Local Issues · Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Devulnerablizing

Anyone familiar with the sometimes painful academics of human rights work with particularly at-risk communities, you’ll find that those in the field have a good bit of room to make up terms. First thing on a Friday morning, I learned a new one – vulnerablized.

It refers to communities that are not intrinsically in a vulnerable position, but end up in that position due to societal stigma and lack of resources to protect them. It goes without saying to some degree that a term like this would be used to refer to communities like persons living with HIV and the LGBT community.

Facilitator Karima McKenzie-Thomas teaches participants about the role of social media.

With that in mind, I found myself in a CVC/COIN workshop for activists to learn how to better engage media on HIV/AIDS issues, sexual and reproductive health rights, LGBT and sex work issues. The idea was to equip activists with the tools to make their own news, ensure that it gets handled as best as possible and ensure that we stay on message ourselves when in a tough interview.

Facilitators Dale Enoch and Cedriann Martin have one participant in the hot seat.

In a lot of ways, media engagement has been something that activists across causes in Trinidad & Tobago have had to figure out all on their own. In some cases, they’ve managed to make strong relationships with reporters and TV producers, and causes with a lot more favor in the public agenda don’t have issues getting airtime and paying for ads. For activists working with sex work and LGBT rights, those doors are usually harder to open. But they’re pivotal to sensitizing, and maybe one day mobilizing, people around those same causes. It’s possible activism’s greatest catch-22; we need the media to foster the interest, but it seems that only through already positive public interest are people in the media willing to make those openings.

Participant Lesedi Tidd makes a point in one of the sessions.

The thing that I will walk away from remembering the most is an idea that I think everyone working on these issues (and maybe every other one) needs to hear – these guys weren’t born into struggle. The society that we live in, because of many connecting factors, has created an ‘ideal’ situation for vulnerability. There is an entrenched stigma around LGBT persons, persons living with HIV and sex workers, and a lack of will to deal with that responsibly from all the institutions of society that are responsible for shaping ideas and saving lives. The one medium that is easiest to enter and have your voice be heard is – you guessed it – media. But even that institution has connections with the other, less forthcoming actors in our country.

Yesterday, the activists were trained to say their message effectively. Today, we’re prepping media practitioners on how to gather those messages respectfully and properly. Then on Sunday we try to put the two together. I do believe that only good can come of this. Once we’re all focused on breaking down all those structures that make it easy for a person’s life to be harder.

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