Just moments after a driver almost ran me over and shouted abuse at me the other day, I read a bizarre article on GSN about my home country, Barbados.
It was about a straight government minister here stating he felt marginalised and stigmatised by LGBTI people’s calls for equality.
To contextualise – Barbados still makes homosexuality illegal with a punishment of life imprisonment. In fact, it’s as tough an anti-gay law as exists anywhere in the Western hemisphere.
When I was just 13, my mother threw a knife into my arm
So what is it really like growing up lesbian in Barbados?
From young, I was always more male appearing. My mother tried to force me to wear dresses because she said she had given birth to a girl. But I would refuse to put them on and throw a tantrum instead.
I also refused to play sports dominated by females. So when our class was separated, I always went to play with the boys. And I sat out PE, when I was forced to stay with the girls.
I knew I liked girls when I was four years old, I just never knew there were other people like me.
For years, I dealt with my mother calling me names. She displayed excessive anger toward me for the slightest thing. Once, when I was just 13, she threw a knife into my arm because I forgot to turn the bathroom light off.
The sexual abuse stopped by my mother stayed friends with him
While my mother abused me physically and psychologically, my step uncle abused me sexually. Seeing an opportunity, he used my gayness as the proverbial knife to my throat.
My mother, a Christian in public, had once thrown hot water on me, so I didn’t trust her enough to tell her. For years, I was too afraid to speak up.
Eventually, I became suicidal and realised I could take no more. I broke down to my godfather and told him what was happening. I begged him not to tell my mother, but as a responsible adult, he did.
The outcome was not what you may expect. The sexual abuse stopped. But my mother didn’t press charges against him. Indeed, she continues to be friends with my attacker. She even threatened to have him come over to do some odd jobs for her while I was going to be home alone.
He harassed me for years after. My only reprieve came when my then girlfriend and my best friend, worked out a way I could have a place to live while I continued, unsuccessfully, to try to find work.
I’m not so strong anymore
Getting a job as an LGBTI person in Barbados is a challenge.
I am yet to find a job and government Welfare has refused me help. And as a grown woman, with rent and bills to pay, mental health issues plague me and I think about suicide weekly.
So what holds me back? Well, I help students who have learning needs – including those who have special needs – but whose families can’t afford the cost of the care.
And those students are important to me. I’m very aware many of them wouldn’t stand a chance if the person they turn to with their issues was suddenly gone.
Many people don’t know the hardships I face because I push my needs aside to help others. So I take my medication and try to continue as though death isn’t constantly looming. I move around as though my stomach is full, my rent and bills are paid and I can take care of myself.
I try to appear as though the things people say, in person and on social media, roll off my back. But recently, I’m not so strong anymore.
I no longer think Barbados will improve for LGBTI people anytime soon
Until recently, I had believed that one day, the government would start supporting our rights as citizens. I had hoped the police would undertake some sensitivity training. And that the media houses and businesses we’ve educated about our plight would help LGBTI Barbadians have a better quality of life.
However, in 2018, I have realised that things are not going to get any better any time soon. The media sensationalises every LGBTI call for equality. Meanwhile our police choose to be tardy when LGBTI people make emergency calls. This literally happened to a trans woman who suffered a gruesome attack this year. And, of course, people on social media mount blatant and frequent attacks on us without fear of any reprimand.
Barbados society tells us they don’t discriminate and that we are just making up stories.
They tell us to sit quietly, dress like our assigned gender and we will be fine.
All this was running through my mind the other day, when my wife dropped me off in the car on her way to work. As I started to cross the road at the crossing, one car stopped but another zoomed around me, despite the fact I clearly had right of way. When I reached the pavement, my wife yelled ‘love you’ and I reciprocated. And the driver who had almost knocked me over shouted he wished he had ‘hit my ass and killed me’.
And now a government minister feels stigmatized by us
It was at that point, that I read on Gay Star News about our island’s Minister of Social Care and Community Development, Steve Blackett.
The article quoted Blackett as saying he believed Barbados was tolerant of homosexuality, despite it’s anti-gay law.
But he added LGBTIs were too ‘insistent and persistent’ in asking for our rights.
This, he said, meant: ‘I, as a straight person, you as a straight person, we’re beginning to feel marginalized, harassed and stigmatized by them.’
As a government official, Blackett enjoys all his rights and a lot of privilege. It seems highly unlikely he will be facing homelessness or scrambling to stop his electricity from being cut. And yet he feels marginalised and stigmatized by citizens asking him to do his job.
How are we, the ones barely clinging to life and looking to people like him to create laws which protect every citizen, to feel when this is the response to our outcries?