LGBTQ Issues

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WASHINGTON, Mar 23 2017 – Several religious officials, including pastors from across the Caribbean, have called on the United States to halt the promotion of LGBT and intersex rights abroad.

A report published in the Washington Blade, a LGBT publication, said 289 Ministers of Religion from The Bahamas, St. Maarten, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana made the request in a letter sent to US President Donald Trump on January 31.

“We write to you as concerned Christian ministers and churches from the Caribbean region (including the Bahamas) who hope and pray that the United States, under your leadership, will once again cast a light from ‘The City upon a Hill’ of which your American forefathers and President Ronald Reagan so frequently spoke,” the letter said.

“Sadly, during recent years, that City has too often cast shadows instead of light.”

“We refer specifically to the policies of the U.S. State Department and other government agencies involved in foreign policy that have undertaken to coerce our countries into accepting a mistaken version of marriage.”

According to the Washington Blade, the letter specifically notes the appointment of Randy Berry as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBT and intersex rights in 2015 was central to “the promotion of same-sex marriage” in American foreign policy.

It also questions then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in which she said “gay rights are human rights.”

“We have our rights by virtue of being human beings and not by anything else — not our ethnicity, not our religion, not our race, not our tribe and certainly not our sexual orientation,” the letter continued.

The leaders also pointed out that “several of your government agencies” are “using executive orders to foist transgender confusion through the bathroom issue on your public schools by threatening the loss of federal funds.”

“Please understand that this same kind of coercion is being used against our countries to force us to fall in line with the entire same-sex agenda.”

Last year, the Obama administration advised public schools that Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 requires them to allow trans students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Trump rescinded this guidance on February 22.

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 21 2017 – The Royal Barbados Police Force has embarked on sensitivity training regarding the LGBTI community.

Organisers say 16 police officers participated in the course on Saturday, March 18.

Representatives of organisations such as Community Education, Empowerment & Development; the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender people; the Barbados Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals Against Discrimination; Empowerment, Quality, Unity, Acceptance, Love, Strength; and the Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee were also in attendance.

Coordinator Marlene Hewitt said the training was necessary if Barbados was to keep its international commitments and she felt heartened by the response.

“It was great to get all these officers out to participate. Most of them were open to the training and I am confident awareness has been raised. The next step will be to hold a course for the top brass of the force and in three months, bring together focus groups to see how far we’ve come,” she said.

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Feb 11 2017 – An advocate for LGBT and women’s rights has become the newest member of the Upper House.

Thirty-three-year-old Aziza Lake, who is a full time, card holding member of the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) took an oath of allegiance at Government House on Friday.

United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Damani Tabor congratulated Lake on her appointment and said he is interested in how she will serve in the Senate as a well-known and respected activist.

“It is going to be quite interesting to see how one balances their world wisdom and their presumable knowledge of the real economic challenges and other issues with the party obligations to censor speech and to tow a certain line,” Tabor said.

Lake has replaced former ABLP senator Wigley George, who was dismissed last year, after he spoke out against the Statutory Corporations General Provisions Bill after it was sent back twice to be passed by the Upper House.

Tabor said he is hoping that Lake will not have to go the same route as George for speaking up on certain issues.

“I hope the young lady does well and doesn’t have to go the way of Wigley George who expressed his frank and honest opinion,” he said.

Lake is one of the youngest persons appointed to the Senate and will make her first appearance there next Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON, Jan 21 2017 – Thousands of women are expected to gather on Saturday for the Women’s March on Washington, a kind of counter-inauguration after President Donald J. Trump took office on Friday.

The event is an attempt to unify protesters around issues like reproductive rights, immigration and civil rights, but it has also encountered divisions.

Protesters have already started convening around the world, but the main event, in Washington, is set to begin at 10 a.m. Eastern with a rally featuring speakers like Gloria Steinem and performers like Janelle Monáe near the Capitol. Afterward, participants will march down the National Mall.

The “guiding vision” for the march is almost as extensive, and as jargon-laden, as any platform thought up by the Democratic or Republican parties. In addition to reproductive rights, the topics covered include racial justice, L.G.B.T.Q. rights, the environment, wage equity, gender equity and immigrant rights.

