Relief Efforts and Haiti’s LGBT Community
There is no shortage of media coverage about the dire situation in Haiti. In fact, GAB has already covered the topic multiple times. But there are still critical facets of the tragedy that have yet to be appropriately explored in the larger discourse. For instance, Reverend Irene Monroe recently posed an interesting question, one that I had not previously heard mentioned in these current discussions: Will faith-based agencies help Haiti’s gay community?
During Hurricane Katrina, former President George W. Bush’s conservative faith-based organizations — like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and all other organizations in Bush’s “armies of compassion” — highlighted how after the storm homophobia blew in.
While seemingly invisible in the disaster, many LGBTQ evacuees of Katrina and their families faced discrimination at the hands of those conservative faith-based relief organizations because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status.
…My concern is, will many of these same conservative faith-based relief agencies that are now in Haiti transfer their homophobic attitudes onto Haiti’s LGBTQ citizens?
Monroe continues by explaining that, although homosexuality has been legal in Haiti since 1986, “few protections and provisions come with it.” LGBT Haitians cannot marry or serve in the military, and there is no anti-hate crime legislation to protect against violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Though there are some social and cultural institutions that permit the acceptance of homosexuality (such as Haitian Voodoo), queer Haitians, for the most part, live closeted lives.
Given the unique challenges faced by members of Haiti’s LGBT community, one might expect that relief efforts would particularly set aside aid for that population. But, as Monroe points out, if Hurricane Katrina is an accurate predictor, that expectation may be far from reality. For instance, much of the relief in Haiti is coming from The Salvation Army. Though it is not clear how the organization is currently distributing its aid, it is unlikely that LGBT people are receiving much of it, given the organization’s stance on homosexuality:
Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.
Even though the statement continues to explain that “the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation,” history demonstrates that the organization does not always follow through with its claims. The current conditions are challenging for all Haitians right now, so the possibility that a group like The Salvation Army, with all its resources, is discriminating against queer people is quite upsetting.
On a more optimistic note, the U.S. LGBT community is doing its part to provide aid to Haiti:
“Within days of the creation of the American Red Cross LGBT Haiti Relief Fund, a Red Cross representative stated the fund has already raised more money than many of the huge corporate donors,” said the release. “This was accomplished by significant outreach efforts to the LGBT community via donors and activists along with a massive email campaign to the members of three LGBT cruise companies, Olivia, Atlantis and RSVP. Within a week, the community has raised over $150,000 for the fund.”
Though the funds raised by these LGBT donors are not specifically going to the aid of LGBT Haitians, the Red Cross does not have a history of denying aid to LGBT people in the way that The Salvation Army does. If you are still looking to send aid to Haiti and you are not interested in supporting anti-LGBT discrimination, the Red Cross may be a good option.
To paraphrase Lambda Legal’s Kevin Cathcart, natural disasters do not discriminate. Neither should relief efforts. If there were ever a moment for organizations like The Salvation Army to reconsider their stances on homosexuality, it’s right now. No one should ever be turned away from services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and I truly hope such a situation will not present itself in Haiti.