Why do we need Barbados Pride? Well, walking down the street is a traumatic experience for many LGBTI Barbadians.
At first glance, Barbadian LGBTI people appear to have relatively safe, full lives. People often ask us: ‘Why don’t you just live your lives and stop fighting for rights, no one is troubling you?’
But I have experienced verbal abuse ranging from threats of sexual violence to shouts of ‘death!’ and also physical assaults and fights.
Truth is, physical violence against our LGBTI bodies pales in comparison to some other countries. There are many places where you could be killed just because you venture into the wrong neighbourhood.
However, when you look beyond the proverbial curtain, it is clear that LGBTI Barbadians face psychological and financial abuse on a daily basis. In particular, gender non-conforming and trans individuals suffer an even greater burden.
Many of us have been put out from our homes and disowned by family members. This very often leaves us without any of the basic support mechanisms which humans need to survive.
I have personally lived through psychological abuse and sexual assault because of my sexual orientation.
Years of psychological torture lead to many years of antidepressants, sleep aids and anti-suicide interventions. And very many LGBTI people in Barbados end up considering suicide.
I spent seven years looking for a job without success
Financial abuse is enforced at a systemic level. We have to recognize that Barbados suffers from high unemployment anyway. But we are particularly disadvantaged. I daily meet LGBTI people like myself who struggle to find jobs.
And those who do get into employment are usually only those who were lucky enough to have a friend or connection to give them a break.
After seven years of unsuccessful job hunting, I decided to start my own charity. I saw a chance to cater for the pyscho-social and academic needs of at-risk youth, including LGBTI youth.
We help young people battle with unforgiving, intolerant family members and school bullies.
Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to set up their own company or charity.
Sadly, some LGBTI people have no choice but to go into the unregulated sex trade. Naturally, this comes with serious health risks, not to mention the danger of physical violence by clients, pimps and other sex workers.
The Barbadian government maintains life in prison for homosexuality
The government sets the tone for how we are treated by blatantly refusing to decriminalise homosexuality.
In fact, we have the harshest anti-sodomy law in the western hemisphere. The penalty is life imprisonment.
While the law is not enforced, that is at the will of the government. And if an election changed the political landscape, the island’s next government could well choose to enforce it. Meanwhile, the very existence of the law sets the poisonous tone for how Barbadian society views LGBTI people.
Historically, this law is not even from Barbados. The British forced it on the island during the colonial era. But ironically, the government refuses to repeal it, in a show of sovereignty.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media stokes this poisonous atmosphere. They frequently report in a highly sensationalized way on all things LGBTI. And homophobic citizens respond with hateful comments, which nowadays social media airs for the whole world to see.
Barbados Pride is our independence day
So it is for all these reasons and many more, that we need Barbados Pride in this so-called island paradise.
Quite simply LGBTI persons here still need to fight for their most basic rights. Even the right to life cannot be fully achieved when financial and psychological abuse are so abundant.
So, from 22 to 25 November we will build on the successes of last year’s inaugural Barbados Pride.
Like in 2017, it will include a Walk for LGBT Human Rights and an LGBT Film Festival. And we will be offering even more programming to celebrate the community and educate the public.
We chose November as an important month for us. Our Barbados Pride will tie in with Trans Day of Remembrance on 20 November, and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence from 25 November to 10 December.
But it will also coincide with our country’s independence day on 30 November.
So we will make the point that we cannot be truly independent, and realize our national motto of ‘Pride in Industry’ when vulnerable citizens are in the chains of poverty, depression and abuse.
We have realised that visibility is liberty and Pride is visibility at its best. We found our 2017 event fosters a much needed sense of support and community, especially for younger LGBTI Barbadians.
And we hope the whole world will support us, in any way you can.
Stevia Arthur is co-coordinator of Barbados Pride. Find out more about the event here. Gay Star News is a proud media partner of Barbados Pride.