Gay Trinidad & Tobago News & Reports 2004-10

1 Gays in Trinidad & Tobago protection–from Abroad, Not at Home 6/04

2 Gender on Trinidad & Tobago’s Government Agenda 3/05

3 Tobago To Elton John: You’re Gay, Stay Away 3/07

4 Black lesbian has head shaved bald in barbershop 4/07

5 Gay man taunted by cops gets $28,400 7/07

6 ‘Paradise Lost’ film shows what happens when…

7 Government moves on gay rights 5/09

8 ‘One in five MSM may be HIV positive’ 5/09

9 ‘New laws key to fight against AIDS’ 6/09

10 Comments On Sexual Orientation “Sadly 1919” 7/09

11 Gspottt: T&T’s site for advocacy on sexual orientation issues 7/09

12 CAISO – seeking equal rights for gays, lesbians 8/09

13 Gspottt: T&T’s site for advocacy on sexual orientation issues 9/09

14 It’s our time now 11/09

15 Letter from Trinidad 11/09

16 Fury at Uganda proposal for gay executions 11/09

17 Letter from Trinidad 2: Barbados 11/09

18 Letter from Trinidad 3 11/09

19 Linden Lewis focuses Gender Ministry’s distinguished lecture on homophobia 1/10

20 How has Trinidad calypso dealt with sexual orientation over eight decades? 2/10

21 Government must set policy for its GLBT citizens’ needs 3/10

22 No word on gays, abortion 4/10

23 It gets better 10/10

January 11, 2004 – Trinidad & Tobago’s Newsday,
Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies

Gays in Trinidad & Tobago get legal protection–from Abroad, Not at Home

by Sean Douglas
While the laws of Trinidad and Tobago prohibit male homosexual activity, the House of Representatives recently passed a Bill granting certain protection to gays and lesbians from the actions of foreign powers. On Friday the House unanimously passed the Extradition (Commonwealth and Foreign Territories) (Amendment Number 2) Bill 2003. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill say it modernises and simplifies the laws relating to extradition for serious offences, defined as crimes for which punishment in both the extraditing country and in TT is over 12 months imprisonment or the death penalty.

Saying the Bill safeguards the rights of suspects, the Notes say it amends the original Extradition Act to protect the rights of gay people. The Notes state: "Clause Seven would amend Section Eight of the Act to prevent an accused person’s return to a declared Commonwealth territory or a declared foreign territory if it is determined that the request for his return is based on his sex, gender or sexual preference".

In the original Act, protection from unjust extradition had only been granted to persons on basis of religion. The Bill also states that anyone accused of an offence against a Government Minister would not be able to claim in his defence that his actions were merely political. The Explanatory Notes state: "Persons accused or convicted of an offence against the life or person of a Head of Government or of a Minister of Government or of certain offences such as murder, manslaughter and kidnapping, would not be able to object to their extradition on the ground that the offence is of political character".

During debate on the Bill there was no contention over either of these provisions, and after contributions from Minister of Foreign Affairs, Knowlson Gift, and Pointe-a-Pierre MP, Gillian Lucky, the Bill was passed unanimously.

27th March 2005 – Trinidad & Tobago’s Newsday

Gender on Trinidad & Tobago’s Government Agenda–Draft Policy Finally Addresses Gay Rights (but no gay rights recommended)

by Suzanne Sheppard
The goverrnment has broken its silence on the politically sensitive issues of abortion and gay rights in the Draft National Gender Policy and Action Plan which has just been put out for public comment by the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs.

The 140-page document, which was prepared by the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, is a response to more than a decade of lobbying by local activists for Govern-ment to “put gender on the agenda.” Major national issues are addressed in the draft document, compiled following extensive research and several months of community consultations, as well as interest group consultations with the disabled, youth groups, religious organisations, the elderly, the media, the protective services, trade unions, the private sector and women’s and men’s groups. The draft gender policy describes unsafe abortion as a leading cause of maternal deaths in Trinidad and Tobago but notes that data on the matter is incomplete because abortions are only legal in this country under certain conditions.

The document states: “Official data suggest a figure of 25.29 per 100,000 maternities, but this cannot be seen as a total figure.” Under the heading of Reproductive Rights, it is stated that abortion is legally available in TT “only to preserve the physical and/or mental health of the mother and requires corroboration by two medical practitioners. The procurement of a miscarriage is prohibited under the Offences Against the Person Act. However, illegal abortions are widespread, sometimes with a fatal effect. Women are often hospitalised for abortion related problems whether induced or otherwise.

