|Multimedia website examines sexual minorities and activism in the Caribbean|
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Aug 04, 2012
Worldwide, The Caribbean isn’t a region particularly known for their friendliness and even tolerance toward homosexuality – an image that while many homophobic individuals in the Caribbean may prefer, overlooks the various complexities of homophobia and sexual minority experiences in the plethora of cultures under the umbrella of “Caribbean”.
Now however a website is working to change those realities. Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire and Belonging (www.caribbeanhomophobias.org) is a new digital multi-media platform that explores – through critical essays, visual art, film, music, creative writing and activist reports and interviews – the intricacies of homophobias in the Caribbean.
Through this, the website simultaneously allows for a space to examine sexual minority experiences in the Caribbean and activism in the region and the Diaspora.
The project is an extension of the Caribbean region of the International Resource Network (IRN), an Internet-based network which links researchers, artists, activists and teachers in Caribbean communities and the Diaspora interested in diverse sexualities.
One of the website’s editors and co-director of Caribbean IRN, Bahamian poet, community worker and scholar Dr. Angelique V. Nixon, points out that the Caribbean IRN and its projects like Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean are important accessible digital hubs for everyone – not just those in academia – to begin to explore and understand the scattered and complex nature of the Caribbean region and its sexual minorities through addressing homophobias.
“We were thinking about the relationship between scholarly work and activist work – how do activists get the data that scholars have and vice-versa, how to scholars get the real stories about what’s happening on the ground – and building up that exchange and also adding artist and writers and civil servants – folks that handle law and policy – use them all together to engage these issues because they are so complicated,” she said.
“So we thought we should actually decenter the place of theorizing altogether from the scholarly, and think about how we can theorize through art, through reports, though interviews, and not just privileging the critical.”
Indeed, Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean holds this important conversation through several angles, most notably, through spotlighting activist stories, interviews and initiatives that often do not find audience beyond their small communities, but who have made contributions and changes to the regional landscape.
Such a focus, says Nixon, works to shift imbalanced dialogue about the Caribbean region when it comes to homophobia.
“Issues around especially the term homophobias have been sort of monopolized by western LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) human rights discourse,” said Nixon. “It loves to frame the global south and places like the Caribbean as more homophobic than somewhere else, so that the global north becomes the site of not only privilege but also progress whereas the rest of the world is therefore backward or without progress.”
It’s the reason behind the name of the site – discussing sexual minorities in the Caribbean through the lens of homophobia helps to expand the global gaze beyond a one-dimensional understanding.
Nixon points out that when one searches for ‘Caribbean homophobia’ online, a Time article naming Jamaica as one of the most homophobic places on earth is the first result – but their website is working to change that to show that real work is being done in the many Caribbean communities that directly opposes this view.
“We have similar histories and similar colonial pasts and present colonial situations, but Caribbean countries still are different places,” she said. “Yet Jamaica often frames the entire region for all kinds of things, so we wanted to destabilize and complicate that.”
“We really privileged stories about activists and folks making a difference on the ground that you don’t really hear from,” she added. ‘”You may read it in the UN Commission or if you follow the organization in the region, but otherwise you may not hear about it, so that’s why this is really important.”
The website doesn’t aim to deny homophobia exists in the region however, but to acknowledge its many realities and forms through honest examination and experience by sexual minorities navigating – as the website’s title suggests – notions of place, desire and belonging.
“While spending many, many hours pouring over these amazing stories and lived experiences, what I saw most of all is that we were really representing and making an offering of how complicated the region is in terms of place and in terms of desire,” said Nixon.
“In all of the stories there is a thread of wanting to belong to the nation, to the island, to the place, but also a grappling with that when it comes to laws and sexual rights, and also family and friends and institutions like the church and government,” she continued. “So we wanted to show that it’s not all awful but that it’s much more complicated and that sexual minorities do exist and live across the region and have lived for a long time, have histories they are a part of in these places.”
To gain a more complete understanding of that, the website includes visual art like paintings and photography as well as film and performance art, all by Caribbean artists exploring sexual minority identity in their communities. On the website, viewers can begin to see the ways artists are grappling with place, desire and belonging, adding to an already rich offering of new positive perspectives.
“What I really love about the art we’re sharing here is especially that it represents love and desire and I think that’s really healing and not the usual representations,” said Nixon.
“If we are going to transform consciousness and think about creating change and a cultural shift across the region, we have to create strong representation of all kinds of stories – love being most important too.”
Visit Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire and Belonging at www.caribbeanhomophobias.org or find them on Facebook.