When I got the messages that "gay pride flags" were mounted on light posts across the city of my birthplace for Carnival, I became so excited. And though they weren't really rainbow flags (more like a patchwork of colours that are also in the rainbow), I immediately took my sarcasm to Facebook to celebrate while thanking the decorators for seeing my vision for a "Pride Antigua."
My excitement was short-lived as not only did the situation escalate to folks calling for prayers for the country as a gay agenda was being pushed, but it lead to the Minister of Culture responsible for the festival making the decision to take down the multi-coloured flags.
Yes, you heard me right! The flags were taken down because of the outrage that they resemble gay pride flags. Insane, right? Well these are just some of the disgusting and heartbreaking comments that were shared on Facebook and online news platforms by my fellow Antiguans.
I must admit, when I first saw some of the bitter and disgruntled homophobes arguing on social media about the flags, I couldn't do anything else but laugh at their ignorance. I concluded that these folks woke up on the wrong side of the bed or were just tired of using common sense. I forced myself to believe that these human beings just prefer to lead their lives with ignorance and hatred, as sad as that thought is.
But after seeing the hateful comments and thinking about the last conversation I had with a fellow Antiguan lesbian and a young gay man who was assaulted by homophobes there, I broke down in tears. While many see the act as organizers simply listening to the masses, no one has stopped to think how this move might impact the lives of LGBTQ members still living in this homophobic country.
Antigua and Barbuda already has laws that criminalize homosexuality. The country has seen its fair share of queer members being attacked and harassed, most of which aren't reported since the police treats members of the LGBTQ community like any other homophobe. And I know this as I had to leave my family and this same country because of no police protection.
Just recently, "Princess" — a trans woman from Antigua who allegedly faced abuse at the hands of police officers in 2015, came to Canada to seek protection. How many more will have to leave before Antiguans and Barbudans recognize that their attitudes only fuel hate and harm towards other human beings who are just trying to be themselves? Citizens aren't even hiding like before. They are boldly showing the world just how homophobic Antigua and Barbuda truly is.
If a piece of cloth can have such an impact on one of the leading festivals in the Caribbean, imagine what really happens to actual lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans men and women on the island.
To think the mere sight of a flag that resembles something close to the rainbow symbol used by the LGBTQ community could cause an entire country to feel threatened, is not only pathetic but shows the level of homophobia that queers have to deal with on an island of 280 square kilometres.
If a piece of cloth can have such an impact on one of the leading festivals in the Caribbean, imagine what really happens to actual lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans men and women on the island. And that could be something as difficult as being forced to stay locked away in the closet because of attitudes like this.
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As you read this, there are so many Antiguans living in fear because of the crimes being committed across the country; sick folks are tired of the broken healthcare system; the electorate can't even trust their political leaders and law enforcement officers when some are at the centre of various scandals to include allegations of sexual assault and charges of incest. I could list out a whole book of problems that are plaguing the country as we speak. But somehow, multi-coloured flags that hold no real ties to the LGBTQ community are the biggest threat to this society.
If my wish for a gay pride caused such a panic in this country, then I should begin to speak up more about the shortage of running water and the irregular supply of electricity that residents put up with. That could either lead to better conditions or it could go wrong and result in a ban on Crayola crayons and Fruit Loops. Someone might even try to pull the rainbow down from the sky. I don't know!
But seriously, I look forward to the day when my fellow Antiguans stop getting offended by the wrong things like me calling out homophobia when I see it or a flag with rainbow colours and instead, stand up and speak out against things that do threaten their very survival.