September 29, 2016 at 12:15 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Haitian government orders cancellation of LGBT festival
Haitian, gay news, Washington Blade

A Haitian government official this week ordered the cancellation of a festival that was to have celebrated the Afro-Caribbean LGBT
community. (Photo courtesy of Josué Azor)

Organizers of an LGBT festival that was to have taken place this week in the Haitian capital cancelled the event amid fears of violence and a government official’s decision to ban it.

The Massimadi Haiti festival, which was scheduled to begin in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, sought to celebrate the Afro-Caribbean LGBT community. Film screenings, art exhibits and other events were slated to take place at venues throughout the Haitian capital through Friday.

Kouraj, a Haitian LGBT advocacy group, organized the festival that was to have taken place in the country for the first time. It’s main organizers are based in Montreal.

Josué Azor, a photographer who documents Port-au-Prince’s LGBT nightlife, was scheduled to showcase his work at the festival.

He told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during a telephone interview from the Haitian capital that organizers of the festival agreed to postpone it after they received threats.

“The organizers had to stop because they thought they would burn all the places,” said Azor.

Jean Renel Senatus, a member of the Haitian Senate, publicly criticized the festival. The Associated Press reported that Capital Commissioner Jean Danton Léger banned the event in order to protect what he described to a local radio station as the country’s “moral and social” values.

“There are very homophobic people who are against it,” Charlot Jeudy of Kouraj told the Associated Press. “The government official who is responsible for the jurisdiction of Port-au-Prince has also taken a decision to prevent the festival for now.”

“But we still plan on holding Massimadi in the future,” he added.

Azor criticized Léger and the 10 other politicians who spoke out against the festival.

“It’s not about the festival,” Azor told the Blade. “Maybe the festival cannot happen because of other situations, but when you have politicians — men that are in power — and they can make that kind of decision, it’s like a slippery slope for the violation of liberties that are normally protected by the law.”

U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Peter Mulrean on Wednesday said in a statement that he “deeply regrets the circumstances” that led to the cancellation of the festival.

“Haiti has a long tradition of tolerance and has made international commitments to respect the rights of every individual,” said Mulrean. “The U.S. supports the human rights and the fundamental liberties of everyone that allow them to live in peace and according to the law without fear of oppression, of violence or punishment, regardless of their race, their color, their gender or their sexual orientation.”

Haiti borders the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola.

Bob Satawake, the husband of U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, in a statement to the Blade criticized Haitian officials over the decision to ban the festival.

“It is sad to see elected officials of a democracy make a conscious choice to marginalize their fellow citizens who they are elected to represent,” said Satawake. “A true democracy cannot exist when all citizens of that society are not treated equally under the law.”

The Haitian Embassy in D.C. has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

U.S. groups preach against ‘everything that is Haitian’

Haiti decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1986.

Azor told the Blade that homophobic and transphobic attitudes persist in the country, but he said physical violence against LGBT Haitians is rare.

A mob attacked a British man and his partner in 2013 as they celebrated their engagement in Port-au-Prince. Azor insisted the majority of Haitians are tolerant towards LGBT people in their country.

“You will find that homosexuals have their spaces where they live and they sell things,” he said. “They have their lives.”

The number of Protestant and evangelical groups from the U.S. that operated in Haiti increased dramatically after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people in the impoverished country. Azor told the Blade these organizations preached against homosexuality, Voodoo and “everything that is Haitian.”

“They came with the idea to (serve) God or to make people become Protestant and in exchange they give some kind of education, maybe some food,” he said. “So you have that and they are preaching this kind of hate.”

Azor said the Haitian government has done nothing to challenge them.

“It’s like they have a free pass to do whatever they want because they have power,” he told the Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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