The challenge of being gay in Bermuda
By Carla Zuill, for Bermuda Sun
The month of June signified Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month worldwide. It is observed every year in honour of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which took place in New York City.
On June 24, the Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with the Consulate General of the United States, hosted a panel discussion at the Bermuda College. The standing-room only crowd had the opportunity to talk about LGBT rights and tolerance on the island with the aim of having respectful, open and frank dialogue.
Recently, Carla Zuill spoke with three Bermudians who are openly gay. Each shares a bit of insight into their lives and how they have coped with being gay in Bermuda.
Linda Mienzer / ‘I’ll only marry in Bermuda’
“I will not get married until I can do so in Bermuda,” says Linda Mienzer, an openly gay woman who says it’s not the people who dislike homosexuals who bother her, but the ones who pretend they have no problem with her sexuality, but in reality, do. A former national cricket player, Ms Mienzer explains what she means: “This year, I taught pee-wee cricket. As the season progressed, the number of children participating on my team were dwindling. Why? Because they started to find out about my sexuality. It’s my punishment for not making my declaration about my sexual orientation. But no one else has to. I am now moving into a part of my life where I would prefer to know where people stand.”
Ms Mienzer, who never had the opportunity to tell her parents about her sexuality because she was outted by her then-girlfriend, says her family accept her for who she is.
“I recall my mom saying she knew, she was just waiting for me to tell her,” she says. “But I would have rather had the choice to tell her myself.”
Ms Mienzer is currently in a relationship with an American who visits the island frequently. They do not hide their affection for each other and have held hands while walking together in Bermuda.
“We have gotten stares. If they are Black, I say shame on them because they should understand our struggle and if they are White, I say shame on them for continuing to carry on the ills of your forefathers.”
She adds that when they are outside of Bermuda, the response is totally different: “Last week we went to a WBNA game. No one looked at us funny. No one cared. It just does not matter in the States.”
David Baker / ‘I can’t live in Bermuda anymore’
Meet David Baker. He’s articulate and handsome and loves Bermuda but says he doesn’t think he can ever live in Bermuda anymore.
“Ask me that again in 20 years. The answer might be different,” he tells the Bermuda Sun from his home in the United Kingdom, where he has lived since 2004.
The 28-year-old recalls what it was like growing up in Bermuda, knowing that he was gay: “As a child I was extremely quiet. Simply because I knew I was gay. I was born gay. Homosexuality was looked down on.”
Mr Baker says he never officially came out to his family: “I lived with my mother. I never had to come out of the closet to my parents because it was obvious. We never had that discussion. I remember when my mother found my stilettos stashed in the attic. She called me up there straight away. I denied they belonged to me; but she knew I was lying because they were my size. I told her they were a friend’s, but a mother always knows. I was 14 at the time. I never had to hide anything from her after that.”
Quiet and withdrawn as a student, Mr Baker says he tried his best not to draw any attention to himself in the classroom because he knew that if his peers discovered he was gay, it would have been “a whirlwind of problems”.
Mr. Baker says as he got older he became more afraid to live in Bermuda because of the level of homophobia that is prevalent on the Island so when the opportunity presented itself to leave, he jumped on it.
“I always had a desire to move to America but I fell in love for the first time at 17 and my partner at the time was on the stop list and could not go there. The idea of moving to the UK came up. We saved up with a plan of leaving together. We took the decision in March 2004. That September we landed in the UK.”
Mr. Baker says he has never looked back since. He has been gainfully employed and will begin studying for his degree in International Business in September.
While he visits home when he can, Mr. Baker says he loves the UK: “It is so different than in Bermuda. The energy is great here and you get to meet people of all nationalities. I will always have a place in my heart for Bermuda; it’s the place that has made me who I am. I just couldn’t bear to live there.”
Peter Carpenter / ‘A growing number of Bermudians are supportive of the local gay community’
Peter Carpenter has been living in Bermuda openly gay for decades. He says he knew from an early age that he was not like his friends: “I knew as a youngster that I was different from other boys my age…but it was not clear to me that the difference was that I was gay.
“I think to say that I knew I was gay before puberty would be an incorrect self-perception because it’s during puberty males and females usually begin to experience sexual feelings.”
Mr Carpenter says revealing one’s sexuality is as simple as some may think: “Coming out occurs on a number of levels at different times. Initially it occurs when you tell someone whom you trust. When I was a student in university I remember telling a close female friend of mine who was from Singapore. That was in 1973; we were at a pub.
“Then there’s the business of coming out to a wider circle of friends. For gay men and women it’s kind of easy because when they do, they are less likely to suffer direct repercussions. However, the problem for many is when they have to clarify themselves with people like employers, where the threats are greater.”
Mr Carpenter admits he did not have to face some societal threats that others have to endure: “I would not say that I lived in secret in Bermuda. Coming back to Bermuda can be intimidating to people on a number of levels. I was cautious but I also felt less threatened than many because I was living in my own home, I was self-employed and I was born here.”
“There are fewer pressures on younger people nowadays, given the fact that legislation has been introduced in many countries. That plays a role psychologically.”
Mr Carpenter says he thinks a growing number of Bermudians are supportive of the local gay community: “Without a doubt. I recently attended an event and LGBT causes were being supported. There were a large number of supporters in attendance, including Bermudian Members of Parliament and international officials.”
Source: Bermuda Sun