality and an unquestionable masculinity “define identity, individuality, and what is understood as womanhood and manhood” (Rodríguez, 54). Maja Horn effectively theorizes how particular modes of virile masculinities were established through the Trujillato and subsequently through Joaquín Balaguer’s regime, and how they continue to permeate contemporary political and social relationships, neutralizing hierarchical relationships between political elites and popular classes through masculinist discourses. Even the specific masculinist ideologies that emerged during the Trujillato were very much informed by a colonial Catholic concept of acceptable gender and sexuality.[7]

LGBT activists see this clearly, and carry out their protests accordingly. Unlike in most countries in the Western hemisphere, where protests are carried out before secular governmental offices, the sites of trans protests (and LGBT protest more generally) are often in front of churches, cathedrals, and the spaces between the Colonial City’s monasteries and hallowed pews. When asked about protests, trans activists respond that their priorities include not only seeking the right to an identity (being able to legally change their names and gender identities), but also confronting the cardinal and the religious-state establishment, an establishment they articulate as having colonial roots founded in the extermination of indigenous peoples and the rise of slavery. When they speak of sexual freedom, they include a critique of their formal education, one that is proscribed by Catholic moral boundaries.

What the experiences of trans activists highlight are the ways in which ideas of being good Catholics, good Christians and patriotic Dominicans translate into experiences of gender-based policing in intimate spaces. A trans child who fails to exercise an appropriate masculine role brings up questions about a family’s morality and their patriotic duty. According to the trans activists –in particular Paloma, Shakira, and Dumont– a child who failed to act according to a prescribed biblical gender expectation was punished at home for being “diabolical,” “a bad child,” “a spoiled fruit,” and for shaming the family.

In addition to punishment at home, discipline and disciplinary ridicule was also carried out by peers and teachers in schools. School was an early site of violence and gender policing, most explicitly, through the use of jest and exclusion by peers or through the attention brought to students’ differences by teachers:

Chantal: In elementary school the students would laugh at me, they would make fun of me, but there was no physical aggression. They wouldn’t hit me, but they made fun of me, they talked. I felt it in adolescence, too.

Paloma: I had to make an effort to be one of the guys, to go to school in the uniform –pants, shirt, shoes, short hair– to avoid problems. I felt discrimination and that’s why I isolated myself. I was always to one side, by myself. I wouldn’t hang out with anybody. The school would call my family to tell them I had psychological problems. I isolated myself out of fear, out of the fear that the boys would not let me become part of their group.

Tania: The school was only boys. Imagine that. In being different, in having different behaviors – as a little boy I had a lot of mannerisms. I had to try to be rigid when I walked. I had to think twice before moving a hand, so that I wouldn’t be discovered. Since we were all boys, I didn’t want to be the butt of jokes.

Dumont: As a boy, I had no idea. They would call me Vikiana and I would dance like her. Later, as an adolescent, the discrimination was more acute. I hid what I am and tried to imitate the boys and not be pointed out as different.

 Shakira: I was scared to go to school. The boys would threaten me along the way. I had to hide. I was scared of the professor who always punished me. He would call me mariconcito (little faggot), and hit my head. The boys didn’t respect me. The teacher, who was the authority, made fun of me and mistreated me.

Trans persons are marked by an upbringing characterized by gender suppression: opting to exercise a bodily control, measured bodily gestures, restraint, and constraints in order to attempt embodying colonial Catholic ideas about manhood and masculinity. Literally silencing themselves, and metaphorically binding the movements of their hands and hips, trans persons continuously fail at the act of normative gender performance, only to reveal their true nature at great cost. Judith Butler points out that “intelligible genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire” (23). In this sense, trans persons disrupt, from an early moment in their lives, the potential for the colonial Catholic continuity between biblical men, Catholic men, heterosexual Catholic men, and procreating biblical Catholic men.

The impossibility of being for gender non-conforming gays and trans persons at home and at school generates a series of choices in which survival is pitted against belonging. As Junior put it: “I love being within my family, to spend time with my family. But when I had to decide between my life or my family, I decided on my life. They were enslaving me to their desires and did not allow for mine. I had to deny myself many things.”

Faced with the impossibility of being or belonging, the gender suppression that trans persons experience is a secondary form of violence that builds on the imagination of murder and death as the only legitimate future for those who fail to perform masculinity. This impossibility of being is a mode of sexual terror that relates to ontology. Trans persons –in their courage and protest– “enter into being” trans rather than accept death. Up until this moment of acquiescence, trans persons often a) actively hide their bodily dispositions and/or practices from their families and peers until reaching an age of economic independence; b) leave their homes and school at an early age; c) sustain themselves through sex work; d) practice sex work until they develop relationships and enter spaces where they can assert their visible presence through bodily dispositions, practices, and associations; e) gain the strength necessary to do so in general society, often with varying social and economic consequences. When asked about how they came to accept themselves as trans persons despite how their families treated them, interviewees responded:

Shakira: I had to confront my family because I am transvesti, because I am gay, because I am trans. One has to confront their family, like society in general. At 14 years old, I decided not to go back to school, ever. I learned cosmetology, how to work in a kitchen – and because of limitations [not being able to get work because of my trans presentation] I was a sex worker between the ages of 17 and 28.

Tania: I always put on makeup at friends’ houses. It was a double life. At home, or on the street, I was a boy. But at the disco and at the gay bar, I was a woman. My friends were the only ones who knew me as a woman; at home they didn’t know me like that.

 Paloma: I am not going to give up on life. I find a way to maintain myself and to keep studying. That’s why I started doing sex work, where I have to expose myself to danger, to hate crimes, to police violence and violence from clients; a lot of things that one is aware of but because of fear, does not speak of.

Dumont: To reinsert myself into society, I had to stop dressing that way [with long hair, women’s clothes, make up and long nails]. I don’t dress hyper masculine, but I do have my hair short.

These narratives are examples of what trans individuals term “sobrevivencia.Sobrevivencia is a complex concept that encompasses various layers of meaning. To speak of it in English requires touching upon multiple references and translations. By moving out of binary gender scripts into a trans way of being, Dominican trans persons enter into the ontology of sobrevivencia. Directly defined, sobrevivencia is 1) to live after the death of another or to live after an event of great danger; 2) to overcome a test, or difficult situation.[8] Sobrevivencia as it is used by trans individuals also includes the concept of supervivencia, the ability to live with few means and in adverse conditions,[9] and pervivencia, to keep on living despite the difficulties.[10] Sobrevivencia is explicitly about living after, living above, over, and through difficult circumstances, death or events of great danger. It is the practice of survival, exposing oneself to danger, to the “things that one is aware of, but because of fear, does not speak of,” as stated by Paloma. It is about one’s ability to “keep on keeping on,” as it is better known in African-American Vernacular English, in which the “keeping on” is the praxis of living as oneself, without literal or metaphoric restraints – in this case, in relationship to the full expression of the gender non-conforming body. It is not about entering a gaytopia, or transtopia –as the case may be– but rather, being able to make active choices about maintaining oneself, confronting one’s family (truth-telling), or making strategic choices about self-presentation. To become a full member of society is not to be above it, but to be of it. Sobrevivencia produces the possibility of understanding trans persons’ renunciations of sexual terror, in this case, the life beyond and in rejection of inevitable violent death as an ongoing commitment to personal autonomy that gains its value and strength from being a respected member of one’s larger society. Within trans lives and struggles are the seeds of a bound collective memory in which trans lives are not only possible but celebrated because of a continued and un-suppressible presence.

Several of the activists stated that “if they were reborn,” they would want to be reborn as trans, and that while struggles with their families were difficult, they managed to transform these relationships to their best advantage. Despite the violence some trans activists grew up with, their families are still an important aspect of who they understand themselves to be. Thalia, who has a national LGBT following and is famous in the colmado (corner store) performance circuits, shared a family narrative that challenges a unidimensional reading of family and belonging:

In the beginning, my mother knew I was a little rarito (strange). And I began to perform. She didn’t want me to dress as a woman when I was around the house, but it was okay if I was at a friend’s house. I could come back home in the mornings, dressed up, because the neighbors weren’t awake. Until I went to a trans friend’s house and I was amazed because she dressed as a woman all of the time and her family lived right next to her. I wanted to be like that. I didn’t want to hide from my family. [One day] I waited until my mother was downstairs drinking a beer with some friends, and I put make-up on. I stood by the window thinking, do I go down or not? Until I went down. When she saw me, she was surprised. And I said to her, “Look beautiful, prepare yourself because I am going to dress like this.” I left and came back later and she didn’t say anything to me. So then I decided to put in hair extensions –the very next day– and I started using make-up from that day forward. I was finishing high school then. I would help my mother clean the house, and by six a.m. I was ready: with make-up and all. That performance with my mother was symbolic, because she never scolded me or anything. I lived with my mother, my two sisters and my grandmother and there were never any problems.

Thalia’s narrative locates family as a site for the small drama of confrontación, an embodied assertion, which in turn enables confrontación with larger society. If Thalia was the only one who had found acceptance from her family, I would perhaps claim that she is exceptional. However, all but two of the trans activists interviewed live with a family member. And several of them made references to other trans friends who live with family. Despite the initial ruptures and experiences of violence within their own families, the majority of the interviewees are deeply embedded within their families’ lives, and their families –usually women (sisters, mothers, aunts) or nephews and/or nieces– play a continuing role in their self-making and being once they have reached adulthood and self-acceptance. Despite the sexual terror many of them grew up with, the family becomes a site of self-actualization, of a small drama of confrontación, which then enables confrontación with larger society.

Emerging from the space of family and school, trans activists also described violence in their lives as discriminación, manifested as physical and verbal violence. When asked, all of the activists responded that they had experienced discriminación. For the majority, this included being yelled at, or having objects (eggs, oranges, trash) thrown at them while on the streets, both in the context of their daily lives and during sex work.

 Michelle: Yes, I have experienced violence. I have been discriminated against. One is not respected. I am yelled at. I have been physically and verbally assaulted. I have had objects thrown at me, and that is a form of psychic and mental assault. It could happen moving through the street. They look at you, they assault you, they yell at you.

Jeisha: A lot of discriminación. A lot of violence. In the street they shout at me, maricón. Sometimes when I am walking the street, or working.

Thalia: We are very discriminated against. Girls have told me how standing on the street corner, PAH! – someone has thrown a cup or a rock at them.

Junior: Sometimes, they bring out sticks with which to hit me, and they want to hit me and sometimes I ended up yelling and fighting back (verbally). People laugh. In this country, you fall in a hole and people laugh, so imagine when there is a man hitting a gay. That’s the day’s amusement.

All of those interviewed explained that they feared seeking medical services at hospitals because of the potential for discrimination in the form of denied services, ridicule, and objectification (being made an object of spectacle).[11] I also knew, from conversations with LGBT human rights lawyers, that one of the trans women who had died in 2011, died because she was left to bleed to death in the hospital emergency room.[12] The majority of those interviewed were unable to gain employment; either because they did not pass, or because their identity records did not match their gender presentation, or because of early educational experiences in which they were unable to complete their schooling. In a country with 35% of the population in the informal employment sector, trans persons are further limited by their inability to conform to gender norms. All but one of the activists interviewed is or has been a sex worker, regardless of education level or degrees of “passing” for one or either gender. As Freddy states, “I am not gay, I’m trans. It’s that. I get dressed up at night and go out into the street to do sex work. I survive, even though I don’t have formal employment. I take care of myself.”

