IS SAINT LUCIA GAY FRIENDLY?

 I get this question often. Most commonly, I get this question on YouTube, since I've recently started a channel about life and travel here. It's a question that's difficult to answer in a YouTube comment when you have a limited amount of time and space, and the additional difficulty of not being able to "read" the person you're talking to in order to determine if they're really hearing you. The more I get this question, the more I do want to address it somewhere because the answer is both simple and complicated."Is Saint Lucia gay-friendly?" The short answer is no.This answer should be a national embarrassment, yet it's one that many of our residents who rely on tourism as their bread and butter hold proudly and dear to their hearts.I've heard all the excuses and justifications of homophobia stemming from slavery (true) and also from Christianity being used as a tool of violence to keep enslaved people obedient to European rule (also true). While these historical facts paint the picture of why the Caribbean is homophobic, they don't excuse it.The violence Christians enact today in the name of misreading an excessively butchered translation of the Bible, is 100% their fault. And I'm going to come right out and make a controversial claim:

We deserve every dollar lost due to our violent intolerance and discrimination. 

I'm not sorry to make that claim because discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. End of story. There is no "religious" justification that can take away the ultimate alleged message of Christianity: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.Love is not conditional and if you believe it is, you need to hit that Bible once more and correct the hell out of your poisoned definition of love. The religious justifications for homophobia in this country are no longer an excuse. The legacy of slavery is no longer an excuse. While it may explain why our country is homophobic, this doesn't excuse it.

What are we doing right now to change the oppressive system enacted into law by slave masters? Answer: The majority of us are doing nothing.So yes, I'm tired of coming up with excuses and yes, Saint Lucia is very much a homophobic country. You know you're starting off on the wrong foot when you refer to sex as "sodomy" on the books. "Sodomy" is forbidden under Saint Lucian law.Now, let's get to where things get a little more complicated.While legally, two men are not permitted to have sex and as you can imagine, getting married is out of the question, the law is difficult to enforce. Also, I've asked and there's no word on whether two women having sex is forbidden. Loopholes on loopholes, I suppose.I know a number of people in the LGBT community in Saint Lucia who get by here. I'm not sure how happy they are so I really don't want to portray a message that I have no evidence of. Happy or not, LGBT Saint Lucians consider this place their home and have hope that the country will move forward in the future. Some people live with their partners in Saint Lucia as well and as far as I know, have not been arrested for doing such.I will not promise that existence is without fear, threat or discrimination. However, it is a reality that we have an LGBT community in Saint Lucia and some people live openly.

To act as if gay people do not exist here is an act of violence itself, and I don't wish to perpetuate that. (If you want me to expand more on this, comment down below.)Now, the question at hand that often accompanies "IS SAINT LUCIA GAY-FRIENDLY?" is, would I recommend that a tourist visit Saint Lucia?Let me put it to you this way. I would not put my money in the hands of a government that had "banned" black people or interracial relationships, lets say.If the question isn't a matter of where you're putting your money, I would say that if you come to Saint Lucia as an LGBT person you can remain unbothered if you conform to the standards of dress acceptable for men and women in our culture. Also, I would not recommend public displays of affection towards your significant other or anyone of the same sex. (Usually, I find it's more acceptable for women to dress "like men" than the other way around down here but I'm open to correction from women who have lived this experience.)

Would I recommend you traveling here? Hell no! That's messy! I don't like taking responsibility for people's decisions like that. I would not feel comfortable assuring a tourist 100% of their safety in any homophobic country. My recommendation is to assess the situation and determine what you're comfortable with.If more tourists vote with their dollars and take a stance against homophobia here, I am certain the profit mongers in our tourism industry would inch slowly towards progress. However, that's going to take a lot of dollars considering homophobia is not just a Caribbean issue, but a global one. If it's your dream to see the Caribbean before then, I don't think you should deny yourself the opportunity.It's possible to be safe. It's possible to be unbothered by anyone. If you've survived anywhere else in the world where homophobia exists, you can certainly do it down here. Sadly, none of this prejudice is new.

