Wanted: A Caribbean LGBT Research Agenda

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The 2nd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual diversity conference (CWSDC) was held in Paramaribo Suriname from October 5-12. The conference was organized by United and Strong (St.Lucia), CARIFLAGS (Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities), and Women’s Way Foundation (Suriname). CWSDC brought together “activists in the area of lesbian, bisexual and transsexual health and rights, with the aim of increasing Caribbean women’s visibility in the movement”. The theme of this years conference was Inspiring women to leadership”.

Participants “explored ways to improve their advocacy including proposal writing, understanding international mechanisms, community mobilizing and working with the media”.

This was the first time I was attending the conference and immediately recognized its value for providing a space for looking at Caribbean LGBT activism and advocacy particularly from the perspective of women doing work with and for women.

This was also the first time I got to see the differences and commonalities in the LGBT community in the Caribbean. The conference prompted thinking more deeply about the LGBT community as marginalized, misunderstood, disadvantaged, individuals within society and how activism and advocacy with supporting mechanisms(funding in particular)from North America could support the creation of a positive reality for LGBT in the Caribbean.

It is within this “thinking more deeply” that several concerns about what grounds our work and our understanding of our work in the Caribbean has emerged for me.

It was at this conference that I really began to feel the need for a Caribbean epistemology; a Caribbean way of thinking, asking questions, understanding and knowing (by Caribbean I identity separate ethnic groupings which make up the Caribbean; African, Indian, Chinese etc). I fundamentally questioned the ideas, theories and definitions that were created outside of our social, cultural and political context that were been used to frame, measure and assess the effectiveness of our work. These questions were not an indictment on the organizers of the conference or the presenters or the women activist present.

Rather, the questions can be seen as a call for us to have another understanding of who we are and what our work means. If we agree with Audre Lorde that “The masters tools will not destroy the masters house” are we able to see the need for us arriving at ways of asking questions, finding definitions and strategies that are grounded in a rigorous understanding of ourselves our identities and the context that shape us? Typically we take the Audre Lorde quote as support for deconstructing heternormative and patriarchal frames and approaches but we can also use it to begin to interrogate and locate activism and advocacy within and for the Caribbean LGBT movement.

I am proposing that the work we do and the communities and movements we are trying to build should be more closely connected to an ongoing search for knowledge and understanding, connections and ways of knowing. I am proposing that research and developing a research agenda has to be a key strategy for any activist or advocacy work we do. This doesn’t mean that we should all be researchers but for example those who work within Universities as researchers should create communities for the production of knowledge that can influence the thinking about the LGBT community in the Caribbean and influence the way that the community organizes and works. For example we need more projects like Theorizing Homophobia in the Caribbean http://www.caribbeanhomophobias.org/ or The Caribbean Region International Resource Network http://www.irnweb.org/regions/caribbean/. We need a deepening and a expanding of work like this.

By saying we need a Caribbean LGBT research agenda, one of the things I am saying is that we need to be developing Caribbean theories, methodologies, social movement strategies, advocacy strategies, histories. We need to be exploring definitions identities and connections, we need to be identifying the gaps in what we know and what we don’t know. We need to be studying ourselves to learn about ourselves. We need to be doing more than baseline studies of what the LGBT community needs ( even though this is important for informing our work).

Activism and advocacy benefits from research. Research asks questions and provide answers or new directions. During the different sessions in the conference I wrote down my thoughts as questions. When I look back at the questions I feel we can begin creating a research agenda for the Caribbean LGBT community. A commitment to us deepening our knowledge about ourselves.

  • Is a sexuality research agenda an LGBT research agenda?

  • What does Queer mean in the Caribbean?

  • What about the Africa identity in the LGBT identity?

  • What are the phases in community mobilization ?

  • Where are Nurturing Organizations?

  • Nurturing Groups?

  • Nurturing Individuals?

  • Nurturing Communities?

  • How do small LBT organizations work?

  • Self-care vs Community Care?

  • How do we describe the values and goals that underline and motivate how we work?

  • How do we support more people talking to each other?

  • When are you ready to write a proposal?

  • What are Caribbean funding models?

  • What are the community ideas about money?

  • What is the relationship between donors and grantees?

  • Do donors and grantees need each other?

  • How do you identify potential funders?

  • Where is the funding for LGBT work?

  • How do LGBT organizations in the region work?

  • What is our philosophy on human rights documentation?

  • How do we describe what a human right is?

  • Does the LGBT community advocate for Gay Human rights or Human rights?

  • What do we do with “data”?

  • What is our relationship to “data”?

  • Why doesn’t the format of reporting human rights violation in the LGBT community change given the difficulty in collecting reports?

  • What is the dysfunction of violence? what do we understand about the state of mind of the perpetrator

  • When we are looking at violence are we looking at extreme violations against human beings?

  • What is the relationship of the LGBT community to the state?

  • What are the expectations for provision of services by the state?

  • What services are we going to provide given the data that we have?

  • What do we have to say about Hegemonic heterosexual masculinity?

  • What do we have to say about female masculinity?

  • How do we deal with “intimate partner violence”?

  • What is “credible data”?

  • How do we communicate in the Caribbean? Is Data collected in conversation? How do we know about how many women are displaced because of their sexuality?

  • Who is documentation for?

  • What is our documentation culture?

  • What are the mainstream approaches to LGBT advocacy in the Caribbean?

  • What are the limitations of mainstream approaches?

  • One way to affect change is through international public policy- conventions/agreements/commitees. How do we make ordinary people understand the importance of this?

  • What about sexual reproductive rights and RESPONSIBILITIES?

  • What about the responsibility of the LGBT community?

  • What are the cultural definitions of Sexuality that we are using?

  • Do men have reproductive health problems?

  • My rights are everyone’s rights?

  • Why is satisfaction and pleasure a right? And how does this create a problem for the LGBT community?

  • Are LGBT rights a “single issue”?

  • Does the LGBT community only see “single issues”?

  • How do we consider the ways in which LGBT advocacy creates certain outcomes?

  • What is the history of LGBT activism in the Caribbean?

  • What is the health advocacy strategy for the Caribbean LGBTQ community?

  • Is there a correlation between violence in African communities and violence in LGBTQ communities?

  • How does the LGBT community work towards a healthier community for everybody?

  • How has “Chick V affected the LGBT community?

  • Why we let people research us?

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