Rev Irene Monroe

Will faith-based agencies help Haiti's gay community?

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | January 28, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Erzulie Dantor, Erzulie Freda, Haiti, LGBT community, rara, vodou

Since the world community has descended on Haiti with relief aid in response to the January 12th earthquake, I am wondering how Haiti's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities are being helped.

As one of Haiti's most marginal groups the question arises in response to how some American LGBTQ New Orleans were treated during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in 2005.

During Hurricane Katrina former President George W. Bush's conservative faith-based organizations -- like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and all other organizations in Bush's "armies of compassion" -- highlighted how after the storm homophobia blew in.

While seemingly invisible in the disaster, many LGBTQ evacuees of Katrina and their families faced discrimination at the hands of those conservative faith-based relief organizations because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status.

"Tragedy does not discriminate and neither should relief agencies," stated Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, in a news release in 2005. "In our experience during the aftermath of Sept. 11, LGBT people face compounded difficulties because on top of the disaster, they face discrimination when it comes to recognizing their relationships, leading to even more hardship at the worst moment imaginable."

My concern is will many of these same conservative faith-based relief agencies that are now in Haiti transfer their homophobic attitudes onto Haiti's LGBTQ citizens.

Ironically, homosexuality has been legal in Haiti since 1986. But few protections and provisions come with it. For example, same-sex marriage, and civil unions are not recognized. It's unclear whether LGBTQ couples can adopt children or have custody of their own children. LGBTQ Haitians don't openly serve in the military. They don't have an anti-hate crime bill that specifically addresses discrimination and harassment LGBTQ Haitians face on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Minimally, LGBTQ Haitians are protected under its Constitution as stated in Article 35-2 that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on, "sex, beliefs, opinions and marital status." And the United Nation's International Bill of Human Rights mainly protects LGBTQ Haitians. With no queer enclaves in Port-au-Prince and other big cities throughout Haiti, many LGBTQ Haitians are left puzzled by what it means that homosexuality is legal in their country.

However, as in all repressively homophobic cultures, LGBTQ people have always found ways to express and to live out their true authentic lives. In Haiti, how openly queer you are depends not only on your class, profession and skin complexion, but also your religious affiliation.

In a country that is predominately Roman Catholic homosexuality is condemned. But among Haiti's LGBTQ middle and profession classes they find ways to socialize out of the public "gaydar" and with impunity.

For example, in Petionville, an upscale suburb of Port-au-Prince of mostly American and European whites and multiracial Haitians, is where many LGBTQ people will informally gather for dinner parties, at restaurants and beaches. The well-known 4-star tourist hotel, the Hotel Montana in the hills of Petionville that was recently destroyed by the quake, is one of the hot spots. And these queers hold positions as government officials, business people, NGO and UN aid workers.

For the poorer classes of LGBTQ Haitians who live, work and socialize in the densely populated and improvised capital city of Port-au-Prince, discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender expressions is commonplace. The 2002 documentary "Des Hommes et Dieux (Of Men and Gods)" by anthropologist Anne Lescot exposed the daily struggles of Haitian transwomen. Blondine in the film said, "When people insult me because I wear a dress I am not ashamed of how I am. Masisis (gay males) can't walk down the street in a wig and dress."

But poorer classes of LGBTQ Haitians do have at least two ways to openly express and celebrate who they are-in Vodou and in Rara festivals.

Although the universal perception of Vodou is the Hollywood stereotype of an orgiastic ceremony ritualizing the malevolent powers black magic, and engaging in cannibalism, Haitian Vodou is an ancestral folk religion that expresses an acceptance of all people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions.

With the belief that behavior is guided by a spirit (loa), gay males in Haitian Vodou are under the divine protection of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love. And as a feminine sprit, gay males are allowed to imitate and worship her. And lesbians (madivins) are considered to be under the patronage of Erzulie Dantor, a fierce protector of women and children experiencing domestic violence. Erzulie Dantor is bisexual, but she prefers the company women.

At Rara Festivals, a yearly festival that begins following Carnival belongs to the peasant and urban poor of Haiti. The Rara bands come out of Vodou societies that have gay congregations where gay men are permitted to cross-dress with impunity.

It is my hope that the many conservative faith-based groups and organizations that are now part of Haiti's earthquake relief effort will not discriminate against Haiti's LGBTQ community as many of them did toward New Orleans's queer communities during Katrina.

And it is my hope they remember that engaging acts of goodwill are needed in the face of this natural disasters and they must be inclusive of all of God's people.


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Brad Bailey | January 28, 2010 5:32 PM

I read an article in the local Charleston City Paper relating to the question you pose in your commentary. The attitude of those donating time, money and manpower to the Haiti relief effort seems to be "meet needs first, proselytize after". This may or may not be the actual case.

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/faith-drives-water-missions-effort-in-haiti/Content?oid=1721140

If it was left up to the Salvation Army and groups like their ilk, the answer, sadly, is no.

The Salvation Army is the largest non-governmental provider of social services in North America. All of their aid is distributed based on need with no regard to a person's race, religion, or sexual orientation.

From the Salvation Army's Position Paper on Homosexuality:

[T]here is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.

As a member of a Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Team, I can state from personal experience that we don't even ask questions about religion or sexual orientation when in comes to giving aid in an emergency.

Granted that there are some members of the Salvation Army who harbour ill feelings about the LGBTQ community, who may be involved in aid work. Sadly their views may affect their work. They is not the whole Salvation Army. They are human beings affected by their prejudices. This will be the case in any organization. As an organization we strive to rise above the individuals who hate.

