Local Issues

No Bandwagon

Someone called me a bandwagonist the other day. He said that I’m only an LGBT activist because it’s controversial, because it’s a talking point for people. And not only is that obscenely untrue, but I have too much pride to let it slide.

When I first started calling myself an activist, the only thing I was dealing with was LGBT rights in Trinidad & Tobago. There were a lot of personal revelations that brought me to that point. I had witnessed homophobia almost first-hand, through friends of mine from a church I used to go to. I was dealing with what religion said about these normal human beings at the exact same time. But the truth is, it’s not the only thing I am involved in.

Since 2010, I’ve been working around death penalty issues in Trinidad & Tobago, and have been more open to the issue in the entire region. I’ve even participated in a demonstration with well-known local activist Ishmael Samad and was asked by Amnesty International to attend a workshop on regional campaigning towards death penalty abolition. I’m still very much interested in abolishing the death penalty in the Caribbean, and have been doing my small part there.

Myself and two other activists picketing in front of Parliament during their debate of the Capital Offences Bill in 2011. Photo courtesy Erline Andrews.

I’ve also done some personal work locally, and some can say internationally, where HIV and AIDS is concerned. I was the only T&T representative at the Mali Youth Summit on HIV/AIDS, and have volunteered for research projects and done workshops locally where I dealt with HIV issues. And I’ve recently added digital rights issues like privacy and internet access to my resume. The fact is, I’m very much an equal opportunity activist. And I hardly think any of those issues make me a favorite here in my home country of T&T.

But in this country we have this sneer that we reserve for people like me. I make up a very significant counter-culture – not just the people who live against the status quo of society, but are eager to bring an end to it. And it’s the status quo that most people have lived their entire lives being a part of. It’s what my mother learned from her mother and tried to pass to me. It’s what my grandfather sometimes curses me for. It’s how we run our schools and hospitals and businesses. And I’m trying to tell people that it’s all wrong.

There isn’t a bandwagon for that. Not here.

This isn’t the US, where being liberal has a party and a constituency and is treated like any other legitimate voice with a right to speak. Here, and in many other places, an activist is treated as nothing more than an intellectual vagabond. And, while I and some of my friends have survived better than most vagabonds, there’s still that sneer. That look in people’s eyes when I come to a place to make a point about what we’re doing wrong as a society and need to learn to do right. There’s no such thing as friendship with this kind of work, especially when you have deeply conservative Evangelical friends who won’t be in a picture with me when I wear my very favorite t-shirt.

This is my favorite t-shirt.

I do the work I do because it means something for the great many people who are negatively affected by the status quo that most people are quick to uphold. It’s not always a great deal of fun, and arguably I’m not quite good at it. But I do the work because it’s meaningful.

One of the greatest barriers to activists doing their work, though, is how people view the title activist. It’s not at all about anarchy for the sake of messing with the establishment. It’s not about imitating the First World or anything like that. It’s about standing up for the rights of other people. That’s the most important thing.

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