World AIDS Day: HIV and LGBT Stigma in the Caribbean

Published: December 6, 2014

Original Article:

I grew up on a small Caribbean island, a small space where notions of what you could be were limited. The “master narrative” did not accommodate difference; and avoiding shame and having “a sense of common decency” were top concerns. In this world – the universe as I knew it – sex, sexuality and sexual orientation were taboo subjects and being LGBT was anathema to notions of decency. In my 20s, when HIV appeared, these taboos rose in unison; HIV opened conversations that were difficult and often bigoted but essential.

I learned about prejudice at an early age, in the schoolyard. That playground taught me who I was supposed to be prejudiced against and who was supposed to be prejudiced against me. And in that multi-ethnic Caribbean island, with a small, chattering middle class, the options for discrimination were endless. Being a “buller,” the local name for gay men, ensured your isolation. The yard had boundaries, and fears and offered protection – if you stayed inside and kept quiet.

The Caribbean media’s discussion of homosexuality has always been in everyone’s yard, in every boys’ school. What has changed is the code – the way of speaking about it. Our small world has changed because of the media. People are watching Modern Family – and, enjoying it.

In 2013, in Trinidad and Tobago, the small island where I was born, a recent poll showed that 78 percent of people said there should be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 1 in 2 said that persons living with HIV should be protected from discrimination. This is not the island of my childhood. This is not the narrow school yard and its taunts.

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