written by: kevanté a.c. cash
Pride is just a party for people who feel they have no other safe space to party in.
- Erin Greene
It’s been 50 years since the Stonewall Riots and while there is much to be thankful for like the privilege and freedom queer millennials get to express in loving on whom they desire, dressing however they please and existing in spaces seemingly unwelcome to folks of ‘their kind’, there is still much work to be done… particularly on the grounds and within the Bahamian queer community. One of them being the gaze of idolization we bear on fixed American media stories and queer American history that, in proximity, may appear as though it has a lot to do with us; but in actuality, is far flung from our actual truths, even long before the New York City Greenwich Village protests.
“The loss in sense of community” is one of the issues Bahamian LGBTQ+ rights advocate Erin Greene grapples with when considering the history of Pride locally and regionally, and the occurrences that transpired from then (her generation) to now (the age of the millennial). Another issue is privilege. A whole lot of monetary privilege, that she would argue is what’s stifling the community and preventing it from moving forward in the direction it should be pushing – towards love, unity and total acceptance.
“Because when you have that kind of money, why wouldn’t you want to filter it through to help out your community – the vulnerable who are battling this socioeconomic discriminatory warfare?”, she expresses.
Perhaps it was the journalist in me that drew a particular fascination towards obtaining a deeper level of understanding of this marginalized yet very special and sacred community to me, to shed light on its history in The Bahamas? Or maybe it was my longing for wanting to have this discussion on the origins (if any) of #Pride in The Bahamas? Whatever the reason, I especially aimed to sit before an OG activist, properly obtain ‘newfound’ information and render the discussion on page to not only gain a greater appreciation from whence we’ve come, but also a new perspective on the way forward in solidarity.
HAVE WE EVER HAD PRIDE?
KC: Sounds like a fairly easy-to-answer question considering the general sociocultural state we live in today and even allowing the brain to reach as far as back as the 20th century (if millennials are old enough to recall). But it is a must that I ask, have we ever organized a Pride here in The Bahamas?
EG: So, you referenced me as an OG and I take that to mean that I’m obviously an old head (LOL), but, in the LGBTI advocacy space, I am still a part of the younger cohort of advocates. There are a ton of people before me who advocated not necessarily in public spheres as my work takes on, but like Dr. Kreimild Saunders who is a professor at the University of The Bahamas, who, from the late 80s/ early 90s, would have been having these public discussions in academic spaces. She particularly was conversing with the state in moving to align our laws with that of global ones in respects to sexual offenses and same-sex intimacy. Also, there was an advocate named Victor Sawyer – a transwoman who now goes by Vicky Sawyer, but at the time she would have started her advocacy, identified as a man. Another name that comes to mind is Helen Klonaris, and then there are people whose names I wouldn’t necessarily call because their desire for visibility has shifted over the years; but there is an organization called Hope TEA (Hope Through Education and Awareness) that was more of a support and activist group back then. But they’re doing awareness work and such now.
In 2000, I joined an organization called CAFRA (Caribbean Association of Feminist Research and Action), and that’s when I met Helen Klonaris and a number of feminists who were queer-friendly. They didn’t identify themselves as LGBTI rights advocates, but they were definitely queer-friendly and created queer-friendly spaces. But in 2000, Helen was like, ‘let’s go to this meeting’ and it was a meeting of people who had been involved in the community whether by organizing parties or who had been a part of Hope TEA or another organization called BGLAD that was ran by Mindell Small at the time. But this was a meeting for folks who were interested in organizing Pride as a series of events, here in The Bahamas.
So, in 2001, we held the first Pride here. It was a four-night event.
The first night, which was a Thursday night, we had a meet-and-greet held at The Parlour, which was a queer-friendly space owned by a member of the community. We wanted to be there, not just because it was safe, but because we wanted to support the space and this member of the community. On the Friday night, we had a panel discussion at the same place and then on Saturday night, we did the party thing at The Endangered Species, which was a well-known gay club on Cable Beach back then. Then on Sunday, we did the church service.
KC: That’s definitely interesting. I’m gonna assume it was also very intentional to want to place yourselves in spaces unwelcoming, dare I say, at all?
EG: Well, we didn’t actually go to a church. I think the second year, we did it at a hotel. But we had people who were accepted as spiritual leaders in the community, who sat through the ceremony with us. We did actually have ordained ministers participate in the ceremony as well. And I think what you’d find throughout the region is that, that church service element is always an important element of Pride activities.
