February 16, 2011 – Trinidad Express
Trini gays call for equal rights
by Aabida Allaham
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (GLBT) people in Trinidad and Tobago are calling on the Government to decriminalise homosexuality. The community, which is reportedly made up of thousands of people, says they are tired of being treated like second-class citizens, Colin Robinson, spokesman for the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), says. In a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, Robinson said while they appreciate the call by Gender Affairs Minister Mary King for a national debate on same-sex marriages, it is not what they need.
"The Government isn’t listening, and has its priorities wrong. We’ve consistently given the Government six national priorities – this was never one," he said. "We’ve consistently asked for action to prevent discrimination and violence, for attention to homelessness, to make schools safe for young people, to train police. We’ve repeatedly asked them to listen and consult, and offered our help with building a nation for everyone but they have not heard us."
Robinson said while being able to get married would be nice, it was really "putting the cart before the horse". He said while the Government does not need to amend the Sexual Offences Act or decriminalise sexual activities to protect GLBT people from discrimination and violence, "it probably would be appropriate to decriminalise some offences of sexuality and homosexual behaviour before looking at the recognition of same-sex relationships". In fact, according to a judgment passed by the Court of Appeal, in an appeal regarding the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunities Act of 2000, the Government has full responsibility to ensure protection is available from discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Robinson further argued that while political and religious leaders use religion to justify why GLBT people should not be afforded the same rights, they have nothing much to say when it comes to Carnival and the activities surrounding it. "When it comes to women wining on the road for Carnival Tuesday, you don’t hear them, and that is exactly what Senator Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam said (during the sitting), that we can’t do this because it would offend religion. But why aren’t those same concerns applied to Carnival, it’s a double standard," he said.
Also contacted yesterday on the matter, Leela Ramdeen, of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), said they support CAISO’s call for freedom against discrimination and violence, but noted they do not support people acting on their homosexuality and any law that will allow that. "So in my opinion, I don’t think any debate will be helpful now. The majority of people in this country believe in one faith, and most other religions will not agree to that," she said. Ramdeen said, according to the Roman Catholic Church, a man was meant to be with a woman.
President of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Haji Abzal Mohammed, meanwhile, said they would be in support of a national debate. He said while everyone should be able to voice their opinion, religiously the IRO’s views will remain. "If something like this is coming up, we will have to look at it … but if God almighty made something unlawful, how can a human make it lawful?" he said. Asked about the IRO’s role in Carnival and claims by Robinson that religious leaders do not complain, Mohammed said "people just don’t listen to them".
2011 March 05 – Guardian Media
Local gays cry discrimination
by Sascha Wilson
Despite being jeered, mocked, alienated and harassed by the public and even law enforcement officers, openly gay Kennty Mitchell walks the streets with his head high. He admits that he has often thought about seeking asylum abroad, but 33-year-old Mitchell refuses to hide from the glare of public scrutiny, or live his life in shame. An outspoken Mitchell commented on an exclusive story in T&T Guardian on Thursday where a Trinidadian was granted asylum in the United States last year, based on a claim that he faced continued persecution in this country because he is gay.
“I don’t blame him because things are not getting better for us here at all,” he said. Mitchell, who accused the Government of not caring about gays, said they must be afforded same rights and protection given to other citizens. He said he would love to get married to his significant other with whom he had been living with for the past 13 years. Mitchell, who has always been open about his sexual orientation, said life in T&T for a gay person is very difficult. He said as a homosexual, he faces discrimination and victimisation daily. As a result, he said, local gays and lesbians usually meet and hang out in secret locations.
He estimates that there are about 100,000 gay people in the country and believes there are several homosexuals masquerading as straight men because they are afraid. “I believe there are about one to two gay people in every family,” he said. Despite the odds, the supermarket employee says he tries to lead a “normal” life. Mitchell says what most people detest about him is that he fights back. “I am a fighter…I do not allow people to walk all over me and do what they want,” he said. So far, Mitchell has won two lawsuits against the police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment and he now has two similar lawsuits pending.
