A gay struggle in Barbados

A gay struggle in Barbados
Photo by George Alleyne

In spite of what could be described as a prevailing negative atmosphere, members of Barbados’ Gay Pride community last weekend staged their annual parade, asserting their place in the social landscape of the island regardless of naysayers.

The group that describes itself as ‘Barbados Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals Against Discrimination’ (BGLAD) marched through the city of Bridgetown Sunday against the backdrop of strong condemnation days before from a collection of clergy persons, whose utterances triggered off hot social media debates on whether Barbados welcomes and is ready for an alternative lifestyle.

But prior to the people of the cloth blasting BGLAD members, these persons were subjected to the indignity of a soca artiste ridiculing their lifestyles, and the further humiliation when a Crop Over event MC called out from the stage a lesbian who was amidst hundreds of concert-goers.

That woman, Shellyann Niles, endured an attempt at embarrassing her at a ‘Tent,’ one of the Crop Over events where singers show off their wares building up to entry into the semi-final and finals Pic-o-de-Crop Monarch title, when MC, Yolanda Holder, reportedly said that there was a new drug for lesbians, and pointing out Niles in the audience asked, “Shelly would you like to try it?”

“I was humiliated when she made the comment,” Niles told the Nation newspaper.

Niles’ public humiliation because of her known sexual preference was preceded by a calypsonian, Billboard, dishing out his work of music titled, ‘Sex Change.’

This rendition of Billboard, who was attired in a half-male half-female costume, carries the sentiment that “there is no such thing as being transgender as you cannot change your sex.”

While some saw the lyrics as offensive and an attack on the gay community, others defended it in the spirit of freedom of expression.

The latter opinion appears to be winning judges named Billboard among the nine finalists seeking to dethrone reigning Monarch, iWeb, in the battle of the islands most prestigious music title on Aug. 03.

But the relentless and biggest onslaught on Barbados’ LGBT community ahead of the annual parade was launched a day earlier when Apostle Eliseus Joseph, the senior pastor of Apostolic Teaching Centre, accused the community of forcing their lifestyle on Barbadians.

“This is a classic definition of bullying. A small segment of the population wants to bully us into accepting their values and norms,” he said.

Speaking at a media briefing among a gathering 18 male and one female other Christian church leaders, Joseph added, “we want to make it clear that homosexual behaviour and preference is a learnt behaviour. God did not create anybody gay. It is not an organic behaviour. There is no homo gene; that is a myth. We oppose any attempt to deconstruct marriage and reconstruct it to legitimize homosexuality [and] same sex partnership, as opposed to the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve.”

The outrage of the Christian leaders in an island of devoutly religious citizens triggered an avalanche of criticism of the annual march, while others — who perhaps represent a growing minority — dared to push back.

Under this social cloud, BGLAD nonetheless staged its incident-free march with members fully aware that their battle is joined in a conservative nation within a Caribbean archipelago of islands known for piety and conformism.