For trans sex workers, the majority of the work occurs within the geography of the capital city itself: at the edges of the colonial zone, under the city’s by-ways, and at the edges of the poorest neighborhoods, along the highways out of town. Their work occurs along a similar geography to that occupied by the U.S. Marines, who instituted public health measures that corralled sex workers into particular areas of the city.[13] Their work and lives occur in the traces of Trujillo’s henchmen, who circled these neighborhoods seeking out dissidents. Their bodies exist in the shadows of the Catholic colonial violence, which pushed them onto these streets in the first place.[14]

These modes of sexual terror, of the belittling and physical punishment of sexual-gender difference in the home, at school, and on the streets, delineate how some bodies are deemed more expendable and accessible to violation than others. They also call attention to the values and attitudes in Dominican society that generate a misrecognition of a trans person as a human being and a legitimate member of society. Confrontación, the act of facing one’s own and others’ discomfort, is a necessary aspect of sobrevivencia in the context of this ongoing sexual terror.

Living along these traces, within these shadows, corralled by century-old health codes, their gender non-conforming bodies hyper-visible against the deserted nighttime landscapes, trans sex workers, activists, and entertainers remind us “that the earth is also skin and that a [trans person] can legitimately take possession of a street, or an entire city, albeit on different terms than we may be familiar with” (McKittrick, ix). The potential of death lingers in the night air, behind every car door. The policing of trans bodies is another chapter in the legacy of U.S. Marine abuses and Dominican secret state agent scare tactics. In order to explore how this comes together through the violence and experiences of trans persons, I turn to an anecdote shared by Dumont:

Being a trans person, walking through the street at night to take a carro público or a taxi, they would load you into their cars for nothing – to round you up. When that would happen to me, I knew that if you have your cédula [national identity card] they can’t arrest you because they could easily say they were taking you in for being undocumented. Instead I would fight and I would tell the police they had to let me go. But, if I was with a compañero, to intimidate him they would say to him, “You come with us, not you [meaning me].” I would get in the middle and say, “No. You aren’t taking either of us in. There are other people here. You have to take everyone on this street if you are taking us in.”

For Dumont, there was nothing exceptional about getting picked up by police. In fact, it was so commonplace that they knew how to defend their self. As a person with a cédula,[15] they also had the tools necessary to defend their citizen rights, despite the fact that the context of defense was already a violent, unjust circumstance. Their ability to use deflection tactics also came out of an understanding that if they drew attention to the police officers’ actions in a voice loud enough to draw attention to the scene, the likelihood of something happening was greatly lessened.

For the trans activists I spoke to, having “strong strength” is about a refusal to disappear in the face of on-going social, political and economic violence. It is also about an insistence on creating a defined individual and collective presence in the struggle for trans sobrevivencia and human dignity. This strength, culled and developed from childhood on, is exhibited through small and large acts including using makeup, or dressing up every day in ways unexpected for men; taking on women’s names; confronting family; confronting police; taking care of themselves through sex work and/or other forms of labor; documenting their experiences of violence; memorializing each other; picking up sticks; singing; making family; going on television; as well as collectively organizing through direct action protests and through organization-based advocacy work. Like Chantal’s metaphor of the cigüita and Shakira’s firm fist, Dominican trans activists’ strong-strength is both gentle and mighty.

 

[1] Throughout this article, “trans persons” and “LGBT movement” replace the local Dominican movement actors’ emic use of the terms “Trans” as a third gender identification, and the identification of the movement as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans movement. This was done to maintain consistency in English language usage, and without intention to impose etic US-based understandings of identity or organization on local populations.

[2] The trans organization that I worked with, and that was most prominent at the time of this writing, was formed out of the national Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) HIV service base, and focused on the needs and rights of trans persons on the female spectrum.

[3] See Garza Carvajal (2010), Schwaller (2011), and Gruzinski (2011), for further discussion about the ways in which European clergy generated theological and colonial policies for the management of indios, in particular for their conversion, confession, and the re-shaping of their gender and sexual practices. See Garza Carvajal (70) for a full discussion of this citation.

[4] All trans activists interviewed expressed their wish to have their public names used. All names are used with consent.

[5] Deborah Thomas (2011) articulates how the particular modes of violence that structure Jamaican society and our discursive understandings of Jamaica are deeply linked to historical colonial structures. In this way, Thomas’s theorization of violence – exceptional, spectacular, and the everyday – is useful for thinking through the ways in which Dominican trans activists become the objects of everyday violence, how their deaths are deemed both expected and spectacular, and how their negotiation of Catholic coloniality re-sets registers of exceptionality.

[6] See Horn (2014, 9-49) for a detailed analysis of the ways in which the Trujillato mobilized particular modes of ethno-national hyperbolic masculinity.

[7] See the works of Balaguer (1983) and Jiménez Polanco (2004) for explanation of how Dominican masculinist ideologies were intimately linked to Catholic hispanidad.

[8] Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2015. http://www.rae.es/obras-academicas/diccionarios/diccionario-de-la-lengua-espanola.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] As I was completing this manuscript, a well-known trans activist died due to medical negligence. See TRANSSA, 8 January 2014.

[12] Personal conversation with lawyers from IURA, June 2011.

[13] See Madera (2012) for an in-depth discussion about designated sex work zones during the US occupation.

[14] See de Moya.

[15] Since September 2013, when the Dominican Tribunal Courts approved the denationalization of persons with “irregular” migration statuses, TRANSSA has taken a public stance in solidarity with Dominicans of Haitian descent along the lines of a right to identity. Dominican trans persons of Haitian descent are at a particular disadvantage, as they are not only discriminated against for lacking documents, but also for “irregular” gender identities. See the video presentation “Foro: La Situación de las personas LGBTI Afro-descendientes en América Latina y El Caribe.” https://youtu.be/UFag0SnXvmk.

 

Works Cited

Allen, Jafari. ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

Balaguer, Joaquín. “La isla al revés.” Haití y el destino dominicano. Santo Domingo, DR: Fundación José Antonio Caro, 1983. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

de Moya, E.A. “La Alfombra de Guazábara o el Reino de los Desterrados”. Primer Congreso Dominicano sobre Menores en Circunstancias Especialmente Difíciles. UASD, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 9–11 October 1989.

Garza Carvajal, Federico. Butterflies Will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico. Austin: U of Texas P, 2010. Print.

Gruzinski, Serge. “Individualization and Acculturation: Confession among the Nahuas of Mexico from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century.” In Schwaller, John F. (ed.) The Church in Colonial Latin America.  Rowman and Littlefield (2000): 103-120. Print.

Horn, Maja. Masculinity After Trujillo: The Politics of Gender in Dominican Literature. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014. Print.

Jiménez Polanco, Jacqueline. “The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ) Movement in the Dominican Republic: A Sociopolitical and Cultural Approach.” Lecture, CLAGS Colloquium Series in LGBTQ Studies. CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY. 23 March 2004.

Krohn-Hansen, Christian. Political Authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic. London: Palgrave, 2009. Print.

Madera, Melissa. “Tigres of the Cabaret”: Debates over Prostitution in Trujillo’s City, 1930-1961.” Panel Presentation, Transnational Hispaniola Conference. Rutgers University, Newark, NJ. 13 April 2012.

Martínez Vergne, Teresita. Nation and Citizen in the Dominican Republic, 1880-1916. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2006. Print.

McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2006. Print.

Rodríguez, Jenny K. “The Construction of Gender Identities in Public Sector Organizations in Latin America: A View of the Dominican Republic.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 29.1 (2010): 53-77. Print.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993. Print.

Schwaller, John Frederick. The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond. NYU Press, 2011. Print.

Thomas, Deborah A. Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

TRANSSA. “La Comunidad Trans Dominicana está de Luto tras el Fallecimiento de la Activista Paloma Sody.” TRANSSA Blog, 8 January 2014. Web. 9 January 2014.


Ana-Maurine Lara is a national award-winning author of fiction and poetry. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. Currently she is hard at work on the book Bodies and Souls: Sexual Terror in God’s New World.

Hunger, Highways, and Human Rights: Politics of Visibility and Social Justice in Trinidad and Tobago

by Krystal Ghisyawan

Abstract

This essay examines activism caught in a moment, occurring from mid-September to November 2014 in Trinidad and Tobago, where two separate but very connected events were happening. On one front, the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) and Project 40 were protesting the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway, particularly the controversial section from Debe to Mon Desir which runs through private property, ancestral agricultural land, indigenous land and part of the Oropuche lagoon. On the other, local sexual rights advocates were reacting to statements made by then Prime Minister (PM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar about putting decriminalisation of homosexual acts to a referendum. In this essay, I discuss visibility and the occupation of space by comparing multiple forms of protests these movements exemplified: the HRM camp and Project 40, the predominantly online and media presence of sexual rights advocacy groups, and individuals and the “#WeCantWait” online campaign. I examine the co-creation of “Nation” and “citizen,” demonstrating the selective employment of “development” and “progressive” politics by the state, the centrality of religion/religious bodies in governing and maintaining social control, and the burgeoning of cyber-activism.

Key words: Trinidad and Tobago, sexual rights, cyber-activism, post-coloniality, liberal progressive development

Resumen

Este ensayo examina un momento de activismo que ocurrió a mediados de septiembre hasta noviembre del 2014 en Trinidad y Tobago, donde sucedían dos eventos separados pero interconectados. Por un lado, el “Highway Reroute Movement (HRM)” y “Project 40” estaban protestando la extension de la carretera Solomon Hochoy, en particular la sección de la carretera que corría desde Debe a Mon Desir, lo cual pasaba por propiedad privada, tierras agrícolas ancestrales, tierras indígenas y parte de la laguna Oropuche. Por otro lado, activistas locales de los derechos sexuales estaban reaccionando a declaraciones hechas por la Primera Ministra (PM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar sobre hacer poner la decriminalización de actos homosexuals a un referéndum nacional. En este ensayo, discuto la visibilidad y la ocupación de espacio, comparando las múltiples formas de protesta exemplificadas por estos movimientos: el campamento de HRM y Project 40, la presencia predominantemente virtual y mediática de los grupos que abogaban por los derechos sexuales y los individuales y la campaña virtual de “#WeCantWait. Examino la co-creación de “la nación” y “el ciudadano”, demostrando el uso selectivo de “desarrollo” y una política “progresista” por el estado, la centralidad de la religión y los cuerpos religiosos en gobernar y mantener el contral social, y el crecimiento del ciberactivismo.