Many participants believed Mr. Trump expressed misogynistic views during the presidential campaign, with remarks about Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. After a 2005 recording surfaced in which he said that he could use his celebrity status to make sexual advances toward women, several women came forward to accuse Mr. Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct. He dismissed the recording as “locker room banter” and assailed his accusers.

Demonstrators are challenging the Trump administration on a number of policies, as well. In his inaugural speech on Friday, President Trump did not specifically reach out to women.

“Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag,” he said.

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HOUSTON, Jan 04 2017 – Ellen Degeneres won’t allow Kim Burrell to appear on her talk show after the gospel singer refused to apologize for a sermon in which she referred to gays and lesbians as “perverted.”

A tape of Burrell preaching at Houston’s Love & Liberty Fellowship Church was circulated online last week stirring up controversy.

In the video, Burrell is heard saying, “That perverted homosexual spirit is a spirit of delusion and confusion and has deceived many men and women, and it has caused a strain on the body of Christ.”

Burrell addressed her remarks in a Facebook live video.

“We’re not in a war against flesh and blood. I came on because I care about God’s creation and every person from the LGBT and anything else, any other kind of thing that is supporting gay… I never said LGBT last night. I said S-I-N and whatever else falls in the sin was preached.”

Burrell and singer Pharrell were to perform a song from the movie “Hidden Figures” Thursday on the show. Pharrell posted on Instagram that “I condemn hate speech of any kind,” making no specific reference to Burrell.

The openly-gay talk show host tweeted, “For those asking, Kim Burrell will not be appearing on my show.”

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WASHINGTON, Dec 14 2016 – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says stigma and discrimination are major barriers to health for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean.

“By universal health, we mean that everyone – irrespective of their socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender or race-is covered by a well-financed, well-organized health system offering quality and comprehensive health services,” said PAHO Director Dominican-born director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne.

In an addressing to an event here marking Universal Health Day and Human Rights Day, she said “stigma and discrimination are a major barrier for access and utilization of health services for LGBT persons, hence the importance to better understand the causes and develop innovative health system responses to meet their specific and differentiated needs”.

Dr. Etienne pointed to research, which she said, shows that stigma against homosexuality and ignorance about gender identity are widespread, both in society at large and within health systems.

“Discrimination can result in outright refusal to provide care, poor-quality care, and disrespectful or abusive treatment, among others,” she said.

“Healthcare providers may also have a poor understanding of the specific healthcare needs of LGBT people, for example, trauma-related and behavioural health issues that they face as a result of discrimination.”

PAHO’s Legal Counsel Heidi Jiménez said that, in 2013, PAHO member-states “resolved to address these and other problems that lead to health inequities for LGBT people by collectively endorsing a resolution, titled ‘Addressing the Causes of Disparities in Health Services Access and Utilization for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans (LGBT) Persons.’”

During the event, PAHO said panelists from Brazil and Canada described concrete action their countries have taken to address LGBT stigma and discrimination, and protect LGBT persons’ health and human rights.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is supporting community-based projects that support the health of survivors of family violence, including trans-persons, PAHO said.

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec 05 2016 – The party was like many others in Delmas, a neighborhood in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, with a vibrant gay community — an evening of men in colorful dresses and revealing attire, laughing and catching up.

They sipped Prestige beer and 7-Up, as Beyoncé and Rihanna played in the background. The party stretched into the early morning hours with no end in sight.

Then someone knocked on the door.

On that March night in 2012, a group of men dressed in black and wearing ski masks forced their way into the apartment. Wilkenson Joseph, then 35, was the closest to the front door. Wearing a red sequin dress, a dark wig, red lipstick and high heels, he was a prime target for the group looking to attack gay men.

One of the men stabbed Mr. Joseph in the gut with a knife. His friends picked him up off the floor, blood pouring from his mouth and his side, and rushed him to a hospital.

But a doctor demanded $2,000 before he would provide any care, Mr. Joseph said. For an hour and a half, his friends negotiated a lower rate as he continued to bleed, eventually persuading the doctor to accept $1,000. Mr. Joseph survived, but he lost his appendix.

In a Manhattan office last month, Mr. Joseph recalled his stories of anti-gay violence slowly, softly and in French.

