Ten things to advocate for in Pride Month
The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest and most politically active LGBTQ+ civil rights organisation, declared a national state of emergency last week for members of LGBTQ+ community both living in and visiting the United States. The campaign cited as the catalyst for this decision the exponential rise of horrific anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the US, and worldwide, which has drastically increased rates of anti-LGBTQ+ violence and homophobic rhetoric.
Given Bermuda’s physical and social proximity to the US, coupled with the Progressive Labour Party government’s clear distain for the LGBTQ+ community, I can only assume this anti-LGBTQ+ movement will soon spill over into our community.
Pride Month and Pride are when the LGBTQ+ community can celebrate and be celebrated. However, we must never forget that Pride is first and foremost a protest. And now, more than ever, we must protest. We must protest not only for ourselves but for our LGBTQ+ siblings worldwide who are facing legislative attacks and physical violence that we, as LGBTQ+ Bermudians, can’t even imagine.
We must protest for our siblings in Uganda, for example, who are being forced to flee their home country by a government that would gladly see them exterminated.
Now that I have established why we must protest, here is what we in Bermuda should be protesting for. I am frequently asked what the Government can do to support, protect and empower the local LGBTQ+ community, so I have taken upon myself to compile a list. The ten action areas listed below have been compiled based on anecdotal conversations with members of the local community as well as my own research into best practice and potential policy implications. I have also categorised them based on how I think they should be prioritised.
1, The development and implementation of a legal framework for gender-affirming care and clear guidance to support social transitioning (name changes, gender-marker changes on legal documents, etc). As the transgender community becomes more visible, it is essential that they have streamlined access to the healthcare and other services they need and deserve to thrive as their authentic selves. OutBermuda could and should start by developing guidance for where/how to access services related transitioning, as well as creating a list of LGBTQ+-inclusive and affirmative healthcare services/providers.
2, The amendment of the Human Rights Act (1981) to include “gender identity” as a protected class. Existing legislation protects only on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, so those who have a different gender identity from their sex assigned at birth are not protected by this legislation. Diverse gender identities are becoming increasing common and more fluid, especially among young people, so this is necessary to ensure everyone continues to be protected from discrimination.
3, The implementation of mandatory comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationships education in schools starting at the primary level. Many have pleaded with the Government to action this, but there has been no movement, which makes no sense given the benefits it brings are well-researched and documented.
4, The implementation of government/corporate-funded research and data collection around the LGBTQ+ community. This can take many forms, including adding sexual orientation and gender identity as optional categories in the next Census, the Bermuda Health Council conducting research into the mental and physical health of the local LGBTQ+ community, or OutBermuda conducting regular research into the status and needs of the local LGBTQ+ community. As any researcher or policymaker will tell you, data is crucial. Having access to accurate and up-to-date data on the status and needs of the local LGBTQ+ community will make it easier for the Government and charities to pinpoint areas of greatest need and focus their work around these areas. This data would also make it easier for activists such as me to lobby the Government for necessary policy changes and initiatives.
5, The implementation of mandatory sensitivity and cultural-humility training for teachers, school councillors, social service workers, hospital staff, police and anyone else encountering vulnerable populations. These are the people who are meant to make us feel safe in some of most vulnerable moments, and they must be able to leave their own biases at the door to provide inclusive, safe and efficient services.
6, The implementation of government-funded resources and initiatives to support and empower the LGBTQ+ youth. The Government has given grants to sports clubs, the Bermuda Future Leaders programme and many other community initiatives, but has not given one cent to initiatives focused on supporting the LGBTQ+ community. It can start by supporting the Bermuda College Village and OutBermuda’s Outlet programme. The Government should also produce official resources for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, as well as mandatory restorative and educational programmes/resources for the parents of students — and the students themselves — who bully LGBTQ+ students.
Medium to low priority
7, The addition of single-stall, gender-neutral toilets in all buildings, preferably on every floor. The Government should lead by example here, but private companies have more flexibility to make this happen sooner.
8, The implementation of LGBTQ+ networks in various settings. All senior schools (children aged 13 and up) should have safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students; the Village at Bermuda College is an excellent example. Companies, unions and government departments should create staff LGBTQ+ networks to both foster community and to drive change.
9, The inclusion of Bermuda’s LGBTQ+ history into the Bermuda history curriculum. Bermuda has made quite significant steps towards LGBTQ+ equity — compared with other nations with predominately Black populations — and this should be recognised as an integral part of our cultural and political history.
10, The amendment of the existing blood donation policy around LGBTQ+ men to be in line with international best practice. In Bermuda, men who have sex with men (MSM) are barred from donating blood unless they do not engage in sexual contact with other men for a period of three months. In this instance, the policy itself is not the issue; the wording is. The reason this deferral period exists is to prevent the transmission of HIV through blood transfusion; however, this policy correlates HIV solely with MSM and sex workers, which is a disproved stigma. Being a LGBTQ+ man or MSM man is not inherently a risk factor for HIV; multiple sexual partners and frequent, unsafe anal sex are.
The Bermuda Hospitals Board’s policy does not make that vital distinction, which only helps to further the stigma. However, the Food and Drug Administration has recently released new guidance regarding this, highlighting that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has multiple sexual partners and/or engages in anal sex should be deferred from donating for three months. The use of inclusive language both reduces stigma, while also ensuring clinical best practice is conveyed and followed more accurately.
I hope this list will provide those in the Government who dare to read my work with action items they can begin looking into for the local community. This list should also provide a clear directive to local and international businesses for things they can lobby the Government for on behalf of the community. The items on this list will have more impact than changing your logo, raising a rainbow flag, having a panel, or even funding Pride parties.
Lastly, I hope my fellow human rights activists, OutBermuda, the Human Rights Commission, and all allies will heed my call for meaningful action in any one of these action areas.
• Taj Donville-Outerbridge is a Bermudian human rights activist and student studying at King’s College London. Most importantly, however, he is human. He can be reached via Instagram @_king.taj_ or via e-mail @ email@example.com