I call bullshit.

As someone who's sought the help of the Salvation Army only to be told that I could only be helped if I'd pray with them to remove the "temptation of homosexuality," I'd like to disagree. Since I refused to disown my partner (who was with me at the time) and he refused to disown me, we were turned away with absolutely no help whatsoever. We slept on the street that night in an alley next to a dumpster.

There are also plenty of people who've shared the same experience from all over the country. This is why there's the big push every year to get LGBT people not to give to the SA. There's even the fake dollar bills that you can print out and dump in the bucket instead.

Bill,

I don't doubt that your story is true. If that was your experience of the Salvation Army I can only say that I am personally sorry that you were treated like that. Times are changing and the Salvation Army is working very hard to change with the times.

I can only speak to my personal experience with the Army. And I know that as a Salvationist and a human being, I would never turn away a person in need regardless of the gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I know that it sounds trite and contrived, but I do have many gay friends. All of my professional life has been spent in the entertainment industry. I have friends of all types that I dearly love. And no, I don't think any of them are going to hell. I think that my God is a bigger God than that.

The Salvation Army was one of the first NGOs on the ground in Haiti. It has currently been given the responsibility of caring for more than 20,000 people: http://bit.ly/bfL2MV Doctors and medics from the Salvation Army are treating more than 250 people per day: http://bit.ly/5uo3xZ We are there, and we are doing good work.

Just for the record, the push to get people to stop donating to the Salvation Army Kettles is only hurting the communities were the funds are being raised. 100% of all money raised in Salvation Army kettles is returned to the community (some kettle workers are paid via funds raised). None of it goes to fund local Corps buildings, offices, or normal operations.

twinkie 1 cat | February 2, 2010 12:07 AM

I have never heard of the Salvation Army discriminating in charitable services, but as a church, they are fundamentalists and my friend in Atlanta jummped all over an assistant pastor about it (verbally)when he was staying in a nursing home after being shot. The Army picked up residents. Bobby Jindal, Republican Gov. of Louisiana, at the behest of the hate group, Louisiana Family Forum, used the excuse that conservative religious groups might not help the state during a natural disaster if he extended the executive order that had protected gays in state employment from firing due to sexual orientation during several previous administrations. (He claimed there were plenty of federal laws that protected gays!)

However, anyone who knows these groups, knows they know where the bread is buttered and they would not be able to handle being labeled Sodomites (Ezekiel 16:38-40) by the gay community. Also, as 501(3)C non profits they could possibly lose their non-profit status if they did discriminate. Most religious charities legally separate their charitable work from their churches. Otherwise they could not get FEMA or other federal money.

There was no discrimination with trailer assignments. You got a trailer with whomever you lived with before the storm.

Now my son stayed at a church shelter in Eunice Louisiana, having evacuated separately from me and he and the lesbian he had worked with got an apartment as quickly as possible. Some of the people running the shelter made some sexual orientation slurs about him and he had to put them in their place. He is not a small person. But that was not a shelter run by an organized charity.

Now as for institutional discrimination after Katrina in the shelters, I did not see it. Mostly they were run by the Red Cross which is a community based, not a faith based group. Our transwoman from New Orleans slept in her truck, but she had a small dog with her that she did not want to put in the dog shelter. She did see some personal, but not institutional, discrimination at the shelter. I did not see much in the way of obviously gay people at the Red Cross shelter in Hattiesburg MS. When we were moved to FEMA trailers we were city people out in the sticks so everybody got discriminated against. There was some racial discrimination, however. But those of us who raised hell got results, both the activistic woman who found out the mayor had given orders not to put blacks in a nice park and me when some St. Bernard Parish rednecks tried to get a very attractive black New Orleans woman kicked out. And yall probably know about the nightriders going through the park in Baton Rouge supposedly looking for sex offenders, lead by the Sheriff, Greg Phares (Actually he was not the elected sheriff just the chief deputy. The high sheriff was old and sick.) He made a lot of race based slurs and wanted to put the survivors in the woods behind a fence, force them to carry special identification, and tried to ban guns from the park but not the rest of East Baton Rouge Parish, which would render them sitting ducks. Some other officials also made slurs including a black mayor in North Louisiana (real conservative area) who said we carried germs and politicians who claimed we tore up the roads, lowered school test scores, would beat up their school children, and raised the rents. (One boy got accused of murder by the school counselor for no reason other than that he had tattoos and gold teeth. That was in Hattiesburg MS.) But it was more survivor and racial discrimination than anything else.

I suspect some of the groups will have problems with serving the practicioners of voodoo, not so much because of sexual orientation, however, but because it's VOODOO! That would be extremely frightening for them.

However, there is a Metropolitan Community Church in the Dominican Republic that serves some gay Haitian Christians as well and the denomination is collecting funds to help them help the gay community in Haiti. Just put Metropolitan Community Church on your computer and it will bring up the denominational website if you want to help.

the endorsement of voodoo shows that the author of this is ignorant. voodoo IS nothing but evil black magic cannibalism and zombies. people need to be so accepting of other cultures religions and "orientations". you're screwing up society by not condemning these types of people as sickos wierdos outcasts and degenerates. the same people you defend probably has a doll with your name at that it'll play with if you speak or write out of line. maybe a dog will come and bite the doll.. or maybe a demon will pay the guy or girl to harm the indivisual. you people are so stupid. gays lesbians magicians and pagan religions are all drains on society and so are those that support it. there is no proof that anybody's born gay. you just speak with your feelings. like all the other fake people. be real!