Palabras clave: Trinidad y Tobago, derechos sexuales, ciberactivismo, pos-colonialidad, desarrollo progresista liberal


Introduction

In October 2014, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, leader of the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM), began what would turn into a nine month long fast to protest the southern extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway, particularly the controversial section from Debe to Mon Desir. This was Dr. Kublalsingh’s second fast, the first occurring two years prior. Dr. Kublalsingh vowed to refrain from consuming food and drink, including water, until he could meet with then Prime Minister (PM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar to discuss the social and environmental impacts of the highway. The concerns of the HRM included the disruption of communities, cutting through private property, ancestral agricultural land, and possible historic sites of indigenous settlements, the destruction of habitats, and disruption of a watershed by filling in a section of the Oropuche lagoon to build the multi-lane highway. The projected cost of the highway extension was $7.5 billion TT dollars (approximately 1.2 billion US dollars). As Dr. Kublalsingh continued to fast, the highway project went ahead without offering to consult the HRM, leading supporters and detractors of his fast alike to question the point of him persisting in action that could result in his death if it would change nothing about the highway extension.

At the same time, local sexual rights activists were up in arms over comments made by PM Persad-Bissessar on September 25, 2014 while being interviewed in New York City. She said it was “not legally possible” at the time to decriminalise homosexual acts, as Trinidad and Tobago (TT) was very divided on the issue and without consensus. She proposed a referendum on the issue, stating that this was a matter for the people to decide, not the government. She also pinpointed the Roman Catholic Church as having put up “tremendous opposition” to decriminalisation, while urging that people should not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. Local sexual rights activist and columnist Colin Robinson described this move as “political cowardice,” since PM Persad-Bissessar was evading her government’s responsibility to deal with matters of sexual inclusion. She instead used public opinion and the Roman Catholic Church as scapegoats for her administration’s own unwillingness to take a stance on these matters.

Local advocacy groups (such as I am One, the Coalition Advocating the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) the Women’s Caucus, and the Silver Lining Foundation (SLF)) and community members began organising protest actions around the PM’s comments. One initiative, the #WeCantWait campaign, was launched by SLF members on Facebook, and attempted to garner support across LGBTI persons, organisations, and allies. The initiative asked supporters to post pictures and videos showing their messages of support, emphasising why “we” –“we all,” “we” the LGBTI community, or “we” TT– cannot wait for discrimination to end.

A number of factors draw highway reroute into parallel with sexual rights activism in TT. Both movements called for accountability and transparency in government dealings, as the People’s Partnership (PP) government headed by Persad-Bissessar constantly made contrary claims and shifted its position on these issues. HRM and sexual rights lobbyists utilised various forms of protest action (placarding, using music and chanting, sharing personal and community posts online) to engage debates on the agency and value of citizen lives and experiences, youth involvement in these social justice movements, and ultimately the ability of citizens to influence state action. In this paper, I assess and connect the actions undertaken by the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) and Project 40 to sexual rights activism, particularly the #WeCantWait campaign that was simultaneously occurring in TT. While exploring these parallels between highway reroute and sexual rights activism, my discussion moves through different kinds of public spaces –mediatic, ideological, physical, and virtual– within which these movements operated. I compare the movements’ use of these diverse spaces and the merits and limitations of cyber-activism as a new sphere of political participation while investigating the claim that these movements are “revolutionary” (Maharaj 2014).

What Kind of State is Trinidad and Tobago: “Progressive,” “Liberal,” “Democratic”?   

As a “post-colonial state,” Trinidad and Tobago is still in the process of creating itself and negotiating the ideologies and policies it wants to uphold and enact. Considerable tensions have emerged between colonial legacies that include homophobic laws, engaging assertions of modernity and self-articulation as a nation-state, and trying to guard the nation from perceived “foreign” threats like the “homosexual agenda” (Wahab 487). As it relates to “progress” and “modernity,” infrastructure and accessibility are an accepted part of what it means to be developed, while sexual rights are viewed negatively as importations of Western Euro-American liberal progressive politics (Wahab 485).

Anthropologist Ryan Jobson points out that neoliberal fervour can also be attributed to the desire to secure global markets, even if that means destructive harvesting of limited natural resources, deepening foreign dependence, and partaking in corrupt backroom dealings. It is common for developing nations to forward infrastructural projects that put local ecological systems, cultural groups, and communities at stake, ignoring the long-term costs of such projects in favour of short-term goals to achieve what is perceived as “development” and “developed nation” status. The HRM highlighted these same issues in relation to the nine-mile section of the Solomon Hochoy Highway connecting Debe to Mon Desir, including five interchanges and “a series of ramps, loops, connector roads, built in the midst of 13 communities, a large and important wetland system, and well established networks of commercial and industrial enterprises” (Kublalsingh). For the HRM, the costs of the project outweigh the proposed benefits, which could be achieved by a less intrusive design concept, a fair tendering process, and a route that did not require filling in a portion of the wetland. Many persons from the area where the highway is to be built reject these arguments and support the project for its expected impact on vehicular traffic, especially for those who commute daily for work.

The HRM petitioned the government, held sit-ins and protests on the site of the highway, and used bodies to block bulldozers sent to demolish homes and clear agricultural land. As all these measures failed and construction of the highway began, the movement set up camp under an open tent across the street from the Prime Minister’s office in St Clair, Port of Spain. Invoking what journalist Sunity Maharaj referred to as “Spartan existence and yogic calm,” Dr. Kublalsingh embarked on the hunger-fast in a desperate attempt to get consultation with the PM. The HRM camp was frequented daily by the “citizen soldiers” “who put everything into the trenches of citizen organizing for more than a decade for no personal gain” (Hosein), as well as government ministers, religious leaders, other activists, and cultural performers from all over the country who gathered to show their support. How did the state treat these ongoing protests? What concessions were made to accommodate citizen concerns?

According to a 2010 survey conducted by Kirton, Anatol, and Braithwaite, in public opinion, “transparency, accountability and integrity do not seem to be high on the agenda of the past governments” (4). The survey cited scandals occurring under the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) last administrative term (2001-mid 2010). The People’s Partnership (PP) –made up of the United National Congress (UNC) and the Congress of the People (COP)– came into power in May 2010 amid promises of democratizing the economic process in the country so that young people could participate in planning for TT’s economic future and forming “a transparent Government, a new kind of Government in Trinidad and Tobago” (Rampersad 460). If the September 2015 general elections were any indication, the PP did not live up to these promises, as they were voted out of office. There were also numerous protests under their watch.

While protesting Section 34, a controversial change to voting procedure in Trinidad and Tobago in 2012, protester and University of the West Indies lecturer Rhoda Bharath expressed distrust towards the government, saying that “No electorate should have to be saddled with a Government it doesn’t trust,” and that if TT is truly a democracy then “we have the right to show our displeasure and I am going to show it” (Hunte). Founder of the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA), Paula Lucie-Smith, who represents several civil society organisations and is an HRM supporter, felt that people refrained from public comments and protests not because of apathy but because they felt it was pointless, as nothing would change, and the government would not listen. Lucie-Smith’s own motivation for engaging in popular action and joining the HRM was to make citizen’s voices heard (Kowlessar).

With regards to gender analysis and policy development, Patricia Mohammed accused the state of being more concerned with a “democracy of convenience” in which the government strategically commissions policies to suit a particular group, yet doesn’t actually believe that these policies are useful (13). A so-called “democracy of convenience” can be seen in the PM’s call for a referendum, given that the TT constitution does not support action based on referenda and would need to be amended for this to happen. At consultations held by the Constitutional Reform Commission (2013-2014), citizens repeatedly requested increased participation in governance through the medium of referenda and called for redrafting “fundamental rights” to include sexual minorities and indigenous populations. Although the PM called on the use of referendum for the issue of sexual minority rights, her government made no motions to change the legal framework within which such a vote could lead to policy change. Her call therefore illustrates the selective mobilisation of these potentially democratic structures as symbols of democracy, but not as real or accessible aspects of democracy in TT.

Public surveys such as the 2013 Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) study utilised stratified random sampling within polling divisions across all constituencies in TT, Barbados, and Guyana, seeking opinions on sexual rights and inclusions. This study showed that sixty percent of Trinbagonians polled did not want homosexual acts to be decriminalised, yet only fifteen percent felt that discrimination was acceptable. A 2014 UNAIDS poll conducted only in Trinidad and Tobago found that seventy-eight percent of those polled felt that people should not be treated differently based on sexual orientation, thirteen percent felt it was okay to discriminate, and nine percent were unsure or could not say. These figures are vastly different, showing that while there may not be consensus, participants have disconnected decriminalisation from discrimination; they may not fully understand that criminalising same-sex acts is a form of institutionalised discrimination. But Trinidad and Tobago’s acceptance of international human rights treaty laws (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) from December 1978 and later the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) stipulations), charges the government with the responsibility to attend to anti-discrimination in legislation and in society. The PM attempted to save face for not attending to the needs of sexual minorities as per the state’s obligations by passing responsibility to the public and pinning the blame on lack of consensus and religious lobbying.

Religious Nationalism in Democracies of Convenience

As reflected in the PM’s comments on decriminalisation, the religious lobby received most of the blame for hindering efforts at passing a national gender policy, which among other concerns, recommended legal and safe abortions, the decriminalization of homosexuality, and enforcing sexuality education in schools. Her statements also imply a separation of the interests of religion and state. But religion is an integral aspect of law making in TT (Wahab 486) as seen in the opening of the constitution, which claims TT is:

founded upon  principles  that acknowledge  the  supremacy  of  God,  faith  in fundamental  human  rights  and  freedoms,  the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights with which  all  members  of  the  human  family  are endowed by their Creator. (The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, 27)

All (in)action taken by the state is informed by this statement, with homogenised religious opinion being given considerable influence over political decisions, mainly in the form of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) which claims to speak on behalf of the “religious community” with a unified voice. The IRO is composed of 150 different religious and faith-based organisations (Baboolal). In 2013, IRO head, Pundit Harrypersad Maharaj (himself a Hindu), cited the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court’s definition of gender as only two sexes –male and female– and the IRO’s recommendation that this be the official position of Trinidad and Tobago. He is cited by Baboolal as saying, “we all unanimously agreed that from time immemorial humans were created as male and female, not homosexuals and all these kinds of things.” He went on to declare:

We can’t tell people how to live their lives but we are saying it must not become lawful. If the Government ever intends to legalise same-sex marriages in T&T, we are sending out a warning in advance it will not get the support of the religious community. (Baboolal)

The PM’s statement in New York one year later sparked an apparent change of heart among the IRO and other religious bodies. Not wanting to be blamed for allowing the persistence of institutionalised discrimination, Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris spoke on radio, denouncing the PM’s claim as untrue and reckless. He said that while the Church is accepting and does not support discrimination, marriage was another matter altogether. IRO head Brother Harrypersad Maharaj said he did not support gay marriage but, “at the same time, these people have made a choice and although it is against my personal choice, they should not be discriminated against” (Paul).

Maharaj was among the religious leaders who appealed to Dr. Kublalsingh to end his hunger fast at the behest of the PP government, along with Archbishop Harris and leaders from the Anglican, Shouter Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian churches (Kowlessar). Their appeals all failed as Kublalsingh continued to fast, resulting in his hospitalisation in October 2014. Catholic Father Clyde Harvey also met with Dr. Kublalsingh, but as a genuine supporter, even getting involved by posting a video on YouTube voicing his support for rerouting the highway and for transparency and accountability in governance.