“After the party,” Mr. Joseph said before trailing off, his eyes closing. There was silence as he summoned the months after that party more than four years ago.

He stopped attending parties and dressing up. “It was too traumatic,” he said. “I recoiled from the party scene. I was no longer me.”

Mr. Joseph said it was not the first time he had been attacked because of his sexuality in Haiti, where homosexuality is not a crime, but gay men often hide their orientation to avoid being targeted.

A makeup artist for eight years, he had worked at “Journal de Loisirs,” a celebrity talk show, and often carried a purse and makeup bag to the office. Seven months before the stabbing, Mr. Joseph said, he was kidnapped from his workplace, hooded and taken to an abandoned home, where he was chained to a pole and beaten. Three men threatened to kill him, he said, and called him an embarrassment to his country. They later let him go.

“I always felt threatened,” he said. “And I never said anything back to these people. I was afraid of a violent response. There was always a fear.”

After the 2012 attack, Mr. Joseph applied for a tourist visa to the United States, hoping the country would be as welcoming as it was portrayed on the television shows he had watched as a child, he said.

“It was always my dream country,” Mr. Joseph said. “America is where you can make happen the dreams you envision for yourself.”

He arrived in April 2013 on a tourist visa and settled in New York City. A few weeks later, he attended his first party since the attack, at the Monster, a piano bar in the West Village. Feeling safe, he took the stage to sing “Lumane Casimir,” a well-known Haitian song.

He applied for asylum shortly after moving to the United States, describing in his application the anti-gay abuse he endured in Haiti and his fear of returning there.

“I feel a lot more comfortable expressing myself here,” he said. “I’ve never feared for my safety here.”

Since his visa expired, he has been working on his immigration status for the past two years with lawyers at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, a law firm in Manhattan. He has applied for asylum and has not received an update. They are awaiting an interview date with immigration services.

Mr. Joseph lives on $376 monthly in public assistance, including cash assistance and Medicaid. Through a designation known as PRUCOL, he is able to receive benefits despite not having legal status. Without a job, he has struggled to afford a home, flitting between Florida, New Jersey and New York. Shortly after coming to New York, he found himself on the streets, spending nights riding the subway and shuffling between shelters, always worrying that his visa and passport would be stolen.

He found temporary housing in Jamaica, Queens, through Unique People Services, an HIV/AIDS supportive housing program. He stayed there for more than a year, but the conditions were dangerous, Mr. Joseph said. Drug activity brought the police often. Once, he said, a neighbor robbed him of $150.

Mr. Joseph has found support in Voix Fortes, a French-speaking group focused on self-empowerment. There he met Houda Chergui, a coordinator at the nonprofit ASCNYC, which assists New Yorkers living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS. She recommended he seek help through the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times’s Neediest Cases Fund.

With the help of ASCNYC and the African Services Committee, he was able to move into permanent housing, an apartment in the Bronx, in March; the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration covers his monthly rent of $1,100. But the apartment was bare. He slept on the floor and had nowhere to sit or eat. In April the federation provided Mr. Joseph with a $1,000 grant from the Neediest Cases Fund to buy furniture. He decorated his apartment with a sofa bed, a chair and a coffee table.

“The furniture made it into a home,” he said.

Mr. Joseph, who had dropped out of school in Haiti to support his family after his father’s death, longs to continue his education and get a job as a masseur or as a counselor to help others, while sending some money to his relatives in Haiti.

“I want to continue my studies,” he said. “I want to be able to motivate other people in my situation — others in the L.G.B.T.Q. community — to pursue their education. Before respect comes from others, it comes from within.”

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Sep 28 2016 – Organisers of a cultural festival in Haiti celebrating the Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ community said Tuesday that it has been called off due to numerous threats of violence and a subsequent prohibition by a government commissioner.

The four-day Massimadi film, art and performance event was supposed to start Tuesday in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but organisers it had to be postponed as a prominent Haitian cultural institution known as FOKAL and other co-hosts were threatened with arson and other attacks.

“FOKAL has been receiving threats of outrageous violence,” said Lorraine Mangones, executive director of the non-profit Knowledge & Freedom Foundation.

