“No Weapon that is Formed Against me shall Prosper” by Vidyaratha Kissoon (Guyana)

My former Chemistry teacher called me up and asked if I and others from SASOD (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) would meet with Sister Michelle Smith. Sister Michelle is a Jamaican pastor whose Ministry is about “saving” gay and lesbian people. Sister Michelle has written her own story about being saved from the lesbian lifestyle.

The week of 10 to 15 June 2012 in Guyana had a series of activities against homosexuality, organised by Operation Restoration.  These activities included workshops in churches, meetings with political leaders, public forums and the meeting with me. The meeting included three women from Operation Restoration, Sister Michelle and her colleague Janet from Jamaica; and Janessa and Camille from Power of Change in Trinidad.

Two weeks previously, I was on an NCN Roundtable with Pastor Loris Heywood. I am Hindu. Some of my colleagues attended one of the public forums against homosexuality.

In the two hours or so which I spent with the group, these are the points which I heard – some of them I had heard before, some were new (some are direct quotes and some are my impressions of what was said):

  • “Homosexuality is a sin, the Bible is the law and the Church must obey the law”
  • They will not tolerate any violence against person who is homosexual, they love homosexuals and want to cure them. One of the women said that she told some students in Berbice that they must not be violent towards homosexuals.
  • “95% of LGBT people were sexually molested as children.”
  • “Most of the violence is not homophobic, it is about gay people killing and beating other gay people” The LGBT people who come to them for help tell them the horror stories of gay violence. They do not want to report to the police because of shame, and because they know that what they are doing is wrong. I heard something about ‘sin has consequences’ but I did not want to press further. 
  • “Pastors and clergy will be required to marry same sex couples against their religion or they will go to jail.”
  • “Parents will go to jail (a father in Massachusetts went to jail) for asking that their children not be taught about same sex parents.”
  • “Decriminalisation will facilitate more anal sex. Anal sex is unhealthy, the medical professionals know this which is why the Blood bank does not take blood from men who have sex with men. The sodomy laws protect the population – lesbians also have anal sex so they are also at risk.”
  • “Homosexuality is a perversion” including practices such as “fisting, golden showers, sado-masochism.”
  • “The EU and the United Nations are pushing this, this is not of Guyana and the Caribbean” (yep I know this is true, they fund a lot of the LGBT advocacy work and so on).
  • “We should learn the history of sodomy laws and why they were implemented.” One woman said she was surprised that our laws did not decriminalise same sex relations between women.
  • “There are homosexuals in high places so there is no real discrimination and that there is an inner circle of gays who control everything” – I did not ask for names – and I had to emphatically deny that a certain homosexual in a high place was not a member of SASOD.
    (I was shocked that they thought he was!)
  • “The Church does work against domestic violence and child abuse but those things are not being legalised, hence the campaign and Ministries against homosexuality.”
  • “Homosexuals are protected as individuals against violence and other forms of discrimination already.”
  • Some of the women were frustrated because they were not getting anywhere with me.
  • “All who say they are Christian are not Christian.”

These other points were also made:

  • I do not want to listen, that I am closed to their views.
  • I am inclined to distract from their points in my rebuttal of their arguments.
  • I must understand that the messages from the Church are of compassion and love and not what some of 10 to 15 years ago used to say (“fyah bun” is not their message).
  • I look good for my age.
  • I have a tendency to dominate the conversation and not listen.
  • Even though I aspire to stay far from the Christian who I was once close to, that is not good enough for them (and one said that I was not being truthful).
  • I do not want to face the science and research which is proving that homosexuality is unnatural and dangerous. 
  • Don’t worry wid me, I does do “meh ting.”
  • Dat I is “someting else” (I made a comment when Sister Michelle asked the camera woman to push the button again I said “ Sister, eh eh – that sound very nice and familiar”).
  • I will not be able to understand since I am not moved by the same Spirit as them.

Why did I come? What is my truth?

They asked me why did I come then, if I was so convicted in my beliefs. I said that I did not come to change anyone’s belief. I could not anyway so why would I do so? I came to find out from them what they thought about how do people who believe differently should live in a place.

Guyana has mixed cultures, religions and other beliefs.

But actually I wanted to meet them because I have a secret fascination with how the evangelical Church mobilises and how much of the work and funding is mobilised from grassroots sources – many times from people who are poor who will find ways of contributing in money or labour.. I think of how 75% of the time I spend on LGBT work is spent on arguing with other LGBT people and struggling to meet the donor demands. Why it must be so refreshing to just be able to focus on the message and getting it out there. I wanted to ask Sister Michelle to Minster to the women who are not lesbian, who are survivors of violence and abuse and who have not healed. I came because of all of the Christians I know and love, some of them LGBT, who struggle to reconcile their faith and sexuality.

I made these points—none of which were accepted:

  • Homosexuality is natural and that different religions have different beliefs.
  • I honour their experiences that they had changed, others have struggled and not changed and others have made choices of how they would want to live.
  • LGBT rights was not about anal sex alone and that the law criminalised ‘gross indecency’ between males.
  • Diverse sexual orientations existed in all the cultures which had come to Guyana.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity have nothing to do with the abuse of children.

One of the women looked genuinely distressed that I seemed not to understand her point of view. And I did feel bad that I had made her so distressed. I realised that as I sat there facing the roots of much of the homophobia and violence which LGBT people faced, that I could not really feel good about letting any of the women feel the pain of the homophobia.

I learnt that it was easy for me to like the women – to feel affection for them – though one bothered me terribly in terms of how she spoke. Her tone of voice was strident, and there was no room for accommodation – or for change. Our personal and cultural histories are complex. I think that if this discussion were happening with six men, it would have been different. I might have been more fearful of the men, perhaps less sympathetic to their homophobia since I believe that male homophobia is often rooted in misogyny and sexism.

I have never really dealt with homophobia in women – and these women were clear to say that they are not homophobic. They love homosexuals – just not the sin.

I wonder if the reason I have this affinity with the women is that perhaps I am just as driven as they are, and that I recognise that and for some strange reason, I am fascinated by this drive.