While Dr. Kublalsingh was hospitalised, supporters seeking to demonstrate the “power of collective” formed Project 40 as “a space for dialogue and discussion.” Adopting the spirituality and “yogic calm” of Dr. Kublalsingh, members of Project 40 would observe twenty-four hour fasts for forty subsequent days at the HRM camp. The dubbing of “Project 40” is resonant of the forty days of Lent and Ramadhan, representing the purification of body and spirit, and acknowledging the significance of fasting in many religions, especially Hinduism, Islam, and sects of Christianity, the major religions in TT. Although inspired by Dr. Kublalsingh’s hunger strike, Project 40 sought to detach their movement from his by attending to wider issues in governance, like the lack of due process and transparency in government spending and decision-making, and not just issues of highway expansion (see Project 40s Facebook page for more details). HRM supporters, who Hosein describes as older women and “quiet rural mothers” challenging the PM, did not become part of this new movement. Instead, young artists and activists, including those dealing with other social issues like women’s rights and sexual minorities, joined the fasting. This included Zeleca Julien and Timmia Hearn of I am One, a group attending to sexual rights and inclusion through arts and culture, and Brendon O’Brien from CAISO. Project 40 represented unity of purpose in seeking social justice and accountability from the government, but their reluctance to publicly support or take a position on LGBTI issues alienated some LGBTI supporters among the group. While the #WeCantWait page shared Project 40’s content, the reverse did not occur, which could simply be due to the interests of management on the page not wanting to dilute its content. This apparent exclusion, however, gives the impression that the movement was not as unified in its goals as it initially intended.

While religion was being strategically mobilised on both sides of these arguments for government recognition of citizen demands and responsibility towards them, it also demonstrated the complicated relationship between church and state. The timing of religious leaders’ responses for LGBTI inclusion was strategic as well, as though motivated to appear more accepting of human difference and human rights in the eyes of the international viewing public, yet ignoring the inclusion in religious communities desired by local LGBTI persons. This suggests tension between the image of itself that the state seeks to maintain internationally, and the extent to which they will be accountable to such issues locally. How and where should local social movements apply pressure to the state in order to get a desirable result?

Occupying Spaces of Protests – Where to Placard?

Broome and Adugu, looking particularly at “small island developing states” in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, argue that the Caribbean public sphere is not authoritarian and state-controlled, so Caribbean actors have greater access to public space for protest, and therefore may not turn to social media as an outlet (8). They do not account for the differences in state and social attitudes towards various issues however, which can make protests in public spaces difficult. For instance, sexual inclusion is often met with antagonism by politicians and civil society (Hunte, Mendez), which deters public protests (Allen-Agostini, Baksh and Ghisyawan, forthcoming). Interrogating the location and social media presence of the #WeCantWait, HRM, and Project 40 protests reveals how a politics of visibility influenced the reach, reception, and apparent success of each campaign.

While #WeCantWait wanted to launch an online onslaught of LGBTI support, the HRM sought the attention of PM Persad-Bissessar specifically, and so located its protest where it could confront her office and workers daily. This location, on a side street in St. Clair, hid the protest from road traffic, except of that around the Prime Minister’s office, nearby financial firms and international missions, including the Canadian, British, and Brazilian High Commissions. The HRM camp’s presence channelled international attention to the issues of environmentally sustainable development and transparency in governance by connecting to the local public through news and social media, and not through a highly visible physical presence.

While hundreds came out to support Dr. Kublalsingh and the HRM over the course of the protest action, there seemed to be reluctance from the public to engage with LGBTI issues, evidenced in the lack of support for and relative invisibility of earlier initiatives surrounding the Equal Opportunities Act (EOA) and National Gender Policy (NGP) mounted by CAISO (King 114), and the slow growth of the #WeCantWait page. According to Rosamond King, Caribbean sexual minorities operate within a dynamic of visibility and semi-invisibility (110), meaning that while indications to their presence are visible, and some hyper-visible (like public displays of affection), dominant discourses in society work to hide them, such as politician’s refusal to deal with LGBTI issues. This results in the community even being invisible from itself with individuals having a hard time finding a place of belonging within society. Political groups and movements such as CAISO and the #WeCantWait campaign can help community building (King 112), but often, social circuits prove more useful for this than political ones (Puar 1045) as more people would attend a social event or party than would a protest or demonstration. Facebook was selected as the primary social media platform for the #WeCantWait campaign in an attempt to access groups who socialised on the site but did not necessarily see themselves as invested in the political struggle for accommodations. It also created other ways engagement in protest action without having to go to a single location (typically Port-of-Spain), and without experiencing the exposure of typical protests by posting from behind a virtual screen and being able to do so anonymously.

As an administrator on the #WeCantWait page, I could access its analytics, marketing information, and supporters, and was able to privately solicit support and chat with contributors. While the page gathered “likes,” actual participation through posting was slower to get going, with a total of nine videos and thirty pictures posted to the page from October 2014 to January 2015. Although dwindling, the page is still receiving new “likes” daily and in January 2016 had 1147 “likes.” Persons who declined to participate in the campaign cited fear of exposure and retaliation through physical attacks or loss of jobs, friends, and family support (Allen-Agostini, Baksh and Ghisyawan, forthcoming). One local government counsellor privately messaged me, saying that while he would like to show his support, his constituents would not accept that, and he was not yet ready to go against the crowd, even if it meant standing up for what he believed. Broome and Adugu (11) noted that online users generally feared online surveillance, contributing to self-policing measures, such as censoring themselves to avoid retaliation in offline and online settings, especially as social media and digital technologies become further integrated into day-to-day life. To combat this fear of exposure, the #WeCantWait Campaign offered to post on behalf of those who wanted to share anonymously (sixteen posts were made anonymously).

Broome and Adugu (2015) place Internet penetration in TT at just over fifty-three percent, compared to the worldwide rate of thirty-two percent. Broome and Adugu (2015) also cite that ninety-seven percent of young users chose Facebook as their primary social media platform, noting, like Miller and Slater, that the site attracts a cross-section of users across age, social class, and ethnicity. The #WeCantWait campaign attempted to catch this cross-section of people. Many LGBTI movements across the region, including St. Lucia’s United and Strong, Jamaica’s J-FLAG, Barbados’ BGLAAD, Guyana’s SASOD, Trinidad’s CAISO, I am ONE, and Silver Lining Foundation, all have pages on Facebook, as well as websites and blogs. Similarly, HRM and Project 40 both have Facebook pages, each getting updated with news stories related to the issues and events that each group hosts.

Are online counter-publics effective spaces of protest?

Both highway reroute and #WeCantWait campaigns used hashtags – words and phrases preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) that are used on social media including Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter as a searchable component of a post. Searching for a tag brings up all posts made using that tag. While the #WeCantWait Campaign was hosted on Facebook, it encouraged participants to use the tag on another social media sites, like Twitter or Instagram as well. The HRM’s hashtags, #democratisedevelopment and #powerofprinciple, reiterated their call for more accountability and transparency in governance. While HRM and Project40 used social media as an organising tool, the #WeCantWait campaign was entirely online. Each campaign nevertheless experienced the limitations of online media spaces.

Critics of cyber-activism such as Christensen and Kristofferson et al believe joining Facebook groups, sharing, and liking posts are token acts that achieve no real political goal (Christensen 2). The terms “slacktivism” and “clicktivism” have been used in this context to undermine the political effectiveness and commitment of these “token acts.” Wearing political messages on the body, clothes, jewellery, or one’s vehicle, or taking part in short-term boycotts and using hashtags on social media are considered examples of token support, which unlike “meaningful support” have little associated effort, cost, or change in behaviour (Christensen 2-3, Kristofferson et al 2). Research has demonstrated that participation in these token acts lead to greater involvement in more meaningful acts later on (Kristofferson et al 2). Additionally, allowing contributors to engage in more meaningful acts and show increased support offline can combat absent-minded clicktivism, as they may feel more connected to the cause (Kristofferson et al 2).

Broome and Adugu (7) argue the opposite for the Caribbean, claiming that persons already inclined to “grassroots and other forms of political participation” were more likely to participate on social media. Closer review of those who openly engaged in the meaningful acts of participation in the #WeCantWait campaign, considered in this case to be the making videos and posting them openly, showed them to be either more socio-economically secure, university-educated, or part of the local sexual rights movement. There were also a number of persons who routinely participated in public protests, appearing in media, news, and talk segments, such as LGBTI activists Colin Robinson, Sharon Mottley, and Brendon O’Brien, who made videos in support of #WeCantWait and also appeared alongside HRM and Project 40 at various times.

Robinson and O’Brien have also written online about these issues, engaging in what Broome and Adugu referred to as “citizen journalism” (14) through online blogs that connected digital literacy to civic literacy, “including critical thinking, writing, and political literacy to be able to express ideas, and in order to reach a wider audience and engage with diverse people and ideas” (Broome and Adugu 14). Citizen journalism on digital technology also forces greater accountability and transparency in governance, as citizens can access news online that is withheld from mainstream news media, and mount challenges against government actions.

#WeCantWait, HRM, and Project 40 brought together a cross-section of people, including civil servants, teachers, academics, artists, and musicians. These groups were also engaging in certain kinds of protest action. #WeCantWait used videos and pictures, all hosted on the webpage. Some of these included original artwork, slideshows, speeches, and poems. Project 40 also utilised songs and spoken word in addition to fasts and moments of silence. Both campaigns were able to attract the attention of many young artists and musicians, activists, and other politically conscious persons who supported this call for better governance (Nixon).

Testimonies were posted to the #WeCantWait page by people from different walks of life, allies, and advocates, sharing the reasons why they wanted to end discrimination, such as the negative impacts of homophobia (suicide, ridicule, low self-esteem, unrealistic gender ideals), bullying in schools, being publicly ridiculed, or wanting to get married. These personal consequences were being connected to the institutionalised discrimination that government inaction allows to persist in TT. A contribution from a parent highlighted the ways in which gender-based discrimination and homophobia affects everyone, not just sexual and gender minorities:

This little human likes to wear nail polish, put flowers in everyone’s hair and have dance parties in the grass. I fear though that as he gets older, social norms will harden him and make him afraid of true self expression. I say no to discrimination because I want him to live in a world where stereotypes and sexual orientation do not matter. I want him to be able to express his own ‘unconventional version of masculinity’, whatever that may be”. #WeCantWait

Additionally, and unintentionally, the #WeCantWait campaign reproduced a particular idea of the acceptable gay subject –productive, trustworthy, monogamous, and non-threatening– who deserves protection and inclusivity by reiterating these ideas in the posts (Crawford). One post urged: “WE are your MPs, your advisors, your teachers, your lawyers, your doctors, your local celebrities, your FAMILY… and WE CANNOT WAIT. END discrimination NOW, Madam Prime Minister.” This raised questions about whose inclusion is being negotiated and who is doing the negotiating. According to Jen Schradie, online activist spaces are dominated by the middle class given their access to digital infrastructure and political consciousness, which often results in the exclusion of working-class voices and interests. Online sites such as Facebook limit what users can access by exposing them to content similar to what they are already looking for and to posts made by members of their friend circles. These digital geographies mean that some content is always invisible to users unless they actively search for it or engage with others who use it. This is a limitation of using online spaces. Even blogs that are open to the public need to be aggressively marketed for improved visibility. Otherwise content may remain within one social circle –whether a social class group, groups of activists, academics, or artists– talking amongst themselves, isolated from the rest of society (Schradie).