Be warned that while the country's laws may be lax, some of the rules of the resorts here are not and the white foreign resort owners are the ones most likely to enforce the rules that LGBT couples cannot stay there. Be mindful of this and do your research beforehand.We have a lot of work to do in the field of human rights. Homophobia isn't the only rampant discrimination that exists here, as with most other places in the world. I won't sugar coat it and pretend it's all a fat mug of cocoa tea. We have a lot of work to do as a country, let's get to making a change rather than jumping through hoops to avoid accountability for the reprehensible.If you hope to visit Saint Lucia and you have any more questions, I recommend that you check out my YouTube channel. My latest vlog is right here: https://youtu.be/7-SZQ5Sv_oc  

Guest Post: LGBTQiA & Mental Health in the West Indies

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!

~~

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

Intersectional Feminism: Mental Health And The West Indian LGBTI Community

Viewing mental health through the lens of intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the specific mental health issues faced by the LGBTI community. While all mental health issues are largely ignored by the greater West Indian community, another group of marginalized people face specific oppression at the hands of medical professionals; they face specific issues regarding their sexuality and gender expression that other West Indians do not face.In a society where non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people face massive amounts of physical/emotional and sexual violence, there is no space for LGBTI+ individuals to receive help or support for their unique difficulties. Not to mention, the people who cause these difficulties don't believe that their problems are real. While I'm not qualified to speak on behalf of anyone in the community, I can advise my readers, especially those in positions of privilege, to pay attention to how our society creates toxic conditions for the mental health of LGBTI+ individuals.

LGBTI+ individuals face bullying and abuse at the hands of their family and friends. Abuse has a definitive negative impact on mental health. (Source: CDC, Google it)LGBTI+ individuals face legal discrimination at work and in society at large. (Source: Anti buggery laws, instances of hate crimes.) It's not difficult to see how this large scale discrimination could lead to depression and anxiety, among other conditions which may end in suicide and overall impact society in a negative way.LGBTI+ individuals must live in constant fear of hate crimes considering our Christian society's inability to empathize with them. Living in fear is not a healthy position for anyone to exist in.

Transgender and non-binary individuals may experience gender dysphoria as well as a whole host of other psychological issues caused by living in a violently oppressive and intolerant society that prescribes one way for men/women to behave and a society that doesn't except people who are neither.LGBTI+ individuals might reasonably see no hope for the future considering their family/friend's comfort in using harmful+violent slurs and may see nothing but hatred from people who are supposed to love them.This is just a short list of ways that our violent society oppresses LGBTI+ individuals in a way that denies them the human right to live freely. Due to this violence, LGBTI+ individuals may need special therapy and medical professionals with deep understanding of their specific needs.

Doctors here might be bigoted themselves or otherwise unable to provide LGBTI+ individuals with proper assistance or medical treatment.Some particularly violent people might believe that this doesn't matter... But it does. While there are commonly touted lies that LGBTI+ identity is a choice or a fad (two things which shouldn't affect civil rights anyways), this is not the case. Most people don't know who is on the LGBTI+ spectrum. You should safely assume that someone you know or someone in your family suffers due to our violence against this marginalized group. Even if this didn't affect your friends or your family, anyone with the ability to empathize should be able to see how these issues are important... All people deserve the same human rights.Differences are not a reason to continue enacting violent oppression.

We would do well to shed these colonial habits of discrimination and prejudice! Going further, I recommend reading up on LGBTI+ identity and learning FACTS outside of what religious fundamentalists present you with. I recommend listening to members of the community and learning about their demands and their specific needs. Since it's LGBT history month, I also recommend learning about the stories of LGBTI+ identifying West Indians specifically... There ARE quite a few out there who are writing and sharing their stories.

This is a great primer to get you started: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Caribbean-Gathering-Lesbian-Antilles/dp/082234226XThe responsibility to care for LGBTI+ mental health is on everyone in our society regardless of your sexuality or gender identity. It's time for the oppressors to take charge of making these changes and assisting in bringing acceptance and justice to our region. Speak out against those who use slurs. Speak out against those who spread misinformation and violent propaganda.

We need to start protecting our greater Caribbean family.