-------- UPDATES ---------
March 24 - CONGRATULATIONS, EVERYONE! On March 22 around 3PM, someone pushed us beyond the $20,000 mark, making this Kickstarter project a success! As you have seen, donors have continued to pledge their support over the last two days even though we have reached our goal! With 55 hours remaining, let's keep up the momentum! As mentioned on the page, our original social enterprise proposal required $26,000 for start up costs. If you have any friends and colleagues who would like to join the cause, please let them know they still have two days to help us reach our larger goal! Thank you again everyone for your contributions, your beautiful messages and emails, and your support for a cause much larger than us, than KOURAJ, than Haiti, than the US. This is a victory for all LGBT persons everywhere today, and you are part of it.
March 22 - THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR CONTRIBUTING IN THE PAST COUPLE DAYS! Together, you have pushed us to 98% of our goal! Four days left, and we almost have sealed the deal! Thank you, thank you, thank you! As they say in Creole, Men anpil, chay pa lou, or "Many hands lighten the load."
March 20 - Thank you everyone for contributing to the project! Together, we have almost reached the goal of $20,000. 90% there! If 100 more people can contribute $20, we can make it by March 26th. We have been working tirelessly in Haiti on KOURAJ and on the Yanvalou, and are happy to announce that UNAIDS has generously offered to help KOURAJ sponsor the first gay & lesbian film festival in the nation. Everyday, our HIV/AIDS prevention model is taking shape. We will be submitting a document to UNAIDS and to the CDC soon announcing the initiative, which will also be posted on our website kouraj.org. Please stay tuned for more information!
Thank you again for being part of this movement, and we look forward to sending you more and more good news in the future!
Nick & the KOURAJ Team
After many months of organizing in the LGBT community of Haiti, the stories we heard led us to a harsh conclusion: no community exists yet. Sure, many cliques and friend groups of "masisi" (a derogatory word in Haitian Creole that the community is now reclaiming) hang out discretely and once in a blue moon get together in the privacy of someone's home to party. Masisi from all over flock to these artful parties to dance, kiss, talk, and watch the beautiful drag queens walk the walk. The energy is extraordinary. The happiness is evidenced by the laughter, smiling, friendship, and calm from everyone being able to finally hang out and not worry about who they are or what others think. Masisi can finally breath in these safe spaces. Unfortunately, these events are rare, conducted in strict secrecy, and the life of the party does not transcend the night. Once you are back on the streets, it is business as usual for masisi: constant insults and looks, harsh discrimination, nonacceptance, an isolated double life of secrecy, and sometimes - but rarely - violence. Civil society discourse on masisi in Haiti ranges from disapproval of family and friends to religious zealots blaming gays for bringing God's wrath to the country in the form of an earthquake. Masisi are simply not tolerated on any level of society: in the family, in school, in the workplace, in public space, in political parties, on the street. Consequently, very little organizing or solidarity happens in the community due to the incessant worries of the individual trying to simply survive and be accepted.
And that's where the idea for an LGBT bar-restaurant-café-cultural center came from: we want the life of those get-togethers to become the rule and not the exception in Haiti. After many months of hanging out and discussing with gay friends and colleagues, the community has shared with us its energy and enthusiasm for change, its desire to collaborate, its capacity to organize and work, its artistic abilities and infinite talent in the form of paintings, sculptures, music, dance, and drag queen shows, and its courage in the form of taking the risk to be "out and proud." All that is missing now is a safe place where masisi can always - not sometimes - express themselves, to not only be masisi, but also live masisi as equals and no longer second class citizens of Haiti.
Finding a usable space in Haiti has been extremely difficult after the earthquake. Many homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed, and the ones that remain are occupied. Despite the odds, we found a beautiful house from the forties available in a residential, safe, green and calm neighborhood of Port-au-Prince - Pacot - which means the hardest part of the job is already done. We are working hard on the second most difficult task - finding clientele - with a diverse network of gays, lesbians, and transgenders in Haiti who already know about the project and fully support it. The third hardest task - having contacts & suppliers - is also finished, as we have developed professional working relationships with business partners in Haiti who can supply us with all necessary materials for this type of establishment (please contact us for more details about the business plan).
All that remains is to find the money so we can get our hands dirty: paint, build the bar, construct a couple walls, redecorate, install a stage & sound system, plant a garden, set up an art gallery for local gay artists to exhibit their works, equip the kitchen, move in with tables, chairs, couches, and rearrange the house into Haiti's first LGBT-friendly public space in the entire country.
What will we offer?
- Delicious Haitian and French cuisine prepared with local ingredients, offered at competitive low prices to guarantee accessibility
- Traditional Haitian cocktails, like Rhum Sour, Barbancourt, and Prestige Beer in addition to freshly-squeezed lemon, guava, pineapple, and orange juices
- A palm tree-covered stage for drag queen shows, concerts, live lounge music for the restaurant, and community meetings & conferences
- A public art space to exhibit the works of LGBT artists in Haiti
- Weekly queer Argentine tango lessons and monthly milongas
- Free WiFi to ensure the community regular internet access
- A pool table for billiard tournaments
In addition, this space will serve as a resource center for HIV/AIDS/STI prevention, offering the following services:
- Free condoms and lube
- Information on free and confidential testing clinic for HIV/AIDS
- Directions to free antiretroviral treatment centers and rape response services available in a private room where the identity of the victim/person living with HIV/AIDS is strictly protected
- Informational flyers detailing political and human rights of LGBT persons in Haiti
- Updated written news briefings on masisi in Haiti (not covered in newspapers, only through word-of-mouth within the community)
Such a unique and demanded place will empower, unite, and reinforce the Haitian LGBT community, which is the first step in changing society. Activists risk their lives everyday to fight discrimination and stigmatization, and now they will finally have a space of leisure and relaxation to finish the day. Moreover, the unprecedented demand from the community for such a place has already guaranteed the establishment's success, which will allow the movement to bloom within a space of public awareness, expression, art, and LGBT culture.
