Suriname Men United’s (SMU) Executive Director Kenneth van Emden is the 2023 winner of the Milestones Achieved Towards Institutionalizing Equality (MATIE) award. He was recognized for his long-term contribution and ongoing efforts to promote equality and advancing LGBTQI advocacy and inclusion in Suriname. Van Emden has been central to the establishment of Suriname Men United, the LGBT Platform, the Civil Society Network for Advocacy, Coming Out (the precursor to Pride), as well as, the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Suriname.
In reacting to the award, Kenneth said he welcomed the recognition, “It was a surprise because as the oldest LGBT organization in Suriname I kept on working every year for MSM and Trans persons in Suriname and was not paying attention anymore to the yearly award announcements. Receiving this MATIE award is not just a token of appreciation for individuals and organizations; it is also a powerful signal that inclusivity, equality, and respect for diversity are the foundations of a just society,” he said.
Meanwhile, in accepting the award, Kenneth pointed out that Suriname has a long history of diversity and multiculturalism, however he notes that the need to defend the rights of LGBTQI people remains important. He reminded the audience that there is still work to be done. “It is essential to acknowledge that this struggle is far from over, and LGBT organizations in Suriname must continue to work tirelessly for the LGBT individuals who are at the center of our efforts. This means not only changing laws but also opening hearts and minds to create a long-awaited safe and inclusive environment where they can be themselves without fear of discrimination or stigma. LGBT individuals are still being kicked out of their homes by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with nowhere to turn; transgender individuals struggle to access the education system due to not being allowed to express their true selves, often ending up in the sex industry; LGBT sex workers and those living with HIV/AIDS still do not receive the essential support they need, further exacerbating their challenges,” he pointed out.
The SMU head is promising to keep working for the key population groups in Suriname because he’s passionate about making their lives better and called on other leaders in the LGBT movement in Suriname to keep working hard for the members of the groups they serve. “Let your heart speak and your hands do the job. Keep on creating that enabling environment for LGBTQ persons in Suriname, because we still have a long way to go. We may not change the world in an instance, but with combined forces we can make a difference in the lives of the LGBTQ community in Suriname.
In commenting on the award, Van Emden highlighted the contribution of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) to his efforts and successes saying, “My work would not have been fully possible without the support of CVC, which has been supporting Suriname Men United over the past 8 years. So, thanks a million to CVC and I’m looking forward to continuously working with them in the future,” he noted.
Since 2017, the Milestones Achieved Towards Internalizing/Institutionalizing Equality Award – MATIE, has been presented annually (except for 2020) to organizations or individuals who have contributed to the promotion of equal rights for LGBTQI individuals in Suriname. The term “matie,” now spelled “mati,” is Surinamese for friend and is believed to be deeply rooted in Surinamese Creole and LGBTQI culture.