Transgender community: We’re human too
Amid public concern over a supposed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) agenda and fears that the fourth constitutional amendment bill will pave the way for same-sex marriage, members of the transgender community are speaking out.
President and director of LGBT activist group the D’Marco Foundation, Alexus D’Marco said the upcoming referendum “does not include” transgender or intersex issues and same-sex marriage is not an issue for the transgender community.
During a press conference at the British Colonial Hilton hotel yesterday morning, she said the transgender community only wants to be treated like members of any group, with dignity and respect.
She said the community decided to let its voices be heard in a bid to “bring their concerns to the table” and make the public aware of the issues that group faces.
“It has been said that there are no transgender or intersex persons living here in The Bahamas, but we are here to show you that we exist and we deserve the same rights and respect as any person living here in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” D’Marco said.
“The fact is, medical support – access to these things, access to education, access to jobs, access to staying in a school environment are things that this community is looking for.
“The present referendum does not include [transgender and intersex] issues. Same-sex marriage is not an issue for us – or a great concern; just the basic things as a Bahamian to function in this commonwealth.”
D’Marco was flanked by three other transgender women who shared their experiences.
Tori Culmer, who was among those in Parliament Square last month, cheering on the passage of the four constitutional bills, said yesterday she doesn’t really care about the outcome of the referendum.
“Yes, we expect backlash,” Culmer said. “That’s automatic because everyone is going to start saying, ‘Oh, we’re trying to get this referendum passed’. It has nothing to do with the referendum, I could care either way about the referendum.
“We want equal rights for all but I’m not here to change people’s perception of what the referendum is or isn’t. We’re here demanding respect for who we are.
“We are not going anywhere, anytime soon. Actually, we are growing in numbers and the international community is noticing that.
“That’s why we are here to be strong enough to be visualized. We are here and there’s nothing the Bahamian people can do about it.”
D’Marco said although the upcoming referendum “does not include” transgender or intersex issues, she’s glad a conversation about equality has come about as some Bahamians have been living in “La La Land”.
“I think the conversation needed to come about because discrimination – if we’re talking about equality, we have to go across the board for all Bahamians,” she 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 the privileges? That’s discrimination.
“I’m glad that the topic of referendum and all of this stuff is coming about because we live in La La Land in this country and [if] we come forward as humans and as Bahamians and stand up for our own rights things will begin to move and change.”
She added: “The fact is, we are human beings advocating for one thing: to be treated as humans.”
Twenty-one-year-old Felicity “Peaches” Smith said life as a young transgender woman hasn’t been easy. A former student of R.M. Bailey High School, Smith said she was “run out of the public school system”.
“I was harassed, tormented, bullied, all of the above, just to be who I wanted to be,” she said.
“Everybody, the first thing they want to get at when they see you acting a certain way – a boy acting a certain way – they want to get at that you’re gay. They want to get to your sexual orientation.
“I haven’t identified with being gay or any of this sort, but that’s what society labeled me as and I look at it different.”
Smith said she left school in grade eleven after she was “chased out”. She explained she has difficulty finding a decent job, because she is a transgender woman.
“I’ve been discriminated upon a lot of times, going in interviews, and stuff like that,” she said. “I feel at the end of the day, no matter what life I choose, I am human, mostly.”
Smith added: “It was never me changing my life. I never had to decide or figure out what I was or who I was. I always knew that’s who I was as a person. I knew I was different from other boys. Other boys like playing marbles and basketball, I like playing with the girls.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Alicia Seymour, a fashion designer and consultant by trade, also spoke to reporters about her experiences as a transgender woman. However, unlike Smith, Seymour said she didn’t face too much discrimination growing up.
“I never really had so much of a challenge, it was just getting people to understand who I was and I found out it all started with myself and when I fully respected myself and accepted who I was, people in the community and people in public started respecting me and understanding who I was,” she said.
Seymour said she began hormone therapy at age 16 and she’s been living as a woman ever since.
“Fortunately, my story is not like everybody else’s story where I was a victim of bullying or anything like that,” she said.
“I come from a large family with seven brothers and eight sisters. However, as a child I was always misunderstood because I was different.
“Growing up, I grew up in Englerston, where people grow up with society not understanding that someone is being different. However, because I’ve grown up around so many guys, I was misunderstood but also respected because of the community I lived in.”
Seymour noted, however, in sharing her story she’s not trying to “push” her beliefs on anyone.
“We’re not here to push our beliefs or anything on anybody,” she said. “We’re just here to try to get you to understand that we’re all humans, also. And we want to be respected as that.”
D’Marco said most trans individuals in The Bahamas do not come forward or are virtually invisible because of stigma and discrimination.
She said trans people face real issues and a lot are suffering from depression, suicide, and other social ills. Trans youth, she said, are often kicked out of their homes and “preyed upon”.
She also criticized the church for, in her opinion, not doing enough for the trans community.
“The church has done more damage than good to help this type of community. They have outcast them,” she said.
“Jesus came into the community. Jesus went to the woman at the well and Jesus said, ‘He that is without sin cast the first stone on this individual’. So why can’t the church embrace these human beings and these individuals?
“The church’s responsibility is to deal with our spiritual development. Anything that we may have faults with, everybody has faults. But the church needs to be there to show love, to show compassion for these individuals.”