“Imagine when I was driving maxi I get 40 tickets in three years for doing nothing wrong…It’s just because I’m gay,” he said. “Business people refuse to give me a job because of my different sexuality. Passengers never used to want to travel in my maxi and sometimes customers don’t want to cash by me (in the supermarket) because I gay.” Although he loves his country, Mitchell says if he gets asylum elsewhere he will be “gone in a heartbeat.”
Beaten for being gay
Nineteen-year-old Tim (not his real name) spent four days at Port-of-Spain General Hospital after being brutalised by his relatives for being gay. The incident has left him scarred physically and emotionally to the extent that he is now afraid to admit his sexual orientation. Recounting his ordeal, Tim said three months ago a relative took him to his home where he was slapped, then planassed and his head banged on a wall. He said his shoulder-length hair was cut off. He escaped but was caught soon after. “Other family members join in and they beat me with a piece of wood, with a shovel and a belt,” Tim recalled.
He said he was threatened with death and called derogatory names. He was ordered to take a bath, after which they rolled him down a hill and allowed a group of men to beat him. It was at that point he was rescued by officers passing in a police vehicle. Tim said the police took him to the station but did not arrest anyone. He suffered a long laceration to his hand, as well as cuts and bruises, and his body was swollen. He had to wear a neck brace and had difficulty walking. Tim, who realised he was gay in primary school, said: “I would just like to be safe…I think people should be allowed to live their life as they want.”
Afraid of being alienated
He is considered the star in his family. He is a UWI student and is heavily involved in a church, but he has a deep dark secret. Derek, 28, (not his real name) is gay. “I am afraid to come out of the closet because of the stigmatisation and people frowning upon you,” he said. He says his family and neighbours are suspicious, but he will not admit to them that he is gay. “It is not just about two men living together having sex,” Derek said. “It’s about two persons having similar interests, but it just happen to be two men or two women…We don’t have a choice, we can’t help it.”
He said his secret homosexual life was a heavy burden to carry. “Sometimes when I hanging out with my friends and they making fun of gay people, I do the same because I don’t want to be stigmatised, alienated or treated differently,” he said. Derek said there should be support groups for gay people and their families. In addition, he said, there should be educational programmes to sensitise people about homosexuals and lesbians, as well as laws to protect them.
March 28 2011 – Newsday
Cenac: Separate morality from public duty
by Lara Pickford Gordon
A human rights lawyer has said the imperceptible blend of morality and legality has created “a lethal mix of punitive and discriminatory laws and practices” which enabled and sustained high rates of HIV infection in the Caribbean region among key populations. It also contributed to stigma and discrimination and impeded access to prevention, treatment, care by persons with the virus. “We really cannot move forward on the issue of human rights if we really do not look at the impact of religion and this whole question of morality and law making and we need to have a separation of that,” said Veronica Cenac, a human rights lawyer in St Lucia and member of the AIDS Action Foundation as she addressed the topic “The Social and Cultural environment: Human Rights and HIV.”
Cenac was among a panel discussion at the UNAIDS sponsored Regional Consultation for Caribbean Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support at the Hyatt Regency last Wednesday. She said “the reality” was HIV/AIDS was prevalent among sex workers, Men who have Sex with Men, women, young people. She said prison populations and drug users were also affected. Cenac said studies done in St Lucia showed a prevalence rate of 10.5 percent among crack cocaine users while the national prevalence rate was estimated at 0.5-1.8 percent.
She said the “preservation of public morality” and preventing society from “sinking into moral decay” was at the basis of the argument for legislation which criminalised consenting sex between males, HIV transmission, imposing travel restrictions, and disclosing HIV status for work permits, police abuse of the gay, transgender community, sex workers, substance abusers. She questioned whether society had the right to pass judgment on all matters of morals and if this was the truth, if it had the right to use the weapon of law. “Do we use morality as the guide for law or do we use a more objective guide? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves,” Cenac said.
