Some might describe it as brave for a straight man in the Caribbean to dedicate his career to campaigning for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) rights. I suspect, however, that attorney and advocate Richie Maitland might simply explain his choice as necessary. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) issues.
As a student Richie participated in legal challenges against unconstitutional policies, practices and laws which discriminated against LGBT communities in the Caribbean. He has since played a key role within the region’s leading gay rights advocacy organisations, CariFLAGS (Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities) and Trinidad-based CAISO (the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation).
When we meet, we talk about his desire to build a progressive moment through the organisation he co-founded, Groundation Grenada, and I discover how this young man born on the tiny island of Petite Martinique has grown to become a committed activist in the Caribbean’s gay rights movement.
It was in a gender course that I was first exposed to LGBT issues and the LGBT advocacy movement. My understanding of human rights was expanded and, more specifically, my awareness of LGBT issues. I began to see how so many of the things that underpin our fear, our dislike and our mistrust of homosexuals are fundamentally wrong. So, misconception by misconception, those views passed away and I would say I emerged a reformed persona the end of my university experience.
When I started university I was a homophobe. I understood homosexuality to be kinda nasty, that homosexuals were undeserving of some of the rights that I had. That they should not be allowed to marry, that their relationships should be ostracised and not condoned by society, basically that there was something inherently wrong about homosexuality and homosexuals.
Many who would otherwise call themselves human rights activists don’t really empathise with the LGBT struggle. This has a lot to do with the very deep cultural and legal prejudices held against homosexual people. So I saw that there was a deficit in the relationship to human rights work and LGBT issues in the Caribbean region so I decided that I wanted to become more practically involved in tackling this issue.
Violence against LGBT people in the Caribbean tends to happen within families. The parents may disapprove so they affect violence upon their children physically and emotionally. There’s a lot of that happening. There’s also workplace discrimination which is a very big problem. What workplace discrimination does is to entrench disadvantage. These people are already socially disadvantaged and now work, which is the main means of social mobility, is being affected. People are being fired, not promoted or harassed out of their jobs by workmates with impunity as normally HR doesn’t take on these sorts of issues.
I’m happy for the times that people have said that they don’t agree with my career choice. I’ve always used it as an opportunity to advocate and to ask them why. Because ultimately, when you ask people why, what comes out are all the misconceptions, the things that people have gone their whole lives believing without necessarily questioning their conceptions about homosexuality and homosexual people. Once those views are put out there I can then engage it and show them why I think what to them is a conception, is really a misconception.
My partner, Malaika, always jokes that I have a lawyer mode where I become very formal. That side of me sits comfortably with the aspect of me that just wants to sing and be creative and be a musician. I pursue the musical because I love creating. That is the form of expression of creativity that I am most accustomed to, which comes easiest to me.
I really appreciate all art forms, but the form that sits closest to my heart is music and song-writing in particular. When I was in Form 1 in the Presentation Brothers College we had this competition that our science teacher put on to raise interest in integrated science and she told us to write an original song about science. The piece I performed received overwhelming feedback from my classmates so I started writing from then.
I have a love for [Grenada], I have a connectedness to this place. In the Caribbean people say ‘my navel string bury here’. Caribbean people automatically get that reference but let me see how I can explain it… I’m so invested in this space, for many reasons. It’s a space that I want to change and which I want to impact positively and I think I’m able to do that more so here than anywhere else. Nation building and region building is something I’m very interested in. I’m interested in being a part of the cadre of young educated leaders in the Caribbean. Many of my colleagues are interested in doing that. We are corresponding. All of us have our own organisations, we’re writing. It’s movement building. I want to build this movement by being here and being in this space. By having Grenada, breathing Grenada and eating Grenada and feeling it and smelling it and having it infuse me with the vibes I need to chant down Babylon!