Advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Caribbean

On the occasion of Pride Month, Marcus Kissoon, Research Assistant at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, joined UNESCO’s #iRespectU campaign to talk about his engagement to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the Caribbean.

My name is Marcus Kissoon and I am a feminist activist. I have been working in the women's movement since 2009, specifically in areas related to the elimination of violence against women and girls. I am also a research officer at the University of the West Indies at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies in Trinidad and Tobago, where I am engaged in a project called "Break the Silence: end child sexual abuse."

In recent years, I have really focused on looking at gender as a social construct and as a category for social analysis to explain how children are affected by sexual abuse, both in my work and my research which investigated the experiences of Indo-Caribbean male survivors of child sexual abuse.

What are some of the key findings from your research on equality, diversity, and inclusion?

I am interested in how we understand child sexual abuse from a gendered perspective and how being Indo-Caribbean and being queer has contributed to a process of disclosure or silencing. Why did these young boys feel that their sexuality was more important to protect than to disclose the abuse? When and to whom did they disclose to and why. In the Caribbean, we are now piecing together all particularities of child sexual abuse and when responding to child sexual abuse, we still work with a binary, heteronormative definition of child sexual abuse.

What we still don't understand is how many of the abused children are queer and are included in policy responses. According to national data, we still see that girls are primarily the victims, men are the perpetrators. The data and scholarship also show that boys are reluctant to report because of homophobia and because of perception of ideal masculinity in the region, male rape is a failure to the hegemonic masculine ideologies which does not see men and boys as victims, and male victims who do disclose are troubled with the experience being perceived as effeminized.

Your intention is to do good work because you have a responsibility, and once you understand that responsibility, you do good work.

How can social science research contribute to advance this important issue?

Feminist research allows for us to look at the multiple ways how children experience themselves, their bodies, power, and the environment and the society around them. Focusing on Indo-Caribbean male survivors of child sexual abuse allowed me to understand queer Identities around Indian-ness in a diverse population, like the one of Trinidad and Tobago. The basics of social, cultural, and religious norms continue to shape the ways in which women, children, and men practice self-silencing.

We need to consider intersectionalities to create a national and regional gender-inclusive response. In a rather homophobic region like the Caribbean, we need to understand how queer children and children who do not live up to notions of the ideal masculinity and “respectability” - are excluded from the national conversation about child sexual abuse.

How did you get involved in engaging for equality, diversity and inclusion?

I started volunteering at a Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago in 2008 when I was introduced to the Break the Silence research and national campaign. I did activist work until I came to grad school. I saw where the gaps existed, not as a scholar, but as someone who was in the field for so many years. In addition, I do value equality as a vital strategy, but my work follows a gender justice framework. 

When people hear about my work, they often think that in order to do this work, you have to have a lived experience as a victim. But I learned very early on that I had a responsibility as a human being and as a young man to do this work. People are not just writers, publicists, activists, they all have their backstories. These stories become so vital because they allow other people to see how they can write their group blueprints and do this work as well.

June is Pride Month. What does pride mean to you?

Homophobia affects everyone:  from the LGBT community to heterosexual men and women. Homophobia is the line of binary that keeps people in their place, making sure that men stay masculine, and women stay feminine.

Pride allows us to highlight and celebrate how queer people live day by day with this binary idea. Pride means to come together in solidarity to heal what homophobia has done. Pride is a showcase of queer civilizations, resilience, and healing.

What role can youth play in advancing more inclusive societies in the Caribbean?

A holistic learning experience goes beyond what any textbook could teach us to practically understand the role of young people in promoting an inclusive society.

Having a Pride parade now doesn't teach us about the violence that we have experienced in the past. There is no textbook. There is no collection of work that is readily available unless young people take it upon themselves to take a gender course and research. To understand how gender has been excluded in the process of understanding our Caribbean identity, young people need to be open to critique and have the opportunity to give feedback. Furthermore, those who want to be allies, need to be open to their privilege.

For example, young men come to my class and say that all women have rights without understanding that there is a reason why the women's movement fights for rights, because 100 years ago women could not vote in a national election or how the streets have been an unsafe space for women and girls for centuries.  When we had a female Prime Minister, men thought, "Women did it. That was the ultimate goal." But that isn't even a fraction of what equality looks like. So, young people need to understand where all this comes from, our queer and feminist history, why this work needs to be documented and always questioned and examined, and most importantly, why it needs to continue.

For young people to advance inclusion in society, they need to understand their postcolonial contexts. They need to understand how and why African bodies are not empowered in the Caribbean. They need to understand how gender relations lack power in Indo-Caribbean identity and understand how queer Indo people and how queer Afro people experience homophobia because homophobia in Indo-Caribbean culture is different than in Afro-Caribbean culture, we need to account for the similarities and dissimilarities in order to respond.

Young people could join the #iRespectU movement here and now, they could build on the work of the activists before, but they also need to engage with the history if they want to understand how to advance Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Caribbean.

What can be done by civil society, government, or even UNESCO to engage more youth in these topics?

We need more voices advocating regionally for Health and Family Life education. It's about empowering young people and giving them a voice or what we call ‘communicative sexuality’. We need to include it in the curricula and make it mandatory throughout the education system.

Health and family education needs civil society, needs the voices of UNESCO, of young people, to advocate and make sure that health and family life education becomes part of the conversation for those who may be potential victims, for those who are survivors, and for those who can help.

We also need to be empathetic and actively listen. To understand the process of reporting, to understand the process in the court system, to understand the medical treatment process. We cannot expect survivors to do all the work.  

We also need to see what the reality is in the region to get a Caribbean understanding and response to the problem, specifically its barriers to queer lives. I think #iRespectU is a great opportunity to bring people together to have that conversation.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights from your research and activism on promoting Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Caribbean SIDS.




The ideas and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO.