By Prem Calvin Prashad

The newly established Caribbean Equality Project held its first support group, Unchain, at the Queens Library – Lefferts Branch last week. The Queens-based CEP bills itself as “dedicated to promote social change, awareness, and acceptance by empowering and strengthening the Caribbean LGBTQ voices in Queens, NY.” The group launched on Aug. 8, with a ceremony at the Queens Museum.

At the heart of the program is an open discussion on topics pertinent to the LGBTQ community, including HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation and family acceptance. Discussion on these issues is rare in south Queens, which, for CEP founder Mohamed Q. Amin, was the motivation to start this series to engage peers in the community with culturally coherent and relevant outreach. Currently, Amin notes, CEP is the only educational service agency serving the Caribbean LGBTQ community in New York, and possibly the country as well.

The two-hour program was attended by 12 individuals and facilitated by Carrol Bissoondial, a psychotherapist with a master’s in social work, who also serves as a licensed clinical social worker. Bissoondial noted, “I’m happy that I am able to participate in an organization which is driven to break barriers and encourage dialogue between Caribbean LGBT members and their families.”

After starting the sessions with a supporting message and reviewing confidentiality, trust and privacy agreements, participants spend three to five minutes sharing their thoughts in the group setting. In keeping with the notion of Unchain as a safe space, participants respect the “one-mic rule” and will not interrupt others during this phase of the event.

Organizers chose to name their event “Unchain” to refer to the “rejection cycle” of oppression, isolation and discrimination against LGBT persons in the Caribbean community. They hope to, through this and other programming, to “unchain victims from a culture of silence and fear.”

Ultimately, Amin hopes that LGBT persons will have the “courage to live openly” and take a greater role in religious and community-related matters.

CEP’s programming also works with participants to engage and communicate with their families.

“I understand how difficult conversations regarding sexuality can be within families of the Caribbean culture, and I’m pleased to be the gateway of allowing these conversations to become easier,” Bissoondial said.

Also attending the event was Vanessa Borrell, program coordinator at Advocacy Center for Queens County (ACQC) and Tamara Michel, community health coordinator at Queens Library. Two NYPD officers—Det. Timothy Duffy, of the Police Commissioner’s Liaison Unit and P.O. Laura Colwell of NYPD Community Affairs Bureau – Outreach—extended their support and offered to participate in a “Know Your Rights” workshop with the community.

A fledgling organization, CEP has spent the weeks since its launch reaching out to local elected officials and educational institutions and introducing itself as a resource for the community. Notably, on Oct. 5, the group was invited to an event held by the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, by its founder, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Elmhurst), and president, Michael Mallon.

Unchain is expected to hold monthly events, with the next session scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 19. Amin was also pleased with the turnout for the first event.

“The turnout was beyond our expectation but validated our research that identified the need for this vital program,” Amin said. Those wishing to volunteer or learn more about the CEP can visit CarribbeanEqualityProject.org or engage with the group on Facebook.

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