So, we held Pride in August of 2001 and 2002, but in 2003, as we were gearing up in preparation for the activities, Bishop Samuel Greene made that infamous statement in the church that said, if Parliament were to enact same-sex marriage, he’d be the next Guy Fawkes. *rolls eyes* So, it was an indirect threat to cause chaos. The background information on that is – Bishop Greene was a member of the Constitutional Reform Committee and in that process he learned that there is a temporary ban on same-sex marriage through ordinary legislation. So, at any time, Parliament could lift that ban and allow same-sex marriage. When he realized the power to protect “the sanctity of marriage” from the gays rested in the hands of Parliament, he directed his message towards Parliament.
KC: So, would you say this pivoted the debates between the church, the state and the gays?
EG: Well, it did. That was the moment when the Pride committee organization turned into more of an advocacy movement. When Bishop Greene made that statement, members of the organization thought it was more important to A) respond to Bishop Green’s statement and B) engage the Constitutional Reform exercise to ensure that no LGBTI negative legislation was entrenched. So, we didn’t have a Pride 2003 because the energy shifted towards advocacy work and ensuring that we didn’t create a legal state where we couldn’t have a Pride ongoing.
ARE PRIDES ONLY ABOUT THE PARADES?
KC: From my observation, and of course giving recognition to influences of Americanized media, it honestly seems as though Pride has become this big celebration – which it definitely is – that are all about the parades. But is it just about that for the Caribbean, particularly Bahamian queer people?
EG: What you’d see now in the region are ‘new’ iterations of Pride… or what people are calling new, despite the fact that the events took place in their countries before. And it sort of rests on this idea that their Pride activities center around a march; whereas the older Pride activities centered around community. But I do not think that it is because of the organization of a march that we have lost that sense of community… I wrote this paper a while back entitled “The Politics of Visibility and The Privilege of Invisibility”, and you find that communities form activist groups when there is a lack or need for something. In The Bahamas, you find that people who are homeless because their families kicked them out, are forming advocacy spaces because they need someone to advocate for their housing needs and all kinds of care needs. Here, because of our access to cash, our economy is doing better than most countries in the region. People, if they can afford to take care of themselves and organize their lives, do so without hesitation or second guessing. Thus community doesn’t become as important to them anymore, because they have it to take care of themselves.
Advocacy comes out of spaces where people have no other options.
But you’re going to find that Pride here versus the rest of the region has sort of a discrepancy because of the legal dynamics. Here, we decriminalized buggery in 1991, while the vast majority of states are still pushing for decriminalization. So, in The Bahamas, there isn’t a strong push to advocate for LGBTI rights because most people here are ‘set’. They have their jobs, houses and cars and are good, so there’s not a need to participate in the demonstrations. But, there was another committee that sprung about in 2014 with Victor Rollins and a couple other advocates who wanted to organize Pride in Grand Bahama. It wasn’t entirely successful, or rather, it kind of got ‘semi-cancelled’, and this is important to mention for a number of reasons. A) It was on a Family Island. B) It was at an all-inclusive hotel and they did do a small march on the beach. But it was also an attempt to create income-generating mechanisms within the community. It was a mechanism to expand queer tourism and make money for people in the community in a sense. But within this conversation, they tried to brand this event as the first Pride, and to me, it was a slap in the face.
KC: Do you think it was because they were unknowledgeable of the occurrences that went on before them or was it something more underhanded?
EG: It was alarming to me because it was like, ‘Hey, Victor. What are you doing? You were sort of a part of the first Pride events. So, what is this amnesia that caused you to forget that the people dem done had Pride?’ Now that may be a part of the wider conversation of the devolution of community, right? But it’s important to note because we’re seeing it happen right now in Barbados where advocates are hosting what they are calling the ‘2nd annual Pride event’, but it would actually be the fourth Pride event in Barbados at least. So earlier we would have talked about the varying degrees of visibility – like the 2001 and 2002 Pride events in The Bahamas that were certainly not as visible as the Pride events that transpire in NYC or Atlanta today, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t Pride nonetheless. And in the case of Barbados, their 2017 events were very visible, as they had a march and it was led by a transwoman. But for me, I’m very concerned about the politics in the community that allows for this type of amnesia to exist. Right now, I’m reminding the people who are planning Pride for The Bahamas in 2020:
‘Please don’t act like this thing is brand new. If you want to honor community, you’ve got to honor the people who were there before you and the ones who paved the way for you to get here’.
There were people on the ground doing the invisible work of ensuring queer people just had a place to live, while there were others like myself who were out there publicly speaking and resisting. And these things still occur today, but we must not forget the smaller or not seen acts are just as important as the riots. So, the big question and discussion now is, what truly makes an LGBTI advocate? Does putting a rainbow filter over your profile picture make you an advocate, or adding a rainbow in your bio or tagline? These are the questions older advocates are raising now during this new age of technology and seemingly more pressing queer issues. Though there are different ways to advocate, we must also be respectful enough to recognize the differences in what we’re doing.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
It’s such a boujee ting and ain’t no one care bout no marriage, just basic human rights.