Another deterrent to activism that was expressed to me by LGBTI persons and allies who declined to take part in the #WeCantWait campaign was their disenchantment with the whole process; they felt that public and political protests led to no real or tangible change and was ineffective. Instead, some people chose to engage in forms of resistance that challenge the state everyday; people whose activism does not mean walking the picket line but rather engaging in conversation, writing blogs and articles (citizen journalism), making posters and videos, making love whole-heartedly (albeit illegally given the proscriptions in the Sexual Offence Act), and raising families. These acts work to create changes in society from the bottom-up, especially as there is little faith in the government making top-down legislative changes.

Conclusion: What are these movements accomplishing?

At the culmination of the fortieth day of fasting, journalist Sunity Maharaj said of Project 40, “When people can start and finish something in Trinidad and Tobago, that is a Revolution.”  This statement plays on the notion of the apathetic TT public. But this is certainly not the only reason for these movements to be thought of as revolutionary. Being part of the movements, attending HRM events and administrating the #WeCantWait page, I felt participants’ excitement for being part of something, a rebellion or just a crucial moment in local history. It was a defining moment for PM Persad-Bissessar as the first female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, especially having entered office full of promise. Online activism and coordinating through social media demonstrated a new phase of citizen organising in TT, and was crucial for defining the relationship between state and citizen. However, the outcome of these actions reflects unfavourably on the state, particularly its assertions of “democracy” and goals for “developed nation” status. The PP administration showed it would not bow to citizen demands, even if all citizens were demanding was a consultation.

PM Kamla Persad Bissesssar did not meet with Dr. Kublalsingh. Her administration did not take action towards the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Equal Opportunities Act (EOA) or for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, despite the recommendation of the head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Lynette Seebaran-Suite, to do so. Project40 continues to share news and events on issues of government inclusion and local artists’ projects and accolades. The #WeCantWait page is still active on Facebook and is used to share news on sexual rights issues from across the region and other social media campaigns. One example is the sharing of memes made by members of the LGBTI community declaring “I may be fashionable but my rights are inalienable” in response to comments by Prime Ministerial hopeful Dr. Keith Rowley, who, in the lead-up to the September 2015 election said that while gay rights were fashionable at this time, his party were not prepared to address the issue. This period also saw the creation of a new alliance among sexual rights advocates called Allies for Justice and Diversity, who presented political parties and individual candidates with a twelve-point manifesto for the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities, outlining the legal and social constraints facing LGBTI peoples in TT. These include exclusion from the Domestic Violence Act, lack of affordable or public housing for homeless LGBTI youth, the criminalisation of same-sex acts, and the lack of sexuality and gender sensitivity training for police and other workers in justice.

As these movements continue to struggle onward under the current PNM administration, we can adopt the lessons learned from these campaigns and the limitations of their execution. The operations and critiques of HRM, Project 40, and #WeCantWait show how access to different spaces can be read as forms of privilege, which in turn shapes the ways in which movements are able to organise and mobilise, influencing how much attention and support each receives from the media and the public. Although HRM is visible in different ways than sexual rights movements, it can still be easily made invisible as media attention is necessary for activist movements to gain visibility and to influence public perception. Based on public outcry and personal attacks on Dr. Kublalsingh and towards sexual minorities, one might be challenged to say which they find more abhorrent, but based on the willingness of protesters to still come out for the highway reroute, it is obvious that the HRM has a larger and more visible support base. The #WeCantWait campaign did not receive as much visible support, having over a thousand “likes” on Facebook but less demonstrations of ‘meaningful’ support.

This raises the question about who speaks: is it only the privileged who can speak out?  Alarcón (366) suggests that those who speak and who are heard are already in a position of privilege over those who cannot speak or are not heard, in other words, those who are invisible. To address where this privilege comes from, we can interrogate “invisibility,” not just as an absence but as the active denigration and erasure of the lives, stories, and persons who dare to challenge the norms and power structures within society (King). Media attention (or lack thereof), dismissal or denial by the state are all acts of silencing that keep those who are powerless invisible and unheard. This silence cannot be broken in a single act, but must entail the repeated application of pressure to sites (and sights) of power. These issues of visibility will need to be addressed if we are to look to the future of activist work in Trinidad and Tobago.


Works Cited

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Allen-Agostini, Lisa, Xaranta Baksh, and Krystal Ghisyawan. “Gender justice and social media activism: A case study of the #WeCantWait campaign.” Caribbean Review of Gender Studies. Spec. Graduate Issue, forthcoming.

Anthony, Gerry and Alyssa Rostant. “Interview on CNC3 Morning Brew Show”. Project 40, Facebook. 15 October 2014. Web. 20 January 2015.

Baboolal, Yvonne. “Coudray: Gay rights out of proposed gender policy”.  Trinidad Guardian. 18 May 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Broome, Pearson, and Emannuel Adugu. “Whither Social Media for Digital Activism: The Case of the Caribbean.” British Journal of Education, Society & Behavioural Science 10.3 (2015): 1-21. Print.

Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). “Attitudes towards Homosexuals in the Southern Caribbean.” Bridgetown: CADRES, 2013. Print.

Christensen, Henrik. “Political activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means?” First Monday 16.2-7 (Feb. 2011). Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Crawford, Charmaine. “‘It’s a Girl Thing’ Problematizing Female Sexuality, Gender and Lesbophobia in Caribbean Culture – Critical Essay (Barbados).” Caribbean IRN Collection: Theorising Homophobias in the Caribbean. Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

Hosein, Gabrielle. “Post 166.” Diary of a Mothering Worker. 26 Oct. 2014. Blog. 13 Jan. 2015

Hunte, Matthew. “Protest in Trinidad & Tobago over Section 34 Scandal.” Global Voices Online. 5 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 January 2015.

Jobson, Ryan Cecil. “The Highway Re-Route Movement of Trinidad and Tobago: From Dependency to Democracy”. Anthropology and Environment Society. 26 Oct. 2014. Web.  20 Jan. 2015.

Kirton, Raymond, Mark Anatol and Niki Braithwaite. “The Political Culture of Democracy in Trinidad & Tobago: Democracy in Action.” Institute of International Relations at University of the West Indies, Trinidad. 2010. Print.

King, Rosamond. Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination. Gainesville: U of Florida P. 2014. Print.

Kowlessar, Geisha. “Kublalsingh blanks IRO appeals: Mediation the only answer.” Trinidad Guardian, 11 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Kristofferson, Kirk, Katherine Price, and John Peloza. “The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action.” Journal of Consumer Research (2013) n. pag. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Kublalsingh, Wayne. “Rubbing salt in our economic wounds.” Trinidad Guardian, 11 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Maharaj, Sunity. “Activism for Truth.” Trinidad Express, 25 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Mendes, Douglas. “On the Wrong side of History with Gay rights”. Trinidad Guardian. 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Mohammed, Patricia. “Gender Politics and Global Democracy: Insights from the Caribbean.” Conceptualising Global Democracy Project. 2010. Print.

Nixon, Angelique. “Calling for Justice – In Solidarity with Trinidad’s Highway Re-Route Movement.” CODE RED for Gender Justice. 5 Oct. 2014. Blog. 15 Mar. 2016.

Paul, Anna-Lisa. “IRO head: Respect gay rights.” Trinidad Guardian. 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Puar, Jasbir. “Global Circuits: Transnational Sexualities and Trinidad.” Signs, Globalization and Gender 26.4 (2001): 1039-1065. Print.

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Schradie, Jen. “The digital production gap: The digital divide and Web 2.0 collide.” Poetics 39.2 (2011): 145-168. Print.

“Trinidad+Tobago Prime Min Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Lakshmi Singh”. CAISO | GSPOTTT | Trinidad & Tobago. Facebook Page. 3 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

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Wahab, Amar. “Homophobia as a state of Reason: The Case of Postcolonial Trinidad.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies18.4 (2012): 481-505. Print.


Krystal Ghisyawan holds a Double Honours BA in Anthropology and South Asian Studies from York University, Toronto (2007-2011). Ghisyawan also holds a PhD in Sociology from The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Her work focuses on multi-disciplinary research involving same-sex loving women in Trinidad.

Activismo académico-político en Puerto Rico: el Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: Perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer

Beatriz Llenín Figueroa
en colaboración con Néstor Rodríguez y Lissette Rolón Collazo

Abstract

This text is an academic-activist report written from the perspective of several members of the Colloquium ¿Del otro lao?: perspectives on queer sexualities’s Coordinating Committee. The biennial event has been held at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus since 2006. As members of a small group of academics and activists based in the west of Puerto Rico and responsible for organizing the colloquium, we identify and describe the event’s characteristics, achievements, and challenges up to the present for interested parties in the Caribbean region. We also provide information about the event’s sixth edition, held on March 1-3, 2016.

Keywords: Colloquium ¿Del otro lao?: perspectives on queer sexualities, queer movement in Puerto Rico, UPR-Mayagüez Campus

Resumen

Este texto es un informe de activismo académico-político desde la perspectiva de algunxs miembrxs del Equipo Coordinador del Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer, celebrado bianualmente en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (UPR-RUM) desde el año 2006. Se reseñan, especialmente para grupos o personas interesadxs en la región caribeña, los esfuerzos, logros y retos que hemos identificado hasta el momento como miembrxs de un pequeño grupo de académicxs y activistas ubicadxs en el área oeste de Puerto Rico y responsables de la organización del Coloquio. También se provee información sobre la sexta edición del Coloquio, celebrada del 1 al 3 de marzo de 2016.

Palabras clave: Coloquio ¿Del otro la’o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer, movimiento queer en Puerto Rico, UPR-Recinto de Mayagüez 

Nota preliminar

El texto a continuación es un informe de activismo académico-político desde la perspectiva de algunxs miembrxs del Equipo Coordinador del Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer, evento celebrado bianualmente en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (UPR-RUM) desde el año 2006. Reconocemos que varios de los asuntos contemplados a continuación ameritan desarrollo y análisis más ponderados de carácter sociológico, económico, o político. Por ello, de antemano señalamos que nuestro interés en esta ocasión se limita a consignar, especialmente para grupos o personas interesadxs en la región caribeña, los esfuerzos, logros y retos que hemos identificado hasta el momento como miembrxs de un pequeño grupo de académicxs y activistas ubicadxs en el área oeste de Puerto Rico y responsables de la organización, producción y celebración del Coloquio. Que a partir de este texto surjan iniciativas similares en otros contextos, o colaboraciones y alianzas futuras con personas o grupos en la región caribeña –las cuales podrían, incluso, atender algunos de los retos que señalamos más adelante en este ensayo–, sería un indiscutible beneficio de haberlo escrito.


