SAFE open to collaborations  in best interest of LGBT students

St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance For Equality (SAFE) is extremely interested in working with government, unions, schools and teachers concerning the plight of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) students on the island.
This was the LGBT organization’s response to the statements made by Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) President, Claire Elshot, last week Friday in local media.
“SAFE has been, is and will continue to be ready to work with all entities committed to creating safe environments for LGBT persons, especially the most defenseless amongst us, which is normally, our youth,” SAFE President, Lysanne Charles – Arrindell said.
Elshot, who had just returned from Belize where she had attended a Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) Educational Conference and Executive Meeting, said that the issue of LGBT students had been introduced and discussed. Elshot said that a document detailing the rights of LGBT students and teachers, from a human rights perspective, was provided to those in attendance.
For SAFE the conditions of LGBT students on St. Maarten/St. Martin is of high importance, because statistics show that globally LGBT teens are amongst the most vulnerable in societies, are often subjected to bullying and abuses, both in school and at home, and have higher rates of depression, self-harming behaviors and suicide.
“The conversation about LGBT students on St. Maarten/St. Martin is at its basis one about human rights; the right of a LGBT student to be protected from harm, while engaging in educational and social pursuits. In September of 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution which condemns violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity across the globe. So within the region and even here on the island, we must also begin the conversations about this, as Ms. Elshot pointed out in her comments,” Charles – Arrindell said.
The organization, in agreeing with Elshot that there is no data to quantify the numbers of LGBT students currently in the island’s high school, said that it planned to undertake research concerning this in the near future. In the meantime it highlighted the importance of developments, such the statements by Elshot, in fostering discussions in order to better the wellbeing of LGBT students.
“As Ms. Elshot noted there have always been LGBT students at our schools on St. Maarten/St. Martin. Several of our board members were once LGBT students at a number of our high schools. What is perhaps becoming more noticeable is the ways in which LGBT students express themselves. These young people are from a different time and have a different understanding of themselves from LGBT people even a few years ago. What is important is that they are properly guided and respected just like any other student on a school campus,” Charles – Arrindell said.
She further stated that every effort should be made by government, schools and teachers to ensure that LGBT students are completely safe at school and that they receive comprehensive and unbiased information about sexuality, sexual identity and gender orientation. Such information should, of course, be disseminated to all students in age appropriate manners. In light of this SAFE would be willing to offer its resources and knowledge to any interested parties and hopes that it will be included in any future discussions and workshops on the matter.
“SAFE has information that is critical to such initiatives and further has an extended network of regional and international NGO partners who can offer years of insights, best practices and materials as it relates to LGBT students and their experiences. These partners are willing to provide resources to the union, schools and teachers in order to make life better for LGBT youth. Many fail to understand just how chaotic this period can be for LGBT people and at the end of the day we want to ensure that LGBT students are offered a space in which they too can thrive and grow into their best selves,” Charles – Arrindell said.
The foundation said that in the coming weeks it would make contact with Elshot and with representatives from the various high schools.
“Last school year we made attempts to contact three high schools and met with representatives from one. Our conversation was very interesting and I believe that it was mutually beneficial. We acknowledge that there is a need for further conversation with this school and conversations with all other high schools and remain committed to seeing that this happens within short,” Charles – Arrindell said.
LGBT students or students and/or teachers who are allies of LGBT students can also contact the organization for support in setting up Gay Straight Alliances or other similar groups.
“We want to thank Ms. Elshot for reiterating the need for discussion on this topic and also want to thank the Caribbean Union of Teachers for contributing to the work of LGBT organizations around the region by acknowledging the human rights aspect of this conversation. For LGBT students, and LGBT teachers, it is definitely necessary that eyes are no longer blinded to their presence and that schools and teachers are equipped with the needed knowledge concerning them in order to properly add to awareness and discussion as Ms. Elshot said. More importantly it is imperative that schools and teachers are armed with the necessary information that would allow them to offer LGBT students and LGBT teachers a secure environment and we, as SAFE, are ready to play our part in this,” Charles – Arrindell said.