Thursday, November 26, 2015

Actioning Women’s Leadership

- SASOD attends Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference 2015

By Alana Da Silva - Secretary, SASOD’s Board of Directors

Photo courtesy: Melanie Grant
Over 50 lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women, feminists and heterosexual allies converged as a community at the 3rd Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference, from October 5 to 11, 2015. The conference was held at the Kapok Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

As LBT women and feminist allies of the Caribbean and Latin America, part of the joy (and challenge) of participating in the conference was in sharing our experiences and incredible stories of love, friendship, and ways to build a supportive and sustainable community that challenges and increases the leadership capabilities of women - regardless of our sexual orientations and gender identities. At the same time, we learned how to navigate the social, political, and religious structures that designed to control women’s sexualities, which is inherently diverse but often criticised and criminalised due to fear, ignorance, and oppression.

The discussions were thought-provoking and sometimes deeply emotional, as one participant recalled her struggle with suicide, anxiety and depression. Others have overcome similar challenges with lesbophobia, biphobia and transphobia, while manoeuvring through self-care and acceptance. Our shared bond is that we continue to strengthen our resolve by advocating for the most vulnerable in our communities. This is achieved through various actions across the region, including LGBT-focused research; housing and security for victims of domestic and gender-based violence; training and information sharing; literacy programmes for children, or providing a safe space to share each other’s rich artistry and creativity, as in the case of Afifa Aza, Jamaican Artist, as well as Founder and Creative Director at SO((U))L.

There was also an LBT Women’s Movement Building exercise (facilitated by UWI’s Institute of Gender Studies researcher at St. Augustine, Dr. Gabrielle Hosein) which revealed that though we originate from varying backgrounds and territories, our values and cultures are interwoven; shaping the way we interact with each other, make decisions, and build relationships. This, along with (re)education, is the catalyst that helps us to break loose from the status quo, and to reshape our identity as women, feminists, activists, and human beings. For me, it was an honour to witness history in the making, surrounded by so many women who are doing their part to shape the future for generations to come. However miniscule or gigantic the outcome, positive change is inevitable with these powerful women at the forefront.

Other facilitators and focus group sessions provided useful information on community grassroots organising; fund-raising for non-governmental organisations (NGOs); negative stereotypes and violence; women’s sexual and mental health; security for women’s human rights defenders; using art as activism, and presentation skills. There was also a gift exchange that procured a multitude of authentic Caribbean artifacts - and of course, bottles of rum! - from Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and other territories. It was a festival thereafter! :)) A yoga session was also built into the conference for the early risers and a ‘Meet and Greet’ after a full day of soul-searching and capacity building.

Photo courtesy: United and Strong, St. Lucia

 I represented the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) as Board Secretary, and Guyanese woman activist. We attended the conference with the aim of collaborating with other LGBT activists, strengthening our approach in the quest for equality, and building meaningful and sustainable partnerships with other human rights and non-governmental organisations across the Caribbean and Latin American region, and worldwide.

Since the conference, I have been thinking seriously about my role in advocacy and how I can (as an individual and as part of the collective voice/effort) achieve equal rights for LGBT people in Guyana

#CSWDC2015 has taught me many things, but most importantly, it has shown me the bigger picture of why we advocate for the voiceless and the most vulnerable in our communities — and why the vision of doing so weighs heavy on my heart and my conscience. I cannot see suffering or injustice and not render assistance. I cannot just merely watch from the sidelines.

And though some of my efforts may seem like a mere speck or a drop in the bucket, I have learned that however long it takes, our commitment is paramount to achieving success(es) in the struggle for equality. It also requires me to believe in myself — and activating that belief by doing the seemingly insignificant but monumental things that result in change.

As scary and as tiring as it can be, I am committed to working towards that change for LGBT people – myself included.

I sincerely thank the organisers of this year’s conference, United and Strong, St. Lucia and WOMANTRA of Trinidad and Tobago, for doing such a stellar job of motivating and inspiring me to take up the mantle and be the change that I want to see. Cheers to that!

The 4th Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference 2016 will be held in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, under the auspices of Liberty Place and Debra Benjamin.

Gifts from the various participants
 Highlights from the conference can be viewed on Facebook and Twitter; hashtag #CWSDC2015.


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