By Elesha George
Discrimination against LGBTQ people in the Caribbean has come under fresh scrutiny following the sentencing of the killer of a transgender woman in Antigua.
Arnal ‘Angel’ Joseph, 25, was stabbed to death in September 2018 by her partner Timothy Jackman, who was last week sentenced to almost 12 years in prison for manslaughter.
And while Joseph’s death was not due to a hate crime, the case has caused residents in Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean and internationally to flood Twitter with messages of support for LGBTQ people and the hurdles they face.
The sentencing sparked a lively discussion about ‘growing up queer’ in the Caribbean with Joseph’s picture posted on various social media sites with the hashtag #sayhername.
Voices from across the region openly shared their opinions about the hurdles facing the LGBTQIA – which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual – community in the Caribbean.
Among those tweeting was Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) Senator Aziza Lake who pointed out that black men who identify with the gender they were born as (known as ‘cishet’ men) but who are queer, have to “hide in the proverbial closet”.
Lake said that men who exhibit what are viewed as feminine traits experience violence and ostracisation, and suggested that transexual women as part of the LGBTQ+ community are more vulnerable because their presence “challenges people’s ideas of masculinity”.
Others shared that they thought being a black queer person conflicts with Christianity – a system which has a long history of fighting against and killing them.
Sarah-Anne Gresham – cofounder of feminist group Intersect Antigua – tweeted that shame is a large part of Christian teaching and another example of violence that compounds emotional distress, trauma and self-hatred among what she termed “Queeribbean people”.
One person remarked that they were no longer practicing Christianity because of the shame and conflict it caused them to feel. They also identified “Christian colonial ideas” as a barrier that prevents the decriminalisation of buggery and the legalisation of same sex marriage within the region.
As it relates to violence against other genders, one participant tweeted that it was “mentally taxing” to go about their day knowing that people are out there who will go out of their way to bring them harm just because they exist differently to others.
“Many queer persons have a close relationship with depression and anxiety,” they tweeted.
Another participant – this time from St Vincent and the Grenadines – said “ending general public discrimination, having laws in place to protect queer and transpeople from being victims of hate crimes. Basically seeing queer people as people (worthy of living)” can go a long way.
Persons also called for Caribbean lawmakers to prioritise decriminalising laws against transgender people, saying that these people have been at the forefront of LGTBQ+ activism but have benefited the least.
Further questions and comments spoke of marriage equality, allowing comprehensive sex education inclusive of other genders to be taught at schools, and the psychological impact of violence and discrimination of Queeribbean people.
“Today’s Twitter conversation is actually part of an educational campaign that we initiated this year called the Caribbean Feminist Stories project. We are launching a website where we will be curating Caribbean and “Queeribbean” feminist stories which will allow people to share their fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and art around different thematic areas,” a statement written by Nneka Nicholas and Sarah-Anne Gresham, co-founders of Intersect read.
The women explained that they have been sharing infographics on Instagram, excerpts from early submissions, and hosting Twitter chats around various themes.
“One of them is ‘Growing Up Queer’ in the Caribbean which, for a lot of people, means fighting every day for their existence to be affirmed and validated and being subjected to violence. The murder of Angel Joseph is a stark reminder that despite people thinking that “they don’t have it so bad”, that isn’t the reality,” the statement continued.
The theme was also relevant because the women believe that it is important to show up for, and celebrate, queer voices while they are still alive and not offer empty condolences after they have been murdered.
“Transwomen, especially black transwomen, are extremely vulnerable to violence around the world, including the Caribbean. Amplifying the voices of Queeribbean people, especially transwomen, is imperative. The best way to do so is to let them tell their own stories,” the statement added.
Through this project, the women say they hope to emphasise that transwomen and LGBTQ+ people in Antigua and Barbuda deserve to live in a society where they are cared for, valued, loved, and cherished.
Intersect has been advocating for an end to violence against members of the LGBTQIA community since 2015.