By Jeanne-Elsa Chéry, Global Voices, Oct. 22, 2020
In late-June, a new draft penal code was decreed by Haitian President Jovenel Moise which has made discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation punishable for the first time in Haiti's history. In the same month, another decree allows members of the transgender community to reflect the appropriate gender on their identity cards.
The penal code changes, which would go into effect in 2022, have led to continual outcries from conservative groups in Haitian society who argue that homosexuality and LGBTQI+ rights are part of a foreign influence agenda.
Following announcements about the new penal code, the Haitian Conference of Bishops decried the decision as stemming from “a new imperialist and neo-colonialist mindset”, and urged the Haitian government to “focus on the real problems of Haitians” instead of “trying to import foreign values which come from outside our best traditions”.
The Protestant Federation of Haiti and Shekinah, representing two branches of the Protestant church in the Haitian diaspora, responded to the news by launching a petition entitled “Reverse the legalization of child prostitution, incest, bestiality and homosexuality in Haiti” which garnered over 130,000 signatures.
Allegations of a link between homosexuality and foreign influence run deep in Haitian society and some see the protection of the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ communities as part of a foreign policy agenda.
In June 2020, a tweet published by the Canadian Embassy to mark Pride Month provoked a storm after the embassy shared a photo of the LGBTQI+ flag flying in its courtyard in the capital of Port-au-Prince. According to Auguste D’Meza, a lecturer at the Université d’État haïtienne (State University of Haiti), Canada violated the Vienna Convention by raising a flag representing a social movement. There has been a similarly heated debate on Twitter about the embassy's tweet.
Other Twitter users went on to share the idea that homosexuality in Haiti is influenced from outside the country: “They insist on claiming not to be able to see that the Canadian Embassy is destroying all we have left of family values in this country through social colonization. The whites are homosexuals, and they are forced to make homosexuals of us too.”
We pretend that we don't see that the Canadian embassy is crushing what remains of the family's values in our country with mental colonization. Since the white is gay, we must be gay too. As Lesly Manigat [former President of Haiti] said, the haitian wants to be a slave, he won't protest. The values of a social group can't be imposed on a whole society.
In a phone interview with Global Voices, Hetera Estimphil, president of LGBTQI+ association Kouraj, says there is a need for awareness and information to explain trans and homosexual identity. She launched an appeal for tolerance through the association's videos with the aim of raising public awareness of violent homophobic attacks.
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Violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community is a taboo topic in Haitian society. The LGBTQI+ rights association Kouraj, whose previous president was found dead in November 2019, has registered 14 declared assaults from 2016 to 2018. A total of 13 men and one woman reported being attacked by one or more family members, youths, occupants of vehicles, or identified groups of men. Kouraj encourages victims to complain about acts of aggression to make the statistics more reflective of reality.
Attempts to raise the profile of the LGBTQI+ community have also been stifled in the past. The Haiti Massi-Madi Festival (“Masisi” and “Madivin” are colloquial terms in Haitian Creole referring to homosexual community members) was due to be held for the first time in 2016 but was banned following threats and criticism from the Haitian Catholic Church, social media, and some members of the Haitian Government. According to quotes given to CTV News by Anthony Manuel Plagnes Paya, the festival's spokesperson in Montreal, “the members of Kouraj are under threat (of death) and are afraid to leave home”.
In support of the LGBTQI+ community and Fokal [the owners of the proposed host venue of the festival], writers, artists, actors, journalists and other personalities launched a petition against intolerance in Haiti back in 2016. Despite the criticisms, Kouraj did hold the festival under discreet and clandestine conditions.
In 2020, journalists have directed criticism at conservative religious elements by highlighting their silence over current political abuses of power and the country's poverty. After the petition of the diasporic protestant church was launched online, journalist Anne-Marline Eugene published the following:
Tell the pastor from me, it would be nice if he could think of some other petitions to launch. Because it isn't just the penal code which may be stopping Haiti from returning ‘to its destiny as the light of the nations’. Tell him from me, that there's also poverty, corruption and the proliferation of armed gangs which Jovenel et his allies are trying to legalize. Tell him from me, as well, that religious leaders are just as affected by these questions, and that it is their duty to intervene. Thanks!
Posted Oct. 31, 2020