We ended with prayers. I said the English translation of Twameva Mata. Sister Michelle prayed and I listened to understand. The prayer was not for me to change anything about how I viewed life – or maybe I did not hear that – it was for me to see light.

Sister Michelle also spoke in her prayer from Isaiah, and she prayed that no weapon formed against me shall prosper. One of the women asked me if I do not think that I am male, and I told her that I am a black lesbian – she did not understand.

As I write this, perhaps with the hope in that prayer – the Christian prayer for a Hindu – I am glad that even though we ended the meeting thinking about homosexuality the same way we started, I do not see these women or their work as weapons against me.

Vidyaratha Kissoon lives in Guyana and works in the application of information technologies for development.

He is active on social justice issues and has been involved in work against gender-based violence, violence against children, and homophobia. He blogs at Thoughts of  a Minibus Traveller .

[Image cropped from Stabroek News

Erin Greene – “History of Rainbow Alliance Bahamas” – Activist Report

History of Rainbow Alliance in The Bahamas (RAB)
Erin Greene – Activist Report

1. How and why did Rainbow Alliance get started in Nassau? What local/national/global political struggles gave rise to Rainbow Alliance?

The Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas (RAB) was a support and advocacy group. The Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas was formed in 2003 to advocate on behalf of the LGBT community. RAB was formed as a vehicle to respond to these comments: “if Parliament legalizes gay marriage, I will become the next Guy Fawkes…” made by the then President of the Bahamas Christian Council, Bishop Samuel Greene at the National Independence Church Service in July 2003. At the time, Bishop Greene also sat on the Constitutional Reform Committee that was required to include the issue of sexual orientation and gender discrimination in its “Options for Change.”

The Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas was formed by members of the Pride Committee, Bahamians Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination (BGLAD), members of the former group Hope TEA and other individuals. At the time of Bishop Greene’s statement, the Pride committee was planning the 3rd Annual Pride Celebrations and decided to postpone the event to focus on the statement and the upcoming constitutional reform exercise.

2. What were the successes and challenges of organizing through Rainbow Alliance?

When formed RAB consisted of a small core group of members, with the intention of adding new members at various levels. Soon after formation, the core group realized that formal membership would be difficult to attract due to the stigma and fear of discrimination and visibility experienced by the LGBT community. After several years of work, it was believed by many Bahamians that RAB had a membership in the thousands. This perception afforded a layer of protection for RAB spokespersons and the LGBT community that continues to this day. (I believe this perception that RAB had thousands of members made individuals think twice before discriminating against members of the community). Unlike many regional LGBT organizations, the Rainbow Alliance had three spokespersons that identified as homosexuals, did not use pseudonyms and made television and radio appearances. This allowed the organization to establish trust with Bahamians at large and the LGBT community in particular. Most members of the core group were already established activists who had worked with other LGBT groups and human rights issues. The Rainbow Alliance was able to attract several heterosexual members and allies who were willing to be visible advocates for the group, including several members of the clergy.

Community visibility was always been a major concern for RAB. Organizing public and private activities was difficult as members of the LGBT community were committed to protecting their privacy at all costs even from other members of the same community. Even though RAB was able to create a community centre and office space, outside of a movie series, informal church services and one major cookout fundraiser, RAB was not able to sustain the community centre and its activities. We were unable to convince the community that the centre was a safe space, and it closed it doors after a year of operation. At this point, several core members left RAB as they had committed to developing the support elements of the organization.

RAB also experienced resistance from a number of owners of LGBT bars and clubs. The community centre was designated a drug and alcohol free space and it was perceived as an attempt to attract customers from the other establishments. In the Bahamas, an individual under the age of eighteen cannot access medical services or health and sexual health information without the consent of a parent or guardian, also homosexual sex is illegal for individuals under the age of eighteen. This prevented RAB from offering programs for LGBT youth, and prevented interaction with members of the community that wanted to volunteer, intern and be involved in the movement generally.

One of the largest challenges faced by RAB was that it was perceived of as a white upper-middle class organization comprised of privileged individuals that had a level of financial security and stability that made it possible for them to maintain a level of visibility that the average homosexual Bahamian could not. Many black working-class Bahamians felt that RAB was asking the LGBT community to face head-on challenges that the core members of the organization did not have to face because of social status and privilege. At the climax of RAB’s work, it was determined that the statutory and legislative framework necessary for LGBT rights and protections were already in placei and the political community was prepared to represent a minority group that was willing to demand representation. Unfortunately during the time of RAB’s organizing work, many in the LGBT community were not willing to assume the visibility necessary to participate in the democratic process.

3. What happened to the organization and how did this affect sexual minority organizing in the Bahamas?

The organization closed its doors in December 2008 after all but one of the core members decided to focus their energies on other human rights issues and personal endeavors. Two of the core members had just been elected to the executive board of Caribbean Forum for Lesbians All-Sexual and Gays (CFLAG) and felt that they could continue their work locally as a part of this regional body. At the time of its closing, RAB was the only LGBT advocacy group in the country. Shortly thereafter, the organization Sexual Addicts Seeking Healing (SASH Bahamas) had completed its transition to Society Against STIs and HIV/AIDS (SASH Bahamas) and became an HIV/AIDS focused action and Gay support group. Transgender and transsexual Bahamians continued to organize within Pageant houses in the absence of RAB. And recently in July 2011, a new sexual minority organization has formed: the Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA) is a non-profit LGBT support and advocacy organization. BLEA stands against homophobia, agitates for the removal of laws that discriminate against LGBT people, and fights stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status.

4. How did the HIV/AIDS pandemic affect the work of Rainbow Alliance?

The major stakeholders in the HIV/AIDS activist community whether formally or informally decided that it would be more effective strategically to not publicly align with the LGBT rights movement and RAB. RAB presumed that this strategy was aimed at not ostracizing major stakeholders and funders in HIV/AIDS work like the Christian community.

5. How did Rainbow Alliance address language in terms of same-sex relationships and gender variance? To what extent were the terms “lesbian,” “transgender,” “gay,” and “bisexual” used for self-naming?

