As a young girl Donnya Piggott knew there was something different about her, but she couldn’t quite describe what it was. It would be a long time before she understood that what was different, was that she was attracted to girls.
And it took years of inner conflict and soul-searching before she accepted her reality in a country where, like its Caribbean neighbours, homosexuality is still taboo.
“I struggled with it for a long time because I was actually a Christian. I struggled and I struggled and I had suicidal thoughts. I talked to God about it because I was a Christian and it was a push and pull,” she told Barbados TODAY in an interview this week.
“So I made an agreement with God. I said, ‘I do love girls, but because I’m a Christian, I won’t be intimate with a girl’. So that was it at first.
“But then as I grew up and I started to be intimate, I was like, ‘OK I would be intimate with girls, but I would still spread the word of God as a Christian’. But that was contention because I can’t be not setting an example. So I was like, ‘OK, I can’t do this. I can’t really spread the word of God if I’m a lesbian, so I would just be a good person. And once I’m a good person that’s all that matters.”
Admittedly, the decision was not an easy one for her to make. In fact, “it was rough”.
“And then I decided I’m not going to struggle anymore, I don’t want to live a life of constant push and pull. I hated myself. So I just decided to accept myself and that was the best decision I ever made,” she told Barbados TODAY.
The 25-year-old is no longer a Christian, but has “a slightly different belief system now”.
Having overcome her own personal fears, Piggott began speaking on behalf of the local gay and lesbian community, and founded the advocacy group for sexual minorities, Barbados – Gays and Lesbians and All-sexuals Against Discrimination (B-GLAD).
Her work with the organization over the past five years earned her the Queen’s Young Leaders Awards at Buckingham Palace in London on Monday. She was one of four Caribbean youth to receive the honour – an award she said means a lot to her and the LGBT community.
“I find that especially in a Caribbean context where LGBT rights is something that doesn’t have a lot of support on the ground, it is sometimes difficult to do the work. Because it’s not like assisting women or children or displaced or homeless people. It’s not like people see it as something that is charitable, something that needs to be done to include people,” she said in a Skype interview.
“People are quite fine with denouncing the movement and I think it causes people to ask the question, ‘So what about this deserves an award?’”
Barbados’ LGBT community, Piggott says, is a group of people who are disadvantaged. She admits that being the face of BGLAD and championing the cause of the LGBT community is not an easy undertaking.
“Sometimes I get attacked. I get attacked online, I get attacks in my inbox. People send me some nasty messages sometimes. These are the things that affect the work that I do and affect me personally because I’m still a human being.”
She told Barbados TODAY that since she started to publicly identify as a lesbian five years ago, she has lost several friends.
“I had some friends that didn’t want to be my friend anymore and they outrightly (sic) said that. There were others who were supportive and I had some close friends who cut me off . . . they just cut me off,” she said.
But while she has accepted her sexual orientation, Piggott says she would like the public to understand the plight of members of the wider LGBT community, and stop discriminating against them.
“Discrimination is a real thing . . . and in Barbados it’s subtle and it’s an oppressive environment. I think sometimes it’s often hard to pinpoint but you feel the energy and people would say things under their breath.”
She is hoping her recognition by the Queen will make a difference in helping the public to be more tolerant of the LGBT community.
“There are a lot of people who have a lot of respect for the Queen so what happens is these people who are associated with the monarchy and believe in this kind of thing, they see she honours someone who champions the cause, I think they will definitely start to question what this is about.”
The LGBT community in the US scored a major victory on Friday, after the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a legal right in all states.
Piggott, who spoke to Barbados TODAY ahead of Friday’s ruling, said while she supports same-sex marriage, it was not a priority for gays and lesbians in Barbados and other Caribbean countries at this time.
“Gay marriage is so far beyond what we as gay people in the Caribbean and Barbados need. I mean we want it but it’s a step-by-step process. We first need to be recognized under the law so that we’re not discriminated against, so that we’re protected from discrimination.
“Marriage is something that the global north has pushed and that’s fine, that’s something I totally support. But as the head of BGLAD, a Barbadian organization, I have to look at the issues that we face – young people are being abandoned, there is no protection from discrimination, there is no protection in the workplace, LGBT couples are not protected. And then there’s the law that says same sex intimacy is outlawed. So these are the things that apply to a Barbadian context,” she stated.
On her return home she is planning to continue programmes on behalf of the LGBT locals, including sexual health workshops and community outreach.
“We’re gonna try to . . . change the conversation so that people understand the needs of the LGBT community and how they’re really affected by the discrimination that exists in society.
“I just want people to understand that it’s about helping the disadvantaged and not get sidetracked about whether it’s right or wrong to do this.
“I think people have to acknowledge that people are being disadvantaged, people are being excluded, people are depressed and have a lot of anxiety issues.
“This is a group of people, regardless of what you think about them they’re not living up to their fullest potential. I think people just need to help. That’s all. They just need to help,” she said.