Conference will address LGBT issues in Cayman and beyond

Speakers from around the world will gather in Grand Cayman this weekend at the “Queering Paradigms” conference to discuss social injustices faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer and questioning people in the Cayman Islands, the Caribbean and beyond.

Leonardo Raznovich
Leonardo Raznovich

The conference, which is open to the public, is sponsored by Canterbury Christ Church University in the U.K. It will be held Saturday and Sunday in the auditorium of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce in Governors Square.

This is the first time the conference will be held in the Caribbean.

Leonardo Raznovich, one of the organizers and a former Truman Bodden Law School lecturer, said the conference will highlight the societal and legal plights of LGBTIQ citizens in the Cayman Islands, acknowledging the difficulties of Caymanians whose voices have not been heard.

“We really worked hard to put together something that could actually leave important tools for the government, for the people of the Cayman Islands, even for those who oppose the LGBT lifestyle, to just think about the issues,” Mr. Raznovich said.

He said the aim of the conference is not to change people’s minds about whether they approve of LGBT lifestyles, but he hopes it will help those opposed to LGBT lifestyles accept and respect LGBT people.

“My spouse and I are currently in the midst of a legal challenge in respect of the Cayman Island government’s refusal to apply its own existing laws and grant me residency based on my same-sex marital status,” Mr. Raznovich said. “Unfortunately, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the U.K. has been of little support, perhaps more occupied by tax matters rather than human rights violations. This conference is therefore timely and apposite.”

He said he hopes the conference will also act as a “catalyst” to decriminalize homosexuality in the Caribbean region.

The conference kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Friday with a screening of the award-winning documentary “The Abominable Crime,” which explores the culture of homophobia in Jamaica through the eyes of gay Jamaicans who are forced to choose between their homeland and their lives after their sexual orientations are exposed.

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson will lead a discussion about the film. Mr. Tomlinson, who has been a leading gay rights and HIV activist in the Caribbean for more than two decades, will also speak on Saturday during the first panel discussion, which focuses on LGBTIQ issues in Jamaica.

The second panel on Saturday will bring the issues home, focusing on Caymanian voices. The panel features local LGBT activist Billy Bryan, Cayman Islands Red Cross Programs Manager Carolina Ferreira, David Matheson and Olivia Connolly.

Also on Saturday, panelists from around the world will discuss LGBTIQ issues in countries such as Ghana, Russia, Italy, Britain and France.

On Sunday, panels during the first half of the day will focus on the topics of “Queer Kinship, Law and Philosophy” and “Queer US (His)Stories and Discourses.”

The keynote panels begin Sunday afternoon, first with a discussion of human rights. Mr. Raznovich will give an introductory talk titled “Queer Aggression? The ‘unorthodoxy’ of Human Rights Claims in the Cayman Islands,” discussing the trials and tribulations of his own human rights challenges in the jurisdiction.

Then, keynote speaker Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, will give a talk about the criminal prosecution of sexual orientation and its effect on the mental health of a society. There are still 11 jurisdictions in the Caribbean where LGBTIQ individuals are criminalized.

The conference wraps up Sunday with a panel on the topic of queer religion. Bee Scherer, founder of the “Queering Paradigms” conference series and director of the INCISE (Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice) research institute at Canterbury Christ Church University, will give an introductory talk before the Bishop of Buckingham, Bishop Alan Wilson will speak on “Same-sex marriage and the queering project of Jesus.” He will discuss the U.K.’s experience with the introduction of same-sex marriage and describe the impact of changes in the U.K. marriage practice on both church and state. His talk will link this experience to an “emerging notion that queering is an activity mandated by various subversive elements in the teaching of Jesus,” according to the conference program.

Mr. Raznovich said he hopes religious people will take the opportunity to come to the conference and speak and debate with Bishop Wilson, and that the conference will help everyone in the Cayman Islands understand that people in this part of the world “want to live in a free and peaceful society.”

“This is a great opportunity to learn about issues that are perhaps not properly covered here through education or policies of the government,” Mr. Raznovich said.

The conference runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. No registration is required to attend. Capacity is limited to 90 people.