In its work RAB found that the LGBT community as a whole was resistant to the use of labels and language used to categorize orientation and define behavior. Many members of the community didn’t even feel a need to identify as homosexual, and felt that these terms lesbian and transgender etc. were a part of being visible that they were unwilling to engage.

Even when Bahamians became comfortable with engaging the homosexual community in discourse, they were not prepared to discuss transphobia and transgender issues. RAB made a conscious decision to not focus on transphobia and transgender issues in its media work, but never shied away from the topic if raised in discussion or while addressing specific transgender issues. While RAB did not want to alienate this segment of the LGBT community, it was necessary to maintain a dialogue with a resistant and intolerant wider audience.

6. Did the spread of Western LGBT politics impact your local organizing?

It became apparent that anti-gay proponents in their statements and activities were in the majority of instances responding to events or statements made in North and South America and Europe including the United Kingdom. It is believed that Bishop Greene’s infamous statements were commentary on the movement to legalize same sex marriage and civil unions in The United States. After July 2004, it was assumed by society at large, including the gay community, that the Rainbow Alliance had initiated a campaign to legalize same sex marriage in the Bahamas, like its American counterparts. However, this was not on RAB’s agenda. The assumption was made because RAB organized a counter protest to the protest of Rosie O’Donnell ‘Our Family’ Cruise in July 2004. The local protest called their campaign “Save the Family,” but they were really protesting foreigners who were thought to be flaunting a “lifestyle” (supposedly) abhorred by Bahamians, which in this case had to be endured because of our reliance on tourism. RAB’s counter protest was held not to promote same sex marriage, but rather to show the international community that Bahamian sexual minorities exist and have a presence in The Bahamas.

Many Bahamians questioned the need for LGBT advocacy at all, asserting that the Bahamas is nowhere near as violent as Jamaica or Middle Eastern and certain African States. And although the Bahamas was not a target country in the “StopMurderMusic” Campaign, the Rainbow Alliance observed the disconnect between international activists and activists on the ground in Jamaica, and agreed with Jamaican activists that the resistance from Jamaicans at large and the LGBT community in particular to the campaign was more about sovereignty and post-colonial political and diasporic power dynamics and less to do with homophobia.

International LGBT activists generally disregard the importance of religion and spirituality in Caribbean states and thus alienate the majority of the local LGBT community from their work. RAB found the vast majority of homosexual Bahamians identify as Christian and do not wish to end their relationship with their religious communities, and they prioritize building healthy relationships with religious institutions and encourage dialogue with the Christian community in particular.

7. In what ways have you documented the history of Rainbow Alliance? What would you like fellow Caribbeans to know about the work of Rainbow Alliance?

The work of the Rainbow Alliance is being documented through several archiving projects, including Caribbean IRN. All of the organization’s media appearances can be found in the archives of local print, television, radio and electronic media houses.

i The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act 1991 (s.5B(1), which speaks specifically to sexual intercourse in a public place, ultimately decriminalized homosexual intercourse for men because it made the colonial sodomy laws null and void, but essentially criminalized homosexual intercourse for women. It is believed that the change in law was argued on the basis of a constitutional right to privacy and that the law itself was intended to monitor behaviour in public places only. Prior to the 2008 amendment to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act 1991, the age of consent for homosexual intercourse was 18, while the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse remained at 16. And a person found guilty of engaging in homosexual intercourse in a public place was liable to a term of imprisonment for life. After the 2008 amendments to the act, it is unclear what the age of consent is for homosexual intercourse as there is no clear definition of age of consent for “unnatural sex” in the amended act. Also the penalty for engaging in homosexual intercourse in a public space was reduced to a term of imprisonment for two years.

Suriname Men United – “Public Campaign against Dancehall Artists” – Activist Report (Kenneth Van Emden, Suriname)

Suriname Men United

Activist Report from 2008 Public Media Campaign – Targeting homophobic lyrics of dance hall artists

By Kenneth van Emden, Director Suriname Men United

Email: suriname_men_united(at)yahoo.com || Website: www.surinamemenunited.com

The Issue / Summary

In November 2008, the telephone company Digicel celebrated their 1st anniversary in Suriname with a free concert. For this concert two Jamaican artists, Elephant Man and Bounty Killer, were invited to perform. The promotion of this concert was huge since the phone company wanted to promote their services in order to reach the biggest population in Suriname. The above-mentioned artists are well known for their homophobic song lyrics. Lyrics like “kill batty man,” and “burn batty man” are some of the commonly used lyrics in their songs. Because of experiences in Jamaica, where these songs have an impact in terms of violence and killings on members of the gay community, Suriname Men United (SMU), a gay organization, started a campaign in Suriname to pre-empt the concert. In collaboration with a lawyer, a letter was designed and sent referencing our anti – discrimination law, to the director of the phone company, highlighting the homophobic lyrics in the songs of the performers and that the singers should adjust their repertoire. This resulted in a huge media break-out in Suriname and SMU was involved in several discussions concerning this issue. Pressured by the board of the phone company and the media, the artists used no homophobic lyrics during the concert. Because of the good advocacy plan involving the media and lawyer, we were proud to achieve this first step to a better future for the MSM community in Suriname. It was the first big action towards these performers in Suriname and we succeeded in getting the repertoire adjusted.

History of Suriname Men United – The promising action

The promising action is that through public debate in Suriname awareness is being raised on what equality before the law means. All the action-related debates were centered around the right to non-discriminatory distinctions and to be free from discriminatory treatment, a right every individual has in Suriname, regardless of the differences in religious, cultural or moral views. In addition to this rights debate, discrimination-related violence was strongly opposed by the wider public. The majority of the public voiced the existing social agreement that every individual should be free from ‘hate crimes’. Suriname Men United wrote a letter to the organizing company. Friends and other gay-friendly people were also mobilized to promote the campaign from mouth to mouth, email communication, and messages through cell phones. SMU also contacted radio stations and some gay men where inspired and went on TV to talk about the issue. The campaign consisted of a few phone conversations with the organizers and some journalists were informed and asked to bring the issue on the table during the press conference. Journalists from local news papers were also mobilized to write about this campaign. This was to provide a “murder music” dancehall dossier which gives a wide range of the lyrics sung by the artists.