- Erin Greene
KC: I’ve heard a lot about the Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas (RAB) during my time of research and just general congregation around other and older queer Bahamian people. But I want to know, where did RAB fit into all of this during this time?
EG: Okay. So, RAB is an advocacy group that started in 2003 – the same year we didn’t have Pride. And members of the queer community perceived RAB as a ‘boujee, privileged, upper-middle class white space’. And a lot of that was because a number of the people in the group were Greek Bahamians or what we call ‘conchy-joe’ Bahamians – people of privilege who spoke well, and members of the community were like, ‘we ain’t on none of that run at all’. So, RAB organized a community center on Dowdeswell Street but again, the queer people weren’t having it.
But there was that among many other issues within the community like gay men disliking masc-presenting lesbian women and everybody hating trans people, thus trans people were like, ‘I’m reclaiming my time’. And people may laugh but these are all microcosms of issues that support the devolution of community, thus the breakdown in communal infrastructure. So when we look to the global North and hear about their issues of wanting same-sex marriage, that’s not even a reality here. Here, people are on the grounds for things like: housing, queer child safety, healthcare, access to police services and safety in public spaces. Marriage is a thing that rich people care about because it has always been about protecting assets. It’s such a boujee ting and ain’t no one care bout no marriage, just basic human rights.
ROOTS TO RISE
KC: So Erin, do you honestly think we will ever get to a place where queer people are accepted and loved on by the wider Bahamian community? Not just tolerant, because screw tolerance right? It’s disproportionate on so many grounds, I feel.
EG: And I would agree with you. This attitude that people have with their kids that says, ‘oh, you want to do your own thing? Then go live on your own then’. And it’s like, ‘no. I’m 16 and I’m queer. I don’t need my own place. One of y’all adults need to go tell the other adults to stop knocking me around my head for being who I am’. Some problems cannot be solved with money. You’re just creating bigger problems; and the same type of judgment happens in the queer community. Some will say, ‘oh, you made that choice to be queer in The Bahamas so you have to be serious about school and prepare for this world. But what if I am? What if I already did all of that but I broke my leg trying to be the best Christian I could be and I lose my job? What happens then? Will I have access to fair healthcare and another opportunity at employment? These are the things.
I also think our proximity to the US causes us, but particularly young people, to expect a lot more from our people and government when it’s not our reality at all. We had no Stonewall Riots, no 50 years of hardship. We’re not there yet. Have we put in the work here yet to get where they are now? And I’m not saying go out there and sacrifice yourself because the first rule is: I ain’t martyring nobody chirren and I ain’t martyring myself. Before you come out here to decide to do this work with me you need to settle things with your people, ensure you have secured living arrangements, a car, enough money to keep you on rainy days and so on. But even with all of that said, I still think Bahamians are dead cool and they care. They may not know how to go about advocating, but they still have compassion in their hearts, though they can be fucked up sometimes.
KC: So the revolution is now?
EG: Maybe we there? Let me tell you why. Bahamians aren’t going into a closet and becoming a different person when they dealing with gay people, you know. The same sort of dysfunctional interaction a Bahamian gin have with a gay person is the same sort of dysfunctional interaction they gin have with everybody else in their life. I think that Bahamians are loving and they think they’re being loving to gay people. So, I think there will be a time. Of course there will be. As soon as we begin to love ourselves, this ting gin shift.
And I have two positions on that - one is political, which is this: When we straighten out the economy, deal with the economics of things, then all of this is going to disappear. As long as we are not in this abundance politics mode, referencing Dr. Olivia Saunders who wrote the book Tomato Politics (2016), people will think there is a lack. And that will mean they must fight for the little bit that’s there, not realizing it’s a whole bunch over here that you’ve not been given access to. My other thing is this - forget the money, and I know it sounds contradictory, but when we love ourselves enough to know that there is a space somewhere for us, when we trust God, the Universe or community to create access to everything we need, then you gin see a shift in attitudes towards everything and everybody.
Some people may be surprised to learn that Erin Greene is actually an artist. She considers herself to be a mixed media visual artist who also writes erotic poetry and does stand-up comedy. She prefers daiquiri over sky juice because “sky juice ain’t sky juice without gin in it, whereas a daiquiri gin always be a daiquiri without rum in it”; conch salad over conch fritters because “it’s hard to mess up a conch salad, but everybody don’t know how to mix batter”; and Netflixing and chilling at home over a night out on the town - “cause my days of partying been over from The Hub dem close down”.
Sending much gratitude up and to Erin for allowing me to engage her in this interesting discourse that taught me so much about this beautiful community. Some nuggets weren’t able to make it into the storyline, but that just leaves all the more research for you to do, right?
Until next time, love and light.