During the past couple of weeks several events of note were celebrated. First, the commemoration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month which was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 to recognize the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. The resolution passed the Senate in February, 2006 following which, President George H.W. Bush issued the proclamation in June 2006. Since the Declaration, the White House has issued an annual proclamation recognizing June as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Second, the celebration of Pride Month which according to the release from the Washington National Cathedral “is a time to recall the trials of what the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has endured and to rejoice in the triumphs of trailblazing individuals who have bravely fought — and continue to fight — for full equality”. Pride therefore is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity. Third is Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day, celebrated annually on June 19. It was on June 19th 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This news came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. Most noteworthy is that spurred on by the advocates and the Congressional Black Caucus, on June 15, 2021, the US Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a Federal holiday. It subsequently passed through the House of Representatives by a 415–14 vote on June 16.
Each of these events deserves special treatment for their significance to achieving the pervasive Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #10, "Reducing inequalities". The goal embraces targets that include empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion for all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic status.
Highlighting Pride Month
GOFAD has chosen to highlight Pride Month in this Blog because it helps to recognize the valuable contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals across the world. Consequently it leads to reaffirming our commitment to standing in solidarity with them. The celebration of Pride Month in June each year honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan which was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States that spread throughout the World. Initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the Commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
A series recent studies and reports signal the tensions that exist in the global struggle for reducing inequalities and increasing the inclusiveness of the LGBTQ+. Discriminatory laws and socio-cultural norms continue to marginalize and exclude LGBTQ+ from education, health care, housing, employment and occupation and other sectors with negative impacts on individuals, their families, groups and communities.
Perspective from the Caribbean
Although Caribbean Governments have supported the UN global declaration to end discrimination, the pattern persists. Although the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS
(PANCAP) has played a significant role in advocating for eliminating inequalities, stigma and discrimination, progress toward these ends remains slothful. The PANCAP Model Anti-Discrimination Legislation for example, endorsed by CARICOM Attorneys’ Generals in 2012 is still to be implemented at the national level despite Parliamentary Sensitization Forums convened by PANCAP (2016-2019). But there are also other major illustrations of unfulfilled pledges. Among them, the commitments of PANCAP Stakeholder groups — Faith Leaders, Parliamentarians, Civil Society, Youth — to the Caribbean Justice for All Roadmap and the unprecedented Caribbean Faith Leaders Declaration to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The greatest barriers being the persistence of stigma and discrimination.
Among major segments of the faith community there is resistance to removing the barriers and redressing the balance from inequality to inclusiveness of LGBTQ which pivot around:
♣ The legal and policy environment that is at odds with a public health response.
♣ Harmful societal norms and high levels of stigma and discrimination.
♣ Limited capacity of national programs to integrate and implement rights-based
♣ Limited capacity of national programs to provide innovative, evidence-based, high
impact services that reach key populations, especially in the area of access to
services and prevention.
♣ Frailties in political will of governments to move forward with implementing
♣ Insufficient attention to sustainability planning and financing.
Removing these barriers raise other questions such as: Why is there resistance in recognizing access to economic, social and cultural rights of LGBTQ+? How are they hampered by discriminatory laws that have negative impacts on individuals, their families, groups and communities? The evidence illustrates how these discriminatory social norms result in poverty and exclusion, lower socioeconomic status, and limited access to assets that are essential to the enjoyment of the full range of human rights. In the final analysis the resolution may revolve around the tortious route of litigations in the courts of law.
At the same time there are some positive developments arising from global interventions. Among them are:
Why abolition of Sodomy Laws Matter: Where are we positioned in the arc of Social Justice?
This is the big issue. Homosexuality is a part of the human experience. It is not relegated to one race or ethnicity. It is perhaps the strongest obstacle to embracing full equality for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Originally, sodomy laws were part of a larger body of law - derived from church law - designed to prevent non-procreative sexuality anywhere, and any sexuality outside of marriage. As the gay rights movement began to make headway, especially in the last 15-20 years and the social condemnation of being gay began to weaken, social conservatives increasingly invoke sodomy laws as a justification for discrimination. Yet UNAIDS 2019 Report reveals that more than 65 countries criminalize same sex relations, of which 12 are CARICOM States. The same report shows that eight states (none in the Caribbean) impose the death penalty.
Nowhere has unmasking the ambiguity to social justice materialize more forcibly than during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations in the USA with ripple effects worldwide. This was an acknowledgement that everybody deserves to be treated fairly, to have equal protection under the law, and to have equal access to all the services and conveniences, benefits, protections, and even responsibilities that go along with living in a civil society.
Denial of these rights especially as it relates to sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, derives from a very conservative interpretation of the Bible. Yet there is nothing in even conservative Evangelistic theology which would say homosexuality should be criminalized while adultery and fornication are not. In the Old Testament they are all capital offences like breaking the Sabbath.
In our families, on our jobs, in our schools and neighborhoods, and of course in our churches, LGBTQ+ people are all around us. We have adopted a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy instead of allowing our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters to affirm who they are and support them. It is puzzling that some who can speak out so strongly for Racial justice cannot speak as strongly for LGBTQ+ justice. Very often our appeal for LGBTQ+ justice is met with the refrain “But the Bible says…” Such a refrain can be understood in the context of differences in theological positions. But it becomes repulsive as a shield for animosity, venom, and hatred. Let us therefore strive in this Pride Month 2021 to make Diversity and Inclusion mean reducing the vicious cycle of inequality for the LGBTQ+ Community.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.