Organizers of a cultural festival in Haiti celebrating the Afro-Caribbean LGBT community said Tuesday that it has been called off due to numerous threats of violence and a subsequent prohibition by a government commissioner.
The four-day Massimadi film, art and performance event was supposed to start Tuesday in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but organizers it had to be postponed as a prominent Haitian cultural institution known as FOKAL and other co-hosts were threatened with arson and other attacks.
The Massimadi festival was first launched in 2009 in Montreal by a group called African Rainbow. It has also been held without any problems in Belgium. This was the first year it was scheduled to take place in Haiti.
“FOKAL has been receiving threats of outrageous violence,” said Lorraine Mangones, executive director of the nonprofit Knowledge & Freedom Foundation.
Jeudy Charlot of the gay rights group Kouraj, the main organizer of the event, said he is determined that the arts festival by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Haitians and their supporters will be held at a later date.
“There are very homophobic people who are against it, and the government official who is responsible for the jurisdiction of Port-au-Prince has also taken a decision to prevent the festival for now,” said Charlot. “But we still plan on holding Massimadi in the future.”
Capital Commissioner Jean Danton Leger confirmed that he issued an order to block the festival, telling a local radio station it was in part to protect Haiti’s “moral and social” values.
Leger had received a complaint in recent days from Sen. Jean Renel Senatus, who considers the event an affront to traditional families.
Haiti’s LGBTQ community has long remained largely underground because of social stigma, although there are no laws criminalizing homosexual relations as there are in a number of English-speaking Caribbean islands. “Unfortunately the situation is getting more and more dramatic,” said Anthony Manuel Plagnes Paya, festival spokesman in Montreal. “Kouraj members are threatened (with) death and are scared to go out.”
Staff and volunteers at Kouraj’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince said they were determined not to be intimidated and believe tolerance is expanding in Haiti.
“More LGBT people are coming out and accepting themselves more these days,” Charlot said. “They walk on the streets very proud.”
Same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private has been legal since 1986 in Haiti. While technically legal, other criminal laws have sometimes been used to jail, fine or otherwise harass LGBT people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Article 227 of the criminal code prohibits vagrancy, with a specific mention in the code for “transvestites”.