By Makeida Antonio
An international project, which involves the collaboration of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), has sought to include a specific group of young people who may consider themselves outcast of the society.
This project implemented by DECIDES Antigua and Barbuda in partnership with Women Against Rape (WAR) is being funded a grant given by the INTERARTS Foundation in Spain.
A public awareness campaign — which aims to bring awareness to lifestyle differences in youth aged 16-25 by gathering data from a targeted focus group of around 500 young people — is currently ongoing in Antigua and Barbuda.
Counselor and consultant Koren Norton said that young people suspected to be ‘different’ in sexual orientation often find themselves to be the target of bullying in the nation’s schools. She also indicated that some students have had to transfer to other schools as a result of violence.
“We’ve had physical fights; we’ve had attacks; knife wounds. If you speak to principals and school counselors, they will tell you that in the schools, sometimes there is verbal violence or physical violence against persons who are suspected to be different and because of how some persons in Antigua conduct themselves, everybody thinks that if someone has an alternative sexuality, that is who they are,” Norton explained on Observer AM yesterday.
Additionally, Norton noted that church tends to be a safe place for youth, but religious doctrine may not align with how they feel, therefore she believes that church leaders have a role to play in the country’s youth accepting who they are as they come of age.
“We can believe in God and all the principles of the Bible but at the same time, the Declaration of Human Rights talks about the equality of all persons.” she said.
Furthermore, Norton has encouraged members of society to practice inclusivity of all people, as seen with other movements worldwide.
“If we’re going to join the Black Lives Matter movement and we’re going to support the Me Too movement and we support all these movements, how can we then say one segment of the population deserves respect and love but another segment of the population does not?” she pondered.
Norton said that the project aimed at LGBTQ+ concerns in Antigua and Barbuda will provide an outlet for young people who are questioning their sexual orientation.
“Once you’re not committing a crime and hurting somebody … I’m talking about feelings in terms of sometimes I feel different, sometimes I question who I am, sometimes I am unsure of my orientation and my gender expression, and I want to explore this,” she added.
At this time, Norton would like to see a cultural shift where people can be accepted despite differences, making the country a safer environment for those still unsure of their sexual orientation.
“We want people to know that Antigua and Barbuda has to be a safe space because we don’t want our young persons to feel like ‘where do I turn when I have a question?’ They see stuff on TV outside of Antigua but because it’s such a small society, if they have questions, they are very much afraid to raise the question because they are going to be seen as different and they are likely to be persecuted,” she highlighted.