She observed society’s tolerance of deviation from moral standard varied from generation to generation and new rights developed. She argued human rights should be used since it always sought to protect the minority in society. Cenac said the State is obligated to make laws which respected and protected the rights of individuals. “You have to separate your morality from your public duty to ensure protection,” she said.
Colin Robinson, of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation TT, said laws can institutionalise social exclusion and vulnerability. He referred to Government’s plan to expand death benefits to new beneficiaries including common-law partners of deceased workers but it specified that the beneficiary must be “of the opposite sex.” Robinson said actions must be taken to build the country’s inclusiveness and respect for the humanity of people with HIV and those becoming infected. “Social vulnerability is at the core of why people get HIV.”
Leela Ramdeen, chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice said current culture had to be taken into consideration. She referred to sexuality and a “new breed of young women” who were “calling the shots.” Drugs and guns also impacted and girls would boast about boyfriends with guns. Ramdeen said single women were left holding the baby and sometimes contracting AIDS when they got into relationships with different men with the hope of a stable relationship. She said women had to be empowered to stand up for their rights and know they can achieve without relying on a man to take care of them and their children.
Ramdeen said religion formed an integral part of culture in the region and the views of religious groups may not be in sync with all the views expressed at the conference. “In spite of this it is clear faith-based groups have a role to play in influencing behaviour and combatting HIV and AIDS,” she said. She referred to the work being done by groups in lending support and care to persons with HIV/AIDS. Ramdeen said more than 50 percent of service delivery worldwide in responding to AIDS was done by the Catholic Church. She said Catholic Diocese across the region had as part of their pastoral priorities thought, care and advocacy for persons with HIV/AIDS to promote their “inherent dignity and we see the church offering compassionate non-judgmental care to those living with and affected by AIDS”.
June 3, 2011 – Trinidad Express Newspapers
Homophobia, society effects and way forward
by Rajiv Gopie
Concluding this series on homophobia, we will look at the consequences and fallout from pronounced homophobia and ways to deal with homophobia. It is necessary to mention that just last week in Grenada, two adults males were arrested and charged with having consensual sex, a statute dating back to British rule. The island is already facing a potential tourism boycott by the estimated $55 billion dollar gay community as the story has been plastered in many left-leaning websites, blogs and newspapers. This serves as an excellent reminder that in T&T though we may not be perfect we are still much better off as a society compared to our neighbours.
Homophobia, as was discussed last week, is against all of the doctrines and morals of all major religions as they demand respecting the dignity of all human beings. The reality is that homophobia goes much deeper, usually justified by the fig leaf of religion. There is often nothing more than fear of the unknown and plain ignorance that drives people to act in most violent and hateful manners. This pure hatred and malice has lead to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) teens and youths being five times more likely to commit suicide in the US. I suspect it is lower in T&T but homophobia is a pressing problem and it is just contributing to the violence and lawlessness in our nation’s schools. Both the perpetrators and the victims may be prone to react violently and, without the services of counsellors and supportive teaching staff, rampant homophobia is being allowed to go unchecked, which may be leading to our youths killing themselves. This should shame us as a nation that we are teaching our children to hate.
One of the greatest fallouts from homophobia well-known to the United Nations and many other multilateral institutions and health organisations is that homophobia forces many gay men to remain closeted or hiding, and live a double life. They, due to societal pressure and homophobia, get married and have children but still continue having same-sex relations outside of marriage. This not only leads to a potential breakdown in family life and unhappy homes, but may encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS to their unsuspecting spouses.
The issue of homophobia being one of the main facilitators of HIV/AIDS is well known and it is indeed quite logical, since due to fear of discrimination, ridicule and shame, many GLBT people do not seek medical help and attention and are not able to access the information and resources such as condoms in order to practice safe sex. It may seem that I am mixing the two issues, but they are interconnected as homophobia is the force that drives GLBT people to live sham lives or try to live outside the norm and suffer discrimination. In many ways, homophobia is HIV’s best friend.
