It is time that the Region begins the conversation about successful community engagement of key populations.  It is especially of paramount importance that parliamentarians from across the Caribbean seek to successfully engage key populations.

Far too many members of key population groups feel ignored, conveniently used, and forgotten in the scheme of things, when politicians should be the first defenders of human rights for all.

We do well to start from a position of relevance, compassion, and commitment to the cause of truth in facilitating education around matters of gender and sexual diversity.

Sadly many of the organisations in government agencies and sometimes even Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), are so busy trying to be diplomatic, so busy satisfying the egos of supposed stakeholders that the successful engagement of key populations becomes a yet to be attained goal – waiting somewhere out there in the future.

Whenever we meet in the name of human rights and social justice, we may only realize successful community engagement of key populations if we are prepared to understand that where there is a conflict between politics and human rights, and where there is a conflict between religion and human rights, and where there is a conflict between philosophy and human rights, the human rights position, ought to prevail.

It will take more than periodical discussions to accomplish the necessary understanding and goals of comprehensive sex education, sensitisation around human rights and sexuality, and the whole matter of speaking to cultural values and human sexuality.  It will take more than fence-sitting positions.  To accomplish this necessary work for CARICOM, and in the continued interest of human development and informed by justice for one, and justice for all, we must each make a choice for a deliberate decision to work together versus a platform of self-righteous attitudes, and empty platitudes which may appeal to the gallery but work against successful engagement of key populations.

If we are going to be true to the millennium development goals, the promotion of gender equality, the empowerment of women, the combating of HIV and AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, and the realization of a global partnership for development – then we must of necessity seek, encourage, and promote the voices and participation of key populations.  And we must not be afraid to involve Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender persons, and indeed all gender and sexual minorities who are members of all our various societies across the Region.

Only a month ago, I facilitated presentations on HIV-related stigma and discrimination.  At Christ Church, Vineyard Town, we are also doing a weekly Youth and Community Outreach programme for children from the wider community.  The programme includes sensitisation around gender-based violence and empowering participants to respect self and others.  I do LGBT empowerment counselling, recognising that much of the pain encountered by LGBT persons, has been exacerbated by people in the space of the church and other religious experiences.  It is an approach that is enhanced by person-centred and cognitive behavioural therapies where much emphasis is often required around cognitive patterns which have been negatively formed through theological and spiritual abuse.

I believe that an essential part of my role is to remind the church that the Ethiopian Eunuch, a sexual and gender minority in the bible – was one of the earliest converts to Christianity.  Another important reminder that I have been bringing into focus is the fact that Jesus would have been a misfit in Caribbean society since he was never married, never had a woman, a wife or children.

When I hear concerns about including the word ‘man’ in phraseology which is intended to speak specifically to the particular violence and victim status of women and children – it feels so unnecessary to me.  That is like asking Walmart to ensure that its parking lots show signage for non-disabled people and not just people with disabilities.

We must understand that if we are to engage key populations to become vital stakeholders in society, we must of necessity affirm their rights, and protect their freedoms to be their best selves. 

Successful community engagement of key populations then must be a deliberate act in the interest of a better world for all.  Everyone, regardless of demographics, is a Human Rights stakeholder by virtue of being a human being.  Dominant groups are no more entitled to have their rights protected, and minority groups do not exist to serve the egos of those from dominant groups.  Successful community engagement then is from the heart and mind, and purposeful in the quest for inclusive and wholesome approaches for all members of the community.