A new effort is under way to help promote tolerance and stop discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals in the Cayman Islands.
The Colours Cayman campaign aims to create safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ community by building a network of local businesses that have pledged to stand up against harassment and discrimination.
The campaign is spearheaded by Caymanian activist Billie Bryan, who wants to help members of the LGBTQ community feel safer in public spaces. Ms. Bryan, who is transgender, also hopes the campaign will start a conversation about LGBTQ issues to help dispel misconceptions about the community and educate the public about gender and sexual identity.
“We could tackle these issues from the top down, rely on our government to step in and do something, pass some laws that would limit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but I don’t want for that to happen,” Ms. Bryan said. “I want it to happen organically, and from the community rather than from the government.”
“There’s a strong LGBTQ community here. We need representation, we need people to be educated, and that can only happen once we get the conversation started,” she said.
On Friday, Ms. Bryan began visiting businesses, asking them to sign the “Colours Cayman Campaign Pledge.” By signing, businesses agree “never to tolerate harassment, discrimination or misconduct towards or deny employment, provision of service nor sale of goods” to anyone “on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, whether interpreted, explicitly stated or otherwise.”
In exchange for their signature, businesses receive a window decal featuring a rainbow-colored turtle – the symbol of the campaign – to display so that the public is aware that the business is a safe space for LGBTQ people.
“It tells people who are living in fear, living in the shadows, that they do have a safe place to go to where they can be themselves and not worry about being harassed or discriminated against,” Ms. Bryan said. “It gets people talking, it gets people curious and that’s what we need – visibility.”
She said there are many LGBTQ individuals living in the Cayman Islands – including Caymanians and foreigners – but the community is “very underground.”
“No one talks about it, no one wants to talk about it because it’s such a conservative culture,” she said.
The Colours Collective campaign is kicking off at a time when political and religious leaders of the community have been speaking out against other efforts aimed at ending discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Several members of the Legislative Assembly, including opposition leader McKeeva Bush and Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden, during the recent budget debate, criticized the “Queering Paradigms” conference – a weekend symposium about social injustices faced by the LGBTQ community.
In a letter sent to the Cayman Compass last week, the Cayman Ministers Association also took a stance against the conference, calling it an “ideological and moral attack against the mores, values and traditions of our beloved Cayman Islands – mores, values and traditions that have been shaped and guided by a Christian world view.”
“I hear that, and it just sounds to me like echoes of a distant past,” Ms. Bryan said. “We’ve heard that rhetoric time and time and time again and it’s tired, it’s inaccurate and honestly, just ridiculous.”
“All over the globe, people are opening their eyes … realizing it’s not some mental disorder to be gay or to be transgender … that it’s completely normal, that there are a lot of us like that out there. People are growing more accepting, more tolerant. Why should Cayman be left in the dark?”
“This is about human rights,” she added. “You can talk all you like about cultural values, but at the end of the day, we’re talking about human beings, and every human being should be seen as equal and treated as such. That’s what it comes down to.”
Ms. Bryan said disparaging rhetoric against the LGBTQ community can also be dangerous and leave many LGBTQ individuals in the Cayman Islands – especially young people – feeling isolated, depressed and suicidal.
“They want to associate LGBT with something evil or malicious … if anything, we’re the ones that are being attacked,” Ms. Bryan said.
In addition to promoting education and tolerance, Ms. Bryan hopes the Colours Cayman campaign will inspire other members of the LGBTQ community to stand up for their rights.
“I’m proud to say I’m transgender, I have no qualms about doing that,” Ms. Bryan said. “We need more of that – I can’t be the only one.”
Businesses interested in signing the Colours Cayman pledge can contact Ms. Bryan at [email protected]