The political and/or organizational context when the best action began

The Surinamese Constitution provides everyone with the right to be free from discrimination. The anti-discrimination right is articulated in article 8 (2) under the title Basic Rights, Individual Rights and Freedoms and reads as follows: “No one may be discriminated against on the grounds of birth, sex, race, language, religious, origin, education, political beliefs, economic position or any other status.”

Despite the fact that in Suriname in general everyone can live a life free from physical violence, stigma, and discrimination towards sub-populations such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) community, sex workers, and people living with HIV and AIDS are still present and that constitutes a form of psychological violence. Reducing the stigma and discrimination in Suriname against marginalized populations as mentioned before, is among other things non-governmental organizations such as SMU are aiming at in an effort to improve the lives of their constituents according to the standards set by the Human Rights Principles. Suriname is well-known for its diversity of races, cultures, and religions. The distribution of the Surinamese population by ethnicity is shown in the figure below, produced by the Bureau of National Statistics. The diverse compilation of the Surinamese population with no extreme majority of one ethnic group, has a major effect on the peaceful society that we can claim to be. A society in which diversity is embraced and valued as an asset and not seen as an obstacle. Even though all ethnic groups have their own music, reggae music is very popular among all ethnic groups.

Reggae is a music style made popular by Bob Marley whose music is still the favorite of many. Nowadays some artists promote all kinds of violence and hate crimes. This phenomenon is well-known among the Jamaican reggae artists who utilize homophobic lyrics and lyrics promoting ill-treatment of women and the LGBTQI. Jamaican artist such as Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and Movado incite their fans to kill and burn homosexual men.

The development / emergence of the action

In November 2008, Digicel, a telephone provider, organized a music concert to celebrate its first anniversary in Suriname. The artists line-up included two Jamaican artists: Elephant Man and Bounty Killer. Those two artists were scheduled to be the main performers of the music event. The above-mentioned music event had a multiple purpose; besides the first anniversary celebration it was also a huge promotional activity. The Jamaican artists Bounty Killer and Elephant Man are well known for their lyrics, which incite gay-related violence. Because of the experiences in Jamaica, where these songs are argued to have led to actual violence against gays and even murders, SMU campaigned against the scheduled performances of the two Jamaican artists. Based on the domestic anti-discrimination law, a letter was drafted and sent to the director of Digicel, highlighting the unacceptable contents of the lyrics of the performers and that the singers should at least adjust their repertoire when performing in Suriname.

Initially SMU intervened based on a one-on-one communication strategy with Digicel, but SMU soon realized that to increase the pressure on Digicel and its promotional activity media exposure was necessary. SMU adjusted its strategy and involved the media and therefore the wider public debated whether the Surinamese society should allow the incitement of violence against gays by performers such as the artists Bounty Killer and Elephant Man. This strategy resulted in huge media coverage of the matter in Suriname and SMU was involved in several debates concerning this issue. Ultimately, pressured by the board of the phone company, media, and the expressed public opinions against violence incitement against anyone including gays, no homophobic lyrics were used during the concert.

Success of the work

SMU is aware of the fact that having a public debate on LGBTQI issues is still taboo in the Surinamese society, and therefore is a delicate issue. But since the wider public actively participated in the public debate as part of the action, SMU considers the action a success already. The action has partly removed the taboo which prevented LGBTQI people from enjoying their rights and entitlements. Because of a strong advocacy plan involving strategic partnerships with the media, government officials and legal experts, we were able to send out a strong message against gay-related discrimination, ignorance, intolerance and violence. We consider this to be a first step to improve the life of the LGBTQI community in Suriname, with respect to the equal enjoyment of human rights as well as equal protection of their human rights against violations. The above-described intervention has been the first one of this nature in Suriname and we can proudly proclaim it a huge success. This action has paved the path for a lot of organizations to start networking with SMU. Also, members of the gay community were empowered by the action and its success and are more willing to come out regarding their sexual orientation. A different dialogue has started within the society on the issues of LGBTQI and the media is more willing to facilitate this dialogue in a more sensitive and less sensational manner.

Contributed intentional & non-intentional, external & internal factors of success

SMU is a member of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CARIFLAGS). Through this network the Jamaican experiences with gay-related violence stemming from dancehall reggae music are shared. SMU committed itself to act in a preventive manner to avoid similar calamities as Jamaica is experiencing. The action was fully supported by the team of SMU and members of the gay community. Several advices and reports / documents with information on the dancehall history were provided by HIV/AIDS activists and experts in Suriname, the Caribbean and Canada.

The media was also a major contributor to success; it was instrumental in the public debate as well for providing correct information on this matter. Journalists also confronted the respective artists with specific questions about their violence-promoting lyrics. Digicel, the music event organizing company, eventually also became an ally. On national television during a press conference in the presence of the performers and journalists, the Executive Director of Digicel assured that no homophobic music would be performed and that the anti-discrimination law would be obeyed.

Individuals and leaders that impacted the outcome

One of the individuals who impacted the outcome was a lawyer SMU hired to help design the letter. This method was used to highlight the importance and the seriousness of the campaign. Furthermore, journalists played a big role by giving wide exposure to the campaign. This helped SMU in sensitizing and informing the community about LGTBQI issues. Also the help and advices of several directors of NGO’s were very helpful and impacted the outcome. These people have years of experiences within the advocacy field, so sharing their experience with SMU was very useful. Interviews with gay men and women also played an important role in the outcome since they are the ones experiencing the hate lyrics as emotional violence. The help of the CARIFLAGS in sharing reports and documents made it possible for SMU to engage in discussions and dialogues with evidence-based information.