Jeudy Charlot of the gay rights group Kouraj, the main organizer of the event, said he is determined that the arts festival by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Haitians and their supporters will be held at a later date.

“There are very homophobic people who are against it, and the government official who is responsible for the jurisdiction of Port-au-Prince has also taken a decision to prevent the festival for now,” said Charlot. “But we still plan on holding Massimadi in the future.”

Capital Commissioner Jean Danton Leger confirmed that he issued an order to block the festival, telling a local radio station it was in part to protect Haiti’s “moral and social” values.

Leger had received a complaint in recent days from Sen. Jean Renel Senatus, who considers the event an affront to traditional families.

Haiti’s LGBTQ community has long remained largely underground because of social stigma, although there are no laws criminalising homosexual relations as there are in a number of English-speaking Caribbean islands.

The Massimadi festival was first launched in 2009 in Montreal by a group called African Rainbow. It has also been held without any problems in Belgium. This was the first year it was scheduled to take place in Haiti.

“Unfortunately the situation is getting more and more dramatic,” said Anthony Manuel Plagnes Paya, festival spokesman in Montreal. “Kouraj members are threatened (with) death and are scared to go out.”

Staff and volunteers at Kouraj’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince said they were determined not to be intimidated and believe tolerance is expanding in Haiti.

“More LGBT people are coming out and accepting themselves more these days,” Charlot said. “They walk on the streets very proud.”

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Sep 03 2016 – Fear of damage to the country’s international reputation has forced the government to issue a statement in which it says that it does and will continue to protect and uphold the human rights of Antigua & Barbuda’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

According to the Minister of Information Melford Nicholas, the need for the statement and a further diplomatic note to Toronto, were spurred by comments of Canada-based LGBTI activist Tasheka Lavann.

In a public statement read at Thursday’s post-Cabinet press conference by the government’s Chief of Staff Lionel “Max” Hurst, it was stated, “All persons irrespective of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity are entitled to enjoy in Antigua & Barbuda the protections provided for by our constitution and by international human right law.”

In a three-minute Huffington Post interview, Lavann, who once resided in Antigua and identified herself as a lesbian, said she feared violence as a member of the LGBTI community.

She later clarified that some of her stronger statements were taken out of context and she was not referring to the twin-island state when she made them. Nonetheless, her statements garnered a harsh public backlash from residents who felt she had tarnished the country’s name.

Nicholas explained that the government’s statement was a “precautionary measure” to avoid the appearance that one of the nation’s citizens felt it necessary to flee in order to escape discrimination and violence.

“The Cabinet is of the view that if left untreated and Antigua & Barbuda were to be found in breach to the extent that one of our citizens would be required to achieve refugee status in a country, it would do some harm to the validity of our state and the validity of our passport,” Nicholas said.

The public statement titled ‘Policy on Protection from violence and discrimination of persons of the LGBTI community’ further read, “Antigua & Barbuda does not tolerate any acts of violence or discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community and maintains their right to protection under local law and international law. The government of Antigua & Barbuda upholds the core legal obligations of states with respect to protecting the human right of LGBTI people.” (Antigua Observer)

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 30 2016 – Comments made by lesbian blogger Tasheka Lavann about persecution of gays is among agenda items when Cabinet meets on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Max Fernandez has said.

The Antigua Observer newspaper reports that Minister Fernandez said the Huffington Post interview, in which Lavann said she feared being “slaughtered,” was brought to his attention by a few people over the weekend.

“It will be discussed in some detail in the Cabinet and direction will be taken from there,” Fernandez revealed during a telephone interview.

The foreign affairs minister said while there have been no complaints to government ministries or embassies, he feels it important to raise the issue at the level of the executive.

“I will want to raise it for sure. I am sure that the minister of tourism may want to raise it. I think that it is something we may want to look to respond to. I think there will have to be some kind of statement put out certainly to our embassies overseas,” he said.

Lavann’s three-minute interview with the Huffington Post has led to strong public backlash from residents who accuse her of sullying the country’s name, by giving the wrong impression to the world about the treatment of homosexuals here.

The former Miss Antigua & Barbuda later said the interview was taken out of context and that she did not refer to the twin island state when she said gays are being killed because of their sexuality.