A wide host of social problems, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, high divorce rates, broken homes, family tensions, etc, can be attributed to in some part to homophobia and the ways that its castigates GBLT individuals and forces them to live a lie or be marginalised. It is imperative we deal with homophobia at all levels if we are to afford dignity, respect and tolerance for all of our fellow citizens. Now data from a national survey seems to suggest there is very little appetite nationally for gay rights, but statistics are misleading and the devil is always in the details. The bell-weather of social change can always be traced to the attitudes of the intelligentsia and the youth population of any era. Now it seems that support stands around 40 per cent. This may seem worrying, but when looking at the details it is far from discouraging. In our conservative, semi-religious and silent culture, we have levels of support at 40 per cent, which is amazing considering gay rights are not even spoken of.
In liberal America where this issue has been a hot button public debate for decades, support stands at 60 per cent and in some extremely liberal Western European nations, support for gay rights is at 70 per cent, as low estimates. We then are not doing so bad and, as time progresses and our nation continues to interact with the outside world and explore itself, support will increase and the old prejudices will die off, they may linger but they will be relegated to the shadows and the mumblings of unhappy people. Dealing with homophobia will prove very difficult as it is deeply engrained in some people and the change cannot be forced nor coerced. The change will have to be born in society, amongst the youths and the educated, amongst the free thinking, the returning expatriates and from the political class.
The GBLT community also has a responsibility to help themselves by educating their family members and loved ones that there is nothing to fear from GLBT people. It is because many GLBT people "came out" and lived openly in Western Europe and the US and people came to realise that their sons and daughters, co-workers, doctors, lawyers, neighbours, grocers, cousins and friends were GLBT, that homophobia was reduced and gay rights were won. I am not calling for a mass coming out, as "coming out" is a personal thing, but each GBLT person should try to change their loved ones and close friends and a domino effect will occur. There is no policy, no law that can force tolerance. They may help, but they are passed when the groundwork has been done; not before.
Homophobia is not some secondary issue that can be pushed to the back, it warrants the attention of the best and brightest and of all society. It is an issue that has the potential to shame us as a nation or make us feel proud that we come to respect the rights of some of the most marginalised in society. Trinidad and Tobago has always been a land of equality and dignity. There is no doubt these values will win out in the end.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President’s Medal for business studies/modern studies in 2006. He is an HBA candidate in international studies and social/cultural anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada.
June 19, 2011 – Trinidad Express
Homophobia ‘rife in T&T’…but local gays press for equal rights
by Sue-Ann Wayow South Bureau
SIissy men, battie men, men haters. Call them what you want, but the gays and lesbians in this country are humans like everyone else and should be treated as such. That’s the view of Colin Robinson, spokesman for the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), in response to a survey that showed 69 per cent of Trinidadians were unsupportive of gays and lesbians. The polling was done by the ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre of the University of the West Indies The research was commissioned by the Ministry of the People and Social Development and the results released last month.
It found that 76 per cent of persons 56 years and older were unsupportive of equal rights for homosexuals. Persons with a higher income and education level were more supportive than those who were primary educated and of a lower income. Females were more likely to be supportive than men. The issue of equal rights has the attention of Government ministers who have had several debates pertaining to same-sex marriages in Parliament. In February, former gender affairs minister Mary King called for a national debate. Robinson said he found the results of the report to be "very interesting". "It does not say that those attitudes are acceptable….. we need to ensure that those attitudes don’t fuel stigma and discrimination and prevent people from accessing rights. That part is the significance of the study."
Thirty-three-year-old Kenty Mitchell, who is openly gay, has been living with his partner for 14 years. Williams said he was never attracted to women. The maxi driver from Ste Madeleine said men were more likely to be victimised if they were seen liming with a homosexual man. "I think the majority does not really have anything against gays, but the men. They don’t like other men to see you with them.They might be victimised or their friends might say they are gay, too, so that’s why the men are in hiding." He said many men, even though they had relationships with women, were attracted to others of their sex, but were hiding.
