The “M Community”: LGBT Courage in Haiti
An interview with Charlot Jeudy by Alexis Erkert
In honor of May 17, International Day Against Homophobia, we run an interview with Charlot Jeudy. Jeudy is the president of the Haitian organization KOURAJ, meaning “courage” in Creole.
May 17th is important because more than 60 countries around the world commemorate this day, which is to raise awareness about homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and the possibilities for a world without discrimination. For Haitians engaged in the struggle, we are claiming the day, too, to remind people that we’re here, what we want, and that we’re suffering.
Homophobia affects our entire society. That’s why we have the slogan, “Homosexuality hurts no one; homophobia hurts everyone.” Homophobia is what stresses people out. Homophobia is what pushes people to violence.
In 1992, homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses, which was critical. Now it is homophobia that must be considered as a mental illness.
A little boy who feels effeminate is more likely to drop out of school as a result of harassment. I know boys who were beaten by schoolmates because they were effeminate. I know boys who were expelled from school because they were effeminate. These children then become the bane of society. I know people who have been disowned by their families. There are violent rap artists whose song lyrics promote hatred towards us. Recently, in the town of Jacmel, two youth were viciously beaten, told they were ruining the area because they were masisi [meaning “gay” as both value-neutral and as hate speech].
When people are shunned because of their sexuality, KOURAJ exists as a support group. We can’t provide them with income or social housing; we aren’t the state. We can’t take them in. But we can put pressure on discriminators, we can start discussions, we can advocate for changes in public opinion. All of this is part of our fight for the rights of the M community, something new that we’re naming ourselves. The M community is comprised of masisi [gay], madivin [lesbian], makòmè [transgender], and miks [bisexual].
Certain aspects of sexuality are taboo in Haiti, and they need to be discussed. It’s necessary for people to understand that we can have sexual differences, but that that doesn’t stop us from evolving together as a society. Only when people have changed their perceptions and preconceptions can we build solidarity.
We’re working with legal experts to draft an anti-homophobia, anti-discrimination law. We’re also petitioning the state to sign and ratify the Yogyakarta Principles and the UN declaration for the Universal Decriminalization of Homosexuality. There are conventions to which Haiti is already signatory, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and our own constitution says that the state is obligated to guarantee everyone’s protection without distinction.
We are also working with two institutions, the International Lawyers’ Office [BAI] and Defenders of the Oppressed [DOP], who can provide legal assistance in cases of homophobic violence. The challenge is that victims often don’t want to press charges or pursue a claim publically. Victims worry that if they go to court, they’ll attract negative press. We need to change the system.
I am a man that will always be with another man, and I want to be able to do that in my own country. I knew that to do this in Haiti would be a challenge, but I threw myself into the struggle anyway. And it is a struggle. I could move to North America and live freely with a man. Sorry, but no. Haiti is my home.
If there is to be a movement for the rights of M persons in Haiti, Haitians must be behind it. We recognize that we cannot take on the identity of the international LGBT movement. We take note and are encouraged by the successes of this movement around the world, but from a sociological standpoint, Haitian culture is different and our movement must reflect that. [cont’d.]