By Ian McKnight
I was among the Caribbean delegates to attend The Black AIDS Institute’s (BAI’s) Black Gay Men’s Retreat and Consultation entitled “A Black Gay Man: That’s Who I Am – A Black Diaspora MSM Consultation and Retreat in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic from March 31- April 3, 2011 with support from the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF).
The benefits derived from the invitation and participation of the Caribbean region in the Retreat were almost immediate.
Firstly, it must be highlighted that this particular Retreat and Consultation was the first time in the history of the Retreat that a Caribbean delegation had actually been invited and included. Countries represented were Suriname, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Belize, Dominican Republic, Grenada and Guyana.
My own involvement was as the Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) which in and by itself will allow for the effects to be felt far wider throughout the Caribbean than the countries that were actually represented. It also allowed for the issues specific to other countries that were not represented to make it to the discussions. For example, the challenges facing MSM in Haiti after the earthquake there were presented for consideration. Additionally, the challenges facing the MSM community in Dominican, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Kitts were also discussed. One challenge that was posited was that of ensuring the greater inclusion of MSM from the other language groupings such as the Dutch, French, Spanish and Creole speaking blocs.
The event achieved the expressed role of entrenching Caribbean issues into this and successive Retreats. For me this directly contributed to the sustainability of similar MSM initiatives in the Caribbean and to the international scope of the retreat.
The event served as a solid forum for the sharing of information. Caribbean delegates were able to access emerging information on treatment options, Pre- and Post-Prophylactic Exposure, etc. We also explored creative ways of looking at creating and encouraging healthy same-sex relationships. Of specific interest to the Caribbean delegation was the direct correlation of this and access to safer sex. But the exchange did not stop there.
Caribbean delegates were able to bring to the table the local reality of violence and other discriminatory actions which confront the MSM community in the region on a daily basis. Some of these militate against making safer sexual options. Additionally an in-depth presentation was done on the legal framework against which persons in the Caribbean have to operate. It was pointed out that in the countries in which the same sex activities were outlawed, the HIV infections rates were far higher than those that had removed those laws.
Spirituality and Sexuality
The retreat also allowed for the exploration of the vexed issues of Spirituality and Sexuality that form a deep part of Caribbean identity and cut into the ability of MSM to access safer sex and develop healthy self-esteem. It was also instructive that the Facilitator was from the Caribbean region and a theologian and very familiar with the lived issues. That allowed for a culturally specific and relevant interchange. The availability of resources on the website of the Black Gay Men’s Network (BGMN) was of significant help.
Migration and Asylum
Yet another platform which was provided for the Caribbean to expose its issues was held in the affinity-session around the matters of migration and asylum. The connection between the Caribbean and North America in this regard was made very clear and underscored the need for support on both sides. Access to care and treatment for undocumented Caribbean migrants also made it to the agenda.
Collaboration across Regions
One other focus of interest emerged in the sessions aimed at sharing opportunities beneficial to the Caribbean and to other American delegates. The upcoming Caribbean HIV Conference was highlighted as a local forum for international and regional MSM issues to be further exposed. A brainstorming session led to the isolation of the salient points to be flagged in both those arena. Additionally the 2012 HIV Conference scheduled for Washington DC was showcased as yet another occasion that would lend itself well to the emergent issues.
Caribbean delegates left the Retreat having achieved the goal of registering with and tapping into this network. This carries with it the distinct potential of having access to more resources and being able to galvanize support for Caribbean regional efforts while at the same time being able to support those of the North American and diaspora groups. The immediate access to the on line resources of the BGMN was one such win.[Originally posted on the MSMGF Discussion Forum on June 7, 2011]