In the West Indies, LGBTQ persons – or anyone classified as “other” – have long been marginalised. Despite progressive change slowly spreading in the region, many queer Caribbean people are still victimised for being themselves.
Caribbean countries comprise 11 of the 72 nations that currently list same-sex acts as criminal offenses. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, the standing anti-sodomy law declares that persons found guilty of buggery can spend up to 25 years in prison. Additionally, “undesirable” persons, including homosexuals and prostitutes, are legally prohibited from entering the country.
The history of legislature targeting homosexual activity in the Caribbean dates back to the era of British colonisation. Although, leaders in the region have made moves to fully free their countries of the old Empire, they remain hesitant to erase homophobic laws.
Perhaps, the influence of religious bodies that appeal to large sections of the voting population have made governments hesitant to take action. For example, 25,000 people were rallied by Jamaica’s Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation in 2014 to resist the “homosexual agenda” and preserve the laws. According to the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act of 1864, buggery is punishable with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
As activists challenge the courts to overturn anti-sodomy laws, homophobia continues to adversely affect queer Caribbean people. In 2013, transgendered teen Dwayne Jones was beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car in Jamaica for wearing a dress to a party. That case remains unsolved.
Until there are legal and social changes that allow queer Caribbean people to exist, the problems will continue. Thankfully, transformation is possible, starting on a personal level and expanding to include all those affected.
These are seven quotes to help the queer Caribbean community.
1. Stay grounded in the present moment.
The dream of many Caribbean people is to move abroad to more developed nations, such as the United States and Canada. This is especially true for queer West Indians who want to escape their constant struggle for survival. However, without the money and opportunity, you will remain in the region.
That’s why it’s very important to stay grounded in the present moment. As strange as it sounds, find reasons to be grateful for your current circumstances. By focusing on the positives instead of everything you dislike about your life, you will find peace. Also, you will ease anxiety regarding future problems.
“Happiness, not in another place but this place. Not for another hour but this hour.” – Walt Whitman
2. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love.
Positive affirmations boost our self-esteem and confidence, and change our outlooks. Thus, actively incorporating them into your daily life will help you manage your internal conversations about who and what you are.
Homophobic laws invalidate your sexuality, and churches spread messages that you’re an abomination. Even your own family members probably preach messages that affect how you view yourself. Yet, regardless of what anyone says, you are worthy of love.
Practice saying, “I am worthy,” every time you have a negative thought about yourself. This is useful when you’re afraid to flirt with someone or when you’re hesitant to apply for a promotion at work, as examples. Remember, your self-worth starts with you and once it’s secure, it won’t be easily shaken.
“You can search the entire Universe and not find a single being more worthy of love than you.” – Buddha
3. Give yourself permission to be free.
Living in societies where you’re forced to watch your every action to safeguard against homophobia is exhausting. In fact, that’s a noted facet of the mask of masculinity, and it persists even when we’re alone.
Relieve the pressure you put on yourself by being free when you can. Obviously, voguing down Frederick Street in Port of Spain, Trinidad, is not be the best idea. On the other hand, creating a safe space to express yourself in private and without your self-judgement, will help ease your stress.
“Stop acting so small. You are the Universe in ecstatic motion.” – Rumi
4. Accept yourself.
The more you relax and express yourself, the more you will learn to accept who you are without feeling the need to match anyone else’s standards. Indeed, it’s a process of self-discovery in which you get reacquainted with the person beneath the forced bravado.
Learn to laugh out loud without monitoring the pitch or volume. Also, when you wake up with a song in your head, hum or even sing it to yourself without fear. Slowly, you will get more comfortable with what it means to be you on your terms.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. We don’t need to be accepted by others. You only need to accept yourself.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
5. Disregard the opinions of others.
Learning to accept yourself also means not worrying about what other people think. Of course, this is tricky in countries where your sexual and gender identity make headline news every time a new human rights law is passed in America.
However, take small steps by doing what makes you happy. For example, don’t pretend to enjoy homophobic music just so you can fit in with general society. Also, if you don’t want to go to “straight” clubs and force yourself to flirt with people of the opposite sex, don’t go.
Yes, people will have their form opinions of you. They will probably gossip about your change of behaviour and your lack of interest in “normal” things. Still, living your life in a way that makes you genuinely happy is worth making changes, regardless of how small.
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality; their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
6. Find a tribe.
Social media have flaws but there are also great benefits. Among them is the opportunity to connect to people far beyond your neighbourhood, city and country. So, use those tools to find the community that eludes you at home.
Finding a network of people who share your life experiences will let you know you are not alone. This is tricky to do in the Caribbean where many queer people are closeted, discreet or guarded. Therefore, when making friends in person is tough, try online avenues.
Note: When physically meeting your online contacts for the first time, do so in a public place during the day, and avoid going alone. That way, you can thwart attacks from homophobes in disguise.
“Good friends help you to find important things when you have lost them: Your smile, your hope and your courage.” – Doe Zantamata
7. Help others in need.
As you become more comfortable with your sexuality and learn how to cope in your environment, share that wisdom with others. Honestly, you may not have had a queer mentor but you can be that guide for someone else.
Additionally, add your voice to those calling for change in the region. Joining a political platform is a big step but you can still contribute to the cause by donating your time, money or know-how. In the end, you will make life for the next generation of queer Caribbean people just a little easier.
“Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu