Today is Pride in Maritime day, and to celebrate the day, we spoke with Gustavo Aguilar-Miranda, a researcher at Newcastle University and the creator of the I Exist Too Forum, a conference in Panama on 25th May this year that seeks to improve the visibility and rights of the LGBTQ+ population within the maritime industry. 

What prompted the idea for the “I Exist Too” conference?

In 2022 I conducted research about what it is like to have a gay identity in the Panamanian maritime industry. As part of this, I interviewed some LGBTIQ+ employees working in the maritime industry. As a gay man who has worked in the maritime industry for over ten years and faced discrimination, their testimonies did not surprise me. But they did reaffirm the need to be active and create concrete actions within the maritime industry to promote the visibility of the LGBTIQ+ population and the recognition of our rights and to improve their lived experiences. 

This is how I Exist Too came to life. A project that seeks sustainability and social justice through the inclusion and visibility of LGBTIQ+ people within a highly male and hetero-dominated sector.

What is life like for LGBTQ+ people at sea? 

Based on the research and studies that I carried out, it is not a very “humane” environment. This is exacerbated if your identity is part of the LGBTIQ+ community. If you are LGBTIQ+ and wish to access and survive in this industry, many people find it is vital to camouflage your identity, acquire masculine capital, replicate heteronormative patterns, and go back into the closet and hide who you are.

What are your hopes for the future of the maritime sector going forward and the LGBTQ+ community?

My hopes are placed on the maritime sector becoming more humane. A sector in which the understanding of diversity and inclusion is deeper, LGBTIQ+ talent is not discarded, all orientations and identities are respected and welcomed, and the maritime sector becomes a safer environment for everyone.

What is the change that needs to happen to protect LGBTQ+ individuals? 

A comprehensive intervention is necessary. An intervention in which we are aware that there is no inclusion if we leave someone behind. 
The invisibility and silence regarding the needs of the LGBTIQ+ population needs to end within the maritime industry. The process of humanisation needs to begin, and improvements to the maritime culture need to prevail.  

Likewise, the development and effective implementation of relevant policies whose emphasis is linked to improving lived experiences, the recognition of human rights, and the promotion of safe spaces for all, especially the LGBITQ+ population, is vital.

You’ve worked in the industry for over ten years. Do you think much has changed in that time?

There have been advances and positive interventions; however, they have not been equitable in all regions, sectors, and groups. We still have a long way to go, especially the recognition of the human rights of minorities. It is interesting that despite so many achievements in terms of human rights, the application of these at sea is much slower than on land. Therefore, it is important that we continue to fight so that the maritime sector improves and no one is left behind.

Human Rights at Sea is delighted to be able to support the I Exist Too Forum, where our Head of Operations, Martyn Illingworth, will be attending and speaking on best practices for LGBTQ+ inclusion within maritime organisations. The conference will include focuses on things such as the role of unions in protecting LGBTQ+ employees, how the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) can be used and improved on, and first-hand testimonies from people who identify as LGBTQ+. It will also feature an impressive art exhibition designed to bring to life the narratives of LGBTQ+ people from the maritime industry. 

You can find out more about the conference here: 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the interviewee; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Human Rights at Sea.