Meet LGBTQ+ Activist, Zi (Donnya) Piggott
And learn about her vision for Black LGBTQ+ liberation
Hello friends, it’s amazing how things fall into place sometimes. One of my friends and a huge support of my work here introduced me to Zi (Donnya) Piggott as a possibility for my Black founders series. As you’ll see, Zi would have been a good fit there. But when we started talking, it became clear that a key part of Zi’s activism relates to her identity as a Queer person. Add to that the fact that she’s from Barbados, and you get a new perspective on these issues. Please meet Zi…
Zi, what led you to LGBTQ+ activism?
What led me to do LGBT activism, especially in a Barbadian context, is that we're a marginalized group, I knew I was queer but I didn’t have a lot of community, and I wanted to find community. So I started B-GLAD (Barbados – Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals against Discrimination) when I was around 21, at university.
It was very scary at first, because we didn't have a lot of support then or at least I didn't think we had a lot of support. I did a couple of panel discussions on LGBT rights in the Caribbean, some of the first of their kind at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Then tons of people came out. We started to pull together a UWI LGBT group. We couldn't get it registered because nobody wanted to put their name on, so we ended up kind of going underground. And B-GLAD came out of that.
Tell me more about your work with B-GLAD
I always felt that there was a need for an external voice, because oftentimes LGBT organizations work very internally. But I recognized very early that the external community, the people who are not queer, who had a very direct effect on our lives, whether that's our teachers, or politicians or religious leaders, really shape the society as well. You had to be having direct conversations with these people.
We did a lot of public advocacy work… a lot of dialogue, hard, hard conversations in churches, and that kind of thing. We went where the homophobia and the issues really lie, we dug deep and the conversation was really important, and while the buggery laws still exist [in Barbados], I do feel like the visibility that myself and other advocates have is one of the key reasons that Barbados is now touted as more inclusive.
What happened next?
I became depressed in about 2017/2018. And it was because it's hard work being so external.
I was working at a travel company at the time. We would put together itineraries for people and sometimes they would bring their partners. About 5-8% of these people had same sex partners, and there was clearly a market for it. I thought how can we use LGBT tourism to pour into the community and create an entire economy around it in the Caribbean, but also encourage governments to change laws? That led to the formation of Pink Coconuts, which focuses on travel experiences for the queer community.
Are there any other forms of activism that you undertake?
I am not an advocate that engages in a lot of public protests. What I recognized when I started Pink Coconuts was the importance of economic activism. I recognize the power wrapped up in capitalism, and how we value things and how people in general see things, whether it's ideas, or people or entities as valuable, depending on what kind of economic value they have. And that's just the world that we live in. We live in a capitalist world.
So the question was, how do I use this to then move the needle? And it was through tourism that I started the conversation… tourism, and how it can add to the GDP and how it can create jobs and so on, and how inclusion can then reduce government's cost of social services. And this is something that was very strategic: during COVID, where everybody was scratching their heads, LGBT people traveled far more than everybody else. So, I was framing the conversation in a different way.
How’s the community feeling about the public perception of LGBTQ+ folx in Barbados?
I think I've become an eternal optimist. You have a slew of people who work in media who are quite out. Peter Wickham got married three years ago, and it was on the front page of the newspaper and the coverage wasn’t salacious, it was congratulatory. With all these media people talking about social issues, you begin to humanize people, and that’s important.
Having grown up in Barbados, you have an interesting perspective on racism and intersectionality. Care to share?
The question was posed to me, so Zi, “how is it traveling across the world as a Black person”? And I stalled for three minutes. It was only later that I realized that having grown up in Barbados, a majority Black country, where my leaders, teachers, police were Black, and people are in power are Black, I never had to think about racism. Whenever I experienced something, I always saw it as a homophobic thing. And it's from that I realized that discrimination is perceived. Every single time I experienced something at the airport, it was because I'm gay. Because growing up in Barbados, my struggle had to do with my identity and my expression. So, I wouldn't have known if it was racism, I wouldn't have known if it was sexism.
You recently posted something on Instagram about forgiveness which relates to racism and other isms. Care to elaborate?
Everybody's on a different journey. And the first stage for us as Black people is starting to realize, or just knowing, the history because a lot of Black people might not know and then you find out okay, this thing has happened to us.
And then you move into another step where people then become thoughtful, and they start to get into how do these things that happened to us still affect us today? And that's where you get the academics and the thinkers who realize, okay, well, this is happening, and this is how we're still enslaved in these ways. But I feel sometimes we get stuck there.
And then coming out of that, as you continue to think, you see levels of oppression that still exist, you become angry. And then you get into active activism: these things are happening, I'm angry, I want to tear this down, I want to tear that down. And I think it's at that point that a lot of people get stuck as well. Okay, you're steeped in the anger. And all you want to do is burn down capitalism, kill the patriarchy.
But I think the step beyond that is to do healing. Because you recognize something has happened to you, you see how it can still be happening, you become angry, become an activist and you either get stuck there, or you take on your own personal healing. And a lot of us can't get there. And that's where we need to get to.
We need to think about: are we going to spend our energy in ripping things down? Or are we going to spend our energy in building something that we are proud of, and building a legacy and determining our destiny? So those are the stages that I see.
What is your vision for the future in terms of racism, and in terms of LGBTQ+ rights in Barbados, in the Caribbean?
My vision is building a community. I envision the economic liberation of Black LGBT people. I'm hoping that we can get out of that anger and get into healing.. moving forward to build wealth, collective consciousness, love.
Is there anything else that you feel particularly passionate about that I have not asked you about?
Coming out of LGBT activism, obviously, we're at odds with capitalism. It has oppressed us, exploited our bodies, all of these things. But we live in a capitalist society. We need money to run; it's just what it is. I believe that there's no middle ground. We're now in a position where we either have to understand these tools and master them and pull our people up using these tools or just go and create something else. There's only two options.
In relation to that, How do you feel about the phrase “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house?
I disagree, because because again, we're caught up with destroying somebody's house. Let's build our own.
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