Proud to Tell It was a simple idea. In 2002, Sean Drakes, a self-made lifestyle photojournalist, picked up the new video camera he was teaching himself to use and travelled around the US to four Black Pride celebrations, in Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. The Black Prides had emerged as ways for African American communities in larger US cities to celebrate GLBT pride on their own cultural terms, often in more inward-focused ways that looked different from the larger, public, White-dominated Pride celebrations that occur around the country every June. Some of the Prides, like L.A.’s, had evolved from a group of friends getting together to throw a beach party.
Drakes had another simple idea earlier this month. In town to photograph Carnival 2010 professionally, he pitched to Bohemia‘s promoters the thought of screening the work-in-progress on the Pride events he had shot in 2002 for community members here in Trinidad. To Drakes’s surprise, within days an ad was up on Facebook, A/V equipment had been ordered, as had stocks for a bar. He pitched in for chairs.
In another seemingly simple gesture, Drakes thought to invite an NGO to facilitate a discussion about the film’s significance for organizing and community in T&T. His idea bounced around CAISO, where one person after another was charged to make it into something grand: tie it into our vision for a project documenting the community’s history? use it to launch a base-building effort that would lead into a campaign for law reform?
We ended up with a really simple discussion. But what a rich discussion it was!
One hundred and twenty people showed up on March 11th. They applauded heartily whenever CAISO was mentioned by name, including when we introduced our logo designer. One person boasted she had supported the group “from Day 1”. Evangelists on Isaac radio, we learned, are still quoting our very first press release.
Parade? A lot of the conversation the film generated was about how ready T&T’s is for the idea of a Pride parade. One participant reminisced back to when Pride in T&T first started 16 years ago (when the idea of march came up and was quickly dismissed), sharing that he never thought he would live to see people think they might be ready to march, as some attendees at the screening clearly felt they were. He noted the positive changes he’s seen over the years – people donating time, people of standing standing up, mainstream hospitality businesses seeing T&T Pride events as a market.
But what’s the right fit for Pride here, several people who spoke asked. Parade of the Bands, one person was convinced: community members should play mas together in the same Carnival band, perhaps in Pride colours; didn’t the GLBT Bajan posse show out here this year? And, although one person warned us to be more modest (Barbados and Suriname may challenge us in that regard), speaker after speaker talked about pride in how far “ahead” of the rest of the region things are for our community in T&T. Aren’t there ways outside of a parade to gain visibility, one person wondered: Why not have winners of the very popular gender illusion pageants appear on TV and do newspaper features.
CYAISO? Students from UWI, USC and COSTAATT were all present, and shared some amazing efforts, small but brave, that they are undertaking to support each other and make their campuses safer spaces. Some are exploring ways they can share the skills and training they are acquiring with the GLBT community, offering peer counselling as a community service to others struggling with sexual orientation, gender identity and family issues.
What do we want? Nobody at all talked about same-sex marriage. Many people talked about the need to do internal work within the community to build dignity, self-respect and pride as being a priority of the first order. One young man talked about how the gender pageants did that for him. Make activities like Friends for Life’s chatroom happen more regularly, and do better work at publicizing them. Create similar activities for women. Plan workshops during Pride month. Create mentoring programmes. Routinely have information and resource tables set up at community events like the film screening. People talked about the need for legal protections against employment and housing discrimination; about the continued ability of murderers of gay men to successfully use as a defence the assertion that the victim came on to them. People told personal stories about the cost of coming out, being forced to leave home and losing relationships with family. One student shared that her school’s handbook says you can be expelled for being gay. And one person advanced the idea of CAISO forming constituency groups in each of the nation’s 41 constituencies, “like the PNM did in 1956”.
Velvet Underground. Organizer Angela Francis talked at length about the recent growth of her group to close to 1,000 members, and her vision for creating a lounge in the East providing sexual and mental health services, other community supports, and office space – as well as her challenge in getting community members to support the vision. The founder of Queen Mother touted the new blog.
Well-known people were there, and spoke up. The DJ for a controversial radio host promised to back us up with a big truck whenever we were “ready to be serious” about a Pride parade. (So don’t let him off the hook!)
The event worked so well and so simply, we’ve simply decided to do it again. And maybe again and again every month or two.