Guest Post: LGBTQiA & Mental Health in the West Indies

Posted on - in intersectional feminism
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Guest Post Authored By: Kira Ann Buchanan

Co-authors: Jennelle Ramdeen and C.R.W

Being a bisexual counselor-in-training, I feel like I need to utilize my education and privilege to advocate for the LGBTQiA community.  Mental health has become a passion of mine that has provided me with an exciting career path.  Though I do not live in the West Indies, I’ve spent a lot of time between Trinidad and Jamaica.  I have been discriminated against and I’ve also witnessed anti-gay scenarios mostly while in Trinidad.  Being a bisexual women, I’ve felt more accepted than many because I have straight passing privilege. I grew up with a heavy West Indian culture, which was also a bit homophobic. I will always identify as West Indian before American.  Mental health and lack of resources for the LGBTQiA community within the West Indies is an issue I plan to combat.

I didn’t want to speak for individuals actually living in the West Indies so I did an interview with a friend of mine that lives in Trinidad.  She identifies as lesbian and has a wide variety of queer friends.  She participates in several advocacy campaigns as well as safe space groups at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.  Queer women in Trinidad seem to be the most prominent group that advocate for the community.  My friend noticed gay men are not too active in advocacy.  She said, “they seem to be too preoccupied partying and liming,” which added some humor to this serious topic.  She believes men should use their privilege to help make a change and I couldn’t agree more.  It seems like the queer women that do advocate in Trinidad have had the privilege to go abroad and study. They are lucky enough to go back home and live within the upper class of the society. I was encouraged to “take activism in Trinidad with a grain of salt.”  There is a generational and gender divide within the community. There is no solidarity.

I am simply here to shed light on some of the issues LGBTQiA people experience and suggest changes that people in the community have identified and what I myself have experienced as resources.

So what are some things that can be done?

There needs to be several safe spaces for the LGBTQiA community.  Counseling, rehabilitation and resources need to be made available. My friend explained there is a lack of mental health resources all together.  She explains she knows a lot of her peers suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse and self-harm practices.  Also, many are kicked out of their homes due to disapproval. Shameful.

Studies done in the United States and Europe has shown higher rates of anxiety, depression and other stress related mental illnesses amongst the LGBTQiA community.

A psychologist at U.W.I noticed many of the students coming to her were within the community.  Several have developed issues, probably triggered by the discrimination they’ve received.  She and another student saw it necessary to create a safe space initiative for these students.  High stress and difficult living arrangements have caused many students to discontinue their education or not pursue a Master’s or Ph.D.

Much of this is college student specific, but we can all take away what some issues may arise for others.  Things like homelessness when telling your parents or family, the talking behind your back, street harassment and even violence.  One step we can all take is if someone tells you about their preferences, do not tell others as you may not know what danger that may put them in.  Also treat people with the kindness and respect.  We all want to be treated with respect no matter how we identify ourselves.

As Trinidadian people we must see these individuals as people. Trinidad cannot develop and continue to compete in a global world when we can’t get over ideologies that for some are reinforced by religious views.  Although one’s spiritual health and development is personal and important, it should not impede on human rights and it does not justify hate and discrimination.

As every country looks to the future in their journeys for a more tolerant society, we see many objectives to fulfill.  The LGTBQiA advocacy in these early stages tend to focus on lesbian and gay folks but with resources and education we can better address issues faced by those who identify as genderqueer and the full range of sexual and romantic preferences.  There are many online resources to understand other identities within the community and as allies and comrades we should be making that effort.

It may seem as though an American has no place in this discussion or I shouldn’t even care, but these issues are real and invasive.  If I had a same-sex partner how would I peacefully visit my family? What about the LGBTQiA members in my family that live in Trinidad or Jamaica? I care enough to speak up on issues even though I am not advocating side-by-side with my West Indian peers.  There are other issues that may come into play such as why do women, especially women of color, always have to try and “save the day”? That’s a conversation for another day, but I hope to start these conversations and amplify the voices that we don’t usually hear.

There are some resources my friend gave me that I would like to mention.  Those in Trinidad that do not have access to tertiary education are usually referred to the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO).  They are said to offer counseling and STD testing, but again, not sure what they are up to these days.  The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, all-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), is another resource located in Jamaica.  It’s the first human rights organization in Jamaica to cater to the LGBTQiA community. BlahTherapy.com is a website that offers anonymous “therapy”.  I like to promote this site because I’ve gotten a lot from it.  I’ve played the role of “venter” and “listener” and I’ve grown from my interactions.  You’re generally talking to other individuals that want to help.  If you have monetary privilege, you can chat with a licensed counselor.

To facilitate conversations with religious communities you may find this guide helpful www.hrc.org/resources/a-christian-conversation-guide.   A great start to being more inclusive is learning the vocabualry used in the community.  Check out the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans for some vocabulary: lgbtccneworleans.org/useful-vocabulary/.

I hope we can start working towards a more harmonious community and those who identify as LGBTQiA get the support they need to live without retribution.

I just want to say a special thanks to the West Indian Critic for giving me this cool opportunity! Also, I want to thank C.R.W & my best friend and fellow social-justice warrior Jennelle Ramdeen for helping me write, I love you all!

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Editor’s Note: I really appreciate Kira, C.R.W & Jennelle for their contribution to my blog on such an important subject. -Eriche

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