Homophobia and How I Became an Ally
The definition of “gay” was multitudinous during my later secondary school years attending an all-girls’ school. If you were friends with the same person for too long, you were gay. If you hugged for too long, you were gay. If you complimented your friend, they would immediately blush and declare you to be gay. If you liked a boy from the nearby boys’ school, you were gay, and they were all gay, too.
Slowly, the definition grew from being slang, it would seem, to being a term used for describing events, things and people in a negative light. If you attended an event and it turned out to be boring, it was gay. If something unsatisfactory happened to you; your email was having problems or MSN would not sign you in, it was gay.
When people started to be called gay (or lesbian) at this time, the definition underwent a drastic change. If a person deviated from the dress or personality norms of society, they were gay or lesbian. After all, a boy or girl is socialized to behave in a particular way, so the only reason a girl will keeping a bandana around her neck, or a boy would be into dance, was because they HAD to be a lesbian / gay. It was around this time, the use of more derogatory words such as “faggit” and “battyman” became mainstream alongside the already socially acceptable “sissy” and “mammy boy,” to underscore the fact that being gay was bad. It was much later that I heard the religious justification for that “lifestyle” being wrong. It was put forth that being gay or lesbian was a choice. That mentality still exists today.
There was no one telling me that saying those things was wrong. No one stopped me to say that I could have been hurting someone’s feelings without even knowing it. There were no NGOs back then that spoke out against discrimination or to provide education. I did not even know what LGBT was or meant, and that it was a global community of marginalized people who were verbally slandered by and emotionally scarred because of people like me.
When I started Advanced Level, I became great friends with a boy who was gay. I had no clue what that even meant; I knew so many definitions by that time. He said he was attracted to boys, and it was through that coming out conversation that many of my questions were answered. I came to understand a great many things about the mentality I allowed to continue; the fact that I was a bully. I loathed bullies who bullied me, so how could I be one? It was understood that his sexual identity had to be kept a secret for fear he might be further bullied, beaten or thrown out of school.
What an enormous burden he carried; the weight of the world to keep a secret in fear! I realized that he was not the only one. Many other people were walking around with this secret, being afraid to tell, looking for an easy way out or never finding a way and ending it all.
In my second year at The University of the West Indies, I met a wonderful and inspiring team of young people who was ready to advocate for the LGBT community in a big way. At first, I was hesitant; how can I benefit a community I once slandered? The discrimination I once levied on the LGBT community was never reciprocated. Four years later, I hereby declare: My name is Poonam, and I am an ally.
I have The Silver Lining Foundation to thank for my extensive and much-needed edification on the LGBT community. The existence of NGOs such as SLF is essential to the spread of positive and accurate information about the LGBT community. I am excited about Ally Week 2016, as this event opens the conversation for education. Knowledge is the key to changing the mentality surrounding the community in Trinidad and Tobago, and as an ally, I am proud to be part of the movement that advocates for that change.
This week highlights the need for allies and their ability to use their support for the greater good. Be an ally! Be part of the movement, and educate someone about the LGBT community today!