Measures to evaluate the action

This action started as a spontaneous response to a circumstance that presented itself unexpectedly and evolved and expanded into an ongoing awareness project. The initial action, which is presented in this narrative, had a clearly defined aim: communicating to the performers that within Suriname hate crime promotion is not tolerated and that they will not receive permission perform music containing any such message. The indicators on which the result was measured were: (1) the public statement by Digicel, the contractor of the performers, claiming that the performers signed an agreement to refrain from performing music that might incite violence against gays. (2) The repertoire performed was free from homophobic lyrics. (3) A post-concert survey among gay men on their opinion on the action shows that they were happy about the efforts made by Suriname Men United. Others showed their appreciation by sending emails and making phone calls congratulating SMU for not only its efforts related to the action, but also for being successful. (4) One-on-one interviews with other people also helped us to evaluate the action.

Intended and unplanned outcomes

The intended outcome was a music concert without homophobic music. The unplanned outcome was the expansion of the response into a more structural movement which includes all forms of discrimination and exposure to violation of rights. The enthusiasm among all involved partners for our success has motivated them to stay on board and continue to support the efforts to improve the quality of life of the LGBTQI community. The media is more sensitized on the issue of LGBTQI and therefore reports in a less sensational manner on LGBTQI news items. Also the public sector – in particular law enforcement – is also more aware of their role to provide equal protection from violence to the LGBTQI community, and similarly the LGBTQI community is more empowered to speak out and demand equal treatment. There were no unintended negative outcomes or potential negative outcomes or backlash from bringing this issue more into the public. The only negative outcomes were that people who are against homosexuality aired their opinion on the radio. A lot of people were happy with this campaign, since it also used the point of view of the Surinamese constitution, which states that discrimination is against the law. Recently two concerts were held where Jamaican artists Beenie Man and Movado performed. The organizers stated in the press conference and also on TV and radio that none such lyrics may be used. Suriname Men United was even asked to view the show on cd, to find out if the shows were free of homophobic lyrics. The work of the organization is getting more recognition and companies are getting involved in decision making when it comes to the screening of the shows for example.

The challenges and how to overcome

Fear for backlash: One of the challenges for us was in the beginning the thought of getting out in the open to start a huge campaign like this. It was the first time and we were a bit afraid of stepping out on such a level. But through encouragement from others and positive thinking we did the first step.

Empirical data: The event manager stated that the contracted artists do not belong to the

category of “murder music“ performers. To disprove this statement we provided him with a dancehall “murder music” dossier where both of the artists were fully described. The impact of the music on violent behavior though, is not supported by reliable evidence.

Moral and religious views: Part of the public opposed the action by expressing stigmatizing and discriminatory remarks towards homosexuals. Arguments were posted such as gays should not get any sort of attention nor should they receive this level of facilitation. The positive profiling must be stopped. Claims were also made that SMU was promoting homosexuality publicly but that the gays should keep their activities private. Even claims like gays are preparing to take over the country were made. These remarks were predominantly of a moralistic and religious nature.

The alliances / linkages forged to ensure success

The most strategic partnership SMU made was with the media. All possible formats of media exposure were utilized. For example, written newspaper articles in support of the action were regularly published. Several radio stations invited SMU to send a representative to participate in call-in informative programs with the possibility for the audience to call and ask informative questions or to express their opinion on the action. A local television station also exposed the action by inviting gay men for a live discussion on the issue while short videos were aired of people on the street who expressed their opinion on the action. The Caribbean community was approached for their assistance. They provided SMU with a dancehall “murder music “dossier. This dossier consists of names of the reggae artists and their songs with an explanation of the homophobic lyrics. Also experiences and reports of activities undertaken against the respective artists in the Caribbean were shared.

The contribution to a broader movement or cross-movement goals

The unplanned outcome is the expansion of the response to a more structural movement which includes all forms of discrimination and exposure to the violation of rights. The enthusiasm among all involved partners for the action’s success has motivated them to stay on board and continue to support the efforts to improve the quality of life of the LGBTQI community. The media is more sensitized on the issue of LGBTQI and therefore reports in a less sensational manner on LGBTQI news items. Also, the public sector, in particular law enforcement, is also more aware of their role to provide equal protection from violence to LGBTQI people, and similarly the LGBTQI community is more empowered to speak out and demand equal treatment. The media board has also become more vocal on the impact of music and other media products on behavior of children and viewpoints on equal treatment of different sub-populations such as women, homeless people etc.

Skills and lessons learned in the process

1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your own organization, but also those of your


2. Make sure you understand the battle you are embarking on.

3. Have a good understanding of the problem you are facing.

4. Understand the different dynamics involved (e.g. political, religious, legal, cultural sensitivities).

5. Have access to documentation and evidence-based information.

6. Involve as many strategic partners as possible.

7. Strive to set-up an inter-disciplinary team with, for example, lawyers, policymakers, educators and media workers.

8. Ensure that your constituency supports the action

9. Set achievable goals. For example, in our case don’t prevent the performance, but demand an appropriate repertoire. This approach helps to satisfy both the needs of the fans of the artists and your constituency’s needs.

10. Involve your constituency from an early stage.

11. Communicate clearly before, during, and after the action with all involved parties.

12. At all times utilize the power of information by constantly feeding the public with correct information.

Colin Robinson – The Work of Three-Year Old CAISO – Reflections at the MidPoint” – Activist Report (Trinidad and Tobago)

“The Work of Three-Year-Old CAISO (The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation)
Reflections at the MidPoint”

Colin Robinson

E-mailing the nine questions below to activists and artists in their networks, Jafari Sinclaire Allen and Matt Richardson hoped to initiate a “cross diaspora dialogue” on “Sexual Rights, Erotic Autonomy and Queer Expression in Black Diaspora” for a roundtable originally proposed to be published in the Black/Queer/Diaspora issue of GLQ1. Their goal was to “take… up the problematics of rights discourse; the state of HIV prevention activism, anti-violence and feminist movements and their relationship to queer movement; the status of homosexuality as an identity among African and African descended subjects; and various ways of naming and engaging sexual practices, among other themes,” as well as to “ask… questions about the current work being done in various sites around the globe, to document this work and rediscover the historical perspectives of black queers.”