“In one hospital, the dilation and cutterage procedure for the evacuation of the retained products of conception was performed 1,177 times in 1999 and 615 times between June and September 2000. “The Public Health system has a major responsibility in dealing with the after effects of illegally induced abortions.” Later on in the document it is reported that TT’s public hospitals treat more than 5,000 women annually for complications related to incomplete or poorly performed abortions and that estimates suggest that more than 10,000 illegal abortions are performed in this country annually. The draft gender policy recommends a review of all issues — legal, medical, religious and/or cultural — relating to the termination of a pregnancy.

Reference to gay rights comes in the section of the draft policy that deals with the Equal Opportunity Act 2000, which was drafted to prohibit “certain kinds of discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity between persons of different status, to establish an Equal Opportunity Commission and an Equal Opportunity Tribunal.”

Zeroing in on one example of discrimination not covered in the Act, the draft policy states: “Sex as a ground of discrimination is expressly stated to exclude sexual preference. As such, the Act discriminates against the gay and lesbian community and persons with alternative sexualities.

“The Act is still in abeyance as the Commission, which is required to receive, investigate and conciliate complaints of discrimination has not been established. While there were claims made in the consultations of discriminatory practices, in the absence of the Commission and Tribunal, redress is some way off.”

The draft policy recommends: “In keeping with its international legal obligations, the state should facilitate public debate on the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons, irrespective of sexual preference or orientation.”

The other reference to gay rights comes under the heading of Rape and other Sexual Offences where the recommendation is for review and evaluation of the working of the legislation and for rape and sexual offences in same-sex unions to be brought within the ambit of the Act. The draft policy also offers a gender perspective on a range of national issues, including education, employment and economics, health and medicine, the disabled population and the elderly.

In dealing with gender in the context of TT’s disabled population, the draft policy calls for the treatment of the disabled as “whole productive, social and sexual individuals.” It reports: “The consultation on the disabled population held in Port-of-Spain revealed that disabled women were more susceptible to open sexual abuse as it was felt that they did not have the power to respond to such abuse. “Disabled men were immediately perceived as unable to perform roles of provider or to have full sexual and reproductive lives. One of the main problems which the disabled experienced in society was the difficulty in transportation to occupations or for social purposes. This dependency on assistance for transportation of the disabled population, young and old, continuously places them at risk of sexual and physical abuse and violence.”

The gender policy recommends administration of a gender disaggregated National Census of persons with disabilities, as well as enhancement of public facilities to make education or work more accessible through mandatory building of ramps in all public spaces, lifts and wheelchair friendly pavements. The draft policy also calls for the promotion of programmes to educate the population and make them more sensitive to the needs and rights of the disabled population and for the training of teachers and educators at all levels to deal with the disabled.

March 17, 2007 –

Tobago To Elton John: You’re Gay, Stay Away

by Lexi Feinberg
How sad that in the same week Cyndi Lauper announces a tour to promote gay rights, an island northeast of Trinidad, called Tobago, tries to throw the movement back a few yards. Chalk it up to another disappointing day for mankind.
Gigwise reports that Tobago Church leaders wish to ban Elton John from performing at the island’s upcoming Plymouth jazz festival in fear that his presence will turn the locals into Bible-bending homosexuals. “His visit to the island can open the country to be tempted towards pursuing his lifestyle,” says Philip Isaac, Archdeacon of Trinidad and Tobago. The year is 2007, ladies and gentleman. Just thought I’d point that out.

Elton’s marriage to David Furnish has incited local campaigners to try to ban the flamboyant, insanely talented musician via an immigration law, which suggests that homosexuals could be kept out of the country. “We have a huge problem with homosexuality in our population because, unlike our foreign counterparts, our free-up nature and infrastructure cannot support the conditions of this lifestyle,” one person told a local paper.

Buried beneath the screams of insanity is a sole voice of reason. Festival organizer Anthony Maharaj hopes the Rocket Man will ignore the ignorance and come join them; he insists it would be an honor to have him. “This is a man who was knighted by the Queen, who was highly complimented by Desmond Tutu,” he says. Still, if Tobago won’t have you, let me extend an open invite: Elton, you’re more than welcome to come back to New York for an extra show. We love you here, and we don’t even care who you wake up spooning in the morning. Imagine that.

April 28th 2007 –

Black lesbian has head shaved bald in barbershop.

