(L-R) Marcus W. Persaud, Marcus Kissoon, Darren J. Glenn, and Mohamed Q. Amin, post-October 1, 2018, Unchained: Caribbean LGBTQ Support Group
By Vijai Naraine, Special to Caribbean American Weekly
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. In observance, “Breaking the Rejection Cycle, Building Unity,” were the words that served as a slogan for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community on October 1, 2018.
The Lefferts’ Branch of Queens Library played host to Marcus Kissoon and was the venue for the Unchained: Caribbean LGBTQ Monthly Support Group. Kissoon, a member of the Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was a guest speaker at the event.
Kissoon is currently enrolled in the master’s program at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. He is also a research assistant and tutor for the Institute for Gender and Development Studies.
For the longest time people struggled to gain and maintain power. Oftentimes, gender roles and stereotypes help to shape the route of the power struggle. As Kissoon puts it, “I want to be an equality fighter…my work breaks down gender roles.”
He saw that “People have challenges gaining respect within the LGBTQ community. People, especially young males, need to gain respect.” Mohamed Q. Amin, who is the founder of the Caribbean Equality Project (CEP, a non-profit Caribbean
LGBTQ educational agency based in Queens) shared similar sentiments about members and identities of the LGBTQ community. As a matter -of -fact, he created the project with the incentive of creating safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals, allowing them to have a place to share their experience, their ideas and be their true selves.
Amin, who has hosted this type of event for three years now, chose to direct the evening’s program toward sexual violence. Both Amin and Kissoon targeted the issue.
Kissoon brought up the fact that “Intimate partner violence can be caused by many reasons.…” He continued to say, “…In the Caribbean culture, it is not right to leave your partner. Sometimes it’s not easy to get out.”
Leading off the notion of whether or not it may be easy to get out of a relationship impacted by “intimate partner violence,” Amin and Kissoon led a group conversation on what exactly sexual violence may look
like for the Caribbean LGBTQ community in New York City.
“Sex equals manhood, which is the reason why men get portrayed as the perpetrator,” Kissoon stated. As the founder of the CEP, Amin indulged in the “perpetrator” aspect of Kissoon’s statement. According to Amin, he believes that “Mr. Kissoon was referencing how traditional and cultural standards of masculinity influence gender-based violence.”
This idea of who is or isn’t a perpetrator; intertwines with what has to be said about intimate partner relations. Amin stated, “One of the reasons the unchained space exists is to create a safe intergenerational
environment to break the rejection cycle for the Caribbean LGBTQ+ community in NYC.…” He continued by saying that this “…allows the marginalized population to share their stories, be heard, empower others, educate themselves, get support and inspire each other through collective healing from various traumas and challenges.”
The CEP prides itself on being a tight-knit, enclosed space where individuals don’t have to be in fear of sharing some of the emotional scars that they have endured.
Amin mentions that “Statistically and historically, men have been the ones to use violence and/or violent acts to reinforce their masculine role in society.” Now, with this being said, men aren’t always playing the “perpetrator” role. Whether it is in a relationship or in a societal role, “…members of the LGBTQ community may have other elements of power held over them; such as being outed, family abandonment, being undocumented, mental health issues, HIV status, housing dependency, and at times socioeconomic factors.”
One may be asking, ‘What is the exact function of this group?” According to the founder of the group, Amin stated, “The first of its kind in New York City, Unchained is the Caribbean Equality Project’s peer culture-specific monthly support group, providing a safe space to affirm the unique experience and identities of LGBTQ… people of Caribbean descent and allies to combat discrimination and hate violence.”
Darren J. Glenn, who is an ambassador for the CEP, shared some of his insights about the group. “Being a part of the group and a part of this community is, in fact, the goal.” Speaking about the CEP group, Glenn gave a brief overview of what he has witnessed as a member of the group. “CEP has changed lives in ways that I will never know. In Queens, CEP has supported individuals who previously thought they had no one.”
The CEP group has been a back brace for individuals who have gone through unspeakable tragedies. Every individual chooses to navigate their lives in different ways; it is important to remember that no one is perfect. Amin said, “The purpose of Unchained is to create a healing space for intergenerational dialogue with topics aimed at educating to end stigma, build healthier relationships.…” The intent is to celebrate diversity, promote empowerment, and foster family acceptance. With the creation of the group, there is an emphasis put on the LGBTQ experience, while it highlights the unique cultural needs of
Caribbean individuals for the past three years.
Glenn pointed to the fact that this group has a broad outreach, in terms of touching lives. The CEP ambassador said, “In Toronto it validated people’s work that hadn’t been validated before. In Guyana it has provided inspiration for locals who can now imagine what it may be like to be themselves. In NYC it has given space for LGBTQ people of Caribbean descent to experience a Carnival-style march made for them (during pride) after feeling erased or unwelcome at similar events.” As a community it is safe to say that we all need to release or unchain the hostile grips we have on each other. Taking a firm stance against anti-LGBTQ, gender-based and intimate partner violence, the foundation of this group was cemented into the New York community. “Since the launch of the CEP in 2015, the organization has made significant strides toward the advancement and uplifting of LGBTQ Caribbean voices in NYC.” On a yearly basis, the “CEP does community outreach, community engagement, and partnerships to effectively challenge established systematic complexities on LGBTQ issues by providing opportunities for dialogue, education, and discussion.”
For more information on the Caribbean Equality Project (CEP), visit www.CaribbeanEqualityProject.org
You can also reach out to info@CaribbeanEqualityProject.org
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