My January 2011 responses to their questions, reflecting on a year and a half of work with the now three-year-old Trinidad & Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, are shared as an “activist report” in this collection (with Jafari and Matt’s encouragement). June 2012

1. What is the name of your organization; what is its purpose and what are the communities that you serve? (Please feel free to include which countries, regions, languages, specific programs, etc.)

Name. In Trinidad & Tobago I work with CAISO the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, a year-and-a-half-old GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender)2 advocacy and community-building group that names itself after one of the nation’s major indigenous artforms, the calypso or kaiso showing that we are rooted in our country and culture and linking CAISO to a native tradition of speaking out and holding our leaders accountable as we describe the art, wit and poignancy that characterise the political speech of calypso.

Purpose. We are currently unincorporated; and seek to operate as an umbrella or coalition framework that provides a politics (strategic thinking, values) and a brand to enable GLBT political advocacy and social change work, community-building and the diffusion of modern understandings of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Communities served: Regions/Countries. Although leadership and collaboration in regional GLBT organizing is a key commitment of ours, and we face some pressure to position ourselves as a Caribbean voice, CAISO is deliberately a local — national — nationalist organization: our politics are to position ourselves as “nation-builders” and our goals as creating an inclusive nation and deepening achievement of a postcolonial vision of liberty.

CAISO’s commitment is to gay, lesbian, bi and trans communities in their diversity, and we have taken steps to nurture lesbian, trans and youth visibility and leadership. Although Trinidad & Tobago shares a history of plantation slavery with other African American societies, in the century and a half since Emancipation we have become a multicultural country in which Afro‌Trinbagonians are enumerated as a statistical minority and the nation’s second largest ethnic group (a few percentage points behind Indo‌Trinbagonians, the plurality ethnic group, and ahead of people of mixed descent). Thus, CAISO’s communities are not solely Black diaspora communities; our communities belong to the African, South Asian, Chinese and Middle Eastern diasporas.

Programs. CAISO has engaged in media advocacy and public education; lobbying and legislative advocacy; community mobilisation and protest; strategic alliance-building; documentation, social history and cultural work; and faith-based organizing.

Personally, I have also lived in the United States and done sexual rights, cultural and health justice work with the Audre Lorde Project, Caribbean Pride, Gay Men of African Descent, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the New York State Black Gay Network and Other Countries.

2. How and when did your organizations get started? What were the organizations, groups, movements or incidents that preceded and influenced the founding of your organization?

3. What local/national/global political struggles gave rise to your organization? What about struggles for sexual autonomy?

CAISO’s founders originally came together on Emancipation Day 2007, to meet with Kennty Mitchell, a gay, primary school-educated taxi driver whose successful lawsuit for police harassment elicited widespread public sympathy and visible news coverage, in which he said he wanted to speak out for gay rights for people who could not do so for themselves.

The Mitchell case evidenced for GLBT people media and national empathy with victims of discrimination, and substantiated the possibility of successful redress for discrimination for ordinary citizens. Efforts were made then, which fizzled, to form a novel cross-gender, cross-class advocacy organisation. CAISO itself formed on June 27, 2009, in response to a Cabinet announcement two days earlier that the proposed final version of a national Gender Policy (that had been the subject of noisy advocacy by evangelical Christians five years earlier over its inclusion of a handful of forward-thinking references to sexual orientation and termination of pregnancy) would expressly avoid dealing with sexual orientation. CAISO formed at a meeting originally intended to celebrate how GLBT activists from T&T and 15 other countries participating in the June 2009 Organization of American States General Assembly meeting had helped ensure passage for the second year of a resolution by all the governments of the hemisphere, committing them to take action against violence and human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Association for Women’s Rights in Development wrote last week, in recent years, “airs of social and political change [have] swept through the Americas”, fuelling “heated debates about rights for LGBTI persons …in several countries. This media-fuelled expansion of hemispheric discourse and political action on sexual citizenship (of which the OAS resolution is a demonstration) has interacted with Trinidad & Tobago’s GLBT communities’ two-decade-long history of organizing (we have formal NGOs as old as 14 years) and with consistent efforts since 1997 to coordinate Caribbean regional GLBT advocacy. While it has included a 2000 legislative campaign for sexual orientation language in an antidiscrimination law, local organizing in T&T has focused largely on HIV among men who have sex with men and the creation of social space. This includes gay bars that open onto the pavement and a slew of entrepreneurial partnerships that produce gay and lesbian parties at least monthly which, at record highest have drawn crowds approaching 1,000. These efforts, and the expansion of GLBT social space during the annual Carnival season when GLBT people of Trinbagonian citizenship and heritage living abroad return in large numbers, along with many GLBT visitors from elsewhere in the Caribbean, have synergistically led to a widespread reputation for T&T as having the most space and tolerance for same-sex communities in the Commonwealth Caribbean. A cosmopolitan, laissez-faire, multiethnic culture has perhaps helped fuel such openness.

4. How does the HIV/AIDS pandemic affect your work?

In my view, HIV has enabled or influenced much of the sexual rights work happening contemporarily. Its role has been to vastly expand public and institutional discourse about sexuality, to highlight homosexuals as a social group experiencing enhanced stigma and discrimination and to legitimate us as a target for strategic social and health programming. In the midyears of the pandemic, HIV emboldened GLBT advocates and created a sense of urgency and priority for both advocacy and sexuality, and helped strengthen sexual communities. HIV and HIV funding have helped give voice, infrastructure, access and often a framework or meaning to GLBT organizing and social activity. This has been the case in Trinidad & Tobago.

HIV has also had a distorting effect on MSM and GLBT community self-concept and priorities. HIV, its dominant discourse and the resources that follow it reframe organic community organizing, the nature of leadership and the substance of programmes and advocacy. MSM, and to an extent GLBT people, are seen primarily in terms of an infectious, disabling and stigmatising disease, and the legitimacy of GLBT representation, resource allocation and the decriminalisation of GLBT desire is justified in terms of disease, and often of preventing its costs or transmission to the population at large, instead of in terms of the humanity or worth of GLBT people, the value of sexual autonomy or the legitimacy of desire and sexual pleasure.

