SAFE Applauds Churches Call to Action, Suggests Shift of Focus

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten – It was with mixed emotions that the St. Maarten LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered) organization SAFE (St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance For Equality) learned about a call to action circulated throughout the region, requesting pastors and ministers to sign an entreaty to US President Donald Trump to ‘stop spreading the notion of LGBT rights’ in the Caribbean. On the one hand, the organization applauds any call to action to the United States and other neighbours to resolve social woes and issues indirectly or directly caused by their activity. On the other hand, the organization wondered at the logic and true intention of this particular call to action, as it was a direct attack on the safety, social standing and long-term security of LGBT persons in the region. Shocking still was the fact that 19 pastors, apostles and ministers from St. Maarten, albeit from smaller churches put their names and signatures to this letter.

“Many members of our LGBT community were shocked and distressed upon learning that pastors from our island had signed this letter. There are so many social ills on our island that these church leaders could have chosen to address, that choosing to focus on this issue seems almost hypocritical on their parts. For persons in the community who also understand that same-sex desires and behaviours are not something they choose it reinforces the idea that many church leaders really do not understand the reality for LGBT persons.

The tone of the letter in general indicated no understanding and also no willingness to engage with LGBT persons or organizations in order to gain new or further insights. We were deeply dismayed by this ,” SAFE President, Lysanne Charles-Arrindell said.

SAFE, as the island’s LGBT and human rights organisation, laments the fact that these establishments have chosen LGBT rights (including civil and marriage rights) as their focus for this appeal to the US government. The organisation wonders why these churches did not opt to focus on, for example, the estimated 2 million enslaved men, women and children throughout the Americas; a geographic area that includes St. Maarten and her neighbours (St. Kitts, Dominican Republic, Antigua, etc.). These people, particularly the women and children, usually fall under the purview of the church, as they are to be cherished and protected. Right here on our paradise island, we have the dubious honour of hosting dozens of the over 4 million people traded into sexual slavery every year (UN statistics) at several establishments. Requesting that President Trump assist with the investigation and persecution of purveyors of the sexual slavery of women and children might be a better use of resources and time.

A second suggestion is to possibly request US assistance on legislation, from draft to enforcement, to combat the molestation of children within the Caribbean region, a horror that happens here on St. Maarten/St. Martin at varying degrees, from young children being targeted by relatives, close friends, school and yes, even fellow church-goers, to young girls being preyed upon by older persons; this is activity that SAFE fiercely condemns and contends that it has no place in our growing society. These 19 pastors could also request advice on drafting internal policies to ensure that such criminal behaviour does not originate from within their own walls or tents. These 19 pastors, and others of a similar mind-set, might do well to focus their energies on protesting and combatting the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence on the very island they claim to care so deeply about, particularly those instances perpetrated by members of their own congregations.

However, while these are all viable suggestions and priority issues for St. Maarten and the region, SAFE doubts that these churches, and those from other islands that signed this letter, are concerned with the continued sexual, physical and emotional abuse of Caribbean people, particularly women. They have, after all, requested assistance from a man who has been accused by no less than 24 women of serious sexual misconduct and assault. SAFE strongly urges them to reconsider aligning themselves with such a person; ‘Do not be deceived; bad company ruins good morals.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33)

SAFE looks forward to continuing its work of educating the community about human rights, advocating for the protection of vulnerable and at-risk people, and promoting equality, security and prosperity for all. It welcomes any organisation from the community that shares these values to join them and looks forward to a fully equal and open St. Maarten/St. Martin. SAFE will also continue to be open to dialogue with all persons, organizations and entities who would like to learn more about the reality of lived experiences for LGBT people on the island, including any of the 19 church leaders.

“For SAFE community conversations have always been important. People need to understand that LGBT people are people, period. Who deserve to be safe within their families, homes, schools, communities, workplaces, etc. Who deserve to have their lives protected. Who deserve to live. For many LGBT people this is not the case, especially for LGBT youth, even on St. Maarten/St. Martin. SAFE will continue to do the work of educating the LGBT community on the island as well as the wider community, because change must come,” Charles – Arrindell said.

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