I. Trasfondo

Convertido ya en un evento recurrente que se celebra bianualmente en la UPR-RUM y en un referente para el activismo queer en Puerto Rico, el Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer surgió como idea en el año 2005 a partir de la sugerencia de Johnny Miranda, quien en aquel momento era estudiante subgraduado en el Departamento de Ciencias Sociales del RUM. Miranda se inspiró en la celebración del V Coloquio nacional sobre las mujeres, y en particular, en una sesión del evento sobre estrategias para salir del clóset. El Coloquio nacional sobre las mujeres se había establecido también en la UPR-RUM como resultado de una iniciativa docente, no docente y estudiantil. Celebrándose cada dos años desde su inauguración en Mayagüez en 1997 hasta el presente, el Coloquio sobre las mujeres ha circulado por varios recintos de la UPR, así como por otras instituciones universitarias.

En aquel momento, Miranda elevó su sugerencia a Lissette Rolón Collazo, quien entonces formaba parte del Equipo Coordinador del Coloquio sobre las mujeres y fungía como directora del Departamento de Humanidades del RUM. Rolón Collazo acogió la idea y convocó a la comunidad universitaria a una reunión para organizar el nuevo evento. Todos los materiales organizativos y clericales, e incluso algunas de las personas involucradas en la organización del Coloquio sobre las mujeres, se pusieron a disposición del nuevo equipo, coordinado por Miranda. En aquella reunión, así como en el largo, arduo y complejo proceso posterior de diálogo y negociación sobre todos los aspectos envueltos en la producción del evento –incluido el propio título del Coloquio y la financiación institucional– nació el Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?, cuyo subtítulo en aquel momento fue “perspectivas sobre sexualidades diversas”. La primera edición se celebró en el año 2006 y, desde entonces, se han celebrado las ediciones 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 y 2016. El Equipo Coordinador –a cargo de la preparación de la convocatoria, la evaluación de propuestas, la constitución del programa, la recaudación de fondos, todos los aspectos de producción (espacios, equipos, utilería y acomodos de participantes internacionales, entre otros), la publicidad y el enlace con organizaciones comunitarias y activistas– ha fluctuado entre las ocho y doce personas, además de la masiva colaboración estudiantil como asistentes, ujieres y vocerxs.

Desde entonces, en términos proporcionales respecto a eventos parecidos organizados en el ámbito universitario, el Coloquio ha sido muy exitoso en cuanto a su capacidad de convocatoria, a la diversidad de temas abordados y al nivel de excelencia de sus discusiones y resultados. Todo ello puede consignarse en las Convocatorias, Programas y Actas de cada una de las seis ediciones celebradas hasta el presente.[1] Asimismo, en las introducciones escritas por las editoras de las Actas pueden apreciarse (auto)reflexiones sobre los cambios y logros progresivos de edición en edición, así como sobre los obstáculos que aún resta superar.

II. Características y logros

Tal como el de las mujeres, el Coloquio ¿Del otro lao? se concibió desde sus inicios como un evento que, a pesar de llevarse a cabo en predios universitarios, no fuera estrictamente académico. El norte ha sido siempre lograr la integración del quehacer académico con el activista y comunitario, así como con el artístico, pues se parte de la convicción política que no es posible el cambio social si no puede nombrarse, pensarse ni transformarse. Dicho objetivo ha logrado, a juicio de varixs integrantes del Equipo Coordinador y de múltiples participantes a lo largo de los años, una re-figuración de las divisiones tantas veces arbitrarias entre “academia” y “sociedad,” “academia” y “arte” y “academia” y “activismo” en lo que respecta a las luchas queer en Puerto Rico.

Consideramos que el logro de integración de diversas esferas sociales, políticas y culturales forma parte del perfil diverso y transdisciplinario que ha ido adquiriendo el movimiento queer en Puerto Rico en los últimos años. Aunque reseñar dicho asunto no constituye el objetivo de este texto, vale la pena mencionar, al menos, algunos desarrollos recientes: (1) la publicación de Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora (2007), compilado por los escritores queer puertorriqueños David Caleb Acevedo, Moisés Agosto Rosario y Luis Negrón (este libro contiene cuentos, fragmentos de novela, poemas, ensayos críticos e históricos y una entrevista a la reconocida activista Olga Orraca Paredes); (2) el Colectivo Literario HomoerÓtica, activo de 2009 a 2012 organizando actividades y encuentros de diversa índole (puede consultar la colección de sus trabajos en el libro Ó: Antología del Colectivo Literario HomoerÓtica, editado por uno de los fundadores del Colectivo, el poeta puertorriqueño Ángel Antonio Ruiz); (3) la creación de CABE (Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de Equidad), organización multisectorial que ha liderado, junto a organizaciones más antiguas, las luchas políticas queer en años recientes; y, (4) el Dossier LGBTT auspiciado por la revista digital 80grados, que ha venido publicando importantes columnas de diversa naturaleza sobre cuestiones relacionadas a las comunidades queer en Puerto Rico y a sus luchas.[2]

De edición en edición, el Equipo Coordinador ha adoptado varias estrategias para lograr, como indicado, subvertir las divisiones entre academia, activismo y sociedad. En primer lugar, siempre se han incluido de manera explícita temas y asuntos “propios” de los campos académicos, activistas, artísticos y socioculturales en las convocatorias del evento. Asimismo, como puede consignarse en los Programas de todas las ediciones del Coloquio, el Equipo Coordinador ha creado sesiones especiales por invitación procurando la integración y diálogo de diversas perspectivas. El mismo objetivo ha guiado las decisiones sobre lxs conferenciantes magistrales, quienes, durante las primeras cinco ediciones, han sido reconocidxs activistas, académicxs y artistas tales como Olga Orraca Paredes, Johanna Emmanuelli, José (Joe) Toro, Pedro Julio Serrano, Osvaldo Burgos, Ángela Figueroa Sorrentini, Gloria Careaga, Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, Juan Carlos Jorge y Salvador Vidal-Ortiz. Por su parte, la sexta y más reciente edición (1-3 de marzo de 2016) se caracterizó por la novedad de un eje temático que le dio al Coloquio una particular orientación geopolítica y afectiva: Caribes queer y sus diásporas. Por ello, lxs conferenciantes magistrales en marzo de 2016 fueron lxs importantes intelectuales y activistas caribeñxs Rosamond King, Lawrence (Larry) LaFountain-Stokes y Jorge (Yoryie) Irizarry. También contamos con un cuarto conferenciante magistral, José Antonio Rodríguez Mena, quien dictó su conferencia vía digital desde la sede alterna en la Universidad de Huelva, asunto que abordaremos más adelante.

Además, en todas las ediciones se han designado espacios y provisto recursos a organizaciones comunitarias para diseminar y orientar a lxs participantes sobre su trabajo. También se han allegado los recursos y acomodos que han sido posibles para llevar a buen término varias modalidades de producción o intervención artística. En todas las ediciones, se ha procurado incluir actividades de diversa índole y en multiplicidad de formatos: mesas, paneles, performances, lecturas poéticas, visionados y discusión de películas, conversatorios y talleres, entre otros. A pesar de las limitaciones que, como se verá, hemos enfrentado, dichas estrategias han asegurado, además de la integración de varias esferas de debate y lucha, un diálogo común con un objetivo igualmente compartido: erradicar la discriminación y opresión por orientación sexual e identidades de género.

Es importante destacar que el esfuerzo de representatividad e integración que hemos esbozado hasta aquí no ha sacrificado en ningún momento la calidad de las aportaciones que conforman el programa de cada edición del Coloquio. Forma parte integral del trabajo del subcomité de Programa del Equipo Coordinador hacer una evaluación de pares anónima de cada una de las propuestas recibidas. Las decisiones sobre las propuestas que se aceptan y se rechazan se toman de manera mayoritaria, consensuada y debidamente deliberada en función del alineamiento de la propuesta en cuestión con los objetivos, contenidos e instrucciones de la convocatoria del evento. De igual manera, las ediciones del Coloquio han sido evaluadas informalmente por sus asistentes y participantes en las sesiones de clausura y otros encuentros informales. Parte del trabajo organizativo de cara a cada nueva edición incluye la discusión de las sugerencias y datos así recopilados, asunto que ha influido directamente en la toma de decisiones del Equipo Coordinador. Para la más reciente edición del evento, por ejemplo, invitamos un tercer conferenciante magistral y programamos su intervención fuera de horario laborable. Había sido una petición recurrente de participantes ajenxs al espacio universitario que se programara, además de eventos artísticos, al menos un evento académico de relevancia en dicho horario, de manera que les fuera posible asistir. También, las solicitudes de mayor participación internacional han sido atendidas con la organización de sedes alternas, como se explica a continuación, y con una oferta más amplia de intervenciones digitales para personas internacionales.

III. Impactos en Puerto Rico

Además de lo anterior, nos interesa destacar algunos logros que nos parecen significativos en cuanto a su relación con el ámbito local puertorriqueño. En primer lugar, cuando se celebró por primera vez en el año 2006, el Coloquio fue el primer evento de su tipo, componentes, características y alcance en llevarse a cabo en la única universidad del estado en Puerto Rico (UPR). Más aún, surgió y se ha sostenido en el Recinto de Mayagüez, ubicado en el área oeste del país, que constituye una región subalterna respecto al área metropolitana aledaña a la capital. El Recinto de Mayagüez, además, se asocia principalmente con las ingenierías y las llamadas “ciencias duras,” disciplinas que, con contadas excepciones, no han demostrado en el ámbito de la UPR interés consistente por el estudio y análisis de asuntos queer.

Por otra parte, en un país y en una universidad donde muchos de los índices sociales de representatividad, respeto y justicia ante la diversidad genérica y sexual son sumamente pobres, el Coloquio ha abierto un espacio inédito y seguro en el que confluyen, durante los tres días de extensión del evento, pensadorxs, escritorxs, artistas, activistas, líderxs comunitarixs, curiosxs, estudiantes, profesorxs y empleadxs no docentes, entre otrxs, provenientes de diversas regiones de nuestro archipiélago, así como de otros países. En dicho espacio-tiempo de coexistencia en la diversidad, se fomenta, entre otras cosas: la discusión ponderada de diversos puntos de vista a partir de multiplicidad de métodos, perspectivas y disciplinas; el diálogo enriquecedor y transformador; el intercambio de experiencias y testimonios; y la formulación y puesta en circulación de preguntas –y también respuestas– que, desde el arte, el trabajo de base comunitario, los diversos tipos de activismo y el quehacer intelectual, tienen el potencial de cambiarnos la vida. En una palabra, el Coloquio se ha convertido en un micro-laboratorio donde experimentar la sociedad libre, plural y abierta que promete la democracia participativa.