CAISO has been routinely called on by virtue of being a GLBT group to engage with policy and planning issues related to HIV, e.g. calls by the media on World AIDS Day. We have done so with ambivalence, recognising the importance of transforming HIV discourse to one which centres at first stigma, discrimination and vulnerability but ultimately autonomy and self-efficacy as core facets of sexual health. But we have also felt the need to push against the distorting and reductive impact of HIV on resource allocation, attention and imagination with regard to other GLBT concerns and policy issues. We have found some institutional HIV voices responsive to some of these issues.

5. How do your communities name same-sex relationships and gender variance? To what extent are the terms “lesbian,” “transgender,” “gay,” and “bisexual” used for self-naming?

T&T communities relate to the GLBT alphabet in many ways consistent with its Global North usages, and have similar understandings of all those terms. Though GLBT communities here use the internet considerably and many members are Black, “same gender loving” has found little awareness or traction. Some gay men, however, adopt the HIV-influenced term “MSM” as a self-referent. Many colloquial terms (“buller”, “ho”) carry stigma or are gender-fraught, but find themselves in vernacular usage. Where terms break down particularly is on the terrain of gender expression: a sizeable community of gay men with no sense of gender dysphoria are what they might call “dress up girls”. Either because they see this as gay culture or for more personal reasons related to gender expression, they participate, along with smaller numbers of individuals with Trans and genderqueer identities in an organized system of drag performance pageants, and in some instances devote considerable priority and resources in their lives to this activity, clothing and shoes, makeup and its application and performance routines. They also appear at other community events in drag or in their pageant personas. While some pageants offer prizes, they are not typically paid for their performances; on the contrary they spend money on them. Similar to cleavages in other locations, Trans who are committed to lives in a gender other than that linked to their birth sex, whether through sex reassignment surgeries or other strategies, express difficulty sharing an identity with these persons.

6. Has the spread of Western GBLT politics impacted your local organizing?

Hello!? Many in T&T’s GLBT communities are quite enamoured of the visible manifestations of North American or European GLBT political advocacy, see these forms as the standard to emulate, against which local performance should be judged, and show limited imagination about how to practise an indigenous politics on sexual orientation and gender identity. And recently Christian Right homophobia has begun to target the Caribbean and Trinidad & Tobago specifically.

However, the most dangerous impact of the “spread” of Western GBLT politics is not that certain understandings and assumptions about how GLBT politics is practised in the North are being exported to us. The larger danger instead is that ideas about how GLBT politics should be practised in the Global South, quite differently from in the North, and related ideas about political conditions in the South, are being conceived in, and spread from, the North. This queer internationalism makes the Global South an important target of Global North GLBT concerns – and fundraising; codifies differences in “freedom” between North and South, representing one as advanced and the other as primitive; and positions the North in a missionary relationship and one of pity with regard to the South. This has especially been the case with the Caribbean, shaped by internationalist activism over Jamaica (which has been represented ridiculously as “the most homophobic place on earth”), and the larger region, therefore, as a place of homophobic darkness.

The emergence, with the formation of IGLHRC two decades ago, of human rights as a dominant paradigm for GLBT advocacy outside the Global North has also imposed on our organizing in the South an expectation of transnational struggle and the deployment of international human rights authorities and frameworks – neither of which are common in GLBT politics in the Global North, where the discourse is one of citizenship and the engagements are political and national or local in nature. Because of the assumptions that civil and political rights frameworks are weak, enlightened governance is not yet achieved, and GLBT communities are relatively powerless in Global South states, there is the expectation that GLBT liberation politics will rely on external advocates and look for moral authority to international covenants and arbitrating bodies rather than engaging in domestic political work. Combined with tax-code and liberal-values restrictions on involvement by the international human rights charities leading this work in electoral, partisan or foreign politics, this prescribes a “human rights-centred” model of Global South organizing that extinguishes the very powerful political characteristics that have enabled GLBT maturity and successes in the Global North. In this imaginary, domestic political organizing, action and leadership are not conceived as essential and necessary aspects of GLBT advocacy for Africa and the Caribbean especially. Instead, alliances with foreign advocates who apply moral, economic and legal pressure on local powerholders becomes central to advocacy. And repeatedly assumptions are made about the victimhood and lack of agency of GLBT subjects, to the point where activists like Peter Tatchell, Wayne Besen, Michael Petrellis, Keith Boykin and Akim Ade Larcher and their affiliated groups – Égale, Stop Murder Music, OutRage! and Boycott Jamaica – have felt licence to speak like abolitionists on behalf of the GLBT interests of the region.3

This privileging of external policing of governments to achieve GLBT gains vs. domestic leveraging of various forms of power and influence distorts organizing strategies to ones in which domestic GLBT stakeholders invest in alliances with others with the ability to provide financial resources, travel, visibility and legitimacy, but who are positioned as foreign adversaries of their governments. They often do so at the expense of nurturing local political alliances, of building ownership of GLBT issues by other sexual rights stakeholders, of developing strategic power domestically, of building a local base to which leadership is accountable, of developing appeals and legitimacy in the currency of domestic and traditional values and frameworks, or simply of being politically innovative in response to local conditions. And this clearly reinforces the view of GLBT cultures and values as non-indigenous and outside the social order.

7. Is there a relationship between the anti-violence work that you do and feminism?

A precursor to and influence in CAISO’s emergence and analysis was the Trinidad & Tobago AntiViolence Project, which conceived itself as “guided by the vision of a child’s right to healthy sexual development, free of sexual and spiritual violence, into an adult free to express and practice gender and sexual identity in ways of his/her choosing” and “a framework to bring together diverse stakeholders to: mobilise gender-sensitive approaches to sexual violence against children and adults; sharpen understanding of the gender-based nature of homophobic violence; support survivors of violence and their families, partners and friends in individual and collective healing, mobilisation and restituitve justice; encourage gay communities to take leadership in protecting minors from sexual exploitation; and work on other intersectional issues related to sexual, gender-based and social violence”. TTAVP has folded its work into CAISO, but this has also resulted in less priority and focus on violence in the umbrella group’s portfolio.

