As It Happens

Death of 'fierce activist' Jeudy Charlot has Haiti's LGBTQ community on edge

Before he died, Jeudy Charlot's friends and colleagues tried to convince him to flee Haiti for his own safety, but the LGBTQ rights activist refused to go, says friend Neish McLean.

Charlot, who ran the LGBTQ rights organization Kouraj, was found dead in his home on Monday

Yaisah Val, 46, left, a transgender woman, laughs with Jeudy Charlot, centre, president of Kouraj, Haiti's leading LGBT-rights group, at their office in Port-au-Prince. Jeudy's body was found at his home on Monday. (Dieu Nalio Chery/The Associated Press)
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Before he died, Jeudy Charlot's friends and colleagues tried to convince him to flee Haiti for his own safety, but the LGBTQ rights activist refused to go, says friend Neish McLean.

"He made the decision to stay because he believed in the work that he was doing and he knew that there had to be somebody to do it, and he chose to take on that task," McLean, the Caribbean program officer for OutRight Action International, told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay.

"It's monumental task ... but he never backed down from a challenge."

Charlot was found dead in his home on Monday. His cause of death was not immediately known, and Haitian authorities did not respond to requests for comment. He was 46 years old.

'A fierce activist' 

Charlot, who is sometimes referred to as Charlot Jeudy, was the leader of Kouraj, one of the Caribbean country's few LGBTQ organizations. 

The group partnered last year with the United  Nations to launch a project in Haiti to reduce discrimination and homophobia and promote tolerance and equal rights following incidents of anti-LGBTQ street violence.

"Charlot is quite a fierce activist, a very brave one," McLean said. "And he did this work because he believed that LGBTQ people in Haiti should be treated with respect and dignity."

Charlot and a colleague at a training session in Trinidad in March. (Submitted by Neish McLean)

McLean says he last spoke to Charlot about a week ago to work out the details of a program they were working on to combat gender-based violence.

"When the news came that he was found dead, it was quite a shock," he said. "I'm still quite shook up about the situation as we're trying to come to terms with his loss and the circumstances surrounding his death."

Threats and attacks 

As a prominent LGBTQ activist, Charlot was often in the line of danger, says Neish.

In 2016 he cancelled a festival Kouraj was organizing to celebrate the Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ community after numerous threats of violence.

In the months leading up to his death, he again received several anonymous threats, and some of his fellow activists were badly beaten, Neish said.

One activist who fled to the Dominican Republic asked Charlot to join her, Neish said, but he wouldn't go. 

"As activists, we don't focus so much on the danger," Neish said. "We know that not all of us can leave our countries to flee for safety in other places. Some of us have to remain behind to do this difficult work. And so we focus on the work."

The U.S. and French embassies in Haiti released public statements expressing remorse over the activist's death and urged authorities to look into the circumstances.

'Hostile' attitudes

Charlot's death has the community even more edge, Neish said.

"It does appear that the incidents are escalating," he said. "In fact, there are many members of these organizations and activists on the ground who are now trying to leave Haiti and trying to get international attention with regards to what's happening in Haiti at this time."

Haiti has no laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, but the nation's LGBTQ community remains mostly underground due to social stigma. Same-sex marriage is not legal and there are no protections for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gay relationships remain illegal in neighbouring Caribbean nations such as Antigua and Grenada.

A 2018 human rights report by the U.S. State Department said "local attitudes remained hostile toward" people who are LGBTQ in Haiti, particularly in the capital Port-Au-Prince.

Neish says he's working with activists on the ground to increase their security, or possibly relocate some people.

"It's a very challenging time in Haiti," he said.


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Neish McLean produced by Cameron Perrier.