When we launched, CAISO said our plans included “a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups”. In fact, our emergence has been received with quite a bit of excitement within the region and beyond. We’ve been called on by UNAIDS (the UN’s joint programme on HIV, who asked us to share ideas about addressing homophobia and violence); UNDP (the UN’s development programme, through its new, Port of Spain-based initiative on sexual minorities); the regional Coalition for Vulnerable Communities whom we welcome back to Trinidad for a human rights consultation at the end of the month; and CariFLAGS (the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities), a 12-year-old regional GLBT coalition who have asked us to join and, with other partners, sponsored a local community member to attend their groundbreaking Regional Transgender Training and Strategy Consultation two weeks ago. The Commonwealth People’s Forum blog and the blogger portal Global Voices Online have both taken notice of our online work. As evidenced by yesterday’s City University of New York webcast, CAISO is helping strengthen links between Trinidad & Tobago and a range of regional and international work on GLBT issues. As we participate in these regional and international meetings and build relationships with partners, a periodic gspotttlight will try to tell you a bit about those meetings and allies.
Vidyartha Kissoon, Caribbean IRN Coordinator, talks about the entity that gave rise to yesterday’s webcast, and its consultation in Jamaica in June that a CAISO member attended.
“A gathering of buller, sadamite woman, man-rayal, batty-man, anti-man and dey friend (or, if you want, a gathering of people whose political, creative and scholarly work focuses on genders and sexual minorities in the
Caribbean) meet up in Jamaica in June this year. (Jamaica, you ask? Well Jamaica was the venue for the Caribbean Studies Association conference, which had many discussions on Caribbean sexualities.) The gathering was organized by the Caribbean board of the International Resource Network (IRN). The IRN is a project based at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) of the City University of New York. It is funded by the Ford Foundation and seeks to connect academic and community-based researchers, artists, and activists around the world in areas related to diverse sexualities and genders. The web platform is at http://www.irnweb.org.
What opportunities does the IRN present for the Caribbean? It provides a mechanism to promote the work being done by groups lIke CAISO and to network across the Caribbean and in the diaspora in a very visible way. The Caribbean is evolving in terms of how the different countries respond to LBGTT citizens and their right to achieve their full potential. The Caribbean IRN web has started to build a listing of related resources – syllabuses, films, books, papers, people. And other activities have started in the background:
- research into the history of Caribbean LGBTT people and work being done
- a group of volunteers has started to conceptualize an e-zine for the Caribbean
- the Digital Archives of the Caribbean project has agreed to add LGBTT content. ”
And here’s a snippet from the report of the Jamaica meeting:
“In other organizing there was not a place where Caribbean people were taking charge of their own agenda. Here we have a direction and give ourselves the charge to speak on these issues. We have to break our own silences and energize and network. Because among other people who are interested in working on our rights, they want to lead.”
– Comment by a workshop participant
The first meeting of the Caribbean Region of the International Resource Network was an undeniable success. The more than thirty people present came from or have relationships with over a dozen Caribbean countries and territories using all four major languages of the region. They are activists, scholars, politicians, and artists – and many occupy more than one of these roles at once. In addition to individual introductions, an important element of the meeting was brief reports of the major issues faced by sexual minorities in different Caribbean countries and territories. This enabled participants to have a better idea of the historical and contemporary situations in places with which they were less familiar.
For more than five hours, we discussed the major issues facing Caribbean sexual minorities – both in individual countries and across the region – and ways to address these concerns generally, and specifically through the IRN website. The discussion topics chosen by participants were:
– theorizing and contesting homophobia
– regional and national queer history, including indigenous perspectives
– allies and families
– art, performance and social justice
– transgender lives in the Caribbean
– scholarship as activism
– surveying and documenting organizing in the region and action research.
It is significant – and was remarked upon by those present – that HIV/AIDS was not chosen by the group as a discussion topic. Since many of those present are actively engaged in HIV/AIDS work, this does not indicate a sense that this is not an important topic in the region. Rather, its absence may reflect the reality that resources related to sexual minority issues in the Caribbean are directed overwhelmingly to HIV/AIDS, with almost nothing left for other topics or work. The group’s discussion choices raise the question: if sexual minorities in the Caribbean could ourselves choose to direct resources to any type of work, would they continue to direct them almost exclusively to HIV/AIDS? This question is spoken to by the quote at the beginning of this document.
During the rigorous and refreshing discussions, participants also addressed how the IRN can contribute to the work going on in the region and its diaspora. They addressed every aspect of the website, from its construction to its content and capabilities. These suggestions are detailed in the “Next Steps” section below. Many of the directives are in the process of being implemented to make the IRN a functioning, productive website that can support work towards documenting, improving, and analyzing the lives of Caribbean sexual minorities.