When Shari Inniss-Grant returned to Barbados in 2013, the human rights researcher saw a need to create a safe space for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
After experiencing racial discrimination while studying in Connecticut and Washington D.C. in the United States, the 30-year-old was met with gender discrimination and homophobia on her return home.
“You deal with one kind of discrimination and then you come home and you deal with a different kind of discrimination, which is really the kind of homophobia that I felt and I heard around me,” she said.
Shocked by the blatant disrespect exhibited towards the members of the LGBT community, she founded Join the Conversation – an initiative under Equals Barbados, a civil society organization dedicated to working with and for the LGBT community. Join the Conversation aims to create a safe haven for LGBTs to share their experiences and educate family and friends.
“Join The Conversation purely came out of that question for me, as a person who identifies as queer, ‘is this someplace that I can build the rest of my life and, if not, what are the most important things that need to happen?’” she explained to Barbados TODAY.
“We just wanted to create a space where people can get even simple questions answered. We’re not saying to you this is the answer, but rather you are able to work it through for yourself and determine it. It is really important for people who care about their kids and care about their friends to create a space where people can come together to learn how to deal with these moments and how to talk about it.”
For Inniss-Grant, the initiative is just the beginning of an effort to create a culture of acceptance in the island, at a time when people are seeking asylum overseas.
The former Yale Law School graduate acknowledged that homophobia and transphobia are a problem in Barbados.
She cited cases of transsexuals being ridiculed and shunned while walking through Bridgetown, while noting that people were more likely to accept lesbians and bisexuals than they would transgenders.
“Homophobia exists in Barbados. We see it in terms of the things that we have ministers saying, the things we see in schools where kids get bullied, or policing and the kind of complaints that get dismissed. We also see it in pockets of acceptance,” she said.
As International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biophobia was being commemorated today, Inniss-Grant expressed her wish for the LGBT community to be protected and accepted by their families, friends and the general public.
“I hope that we’re able to go down the street and don’t ever worry about having accidents because you know you are able to go the police; [that] we’re able to go to healthcare facilities and not worry that people are going to spread your business; and you don’t have to worry about going to school and people saying things about you . . . . Or you don’t have to worry about your government officials saying that nobody should be like you,” she said.
“We just want to live in a country where you feel safe, you feel like you can build the kind of life that you want to build and have the kind of family you want to have and you are not going to be harassed, and you have the same opportunities and acceptance as everyone else.”