2nd IDAHO Walk Urges Equal Opportunity

The 2nd annual IDAHO walkabout urges Equal Opportunity Commissioners, Parliamentarians to “add all three”, outlawing age, HIV and sexual orientation discrimination

In a reprise of last year’s inaugural local commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (the anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s 17 May 1990 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness), allies and members of Trinidad and Tobago’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities will again visit Port of Spain branches of Government, walking about at lunchtime this Friday May 11th. Their goal is to raise awareness about the shared costs of prejudice, and to urge decision makers to ensure everyone is treated equally and given the same human rights protections as other citizens.

Unlike last year, when the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) did it alone, this year seven groups are spearheading Friday’s walkabout, including the Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago, Free Pride Foundation, Friends for Life, MSM No Political Agenda, the Silver Lining Foundation and the Women’s Caucus of Trinidad & Tobago, reflecting the growing number of NGOs, the strengthened interest in advocacy and government in the GLBT community, and the mainstreaming of opposition to homophobia.

“The Silver Lining Foundation is a response by young people to the ways in which homophobia in our school systems and in society, and bullying based on perceived sexual orientation, prevent young people’s healthy sexual and emotional development”, said one of its founders Jeremy Edwards. “It sometimes results in tragic outcomes, as it has with friends of mine. Young people are standing up to make change. We need the country’s leaders to follow suit. Laws that punish discrimination based on sexual orientation in education are one essential plank in the solution.”

The visits targeted ministries last year. But this year the groups are focused on equal opportunity legislation stalled in Parliament for the past year that would modernise the 12-year-old Equal Opportunity Act, a landmark anti-discrimination statute that expands the Constitution’s promise of equality and access to justice.

The groups’ message is to “Add All Three” – to include in the law’s protection discrimination based on someone’s HIV status, their age and their sexual orientation. They will deliver the message to the five Equal Opportunity commissioners at their office at one end of Wrightson Road, and then to members of the House of Representatives who meet that afternoon at the International Waterfront Plaza at the other end. While over 50 countries outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in their laws or constitutions, including states that still have sodomy laws on their books, Trinidad and Tobago’s anti- discrimination statute, passed by the United National Congress in the final days of its first term, discriminates expressly against gay people, specifically writing them out of the law’s protection.

Heralded by a banner that has been travelling around gathering signatures, the citizen walk will begin with a noon arrival at the Equal Opportunity Commission office at the Ceramic Trinidad Ltd. compound at Ana Street and Wrightson Road. Participants will call on the Commissioners to commission a study of discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago based on sexual orientation; to convene hearings to listen to the experiences of GLBT people; and to recommend to Government that sexual orientation be included in the Equal Opportunity law. All these things the Equal Opportunity Commission is empowered to do under law, but has declined to, saying no one has filed complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which victims are forbidden to do by law. The walkers will also urge the Commission to strengthen confidentiality protections for vulnerable complainants.

“The Citizen Walk symbolizes not only the GLBT community’s commitment towards equality for all in law, but the commitment of the wider community. Trinbagonians are becoming increasingly cognisant of the fact that the Equal Opportunity Act touches and concerns everyone. If their government can legislate for discrimination against one group today, then it can enact legislation which discriminates against another group tomorrow”, stated Tamara J Sylvester. Sylvester is a lawyer on the board of CAISO, who has been working with the “Tell Your Story TnT” project documenting individuals’ stories of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Most of them feel compelled to remain anonymous, as they know that the state offers them no protection.”

Walking to the other end of Wrightson Road, participants will greet Members of Parliament as they arrive for the 1:30 pm sitting of the House of Representatives. The advocates wrote months ago asking to meet with the Government to offer input on Equal Opportunity legislation that will affect their lives, but say they have not been responded to. They also note that hundreds of postcards and letters, several saying “50 years without liberty to love is too long”, have been sent to the Office of the Prime Minister about the legislation. This past March, however, Government told the United Nations Human Rights Council that it “seeks to recognize the human rights of all citizens, which includes the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community…

The issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation is one which remains a matter of concern in the forefront of the minds of the GOTT… Trinidad and Tobago is seen as a leader in the region in relation to the manner in which it addresses the changing needs of its population…The law must evolve and grow to suit the needs of a continually developing society.” Government also agreed to proactive policies to promote these rights, and measures to prevent and prosecute discrimination against such groups.

Friday’s action will kick off an extended campaign by the “Add All Three” walkers, including the release of a video, “Ok2byou”, celebrating the value of diversity in Trinidad and Tobago. Parliamentarians will be invited to be part of the video recording.

Being as playful as they were last year, when each Minister received a gift of a T-shirt saying “The homosexual agenda: 1. Buy Crix. 2. Spend time with family. 3. Fight for equality”, Colin Robinson, the newly appointed executive director of CAISO, joked, “We’re giving out gifts only to Parliamentarians who look like they might be discriminated against based on age, HIV or sexual orientation. But we have jerseys for all of the Commissioners.”

Contact: Colin Robinson, 758-7676

Sexual Orienation and the Equal Opportunity Act
GOTT voluntary commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council, March 2012

by Caiso
Source – GSPOTTT via Facebook