Michele Pearson Clarke
A right to be who I am
by Cedriann J Martin

Michele Pearson Clarke makes this a metaphor for her relationship with the brothers. She’s transformed a spoken-word piece that she penned four years ago ("after a guy flirted with me") into a five-minute-film. It’s funny, personal and packed with quirky and queer-eyed observations about sex, gender and race politics. "It’s really about identity," Clarke says. "Even though I have a shaved head and often get read as a man, straight black men know I’m a woman. It’s an interesting dynamic."

"Uncomfortable?" I prompt.

"It’s not uncomfortable. But it’s a number of things. I see myself in them. I’ve never identified as a man but I have a black masculine experience," she explains. "In some ways I feel like a brother."

Black Men and Me premiered at the Reel World Film Festival at just around the time The Village Voice ran "Girls to Men". The account of aggressives or AGs (portrayed in the story as the pimps of a bitches-and-hos lesbian subculture in New York) has gotten tongues wagging and feathers ruffled. The writer’s thesis is that members of the AG sub-culture have altogether traded in their identity as women for the thug life. With no female role models, gangsta rap becomes God. And their connection with womanhood is cut off. Clarke’s short film adds an important dimension to the dialogue about masculine lesbians and their identity-the first person..

"There’s been a lot of chatter in that community about the (Village Voice) story," Clarke reveals. "Even the title of the article suggests that they (the AGs) identify as men. They’re masculine for sure. But they’re still women. And their gender expression is shaped by the African American hip hop scene." It isn’t lost on Clarke that this kind of dialogue is yet to find a public space here in Trinidad. She’s read the stories about homophobic pastors in Tobago and their disdain for Elton John. ("There are people like that everywhere," she assures. "People in Toronto may think these things but they might not necessarily say it.")

Would Black Men and Me have been possible in Trini?

"My life would be very different if I didn’t leave," she admits. She’s lived in Canada for the past 14 years. Clarke’s got an undergrad degree in psychology and a masters in social work. She’s a part-time filmmaker and professional health educator who works with the lesbian and gay community in Toronto. And she’s married. "I have a right to be who I am," she says. But she isn’t at all pessimistic about T&T’s human rights journey. Archaic anti-gay laws notwithstanding, Clarke says that as more people speak up, change will come. "Social change is slow but it happens," she says. "As more and more people become comfortable with being who they are as gays, everyone else will gradually come to terms. The number one predictor of someone being okay with it is if they know somebody who is gay: ‘Sandra down the lane is cool so it can’t be so bad’."

Clarke’s is probably a best case experience of being black, female and lesbian in a racist, sexist, homophobic world. She recounts that gay marriage became legal in Canada about two years after she started dating her partner. "For us it was part of the development of the relationship. We followed the same pattern as anyone else who gets married. You realise this one is different and you make the step. Our relationship is very similar to other people’s: the same emotion, the same value, the same arguing over who washes the wares." It’s ironic that just below the border the raging controversy over gay marriage is still the stuff on which elections are won.

("It’s interesting because right below us is this huge world power that is culturally very different," she notes.) But Clarke can empathise with figures like Ted Haggard, the former Evangelical Preacher who lobbied against gay rights before being outed last November.

"It’s a really good example of repression," Clarke says. "So many people still live in a society where they’re told that what they feel is wrong. He was caught between his feelings and his religious dogma, then this was revealed in a really public, devastating way." There are many many such personal tragedies. Clarke’s work involves tailoring health interventions for a community that is haunted by denial and discrimination. Drinking and smoking may become coping mechanisms. Insecurity and invisibility build barriers to health care. For many, sexual identity makes the road to well-being is rough. But Clarke rejects the idea that the first step is necessarily disclosure.

"If coming out means you never see your family again it’s not my place to sit in judgment and say that you should or shouldn’t. I have a lot of friends who haven’t spoken to their families in ten, fifteen years. That’s not easy. Every situation is different and it’s up to the individual. I have nothing but acceptance and celebration from my family about who I am." She recalls her childhood in Diego Martin. A happy adolescence in convent. A middle class upbringing that didn’t shun her difference. "I have to credit my mother. When I was three or four and wanted to be called Tony and didn’t want to play with dolls she said ‘OK’. She let me soar. Her approach was: ‘this is who you are I’ll let you explore that’. There was still a lot of internal struggle when I first realised I was queer or gay. But I really had a supportive and affirming environment."

