Prem Calvin Prashad
In a massive shift in cultural attitudes over the past 10 years, a majority of Americans have come to support marriage equality and other legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons—a societal awakening that some LGBTQ activists once believed was unthinkable.
Yet, as President Obama visited Kenya last week, furor erupted among that country’s politicians and commentators on whether the president should address discrimination, violence and bias against LGBT individuals in the former British colony. Ex-British colonies, including India, Singapore, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica, have maintained “anti-buggery” laws or other legal restrictions as a legacy of colonial legal codes. Though selectively enforced, these anti-sodomy laws force homosexuals to live secretly, or on the margins of society, long after the United Kingdom had decriminalized sodomy.
Queens LGBTQ activists Mohamed Q. Amin, Krishna Ramsarran and Andy K. Bishun plan to launch the “Caribbean Equality Project,” an initiative aimed at confronting homophobia and intolerance in the borough’s Caribbean immigrant communities, while empowering youth to speak on their experiences. Mohamed Amin serves as founder and executive director of the CEP.
The name of the initiative is significant, Amin explains, as it aims to include experiences beyond the Indo Caribbean community.
“Queens is so diverse that we cannot alienate or isolate anyone from our community,” he continues, “A lot of our organizing has been supported by a diverse crowd… we do not want to create an organization where they would feel isolated.”
In an interview, Amin stressed the importance of providing a “safe space” to discuss experiences and foster relationships as well as multi-generational support for individuals struggling with discrimination or interacting with family members.
“People are not willing to speak up because no one is willing to listen; they feel like they don’t matter,” he says.
CEP plans to facilitate this space with a monthly support group – Breaking the Rejection Cycle, Building Unity—facilitated by Carrol Bissoondial, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, with a Masters in social work.
For Amin, “ending the cycle” and encouraging others to speak on their experiences is particularly pertinent.
“In order for self-acceptance [and healing] to happen,” he notes, “we have to engage and break the silence that engulfs us.”
Though youth-focused, the group’s founders hope their efforts affect older generations as well.
“The older generation doesn’t want to deal with reality” yet, as Amin points out. “They were never educated [on these issues].”
The group is planning through its outreach and programming to educate youth on LGBTQ issues, with hopes that they will be able to speak to their parents and relatives about homophobia. The group also expects to be among the first to confront trans issues, in light of increasing harassment of transgender persons in Queens.
Speaking on his own experiences, Amin recalls the support of his parents as being instrumental in finding his identity.
“I had to educate my parents on who I am, who their child is,” he said. Yet not all LGBTQ youth have parents who are as understanding. Especially for young adults, Amin notes, “many people are living in fear, just so they can come home and have a bed to sleep in or that they aren’t rejected by their parents.”
A 2008 fact sheet from the National Coalition for the Homeless indicates that 6 percent of homeless youths aged 15-17 are LGBT. Homeless youth are at high risk for sexual abuse, trading sex for basic needs. They are also at risk for HIV transmission.
The CEP also plans a video series, called “My Truth, My Story,” aimed toward young people dealing with issues such as “coming out, family acceptance, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, physical and mental health problems, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”
The CEP plans to launch its programming with an event called “Unveil” at the Queens Museum on Saturday, Aug.8, from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. There will be a public screening of the documentary, “The Abominable Crime,” as well as art and cultural performances.
Eventually, the CEP plans to reach out and collaborate with LGBTQ organizations in Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica.
“We are working to build a Caribbean community that understands, welcomes and supports the identities and experiences of every LGBT individual,” Amin says.
“[As human beings], we’re not looking just for you to tolerate us… we’re looking for understanding, respect and we need you to know that our lives matter,” Amin concluded.
Those wishing to volunteer or learn more about the CEP can visit carri