Mitchell, who boasts of a successful relationship, said nobody knew about his boyfriend except those who live in his area because he wanted to protect his loved one from daily discrimination. "You are living your life pleasing to you and people are discriminating you so people who are gay or bisexual or whatever they are not coming out in the open because people tend to look at you funny." Some of Mitchell’s family members do not speak to him and he said his partner was the main person in his life. "I would love to get married because if something happened to me today or tomorrow if I die, my family will contest it. If my friend have to get anything, my family would fight him down to the end and he has to get everything. They would not give him what is his own." He said he would even like to have his own family if possible. And the government had full responsibility in making that happen, he said.
Robinson said some think that people do not deserve equal rights, which was alarming. "We need desperately to create and Government needs to take leadership in creating a culture that says everyone has equal rights regardless to who they are." He said homophobia — a negative attitude towards homosexuals and transgender individuals — created a social culture. "It is a climate that says that some people can be deprived the rights based on who they are and it could be gay people and lesbians today, it could be Hindus or Spiritual Baptists or any other group that is not the majority of the population."
Robinson said, "The recommendations in the study are about strengthening the protection of people from discrimination and I would add further creating a culture of equal rights for everyone in the country. We need to do more work to create a culture of equality for everyone." He said people are willing to socialise with gay people and, because of that, attitudes will change and "people become humanised over the course of time." More "sophisticated questions" should be asked by researchers to "really understand the context in which attitudes and behaviour is related to sexuality," Robinson said. "How you ask the question will shape the answer that you get. What would have happened if people in had been asked do you believe that any group in Trinidad and Tobago should be discriminated against based on who they are?"
He said the responses from the various groups were expected. " Those differences are well known in other settings, that gender and income and education all influence people responses to questions around sexual inclusion…..it gives us hope that with greater exposure and education that people’s attitudes change."
Dr Gabrielle Hosein, lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Developmental Studies at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, said all citizens should have the right to choose their partner, to marry, to inherit from their spouse or from their common-law partner and to be free of discrimination. "We are living in a multicultural society, so we need to live in a society where the views of different persons are not necessarily imposed on others. The fact that certain sexual relations are criminalised and others are not speaks to a discrepancy and also hypocrisy in ways in which the state sees sex," Hosein said.
The report recommends —"The necessary legal framework should be put in place to protect homosexual persons from discriminatory practises. Legislation alone would not change attitudes and therefore,integrative approaches should be considered. The challenge of communicating with institutions that have strong philosophies against homosexuality will need to be addressed in attempting to reduce discrimination."
26 June, 2011 – gspott
Privacy rights for sexual orientation calmly take a small step forward in T&T
The President last Wednesday (June 22) assented to the Data Protection Act, a landmark piece of legislation that establishes an ambitious framework “to ensure that protection is afforded to an individual’s right to privacy and the right to maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal.” The legislation: promulgates rules and standards for all persons who handle, store or process personal information belonging to another person, in either the public or private sector; regulates the authority of public entities to collect personal information, its use, protection, accuracy and access; establishes hefty fines and corporate penalties for breaches; and includes whistleblower protections. It also provides for the development of binding industry-tailored codes of practice in the private sector.
Of great significance to gay, lesbian and bisexual communities in Trinidad & Tobago, the new law provides heightened protections for “sensitive personal information”, which is defined to include one’s “sexual orientation or sexual life”. Ensuring citizens’ autonomy in their consensual sexual affairs requires both protecting their sexual lives from unwarranted intrusion and protecting them from discrimination based on their sexuality. This is the first piece of legislation recognizing sexual orientation and related rights that we are aware has been enacted in the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s Parliament. Originally drafted and introduced in November 2008 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government, the bill was reintroduced by the People’s Partnership in January of 2011, and shepherded to passage with bipartisan support.