Asimismo, como puede constatarse en los programas de las ediciones anteriores, consideramos un logro importante que cada edición ha exhibido cambios sustanciales en cuanto a la ampliación y diversificación de temas, formatos y perspectivas de análisis. A la vez, no obstante, cada edición ha logrado esculpir una lógica interna propia y algunos temas centrales relevantes a su contexto contemporáneo. En varias ocasiones, por ejemplo, los ejes temáticos han coincidido con batallas que dirime el país en la coyuntura histórica en cuestión: luchas contra la Resolución 99,[3] alza en los crímenes de odio, matrimonio igualitario[4] u otras enmiendas al código civil y derecho a la adopción de parejas del mismo sexo, entre otros. En ese sentido, el Coloquio, al igual que otras importantes iniciativas, algunas de las cuales mencionamos antes, ha acompañado al país, ayudándolo a pensar sobre la diversidad con mayor claridad, generosidad y libertad, de modo que las transformaciones políticas que experimente sean duraderas precisamente porque son justas.

Finalmente, en el ámbito todavía más acotado de la universidad, el Coloquio ha tenido un impacto mayúsculo en la medida en que ha puesto el espejo a la homofobia en todas las esferas: el salón de clases, la administración universitaria y el quehacer investigativo. La universidad no es la misma en la medida en que sus constituyentes cobran conciencia de la necesidad de pedir cuentas y no callar ante el discrimen y la opresión. Ejemplo de ello es el progresivo apoyo económico y simbólico –muy luchado para la primera edición– de las administraciones universitarias, algunos de cuyos directivos incluso se han sentido compelidos a formar parte de la sesión inaugural de las diversas ediciones del Coloquio.

La universidad tampoco es la misma en la medida en que sus constituyentes cuentan con la certeza de un espacio seguro para su existencia tal como son. Estamos segurxs que la creciente visibilidad de diversidades sexuales y genéricas en la universidad y, en especial, en el Recinto, le debe mucho, a veces de manera sutil y otras abierta, a los cambios que ha aportado el evento en el ambiente universitario. Por ejemplo, son muchas las referencias cotidianas al “Coloquio,” muchas las preguntas que circulan sobre la fecha de la próxima edición y muchxs lxs que se quedan pendientes de poder comprar “la camiseta del Coloquio” (una de nuestras estrategias probadas para levantar fondos) la próxima vez. Asimismo, hemos contado con el creciente apoyo de colegas solidarixs que convierten las actividades del Coloquio en clases alternas y laboratorios sociales para sus estudiantes, de manera que puedan aplicar a situaciones reales conocimientos adquiridos en el salón de clase. Lo mismo puede decirse de la integración con y el apoyo de la comunidad local mayagüezana, que ha asistido a eventos de recaudación de fondos en establecimientos comerciales locales próximos al Recinto.

Finalmente, cabe destacar que el Coloquio también ha logrado percolar en diversos foros en y más allá del Recinto de Mayagüez. Son múltiples los eventos que se han gestado a partir de, en acompañamiento a, como efecto de y en preparación al, Coloquio. Destacan entre ellos las varias réplicas del Puerto Rico Queer FilmFest en Mayagüez gracias a la siempre generosa colaboración de sus gestores Víctor González y Jaime Santiago; las Jornadas en saludo a la quinta edición del Coloquio organizado por el Programa de Estudios de Mujer y Género de la Universidad de Puerto Rico-Río Piedras; el Congreso de Literatura Queer, en saludo al evento, desde la Universidad de Puerto Rico-Carolina a través de su proyecto cultural Sinestesias; y la “Agenda QueeRUM, enero-febrero 2016,” que incluyó varios eventos en preparación para la sexta edición del Coloquio, entre ellos un panel sobre intersexualidad y Derecho en Puerto Rico, y la primera asamblea regional del oeste organizada por CABE de cara al próximo proceso eleccionario en el país.[5] En una palabra, queda claro que el camino se ha ido allanando, pero aún resta mucho por hacer para convertir al RUM, a la UPR y al archipiélago puertorriqueño en espacios libres de las queerfobias en todas sus expresiones.

IV. Retos y oportunidades

A pesar de múltiples esfuerzos del Equipo Coordinador y de un progresivo avance en esa dirección (hemos contado con la participación de activistas y pensadorxs de Nigeria, Panamá, México, Chile, España, República Dominicana, Cuba, Ecuador y Estados Unidos, entre otros países), el Coloquio debe lograr una mayor internacionalización, comenzando con nuestra propia región caribeña. Aunque aún urge establecer más puentes y redes con el resto del Caribe insular y continental, el Equipo Coordinador, como indicáramos antes, comenzó a atender este reto durante la sexta edición del Coloquio. Nos enorgullece poder afirmar también que la edición 2016 se engalanó con la mayor y más diversa participación en términos generales y, en términos particulares, respecto a asistentes internacionales, ya fuera presencial o remotamente. Sin embargo, sigue siendo preciso lograr más colaboraciones a través de instituciones académicas, de organizaciones activistas y culturales, y de líderes locales y regionales, incluyendo lxs latinoamericanxs, en la lucha por el respeto a y protección de las diversidades sexuales y genéricas.

Por otro lado, a lo largo de los años hemos recibido con suma tristeza múltiples cancelaciones de participación de colegas en varios países –particularmente latinoamericanos– a causa de las leyes migratorias estadounidenses. Así también, muchas cancelaciones (o incluso, propuestas que nunca nos llegan) se deben a la falta de medios económicos para hacer el viaje, con todas sus implicaciones, a Puerto Rico. Por ello, hemos trabajado arduamente para contar con recursos que nos permitan hacer transmisiones remotas, así como establecer nódulos en otros países en donde celebrar eventos “satélites” del Coloquio, que ocurren de manera simultánea al evento en Puerto Rico y se transmiten en vivo en ambas locaciones. Este tipo de arreglo asegura un mayor acceso y participación internacional. Por lo pronto, la más reciente edición contó con una sede alterna en la Universidad de Huelva, España. Al presente, estamos trabajando en el establecimiento de un posible acuerdo de colaboración para una sede alterna en la capital mexicana, de manera que podamos atender así la región latinoamericana.

A la vez, para la edición 2014, lanzamos por primera vez una campaña virtual de donaciones con el objetivo de recaudar un fondo de asistencia de viaje. A pesar de nuestra inexperiencia manejando este elemento y de que no contamos con el personal ni los recursos para armarlo con amplio alcance, tuvimos un moderado éxito con la idea, pues el dinero recaudado fue suficiente para colaborar con tres colegas internacionales que de otro modo no hubiesen podido llegar a Puerto Rico. Reconociendo el potencial de este tipo de esfuerzo, renovamos la iniciativa para la sexta edición con la esperanza de contar con una difusión más amplia y con otras fuentes de donaciones, mas el resultado de la campaña debió dedicarse a cubrir fondos mínimos asociados con la producción del evento, pues la crisis fiscal que actualmente enfrenta Puerto Rico y la UPR tuvo un dramático impacto en el apoyo institucional al Coloquio.

También resta mucho trabajo por hacer en otros renglones de acceso y diversidad. Por ejemplo, nos hemos percatado de la apremiante necesidad de servicios de traducción, al menos, dada la escasez de recursos, en sesiones escogidas del evento. Este reto fue atendido en la más reciente edición con traducciones de los principales argumentos de las conferencias magistrales, así como ofertas de asistentes de traducción para participantes que así lo solicitaran. Por otra parte, nos encantaría conseguir voluntarixs que trabajen como intérpretes para personas con discapacidades visuales o auditivas.

Reconocemos, asimismo, que nos resta trabajo en la sistematización, formalización y procesamiento del avalúo de cada edición por parte de participantes y asistentes en general. Si el evento pudiera allegar más fondos en el futuro, podríamos contemplar la asignación de recursos para dicho propósito, que consideramos vital para el continuo crecimiento y diversificación del Coloquio.

Finalmente, es precisa la renovación constante en materia de temas y manifestaciones queer que se cubren en el evento. Nos parece apremiante, por ejemplo, que el Coloquio tenga una mayor inclusión y visibilidad de los debates trans, así como de las relaciones entre sexualidades y subjetividades queer y procesos de (neo)colonización. El primero de los temas señalados, como puede constatarse en el programa correspondiente, figuró mucho más visiblemente durante la edición 2016. Aún así, el Equipo Coordinador se ha comprometido a hacer un mayor esfuerzo – sobre todo por medio de la constitución de ejes temáticos para cada edición y, cuando sea posible, de eventos organizados por invitación– para que los asuntos que no hayan sido adecuadamente representados en el pasado puedan contar con mayor visibilidad en ediciones futuras.

V. Conclusión

Ojalá este informe, que incluye el recuento y la reflexión de algunxs de lxs organizadorxs del Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer en Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, tenga resonancia en la región caribeña y sus diásporas para viabilizar colaboraciones futuras. Del mismo modo, deseamos que este texto sirva como medio de difusión de nuestros esfuerzos para que se unan a nuestro evento más personas y organizaciones internacionales; para que se diversifiquen y amplíen los temas en debate; y para que nos contacten con ideas o sugerencias que atiendan los retos antes identificados.

Puede mantenerse al tanto de los desarrollos de próximas ediciones a través de nuestra página en Facebook (https://es-es.facebook.com/delotrolao) o escribiendo a delotrolao@gmail.com. Asimismo, si desea comunicarse con nosotrxs en relación con este texto, para ofrecer ideas, sugerencias o  asistencia con alguno de los retos identificados, puede hacerlo a través del correo electrónico señalado.

 

 

[1] Con excepción de las Actas, si interesa consultar alguno de estos documentos, de cualquiera de las ediciones del Coloquio, por favor escríbanos a delotrolao@gmail.com. Las Actas de la tercera, cuarta y quinta ediciones del evento están disponibles en formato de acceso libre a través de la página de Editora Educación Emergente., en el siguiente enlace: http://editoraemergente.com/category.php?id_category=5. Las Actas de la sexta y más reciente edición, que incluirán una copia del programa final del evento, se encuentran en proceso de producción y se publicarán igualmente en formato de acceso libre. Por su parte, las Actas de las primeras dos ediciones del Coloquio fueron publicadas de manera impresa, y aún hay copias disponibles para la venta. En caso de interesar alguna, por favor escríbanos al correo electrónico antes indicado.

[2] Para más información sobre estos hitos, véanse, respectivamente, los siguientes enlaces: http://libreriaisla.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=LI&Product_Code=0977361284&Category_Code=; http://erizoeditorial.com/1338884662; http://cabepr.blogspot.com/ y http://www.80grados.net/category/dossier-lgbtt/. La revista digital Cruce también ha sido un acogedor espacio para recientes debates queer desde diversos ángulos: http://www.revistacruce.com/.

[3] Esta Resolución de 2007 del Senado de Puerto Rico indicaba lo siguiente: “Para enmendar el Artículo II de la Constitución de Puerto Rico, a los fines de incluir en la Sección 20 el deber de elevar a rango constitucional el matrimonio, constituido sólo por la unión legal entre un hombre y una mujer con capacidad legal, en conformidad con su sexo original de nacimiento. De esta manera reiterando y estableciendo la obligación del Estado de estimular, mantener, promover y proteger la institución de la familia, base y fundamento de la Sociedad puertorriqueña.” El documento en su totalidad puede accederse en el siguiente enlace: http://www.lexjuris.com/Servicios/lexRCS20070099.htm.

