Regional support for Bahamian activists’ criticisms of MP

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CASTRIES/NASSAU – The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), and human rights and LGBT organisations across the region have come together in support of Bahamian activists and organisations condemning the recent anti-gay statements by a top government official.

Earlier this month Bahamian Member of Parliament Leslie Miller suggested all transgender persons should be exiled to an island of their own. In addition to airing these sentiments Miller also made other derogatory and erroneous statements about transgender persons, causing concern amongst human rights activists throughout the region.

ECADE Director Kenita Placide stated that Miller’s message was flawed on all counts and demonstrates a gross lack of understanding, which many persons in power across the region have regarding LGBT persons.

“The idea that LGBT people lead frivolous lives and just want to ‘play with each other’ is downright disrespectful as most transgender and lesbian, gay and bi-sexual individuals contribute greatly to their communities. That the MP continues to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices about LGBT people, many, who for the most part are already vulnerable across the region, is reprehensible. We urge informed persons of influence in government, religious groups and the community to correct others when they spout such misleading rhetoric,” Placide said.

Human rights activist and leading advocate of LGBT rights in the Bahamas Erin Greene noted that Miller’s statements about the procreation of transgender persons are similar to those often used to invalidate LGBT lives. She said the first issue to be addressed was the fact that LGBT people all across the Caribbean and the world do have and raise children. The second issue is the question of the choice to reproduce or not that all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, must make for themselves.

“Miller’s statements speaks to a pattern of shaming that continues across our region when discussing matters that relate to family, sexual orientation and gender identity. This shame causes mental, emotional and physical stress to LGBT persons and can have dire consequences for their lives. Across the Caribbean, LGBT people continue to face stigma and discrimination. This is not the time for jargon and baseless ranting about vulnerable and marginalised people. It is a time for learning, understanding and empowering all of our citizens across the Caribbean on all fronts,” Greene said.

President of St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance for Equality (SAFE) Lysanne Charles-Arrindell said the organisation definitely supported ECADE’s message on this matter and looked forward to continued conversations with the community and government on the issue of LGBT equality and empowerment.

“St. Maarten/St. Martin has a small transgender community, but as an LGBT organisation we definitely stand up for our transgender people and for their rights as human beings to be respected. Too often, when discussing the lives of LGBT people many, on the various islands, including St. Maarten/St. Martin, forget that these are the lives of real human beings we are talking about. So we desire more dialogue with our governments on all levels, religious and community representatives,” Charles-Arrindell said.

Fast-track hate crime legislation Paco Nunez of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) concurs that it is time to fast track hate crime legislation. “Everyone should be allowed to express themselves and promote their own interests and that of their community without facing humiliation or fear for their safety, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, heritage, religion, political persuasion, or any other arbitrary consideration.”

Head of Bahamas Transgender Intersex United (BTIU) Alexus D’Marco also recognised the immediate need for such a legislation, stressing that members of her association, and the LGBT community, are now among the most vulnerable in The Bahamas.

Placide stressed that ECADE and its regional network remain committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue with concerned human rights organisations and state representatives in order to better the understanding of LGBT realities in the region.

“We understand the need for the further sensitising those who play important roles in the communities where LGBT people live. However, we also implore those in positions of power to use better judgment in these matters. This is not the first time that a government official has used the platform of politics to bully LGBT people and this has to stop. There are enough resources online, from credible sources, and even activists willing to have conversations about this matter. Ignorance has no excuse,” Placide said.

It was noted that as LGBT people assert their right for equal treatment and visibility on their respective islands as there continues to be varying responses, from tolerance to hostility. However, organisations note that there are also more people standing up with and for LGBT people and the safeguarding of human rights in the Caribbean. Placide encourages all persons who believe in the sanctity of life to urge government, religious and community leaders to continue to defend the rights of the minority.

ECADE is a regional network of organisations working across the Eastern Caribbean. Drawing on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law,” ECADE is providing an empowering environment to increase skills and capacity for advancement of LGBTQI and marginalised populations in Saint Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean.

SAFE is a platform for LGBT people and their allies to engage in meaningful conversation about the state of affairs of the communities on St. Maarten/St. Martin. The objectives are: 1) To promote the social acceptance and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, in order to create an island free of stigma and discrimination with freedom and equality at all levels of society. 2) To promote personal empowerment by encouraging the awareness of one’s own (sexual) identity, and social situation in general, and where needed (and possible) support those LGBT individuals who are in need of assistance and care. 3) To represent the collective interests of LGBT persons, 4) To improve awareness, promote equality, as well as educate the LGBT community and general population on matters pertaining to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially where they relate (but are not limited) to the LGBT community.