There were around 50 activists arriving in Saint Croix at the same time. Many of them met in the airport while waiting for their bags to come out on the carrousel. Some kind of intuition helped some of them recognize each other as participants to the same meeting. Others met in the van that took everybody to the hotel and venue of the Conference. All of the advocates this strong group was made up of gathered in the 4th Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference, organized by ECADE (Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity), United & Strong (Saint Lucia), and Liberty Place (Saint Croix).
The event brought together many common things among participants. Most of the activists gathered in Saint Croix live in the same region –the Caribbean. Most of the participants are women’s and/or LGBTIQ rights activists. Many of them frequently face violence in their countries. Not many of them knew in depth the organizations which other activists belong to. Not many of them knew in depth the countries other activists came from. All of them were willing to learn more skills to better advocate for human rights.
-I come from a very little island named … -Where is it? (Participant)
The #CWSDC2016 took place in Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands, the past 4-7th of October. “Starting here, starting now. Setting the foundation for sustainable engagement” was the slogan and direction which guided the work during four intensive and passionate days. It was supported by COC-Nederlands, ARCUS Foundation, Inter-American Foundation, Astraea, ARC International, and Outright Action International.
The meeting was an interesting experience to get to know in depth the work some Caribbean activists are doing. Not only the advocacy they are doing, but also the challenges they have been facing within their conservative societies and governments. That’s why two of the issues specially highlighted during the Conference could be so useful to help them do their work: leadership and intersectionality.
One of the approaches the Conference proposed to lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex activists aimed at strengthening leadership. As organizers pointed out, “The issue of leadership remains a conflicting one for women in the Caribbean as it is often associated with aggression and ego. The CSWDC acknowledges that many LBTQI women are effectively ‘leaders’ at levels of state, organization and community and equips them to increase their impact in their various contexts”.
In other words, the message could have been “one step at a time”. We need to strengthen our activists’ capacities, leaderships and self-care attitudes before enhancing our advocacy skills and move forward struggling for our fights.
“It is key to develop oneself and learn something new. It is key to know that you as activists are making a difference”. (Trainer)
It was interesting to learn more about different ways of getting social impact with what each activist has been struggling for. “Why are we doing what we are doing? Impact is about change. Shaping our impact requires: know our community and understand the social problem”, triggered one of the facilitators.
Who are you around the table with? (Presenter)
Participants were not a homogeneous group. The richness and the challenges of the heterogeneity were the differences in preparations and levels everyone came with. With this landscape, it was obvious that generalizations in terms of content and ways of training would have not helped improving the advocates’ capacities.
What does the word ‘queer’ mean? (Participant)
For this reason, and as it happened, it was necessary that activists had training in key aspects such as human rights covenants, treaty bodies and many other mechanisms to address violations and stress advances. Tools and tips such as United Nations mechanisms, art interventions to build awareness, using arts-based research to connect LBQ & trans women across regions, and how to build stronger organizations to better advocate, were also shared during those days.
-Do you know the meaning of SOGI and SOGIESC? –No. (Participant)
The training and sensitization wouldn’t have been complete if there hadn’t been particular presentations on intersectionality. Yes, the Conference also shed light on the fact that once we know where we stand and what is our starting point, then we can use different tools and tips to advocate.
Audre Lorde: Within lesbian community I am black and within black community I am lesbian. (Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet)
One of the lessons learned during the meeting is that we cannot advocate for LGBTIQ human rights if we don’t take into account intersectionality as the interrelations between age, race, sexual orientation, social class, religion, ethnicityand many more, not only in terms of power but also in terms of self-knowledge and identity.
Intersectionality permeates our lives. We are clear that it is not the same if we are women than if we are men. If we are black than if we are white. If we are old than if we are young. If we are lesbians than if we are straight. If we are transgender than if we are cisgender… It is not the same being a refugee or an internal displaced than not being so. Neither is the same in terms of power for indigenous nor for people belonging to other ethnic groups. Internalizing the intersections between our characteristics, elections and places of belonging is necessary to advocate in a more successful way. We are not just one single thing; we are built by many “ands”.
I am a black woman, feminist, gender non-conforming. (Trainer)
Concepts and definitions such as hegemony, cisgender, transgender, discrimination, feminization, oppression, and many others came out once and again to help participants think about intersectionality when advocating.
I don’t understand the difference between oppression and discrimination. (Participant)
What about our own stereotypes and ways of discriminating? The Caribbean meeting also showed that slighting attitudes and prejudices are not so infrequent within the activists who stand for the recognition and respect of LBTIQ human rights. A taste of our own weaknesses came out in a veiled way during these intensive four training days.
I would like to name myself and live as a man, but I need to feel more courageous and strong. There is quite a lot opposition within my community. (Participant)
Wrapping up, #CWSDC2016 was a useful space from which to take advantage, learn and reflect on oneself. It showed that it is necessary to keep on training activists to help them in their everyday advocacy. Things within the region are not easy in terms of promotion, respect and exercise of human rights, particularly the rights of LGBTIQ persons.
Activists expressed the reality that perhaps not every Caribbean country is reluctant to respect LGBTIQ rights, but the vast majority of them are. With this in mind, how can advocates do their work in hostile contexts? The answer is with preparation, persistency and creativity. But also taking into account the motto which guided the whole Conference: “Starting here, starting now”.
“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.” (Audre Lorde)