The sexual orientation provision was never hidden from the public, and was reported on in the media both times the bill was debated. It is an important lesson about the ways in which our Parliament should be legislating on sexual orientation: soberly, fairly, and without appeals to politics, division, manufactured hysteria and controversy – or imaginary verses from Leviticus. It also demonstrates how legislators can integrate questions of sexual orientation into a broad approach to rights and protections for everyone, and frame them in relationship to matters of broad public and political consensus, e.g. privacy for one’s sexual life. What is of further significance for legislating on sexual orientation is that the bill was subject to unusually vigorous debate and amendment by the Senate’s Opposition and Independent benches, which left the sexual orientation provisions intact. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister MP Collin Partap, who piloted the bill, was saluted by the PNM for his flexibility and that of his staff in building consensus on the legislation.
We have previously congratulated the Government for its leadership in moving this legislation forward. Today, on behalf of the nation’s tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens, the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation pays tribute to all parties in Parliament and our Senators on the Independent bench for their support and vigorous contributions to strengthening of a forward-thinking piece of legislation that strengthens respect for human rights, and for our inclusion in it. We are proud today of our Parliamentarians, and we thank them.
07 October, 2011 – MSM Global Forum
UN Member States Call on Thailand and Trinidad & Tobago to Protect Sexual Rights
During the twelfth session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, the human rights records of Thailand and Trinidad and Tobago were reviewed and assessed by member states of the United Nations. The UPR is a process of the UN system whereby all 192 countries are questioned by their peers from other countries on their human rights record. Countries then make recommendations on how a State under Review’s human rights record could be improved to better comply with international human rights standards.
The UPR provides a unique opportunity for sexual rights advocates to engage with the UN system, their government and other countries to highlight their experiences of human rights violations in an international forum and to follow-up on the recommendations made by States in order to improve the policies and laws that restrict sexual rights in their country.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Member Associations of Thailand and Trinidad and Tobago – Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT) and Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT) – together with the Sexual Rights Initiative, submitted information to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2011 regarding the serious human rights violations related to sexual rights in the two countries. These submissions, along with their intensive advocacy efforts at the UN in Geneva over the past six weeks, resulted in very strong recommendations from UN member states on a wide variety of sexual rights issues.
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2011 November 07 – Guradian Media
Attorneys launch project to highlight discrimination against gays
by Sascha Wilson
After years of knocking on closed doors, local gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders (GLBT) finally have a glimmer of hope. Two young attorneys, Trinidadian Tamara Sylvestor and American Jacqueline Bevilacqua, have launched a collaborative project to document discrimination against persons of such sexual orientation in T&T. They have also set up an e-mail account, firstname.lastname@example.org for such persons to lodge complaints. Their goal is to provide a base for policy or legal action and for public education. The two have set out to document real cases and to find facts and trace patterns of discrimination and denial of services and employment based on sexual orientation or gender expression.
In a media release, Sylvestor said citizens documenting discrimination helps the Government fulfil its obligations to protect human rights. She noted recent pledges by Gender Affairs Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves and by the Government at the United Nations to include GLBT under those protections. Sylvestor said she read recently that the Government decided to pass legislation to outlaw age discrimination based on just five cases filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). “So my initial goal is to find at least six cases for sexual orientation,” she added, noting that even this might present a challenge.
“The majority of GLBT persons living here feel pressured to remain silent and invisible, a consequence, no doubt, of past Governments’ disregard for their rights and protections before the law.” In the release, Bevilacqua, of New York, said she was surprised when doing research on T&T’s human rights record to find testimony given by an official in the Attorney General’s Office to a United Nations body in 2002 that “there was no discrimination whatsoever against homosexuals in T&T.” Encouraging people to come forward, Sylvestor said the project was slow in getting off the ground because of the country’s closet culture. “They are afraid to be themselves,” Bevilacqua said.