Why Support this Project?
The simple response: because equality, security, culture and rights are important for everyone. Regardless, this social enterprise is guaranteed to thrive for many reasons: 1) No other restaurant exists in the immediate neighbor, so we have no competitors; 2) The LGBT community fully supports the construction of such a place and will frequent the establishment often; 3) the surplus demand for restaurant/night life services not located in Petionville (a rich suburb of the capital in the hills) absolutely outweighs the short supply of such services in the lower city. All this is great news for you: if you can help us out this one time, the social enterprise will do the rest, generating profit to be reinvested into the bar and community, which means your money will double, triple, quadruple after one year. To launch the bar, we need:
- $13,500 for construction of the bar and for essential equipment
- $6000 for installation of the kitchen and energy needs
- $6500 for the initial stock of alcohol, two months security deposit to secure the house, and one month of advanced salaries for the workers to begin even though the establishment is not generating profit.
In total, this LGBT bar-restaurant-cultural space requires $26,000, which is the bare minimum to create a sustainable business in Haiti. For anyone of you who has started your own business in the States, you recognize $20,000 (what we are asking on Kickstarter) to start a business which will turn around in one year is not a lot of capital. In addition, if we can raise funds beyond the initial capital required, we can launch our future projects immediately, such as the public art space, community event nights with film festivals and dances, equip the bar with more tables, promote the tango milongas (dances) immediately, and establish a regular clientele. The extent to which we begin this establishment with a bang depends on you! We appreciate all the support possible.
The activists in the LGBT community are the some of the most courageous individuals we have ever met. They risk their jobs, their security in the family, and their lives everyday by assuming their sexuality and identities in public. They fight, without tiring, to secure the right to exist as they please. This community exists, but struggles to evolve because they have no safe place to go. As foreigners in Haiti, we cannot change Haiti, but at least we can accompany those who are changing the country. Art, culture, music, dance, and philosophy are irrefutably present in the Haitian LGBT community; now they just need a safe place to be exhibited.
The time to invest in Haiti is now; already two years after the earthquake, we cannot wait any longer. By supporting a sustainable social enterprise, you are also supporting a new model for development in Haiti, one that renders charity and dependence things of the past. The resiliency, creative capacity, and entrepreneurial spirits of Haitians will provide a new beginning to sincerely build forward - not back - better.
For more information on LGBT activism, events and updates on the bar's construction, please visit kouraj.org
Have a question? Just ask! We will respond to you within the business day: firstname.lastname@example.org
How safe will the space be for customers and the public? What measures is the Yanvalou taking to guarantee security?
Many of you have expressed your concern about safety, including protection against hate-based attacks, vandalism, and natural disaster. We would like to take a moment to properly address these legitimate concerns and open up the conversation to any more questions.
Safety of customers: We will have 24-hour armed guards for the establishment. These guards know the masisi community well and are paid to keep a watchful eye on suspicious behavior in front of the building. The establishment is entirely secure and walled in, so no pedestrians and visitors are in contact with the customers unless they enter the premises. Unfortunately, as open and welcoming as we would like to be, the realities of the streets in Haiti oblige us to take cautionary measures. That being said, we would also like to emphasize the situation of this neighborhood, Pacot, and how it is particular. Pacot is residential. Unlike the vast majority of the capital city whose streets are bustling with activity (because the streets are one of the only public places for Haitians to socialize), virtually no one walks around Pacot. There are no stores, merchants, restaurants, or bars in the vicinity of the establishment, meaning the streets in front of the house are almost always empty. This will provide us with additional safety. Again, we chose this area for this specific reason, because the building is a five minute walk from a main avenue in Port-au-Prince and accessible by public transportation, yet the space will still be tucked away in the green of Pacot.
As for vandalism, chances are extremely low for the same reasons listed above: no one camps in front of the house, and very few pedestrians frequent the street. In the case that someone will pass by to vandalize, they will have to explain themselves to our armed security guard before they spray paint anything.
Regarding state- or police-violence against the establishment, we do not envision having any problems. KOURAJ has a solid working relationship with both the Chief of Police and the Mayor of Pacot, who are aware of the project and have offered their support to us. KOURAJ has implemented a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and prostitution in the establishment. The Haitian National Police can shut down any business on suspicion that such activities are being conducted. As such, we are taking every measure necessary to guarantee that no such behavior will be tolerated, not even amongst friends. In addition, KOURAJ will be presenting the project to the First Lady of the Republic of Haiti, Sophia Martelly, in the coming weeks. "Sweet Micky" (President Michel Martelly) as an artist and musician is generally open to KOURAJ's project, according to many of our sources. We have reliable information that, even though he politically cannot back an LGBT initiative because people could/would question his own sexuality, he would most definitely not impede our work. As such, KOURAJ is extremely confident that the police and government will not cause any trouble or render insecure this LGBT safe space.
Regarding natural disasters, this house survived the 2010 earthquake without a scratch, meaning it is anti-seismic. In general, houses in Pacot are built really well and are safe, hurricane-proof, and earthquake-proof.
Like any investment, I cannot guarantee with 100% certainty that there is no risk; that would be a lie. All I would like to convey is that we have arduously thought about these problems and are coming up with solutions to each of them. I hope you rest assured, and please let me know if you have any other concerns. And thank you again for your support.
Nick & the KOURAJ Team
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