Lysanne Charles-Arrindell about gender issues: Lobby to legalize same-sex marriagePOSTED: 01/20/15 7:18 PM
St. Maarten —Human rights apply to all human beings and no one should have the power to take away the fundamental human rights of any particular group because they do not conform to the norms of a particular society. The rights currently being fought for by the St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance for Equality (SAFE) on behalf of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community are basic human rights. “We are not asking for any extra or special rights. We just want the same rights as every other human being in our community,” president of SAFE Lysanne Charles-Arrindell said.
The LGBT community in St. Maarten, as in many parts of the Caribbean, has in many cases been ostracized, with some religious leaders and congregation members even viewing their sexual orientation as a disease that can be cured or an abomination that must be prayed away. Yet the questions remain: If you are a heterosexual person who finds his/herself attracted to the opposite sex, can any number of prayers make you stop that attraction and instead become attracted to people from the same sex? Would you as a heterosexual person who has felt attracted to people of the opposite sex all your life be comfortable with a society in which you were verbally and in some cases physically abused because of your sexual orientation? A society in which you are turned away from your home and disowned by parents who up till telling them that you are heterosexual treated you with love and respect? A society in which the government refuses to grant you the right to legally marry the person you love and want to spend your life with? Yet that is the reality for many LGBT persons.
On St. Maarten while the law forbids discrimination and violence against any particular group, that same law forbids the lawful marriage of same sex couples being done here which is in itself discrimination. “The government must be the one to set the tone for the local community and the rest of the Caribbean by recognizing the rights of the LGBT community. Article 16 must be amended to include gender identity and sexual orientation,” Charles-Arrindell noted. She explained that one of the plans of SAFE in 2015 is to lobby government to make it legal for members of the LGBT community on St. Maarten to be able to legally marry on the island. SAFE board member Laurent Drouin Le May meanwhile pointed out that on French St. Martin it is legal for same sex couples to get married, just as it is for them to do so in France and in Holland. LGBT couples who are married in Holland must have their marriages legally recognized in the other parts of the Kingdom including St. Maarten but if a couple gets married on French St. Martin their marriage cannot be legally registered on Dutch St. Maarten. Both Le May and Charles-Arrindell feel that the local LGBT community is marginalized and that it is up to the government to set the example. They pointed out that years ago the powers that be had also decreed that it was illegal for persons of colour to get married and that this was eventually viewed as against basic human rights and eventually changed.
While SAFE acknowledges that there are norms in society, the protective organization notes that all people deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their beliefs. “We have a responsibility to address the concerns of the LGBT community to government. We have people in our community that face discrimination in the job market, who are put out of their homes by parents because of their sexual orientation, who are told by churches that they are an abomination etc. It is time for the government, the churches, the schools etc to recognize that all humans have basic human rights and that these rights must be respected,” a passionate Charles-Arrindell said. She added that SAFE is open to dialogue with all groups as long as the discussions are open.
Le May gave examples of young persons who are so disillusioned and who have been made to feel so ostracized by society because of their sexual orientation– which he noted they did not choose– that they turn to drugs and/or alcohol or get involved in other risky behavior to numb the pain. “That in itself just creates another deeper problem. There are even cases of young people committing suicide because they are made to feel that they are unnatural, that something is wrong with them. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet on our island but it happens. A lot of these young people are confused and they become scared and depressed. They need someone to listen, to understand what they are going through, and not someone to make them feel like an abomination or to offer them a cure for something that needs no cure and as such has no cure,” Le May explained.
Towards the goal of creating a safe place for the LGBT community, SAFE operates a helpline—1721- 550 4221– where persons dealing with these and other issues affecting them can call to speak to someone anonymously and get some counseling. The SAFE board members added that there is a lot of fear built around being open as an LGBT person and acknowledged that because of someone’s circumstance they may be unwilling to be open about their sexual orientation. These persons are also welcomed to contact SAFE and speak to a supportive and understanding counselor. For the young persons who are just becoming familiar with their sexual orientation SAFE thinks counselors at schools should be supportive and understanding and not add to the confusion and fear that these persons are already likely to be experiencing. These persons are also welcome to call the SAFE helpline or to speak to a discreet counselor.
SAFE is in the process of gathering data regarding the number of the LGBT community that are at risk—being bullied, discriminated against etc—and once armed with this knowledge intends to take steps to get measures put in place to protect the community.
“We need allies to stand up for the community, we are already vulnerable. We need people to understand that being LGBT is not a disease and there is no cure, no pills you can take that will change who you are,” Charles-Arrindell said. She added that one of the mistakes many in the community make is to think that because someone is a member of the LGBT community they are a pedophile. “People have the wrong impression of LGBT. We love and live just like everyone else.”
Persons wishing to contact SAFE may do so on their Facebook pages: SAFE and SAFE SXM or via email on [email protected]