The Project was initiated as a framework to protest the homophobic (and secondarily misogynist) imagination of visiting Jamaican dancehall performers. It was subsequently used to re-position gay men in relationship to sexual abuse of boys when a local case was covered in the media, by publicly offering strategic interventions around recovery and advocating for programmes and leadership in response. It then became a platform for fundraising, programme development and capacity-building for prevention, victim services and advocacy, and to strengthen community sexual decisionmaking, in response to a rash of internet dating crimes against gay men, including rape. This work (and CAISO’s subsequently) have a core analysis that bias violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression is gender-based violence, and gender is at the centre of our politics and understanding of anti-violence work. This has framed CAISO’s documentation of systematic police violence against Trans MTFs and its inclusion in testimony at the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. The organisation as a whole, however, has not engaged with the specific vulnerabilities of lesbians to violence.

8. What connections do you have to art and artists? To Scholars? (Keeping in mind that you can include yourself in the answer to this question.)

CAISO’s name embodies our connection to art. Our very first public activity (during the local Gay Pride month) was a cultural event in a vanguard arts space that received coverage in the newspaper’s weekly entertainment section: a calypso listening session, open and advertised to non-GBLT people, that explored the history of the treatment of sexual diversity in calypso over eight decades. We published a seminal book review of a collection of fiction on our blog, which is currently the fourth most popular entry with over 550 reads. We created a series of events surrounding the local launch of the Our Caribbean GLBT anthology, including a bookstore signing, a writing workshop and a movie night and panel discussion. We promoted the screening of a gay-themed film in our local film festival and ran a movie night programme of film screenings. And we have repeatedly engaged with Carnival as a potential vehicle for our work. We have occasionally included writing and photography from community members on the blog.

In enumerating a list of CAISO’s values for an organizing meeting, we wrote recently: that “CAISO is committed to analysis-driven organizing, recognizing that one must understand the world to change it.” The Institute for Gender & Development Studies (IGDS) at the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine has become a critical ally in CAISO’s work, inviting us to do classroom presentations at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. One of our activities became an elective assignment in a UWI Cultural Studies course. IGDS has also been both a crucible for many of the ideas CAISO uses in organizing and a training ground for CAISO organizers: a young man whose entry into CAISO led to groundbreaking youth organizing work was referred by his gender studies instructor. CAISO also has a strong relationship with the Caribbean arm of the International Resource Network. I have represented CAISO’s work in participating in Andil Gosine’s Sex Inter|National dialogue, at the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime’s 15th anniversary symposium “Crime Prevention from across the World” in December 2009, on a panel at Fire and Ink, and in this roundtable project, among others. A case study of our organizing presented at a United Nations training in Turin recently received attention from a Georgetown University religion scholar. Our exchanges with scholars academically interested in our work of GLBT experience in T&T have tried to engage questions of epistemology, of power, and of strategic essentialisms.

9. In what ways do your communities document their histories? (photography, archive collections, paintings, poetry, blogs, plays, music, video, etc.)

CAISO has both encouraged and conducted oral history, documentation and archiving. Very early on we launched both a blog and a presence on Facebook where we regularly aggregate current news items and weblinks of interest identified with Google Search – some 450 to date. We have archived footage of as many of our media appearances as we can on www.vimeo.com/caiso and index them on the blog. We flirted for a few weeks with a daily digest of internet stories of Caribbean GLBT interest we titled Queeribean Beat. We also have unrealized ambitions to conduct an organizing project of compiling personal histories of older generations.

Several GLBT people in T&T are actively engaged in documentary photography and various kinds of expressive work that reflects or engages with questions of gendered sexuality. As early as 1988, out playwright Godfrey Sealy had created work like One of Our Sons is Missing, chronicling gay men’s relationships to each other, family, women and HIV. Though the debut of Erotic Art Week has provided a framework that foregrounds the sexuality of some of this visual work, and even in the 1970s gay themes appeared in publicly presented theatrical and visual work, little of this creative work takes place in a community framework.

1.Originally conceived of as a panel on comparative sexual rights, erotic autonomy, and “Archives and Politics ‘For My Own Protection,’ ” my intention was to include in this issue a roundtable discussion featuring a few individuals whom I admire for the path breaking work they are doing to document/archive and improve black queer life and culture in a number of sites around the world (Steven G. Fullwood, Black Gay & Lesbian Archive, “Fire & Ink”; Zethu Matebani Forum for the Empowerment of Women; Colin Robinson, Coalition Advocating Inclusion of Sexual Orientation; Selly Thiam, None on Record; Ajamu X, Sharing Tongues; Rukus!) For a variety of reasons, this did not work out. These projects that propose to “save” culture, share tongues, and put on record provide a very differently configured and no less “political” politics, which the working group is committed to engaging. One of our immediate forthcoming projects, therefore, will be to reconvene, revise, and publish this important conversation.” Jafari S. Allen (2012). Black/Queer/Diaspora at the Current Conjuncture (Introduction), GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 18(2-3). Note 16, 240-241.

2 I prefer to begin my listing with the least specific and sometimes ungendered term, “gay”

3. Larcher has since renounced such politics.

Colin Robinson is 50, lonely, and has done a certain amount of shit. Nah, Colin Robinson is trying to build a thinking Caribbean queer political movement. Hmm…Colin Robinson is a Trini who has lived transnationally, legally and illegally. He is currently executive director of CAISO, an NGO doing sexual citizenship, gender justice and nation-building advocacy in Trinidad and Tobago; and spearheading the development of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities as a regional network. His work includes writing, HIV, migration, management; and has been done through the Audre Lorde Project, the Caribbean IRN, Gay Men of African Descent, GMHC, IGLHRC, the NY State Black Gay Network, Other Countries, Think Again, and Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied. Steups. Colin Robinson is a poet.