June, A Month of Many Celebrations: Caribbean Heritage and LGBTQIA+ Pride (Opinion) – Skidmore News

*Trigger warning: Some mention of violence towards gay men.

June has become a celebratory month for both LGBTQIA+ Pride and Caribbean-American Heritage. This year, the annual NYC Pride Parade and several Caribbean awareness organizations had to cancel their events due to the impacts of the Coronavirus. Despite the cancellation of many major parades, both communities have found ways to celebrate themselves during the month of June. As many people across the nation continue to march for Black Lives, recently, a spectrum of identities within the LGBT+ Caribbean community have come into view, and it is important to acknowledge how these communities clash.

One of the many taboos in the Caribbean is having open discussions about the LGBT+ community. West Indian families are very much silent about the topic and express their homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormative feelings about different sexualities in ways that can be marginalizing. Often, West Indian communities condemn their own family members, calling them derogatory names, and these individuals are usually unable to feel truly welcomed in public spaces. West Indian people are also in denial of their stigmatizing of the LGBT+ community, where verbal and physical abuse, as well as discrimination of one's sexuality is pertinent in the culture. Many are pressured to conform to the subjective representations of "masculinity" or "femininity" because of religious and cultural expectations. This creates a complete dismissal of transgender, transsexual, bisexual, queer and intersex persons, whose different gender and sexuality identities are confronted by heteronormative beliefs of West Indians.

One of the many reasons Caribbeans celebrate their heritage is because of the wide range of music across cultures. Caribbean music is fundamental to how people survive, work, and feel liberated on the day-to-day. West Indian culture is highly appreciated for its Dancehall music. For many Caribbean countries, Dancehall has become economically central, with people using the genre to create new fashion styles, events, and dance forms. However, it is also a genre that promotes extremely homophobic lyrics. Our most beloved Dancehall artists, such as Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Sizzla and Vybz Kartel have all been lyricists for the burning, drowning, and violence against gay men. The notorious 1988 song by Buju Banton, "Boom Bye Bye" advocates for the brutal shooting of a gay man in the head in its lyrics.

Many Eastern Caribbean countries continue to enact discriminatory laws against LGBT+ people. Countries such as Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & St. Nevis, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and St. Lucia have had several reports of discriminatory legislation called "buggery laws,'' that negatively impact the LGBT+ population. Laws implemented were originally fostered by British colonialists, prohibiting consensual same-sex marriages and public relationships. Even so, West Indian culture has traditionally always been ingrained with heteronormativity. Law enforcement tends to dismiss harassment and sexual violent cases, often asking people if they are "straight" first before helping them.

The clash between Caribbean cultures and LGBT+ communities have created a segway for Caribbean organizations to step forth and diminish the stigma and violence against people. Non-profit organizations such as The Caribbean Equality Project (CEP), located in Queens, NY have empowered the voices of LGBT+ people of Caribbean origin. CEP was founded by Mohamed Q. Amin, who is an Indo-Caribbean Guyana native and gay rights activist. After a troubling violent hate crime shook the queer community in Richmond Hill, Queens, he created CEP to bring hope and to advocate for the inclusion and equality for all West Indian gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer+ people in NYC. CEP has worked to equalize spaces for queer people to receive medical, food, immigration, and mental health resources through several GoFundMe pages and services. Also, their organization has expanded, receiving recognition from Dominique Jackson of the popular Netflix show POSE, who spoke in their storytelling campaign series, "My Truth, My Story" that documents stories of LGBT+ people from the Caribbean. The storytelling series goals are to liberate and unshackle survivors from living in silence and fear, while providing a space for them to speak their own truths and educate others within the Caribbean diaspora.

The first Pride Parade occurred in 1970 in New York City, and was often recognized as the initial stage of the LGBT+ rights movement. This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Pride and despite the political climate of our nation, a united community of people walked together with their masks on, safely advocating for Black lives and Queer liberation. CEP partnered with API Rainbow Parents, GAPIMNY, Barkada NYC, Sige!, and Q-Wave and joined hands with them to celebrate LGBT+ people and give recognition to people of Caribbean heritage and other cultural backgrounds.

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June, A Month of Many Celebrations: Caribbean Heritage and LGBTQIA+ Pride (Opinion) - Skidmore News

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