Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference Brings Together Tireless Leaders
I recently returned from the fourth-annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in St. Croix. Organized by Liberty Place in St. Croix, United and Strong Inc. in St. Lucia, and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, the conference was an opportunity for activists from the region to gain skills and tools to advance their advocacy and build networks.
From Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, Colombia, and many other countries, more than forty activists participated in interactive workshops on various topics: from engaging in the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review process to addressing the mental health issues facing LGBT people.
I spoke with some of the participants about what the conference meant to them. Activist Nairovi Castillo is the executive director of COTRAVETD, an organization in the Dominican Republic that works for the human rights and empowerment of trans sex workers. For Nairovi, the conference was an opportunity to liaise with activists and exchange ideas on advocacy and work with communities.
Kenita Placide, Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality and the founder of the conference, described it as “an extraordinary space infused with positive and negative experience, inspiration, empowerment, and change agents.” She went on to say, “As LBT [lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] women issues are recognized as integral in human rights advocacy, we address the gaps and challenges but also build and increase leadership skills of LBT women and engage in strategic planning to develop their advocacy.”
As the daughter of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother, I have a special place in my heart for the Caribbean. The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity in many Caribbean countries, the invisibility of lesbian and bisexual women, and the vulnerability of trans people to violence and discrimination show how far the region has still to go. But I left encouraged by the strength of the activists, who are calling for full equality. As the U.S. government engages in the region, it should support these leaders, the driving force for change in their communities.
Kenita concluded by saying that the conference is an opportunity “for us to return home and advocate from a point of understanding of our rights, our strengths, our weaknesses and with the knowledge that there are others we can call on for help if we need it. As the founder of this change-makers circle, it is important to create spaces and opportunities for others and by extension oneself to be free and continue being free.” This, she said, is the “recipe for a more inclusive Caribbean.”