A Cases Rebelles’ conversation with Charlot Jeudy, President, Executive Committee of Kouraj (Haiti). Photos by Lorenzo Tassone and Kouraj
We live as the unwelcomed in most places since normally to go to the beach where other men might know your sexual orientation must immediately make you unwelcome ; in restaurants, bars and most other places we do not belong. This was the start of our own “ghettoization”. It was necessary for us to ghettotize ourselves off because when it was just us we could be free spirits, where there weren’t any worries or judgment. Judgment between us was non-existent. We could speak inside the group freely and if someone said something no one gave it a second thought.
This led to the formation in 2009 of Ami-ami (Friend-Friend), the first organization. Previously I had already been involved in numerous organizations in my neighborhood, but I understood that when it came to gay identity it was a non-starter to organize around even if there were many others who would have wanted to participate with me, who would have liked to have me join their causes but held back, they didn’t say as much but their reticence showed clearly there was a problem.
Some used to tell me: “Charlot, you are our Masisi.” And then they would go: “You know we don’t like dealing with Masisis, but we know you, you are our Masisi – the Masisi of our neighborhood.”
So I grew up and told myself it was time to force the conversation on this problem. One evening at the birthday celebration of one of our friends named Jean-Andre, we were all together and having a good time in the Bolosse neighborhood. We were having an amazing time and we all knew it was amazing- we had no worries because we were together and we danced. The only chance that we ever had to feel like that was when we created our own space for it, and it was obvious we needed to keep creating these spaces, and this led to the creation of Ami-Ami, and we started with some first gatherings – “Back To School”, “Homo”, “Homonaval”. There were loads of cultural events happening but we’d always stayed under quiet. We had to create our own space within them. Ami-Ami was this space and with a mission to acknowledge and promote the cultural values of the LGBT community, the M community as we say – Masisi (gay), Madivin (lesbian), Makomé (transgender) and Miks (bisexual).
After we were in 2010, with the massive earthquake that struck the country and brought destruction on all of us. And we saw a large number of Western evangelicals, especially from the United States, arrive under the pretext of preaching the gospel and the return of Christ. This soon became preaching homophobia and hate towards our community M, blaming the earthquake that had struck the country on sex between men, between women.
Don’t forget that 65% of the country was illiterate and didn’t have any deep understanding behind the cause of seismic movements.
Personally during that time, I tried to contact my friends to know if they were alive, because after you checked on your own family and loved ones you had to then see if your friends and neighbors were alright, you know, considering the earthquake wreaked havoc on everything everyone remained shocked for a long time. As a member of the community I had to do my part after the 12th January, to pull dead bodies out into the streets, look for help, for NGOs, try to help solve problems and find the lost. Many other friends found themselves in the camps for 2 or 3 months after the earthquakes and in them our Republic became more of a theocracy run by the religious. Everyone was preaching and the preachers were foremost attacking gays and transsexuals. When I had finally located the others I told myself “well Charlot, we need Ami-Ami to become KOURAJ (COURAGE)” to fight these nasty rumors that were circulating the camps, so I got some of our group together that were living in the camps. Those in the camps were being heavily persecuted and forced to leave to find shelter elsewhere due to what was coming from these preachers (saying they were sinners, etc.). More and more of these kinds of attacks were happening and so we changed Ami-Ami to “Kouraj to protect human rights”, then we launched ourselves into a new direction to fight sexual and gender identity discrimination in all forms.
And I am someone who believes wholeheartedly in the value of human rights and that the only thing that will ultimately change this country is a different politic.
I was actually so willing to stay in my country, invest in the future and make a progress, but being gay in this country… I remember when I was in 9th grade and I wrote in my notebook “to be gay in this country requires guts and courage”. And some years after that, I created – with some friends of course – an organization we called Kouraj. It’s like a dream I’m living, but this is what I wrote 7 or 8 years ago. Because no one I met would ever have believed that, would ever have lived as they really were, stayed themselves, you understand. Yet there are a lot of things spoken about the M community which are lies and those attacked and those targeted must stay and spread the truth. None of us alone holds the complete truth but we and all the others each have one part of the truth which we can represent completely if stuck together. This is our only chance of moving forward.
I think it’s necessary that I make my own contribution, assume my responsibility and give back to Haiti what Haiti has given me over 29 years. Some people say that I’m offensive. Then I tell them that they have been offending me for 29 years now. I can’t give back what I have never received.
I have only received offenses. But I think at that time it was kind of understandable — people had been afflicted and frustrated for very long, and such frustration is now emerging, as when we say that the truth comes out like oil on water. Violent behaviors hurt me or others. Not only were homosexuals and lesbians the victims of violence, but also the overall population, especially in tough neighborhoods. But, let’s not overlook the many other problems caused by political leaders with regards to human rights abuse, including the abuses of women and child rights. Countless other issues pop in mind – such as food shortage and housing problems, etc. But for the M community, no one was up to address the issue; I thought we would be helpful if we all got engaged in our fight for LGBT rights. These difficulties affect us day after day. And it doesn’t quite look like the situation will make a turn in 2014. Rather, our society is still in crisis.
As I see it, the good formula doesn’t lie on the hands of only one person but the hands of us all. It is necessary that we look at Haiti’s formula and turn a blind eye to certain things — because, otherwise, in our attempt to carry on, we will not be able to be united. It’s said that we should make a change together, we are all on the same path, even if, once there, once the deadlock is overcome, I will step down and you take my place. Let’s get together to break this deadlock. That’s essential to me. That’s how I see it, that’s how I live my life.