[4] A partir de junio de 2015, se ha extendido a Puerto Rico, bajo orden ejecutiva firmada por el gobernador, el Lic. Alejandro García Padilla, la histórica determinación del Tribunal Supremo de los EEUU sobre el matrimonio igualitario.

[5] Para mayor información sobre el festival de cine y la iniciativa en la UPR-Carolina, acceda los siguientes enlaces: http://www.puertoricoqueerfilmfest.com/ y https://www.facebook.com/CongresoLQ. Las Jornadas en la UPR-Río Piedras se llevaron a cabo del 11 al 27 de febrero de 2014, e incluyeron varios eventos tales como conferencias, cine foros y conversatorios. Nótese que a partir de la Asamblea de CABE en el oeste, celebrada en enero de 2016, se creó un capítulo del oeste que ya ha comenzado trabajos regionales. Su página (en construcción) se encuentra en: https://sites.google.com/site/cabeoeste/home y su correo electrónico es: cabeoeste@gmail.com.

 

Bibligrafía

Acevedo, David Caleb, Moisés Agosto Rosario y Luis Negrón, eds. Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora. Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 2007. Impreso.

Ruiz, Ángel Antonio, ed. Ó: Antología del Colectivo Literario HomoerÓtica. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Erizo Editorial, 2013. Impreso.

 

Audiencia en una de las sesiones del VI Coloquio (Foto: Carlos A. Díaz)
Jorge (Yoryie) Irizarry, unx de lxs conferenciantes magistrales del VI Coloquio, dialogando con la audiencia (Foto: Carlos A. Díaz)
Rosamond S. King, unx de lxs conferenciantes magistrales del VI Coloquio, dialogando con la audiencia (Foto: Beatriz Llenín Figueroa)
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, tercer conferenciante magistral del VI Coloquio (Foto: Beatriz Llenín Figueroa)
Sesión de clausura y evaluación del VI Coloquio (Foto: Beatriz Llenín Figueroa)
Conversaciones dE SaGraDas, uno de los eventos artísticos que formó parte del VI Coloquio (Foto: Beatriz Llenín Figueroa)

Beatriz Llenín Figueroa teaches in the Department of Humanities at UPR-Mayagüez. She is Associate Editor for Editora Educación Emergente and a columnist for the journal 80grados. Her research and teaching interests include Caribbean literatures and philosophy, islands and archipelagos, and maritime histories and critical theory. She has been involved in organizing Coloquio ¿Del otro lao? Since its inception.

Néstor Rodríguez is Professor of Engineering and Computers at UPR-Mayagüez. His specialty is human-computer interaction. He is co-founder of the Coloquio nacional sobre las mujeres and of the Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?. He has been an activist for women’s rights for more than twenty years.

Lissette Rolón Collazo is Professor in the Department of Humanities at UPR-Mayagüez. Her research areas include peninsular narratives, film, literature, and literary history. She has frequently served as Coordinator of the Coloquio ¿Del otro lao? and currently coordinates University Collective Acceso UPR.

Poetry

by Zulma Oliveras Vega

Gargantas que gritan

No dejes de resistir, Palestina
grita libertad
grita Lares
Lares se convierte en historia
y te abraza
gritan los judíos en 1897
el periodista Hertzl inventa el sionismo
pido emancipación
y llegan los gringos
el militarismo
cambio de amos
la mordaza
las masacres
grita Vieques
colonialismo
capitalismo

los israelitas te desalojan, Palestina
te dejan sin hogar
como el NAVY a mi isla nena
Lolita Lebrón truena el congreso con boleto de ida
los palestinos tiran piedras con resorteras
a monstruos de metal yanquis
se justifican bombardeos en gaza
se defiende un pueblo
una patria cualquiera
gargantas que gritan
de un genocidio
continuará la insurgencia
“by any means necessary” en Palestina
“by any means necessary” en Lares
“by any means necessary” en Vieques

Palestina, no dejes de resistir
no te detengas por el bombardeo
por las casas llenas de niños-niñas inocentes
bombardeos de Black Friday
una madre que muere peleando por un juguete
pisotean gente tropezada en el suelo
robando monedas de “in god we trust”
y confiamos a ese dios el salario mínimo federal
el movimiento Occupy
el fin del Apartheid
Palestina, no dejes de resistir
tú que llevas miles de “viernes negros”
y que cargas la destrucción de un pueblo
madres que se despiden de sus hijos
mientras son asesinadas
con balas auspiciadas por nuestro amo el imperio
quema de cuerpos con bombas de fósforo blanco
solo un dios tan egocentrista
hace creer a los israelitas
que son la tribu de los “hijos escogidos en la tierra prometida”
solo un dios tan perverso
excluye de este paraíso global
al resto de nuestra hermandad,
Palestina no dejes de resistir
merecemos el mismo derecho universal
de ver una nación en libertad

grita libertad
“by any means necessary” en Palestina
“by any means necessary” en Lares
“by any means necessary” en Puerto Rico

continuará la insurgencia.

– Zulma Olivares Vega

 

Screaming Throats

Don’t stop resisting, Palestine
shout freedom
shout Lares
Lares becomes history
and embraces you
the Jews scream in 1897
journalist Hertzl invents Zionism
I demand emancipation
and the gringos arrive
militarism
a change of masters
the gag
the massacres
shout Vieques
colonialism
capitalism
the Israelis evict you, Palestine
they leave you homeless
like the navy does with my baby island
Lolita Lebrón shakes up Congress with a one-way ticket
Palestinians cast stones with slingshots
at Yankee metal golems
bombardments are justified in Gaza
a nation defends itself
just another motherland
throats that scream
of genocide

the insurgence shall continue
“by any means necessary” in Palestine
“by any means necessary” in Lares
“by any means necessary” in Vieques

Palestine, don’t stop resisting
don’t stop because of the bombardment
of the houses full of innocent boys and girls
Black Friday bombardments
a mother who dies fighting over a toy
they trample people who fell on the floor
stealing “in god we trust” coins
and we thank that same god for the minimum
federal wage
the Occupy movement
the end of the Apartheid
Palestine, don’t stop resisting
you, who’s had so many Black Fridays
and who bears the destruction of her people
women who say goodbye to their children
while they’re killed
with bullets sponsored by our Empire
a pyre of bodies with white phosphorus bombs
only such an egocentric god
would make the Israelis believe
that they’re the tribe of the “chosen sons in the Promised Land”
only such a perverse god
excludes from this global paradise
the rest of our brothers and sisters, Palestine, don’t stop resisting
we deserve the same universal right
of seeing that a nation is free

shout freedom
“by any means necessary” in Palestine
“by any means necessary” in Lares
“by any means necessary” in Puerto Rico
the insurgence shall carry on!

– Zulma Olivares Vega
Translated by the poet

 

Historia escrita de otros

Isla volcánica, eslabón del Caribe en cadenas de esclavitud. Taína bañándose en el río, mientras la mulata y la africana la observan. Entran al agua. Taína besa a la mulata, mientras la africana acaricia sus pechos. La luz de la luna refleja los cuerpos en el agua. En la hacienda todos duermen menos ellas. En el río, la taína encuentra una piedra larga y suave. Con ella penetra a la mulata y la africana la besa para callar sus gemidos. Una penetra a la otra en un trío anestesiado, como si fuera un ritual. Cada luna llena lo mismo. Estas Diosas se encuentran en el río.

… y así se hace mi cuerpo historia escrita de otros.

Una monja en el convento obliga a las tres mujeres a que se arrodillen a rezar y a aceptar a su nuevo Dios. Las tres diosas se rehúsan a aceptar ese destino. ¿Irán al infierno mis ancestros al no saber de la biblia? Se consultan. Es media noche. La monja y la mulata se encuentran en el confesionario para violar sus bocas de lenguas desesperadas. La mulata le sube la falda de la bata de dormir, para encontrar entre las piernas de la monja jugos de placer y de hipocresía religiosa. La penetra y se besan sin hacer ruido, mientras la luna llena entra por la ventana de la iglesia y alumbra la imagen del Cristo crucificado.

… y mi cuerpo se hace historia de otros.

En el balcón de la cabaña mira hacia el mar un soldado del NAVY. Él sienta a Borikén, la mujer en la hamaca, le abre las piernas y la preña. Años más tarde otro soldado gringo dice: “Vieke desabró chame el zipper del pantalón. ”La hijastra obedece, su madre también fue violada por un tío español. Placer patriarcal. Madre e hija luchan por determinar su futuro, siguen luchando aunque el padrastro las comparta con otros. Vieke se mece en la ha maca y cuando el t ío Sam se acerca a ella, lo patea y el soldado cae por el balcón. Los sesos se derraman en las rocas. La luna llena alumbra el sendero. Yemayá se lleva el cuerpo entre las olas. Borikén abraza a su hija, al fin son libres.

… y mi cuerpo se hace historia de otros.

– Zulma Olivares Vega

 

Written History of Others

Volcanic island, Caribbean link in chains of slavery. Taína bathing in the river, while the Mulatta and la Africana watch. They go into the water. Taína kisses the Mulatta, while the African caresses her breasts. The light of the moon reflects the bodies in the water. In the hacienda, everyone sleeps except them. In the river, the Taína finds a long and soft pebble. With it, she penetrates the Mulatta and la Africana kisses her to stop the moans. One penetrates the other in an anaesthetized trio, as if it were a ritual. Every full moon is the same. These Goddesses meet in the river.

… and this is how my body becomes a written history of others.

A nun in the convent forces the three women to kneel and pray to accept the new God. The three goddesses refuse to accept this fate. Will our ancestors go to hell for not knowing the bible? They hold counsel. It’s midnight. The nun and the Mulatta meet in the confessionary to rape each other’s desperate tongues. The Mulatta lifts the skirt of the dressing gown to find juices of pleasure and religious hypocrisy between the nun’s legs. She penetrates her and they kiss in silence, while the full moon comes through the church’s window and shines on the image of a crucified Christ.

… and my body becomes the history of others.

A NAVY soldier looks towards the sea from the balcony of the cabin. He sits Borikén, the woman in the hammock, opens her legs and impregnates her. Years later, another gringo soldier says: “Vieke, unzip my pants.” The daughter obeys; the mother was also raped by Spaniards. Patriarchal pleasure. Mother and daughter struggle to determine their future, they keep struggling even if the stepfather shares them with others. Vieke swings in the hammock and when Uncle Sam approaches, she kicks him and the soldier falls off the balcony. His brains spread over the rocks. The moon reveals the path. Yemayá takes the body in her waves. Borikén holds her daughter. At last they’re free.

… and my body becomes the history of others.

– Zulma Olivares Vega
Translated by the poet


Zulma Oliveras Vega holds and MA in School Counseling from San Francisco State University. An advocate for the freedom of political prisoners, she has participated in protests in Chiapas and Vieques, and traveled to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement. She has published in the collection NOT IN OUR NAME: Against the U.S. Massacre in Ghaza and the poetry collection MERCENARIA.