Moving forward with purpose requires looking back and learning from our history. This was the underlying theme of Pride Memorial 2019, which took place on June 30 at the Big Black Box, Murray Street, Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain.

Memorial, hosted by the NGO Friends for Life ((FFL), is an annual remembrance of members of the LGBTI+ community who have passed away, whether from HIV/AIDS, murder, illness and other causes. Feature speaker Faye Ferdinandus-Gomes reminded the audience that “each one of us wants to take a moment, a bit of time to be in a space to offer support, to get support, to react, to remember, to affirm those who are not here, with us, anymore.”

She said FFL grew out of an idea to help persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, with the founders visiting friends and others doing what they could. She urged those present and watching online to continue to care for each other. “What was needed was community and caring. The community was and continues to be vulnerable. Even though the contraction of the virus is no longer a death sentence, as many are living longer productive lives with proper treatment, for others here it is a struggle. For many of our icons from our vibrant community, who we have gathered here to commemorate, these treatments did not come soon enough. What they had was a community of people that uplifted each other when others did not. Those folks, as they struggled, had others that took the time and made the effort to celebrate and to love each other. You are never alone. It may often feel like it. You have us, each other, friends, family, you, we, only have to reach out and ask for help. Our community has so many great moments of love, community, activism, support, just such a moment is this one, here at the memorial. There are many moments that are not enjoyable and downright difficult and divisible but we as a community must endure and focus on the special times such as Pride.”

Ferdinandus-Gomes said support is especially crucial as “we live in a society that is violent, physically, emotionally and socially towards us, the LGBTQI+ community. We are trying to make the most of life while living in a world that is not only not built for us, but seems built to try to prevent our existence. There is no doubt the negative atmosphere takes its toll. We are called names, labelled, insulted, beaten, discriminated against, shamed, denied our rights and protections and face condescension. But, these same actions we perpetrate upon our own community, often with the same venom, spite and hate. You don’t have to go back too far to find an instance of it.”

She said she looks forward to a future where “LGBTQI+ people are fully included and embraced. To bring about the change we wish for/ we must come together. There is a saying “Life is a stage” it is and each of us has a role to play. There is a duality of gay life – many still hide and cover their tracks. They have to, as it is very unsafe for them to be who they are and who they want to be. We often risk everything to be open and always forfeit something, whether a promotion, a job, a family, a home. For it to get better some forcibly go back into the closet.”

FFL representative Luke Sinnette said he was grateful and hopeful to see the number of young people who have become involved with Pride and were present at Memorial. He said they are the wave of the future who will continue the work being done by FFL, other NGOs and individuals in supporting the LGBTQI+ community. 

Audience members shared their stories of what Pride means to them, ranging from a need to honour friends and loved ones both living and dead, to celebrating the growth of new communities, to stories about growing up gay, to acknowledging that they were still there when many friends had passed on. Memorial ended with performances by artiste Rainy Weather and the reigning Queen of Queens. 

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Author: QueerTT