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#BTEditorial – Barbados is best when it feels like home to all

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) is celebrated across the globe on May 17 to raise awareness on human rights abuses against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, as well as to celebrate its resilience.

First referred to as the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the date was chosen to commemorate the day homosexuality was officially removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1990.

After much hard work and organising at the grassroots level, IDAHOBIT was given ‘International Day’ status in 2005.

Since then, members of the LGBTQ community from over 100 countries across the world have celebrated the day.

Here in Barbados, the LGBTQ community has scored some significant victories: the first Pride Parade, held last June, came off without incident.

Photos of the community and allies captured, happiness and hope for the future. A man of the cloth showed his support at the event, to loud cheers and praise.

More recently, representatives from this marginalised group were given a seat at the table on the Social Justice Committee, convened by the Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations.

They will work alongside sex workers, people with disabilities and the clergy to make recommendations to Government, through the Social Partnership and Cabinet, on a range of pressing social justice issues.

Unfortunately, these wins at the macro level do not always translate to gains at the micro level, where the scorn and spurn of hatred and bigotry are most visceral.

Too many times, armchair activists quickly draw their fire emojis, “BABYLON” or other comments condemning strangers to hell because of how they choose to express love in an adult, consenting relationship or decide to express their gender or gender identity.

How easy do you think it is to love authentically when people are calling for your death? What must be the toll on your mental health and wellbeing when people lump you with paedophiles?

In a report titled: I Have to Leave to Be Me: Discriminatory Laws against LGBT People in the Eastern Caribbean, compiled by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the daily realities of  LGBTQ people in our region are described in detail.

The report spans seven Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

HRW noted that all interviewees relayed that they were harassed by family members, feared social isolation which kept them in the closet and forced into unwanted heterosexual unions.

Additionally, accessing sexual health care was an ongoing problem, as gay men and men who have sex with men, in particular, may be unwilling to disclose their (still illegal) sexual habits for fear of reprisal.

Just today, at a local IDAHOBIT event held at the UN House, transgender activist Raven Gill spoke about the State’s unwillingness to allow gender markers to be changed on official documents such as passports or identification cards.

This would present problems when travelling or applying for work, as the gender identity being presented does not match that on the ‘record’.

These barriers to health care and self-actualisation can have real repercussions for the people who are being forced to continually face them and require small legislative fixes, which will simply allow more Barbadians to live their lives as they wish.

The Human Rights Watch report also indicates another critical, but well-known concern: much of the rejection that LGBTQ Barbadians face was shrouded in Christian, moralistic rhetoric.

It is a shame that the message from a God of love and kindness, whose incarnate son defended the poor and the maligned, is wielded to cause harm to others.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Perhaps IDAHOBIT is a good day to remind us, again, that we are truly at our best when everyone feels as though Barbados is a place for all – not only those who live, love or express gender in the ways we are ‘used to’.

The fight continues.

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