Safe SXM president Lysanne Charles-Arrindell: “We are not at war with the church”POSTED: 07/22/15 11:30 PM
St. Maarten / By Andrew Dick – The Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Intersexual (LBGTI) community on the island is getting more reconciliation for its work than before. This weekend a delegation from St. Maarten takes part in the Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade. Today spoke with Safe sxm president Lysanne Charles-Arrindell about the plight of LBGTIs in St. Maarten.
The reaction to Safe sxm has been an interesting one, within the local LGBTI circles and also in the wider community says president Lysanne Charles-Arrindell. “People for the most part have been actually quite receptive, but of course we have gotten some reactions that were less than positive. Nevertheless, we continue with our endeavors, because we know that the detractors cannot take away from our efforts towards full equality for LGBTI people.”
Charles says that there are people who see a definite need for the organization and who make use of Safe’s programs and services. There are however also those who see the organization as rocking the boat a bit too much, who argue that in comparison to the rest of the region, things are not so bad on the island. LGBTI people should not settle for “not so bad” or for tolerance, but they should actively work towards acceptance through education, awareness, activism and advocacy. “It is 2015, people can no longer say that they reject homosexuality because of the Bible or other religious texts. There are ongoing theological discussions that re-examine text for linguistic errors in translations or interpretations. In our society there is definitely a separation between church and state and there is enough scientific evidence to suggest that same-sex orientation is prevalent in almost all mammals and other species and that same-sex orientation is not an illness.”
Safe recently had a say in the Council of Churches panel discussion on same sex. Charles thought that more people should know about the organization and its stances on numerous church-related issues. “We always say we are open to dialogue with everyone, provided that the conversations remain respectful. We do not have to agree, but we have to maintain some semblance of respect. We remain aware of the fact that a great number of LGBTI people on the island are also Christians or come from a Christian background. It is never our aim to disrespect the churches or to make them feel as if we are at war with them. We are not. We are vigilant against words and actions that can lead to intolerance or that can manifest in physical or verbal abuse against LGBTI citizens. We encourage the churches to reflect on their stances towards LGBTI persons and on how they can treat them with love and respect and not in harmful manners.”
Safe sxm made its position clear during the panel discussion about marriage. The focus is on civil marriages carried out at civil registry, recognition by the country and not church marriages. The organization says there was some misunderstanding about that in the beginning of the discussion and appreciated the Council of Churches for organizing it.
Safe advocates for consenting adults, whether they are same-sex oriented or opposite-sex oriented, to be treated equally before the law. Charles stated that churches must come to their own understandings of how this will work for them. “Already we see that in other countries some churches have opened their marriage ceremonies to LGBTI people, but that is not our objective.”
“Marriage equality is just one of our priorities. It is not our top priority. We still have a lot of work to do as it pertains to acceptance, the prevention of bullying, and reduction of discrimination as it pertains to a slew of other issues. I certainly think that awareness has grown about the organization over the years and months and that the panel discussion also played a role in raising this awareness. It allowed people to see that we are not at loggerheads with the churches, but that we are open to communication with them and any other entity that wishes to dialogue with us.” Charles said.
Safe is working hard on a lot of different projects and initiatives including an LGBTI survey, discussions with unions and government officials, regional and international networking, and social activities for the community are just some of the plans. Charles says all of which we hope will benefit the LGBTI people on the island as it stands. Safe aims to establish its own office in the coming years which will include a safe house for youngsters and for adults who are put out of their homes, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The office will be also used as counseling space and a multi-purpose room.
“We know that there are LGBTI youngsters and even adults who remain extremely vulnerable, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Youngsters are put out of their homes or are subjected to physical or verbal abuses in their homes, schools, churches, community groups. So we want to provide a space for them to come and feel safe.”
The Safe sxm President announced that the group has already started with 18 to 35 years old and eventually she would want to do more for other age groups as well.
“We encourage parents and families to remember that LGBTIs are people and that they already are going through a difficult time. Rather than hurt them more, protect them, offer them the space and place to communicate with you so that they are not made even more vulnerable.”