By RICARDO WELLS
BAHAMAS Transgender, Intersex United (BTIU) yesterday launched its multi-level equality campaign, “Bahamian Trans Lives Matter”, which seeks to secure equal rights for transgendered Bahamians as the debate about the upcoming gender equality referendum continues.
During a press conference at the Hilton on Tuesday, BTIU representatives called on the Christie administration to ensure that the fundamental rights of all genders of Bahamians - male, female and transgendered - are protected. However, the group stressed that it is not trying to shift the focus of the gender equality referendum.
The group is calling for equal access to healthcare, education and employment without discrimination.
Lead spokesperson for the group, Alexus D’Marco affirmed that members of BTIU, and to a greater extent those in the wider lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) community, are forced to live in unwarranted circumstances due to the confines of socially accepted behaviours in The Bahamas.
According to the self-proclaimed “first lady” of the LGBT community, scores of transgendered and intersex men and women are being discriminated on their jobs, in schools and in other social groupings because of this “well-endorsed” stigma.
“The conversation needed to come about, because discrimination (exists) on all levels. If we are talking about equality we have to go across the board for all Bahamians,” Ms D’Marco said.
“The word equal, that’s the key word. Why are you going to discriminate against one set of people and another set of people get all the privileges? That’s discrimination. I am glad the topic (of the) referendum and all of that has come about because we live in ‘la la land’ in this country. Unless we come forward as humans and Bahamians and stand up for our own rights, things will (never) begin to move forward and change.”
Ms D’Marco labelled those opposing the rights and privileges of transgender and intersex Bahamians as modern-day oppressors.
She said naysayers are opting to hide behind outdated research, refusing to acknowledge transgender and intersex for what it is – a medical condition and not as a sexual orientation.
“Just how they can pick up their collegiate math books and biological books, they can pick up and study (transgender). But, we want to live in ‘la la land’ and keep oppressing people, keep oppressing Bahamians when equality should be across the board,” she said.
Ms D’Marco said the group now has the moral support and backing to come forward and demand what it rightfully deserves - “equality.”
Question four of the upcoming referendum will ask voters to eliminate discrimination based on sex in the Constitution by inserting the word “sex” into Article 26.
Those opposing the bill think that this could one day lead to same-sex marriages, but the government has denied this as a possibility and stressed that the focus is solely on gender equality.
Addressing this particular point, BTIU representatives said they aren’t looking to shift the focus of the equality bills, but they want to use the national conversation on equality to be all encompassing.
BTIU stressed that there are no laws to protect transgender and intersex Bahamians.
Torri Culmer, a member of the BTIU who is advocating for legal protection for transgender and intersex persons against being terminated from their jobs, stressed that her story proves that the rights of these persons aren’t respected in the Bahamas.
Currently unemployed, Ms Culmer said she was fired from at least four jobs in recent years after it was discovered that she was a transgender woman.
She admitted that when she applied for those jobs, she would do so using her female persona with only her passport and other identification documents indicating that she was born a male.
According to her, there were no issues with these jobs until co-workers or customers that had prior knowledge of her transgender state made a point of it.
“(Employers) find it easier to just let me go, to let a transgender woman go,” she stated.
Furthermore, BTIU lodged concerns for its fastest growing age group - trans youth.
BTIU representatives said trans youth are subjected to bullying in schools and often given religious conversion counseling instead of psychological services specific to transgender and intersex people.
Felicity “Peaches” Smith, an 18-year-old transgender youth, said once she and those around her identified her feminine preferences were not a phase, she was ostracised and ridiculed instead of supported.
Ms Smith said she was run out of high school in the 11th grade.
“I didn’t have anybody to talk to just because of who I (am).
“At the end of the day, no matter who I am, I should not be discriminated (against),” she said.
BTIU contend that youth, once pushed out by family members, are left without homes and unable to finish school.
Officials said these kids often take to street cultures for protection and guidance; and therefore, are preyed upon by older men in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
Additionally, the group indicated that access to proper medical care is limited, with many doctors encouraging transgender and intersex people to travel abroad to receive needed medical care.
“There are some things that we need that doctors find themselves discriminating against,” stated Ms D’Marco. “For example, there was one transgender girl, who when another issue going on with her, they asked what medications are you on and she said hormones . . . the doctor looked at her and said ‘What? Who gives you that here?’
“These are the types of things that they face here in this country when they go to the doctor. Everyone can’t afford to hop on a flight to Miami. There are things in the public service sector that we need - healthcare, education and equality,” she added.
LGBT rights advocate Erin Greene said BTIU members should have the right to voice their concerns within the confines of democracy.
“It is very important that other Bahamians, (those) that do not identify with this community take the time to assess what their responsibilities are to this vulnerable minority in the country,” she said.
Ms Greene called on Bahamians to engage the LGBT community respectfully as the matters related to the constitutional referendum play out.