Haitian values of ‘lakay, lekol, legliz’ inherently support the LGBTQIA+ community, the writer, a trauma-responsive social worker, says in this essay.
By Anais Bailly, LMSW
As Pride Month winds down, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the 1990s. I was raised by parents you might consider untraditionally orthodox, and that was nothing short of a privilege. Their parenting style came with a unique set of lenses that continue to guide me today in navigating the world. It also means that like most Haitians, I’m both highly opinionated and must curtail what I say publicly, especially around non-Haitian people.
My strong opinions include feelings and thoughts regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those whose intersectionality include being Haitian (a Zoe). To me, our Haitian values do reflect acceptance and support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Here’s a look at how I’ve come to this conclusion.
Being gay or lesbian in Haiti
Traditionally, being a gay man living in Haiti meant you remained closeted. Unless, that is, you presented as a flamboyant hairdresser whose accepted purpose was to make cis-gender Haitian women appreciate their hairstyle and laugh hysterically.
On the other side of the coin, Haitian women who identified as lesbian were publicly shunned. In fact, even the Creole word for lesbian, madivine, could could not be uttered at times around some elders. Lesbian women were, and still are, often vilified. In some family circles, a mere anklet on a young woman could mean a physical beating by an elder. So adolescent girls learned early on which behaviors to avoid emulating to prevent such harsh treatments.
Interestingly, colorism and class status provided some protection via silence. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual within la bourgeoisie meant no one talked about it. You just knew there was an aunt, uncle or cousin who could be ‘that way,’ and you stayed silent — never affirming, yet not outwardly rejecting their identity either.
Looking at this now with more awareness, I see how this silence adds to the power and privilege of some lighter-skinned Haitians and those whose last name is synonymous with money and status in Haitian society.
“Colorism and class status provided some protection via silence. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual within la bourgeoisie meant no one talked about it.” — Anais Bailly, the author
Haitian parents and LGBTQIA+ children
The plot thickens for Haitian-American young adults. While there are pockets within American culture where one can feel accepted, the blame game can take center stage in Haitian households.
Haitian parents who try to cling to their own values and traditions shift resentment to the laissez-faire approach of child-rearing in the U.S. for tainting their child, the entire upcoming generation for that matter. Then comes the hiding and withdrawal of affection from parent to child, continuing a pattern of isolation to the detriment of the well-being of any community.
Haitian values and the LGBTQIA+
So now, as I look at Pride Month and the LGBTQIA+ community, what are my thoughts? What is my point?
Well, as a solutions-focused social worker, I encourage anyone in the Haitian community reading this to return to our values. Because at the very core of us, of being Haitian, is Love.
One of the fundamental Haitian principles I grew up with is renmen you-n ak lot — love one another. Under this principle, the silencing and hurting of others is the opposite of demonstrating love. In fact, if we look closer at the context of our culture’s 3-Ls, lekol, lakay, legliz — Creole for school, home, church — we find even more backing to support people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
- First up is the Church, or idea of it. Most faiths Haitian people follow preach loving one another and God making Choice available for all humanity. By this, someone has the right to choose how they wish to be.
- Second is Home. If we really want our house to be a place of safety that furthers the values of love and respect, should we not embrace our loved ones no matter who they choose to be with? Now, this one comes with an asterisk—to be explored later.
- Finally, School fundamentals promote respecting each other as comrades and not to cause harm. We do not have to agree with someone’s every decision to show love and respect!
If all the above are forgotten or do not add up for you, perhaps the message on our Haitian Flag could serve as a reminder: L’Union Fait La Force. Strength Through Unity. Only by uniting in love can we strengthen our community.
Epi dats it, as we say in Crenglish. That’s a wrap.
The writer, Anais Bailly, is a trauma-responsive social worker who values self care, her culture and empowering individuals and communities. She is a Haitian immigrant living in the U.S. as a partner, parent and personal holistic coach.