July 4th 2007 –

Gay man taunted by cops gets $28,400

by Keino Swamber, South Bureau
A 29-year-old self-confessed homosexual has been awarded $28,400 as compensation for being kept naked at a police station for over three hours while police officers ridiculed him about the size of his penis. Judgment on behalf of the Ste Madeleine man was delivered in the San Fernando High Court yesterday by Justice Shafeyei Shah who ruled that the man’s arrest on July 24, 2000 was unlawful. The man said he and his "partner" were walking past the Princes Town Police Station around 4.30 p.m. on July 24, 2000, when two men, who later identified themselves as CID police officers, called out to him and told him to come.

"They did not give their names. Upon reaching the station’s door, I was told by one of the officers that there is an officer in the station who wanted to see me. I entered the station and, upon reaching the area of the charge room, another male voice directed me to enter a room located to the side of the charge room." The man said he met a police officer sitting behind a desk and was invited to sit.

"I later discovered this officer’s name to be Police Constable (Curt) Teesdale. After waiting for approximately 25 minutes, I asked PC Teesdale what he wanted to see me for. He did not answer. I repeated this question about five times. I received no reply." The man said he told Teesdale that he was leaving and attempted to leave but was followed out of the room and arrested. The court heard that the man was led to an area where there were cells and was ordered by Teesdale to remove his clothing in the presence of another officer identified only as "a slim, light-brown officer of East Indian origin dressed in police uniform".

"I attempted to hide my nudity with my hands. I was then told by PC Teesdale to move my hands from in front of me. I removed my hands. They both looked at me and started to laugh very loud. They ridiculed me. PC Teesdale then said to me, ‘you playing man and that small cuckoo you have’ referring to the size of my penis." The man said he was made to squat while facing the officers and was in full view of anyone passing in the corridor.

"Due to my size, I tire easily. When I became tired, I sat on a cold concrete slab. I remained in the cell from approximately 5.10 p.m. to around 8.30p.m." The man said he was taken out of the cell and told that he was free to leave. He said he was told by the officers, who were trying to make jokes and small talk, that he was being held for an ID parade.

Trinidad and Tobago Film – Paradise Lost

Filmed in 2003
Shown at London Gay and Lesbain Film Festival 2007
Shown at African Diaspopa Film Festival New York 2007

‘Paradise Lost’ film shows what happens when carnival, catholicism, and coming out collide in Trinidad and Tobago

Paradise Lost was screened in Image, Memory and Representation: The Work of Inge Blackman at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2007. Trinidad and Tobago is seen as a paradise holiday destination full of fun loving people. When gay visitors go to the island at carnival time they are surprised at the warmth and openness of the people. However when the music stops and the gay Trnidadians are left to live their lives what is it like for them?

In Paradise Lost, the filmmaker domiciled in the UK, returns to Trinidad to find out what it really is like to be a queer Trinidadian. She interviews her parents, and Trinidadians. What you discover is a complex country mixing tolerance and censure, religion and ritual, forming an uneasy relationship with queer folk.

Each interviewee shares their story to produce a powerful testament to the flexibilty of the Caribbean culture and the universal survival of the human spirit. For more information on Paradise Lost contact BlackmanVision. Director Inge Blackman is a lone voice in British filmmaking – a self-styled Black Lesbian and Caribbean storyteller. Moving and graceful, her compositions seek to evoke the imagination in response to a desire to represent sexuality and identity traditions.

May 18th 2009 – Trinidad & Tobego Express

Govt moves on gay rights

by Cedriann J Martin
Trinidad and Tobago is taking steps to address the human rights of homosexuals, said Andy Fearon, acting technical director of the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC). He made the disclosure against the background yesterday of the UNAIDS commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia.

Asked to comment, he sent the following e-mail response: "The National HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy is being addressed through the Ministry of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprises in partnership with the NACC and International Labour Organisation (ILO) and – the HIV/AIDS Legislative Assessment is a project being run through the Ministry of the Attorney General. In both the policy and the legislative assessment, human rights and the prevention of stigma and discrimination are central pillars." Trinidad and Tobago is among 86 countries with laws that prohibit sex between men. It is also one of the ten nations with the highest rates of HIV among men who have sex with men or MSM. (MSM is a clinical term referring to all men who have sexual encounters with other men, not just those who identify as gay or bisexual.)

In a statement to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia yesterday, executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, called on all governments wipe out the stigma and discrimination faced by MSM, lesbians and transgenders. Sidibé linked "respect for human rights" with access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

"The failure to respond effectively has allowed HIV to reach crisis levels in many communities of men who have sex with men and transgender people," he said. "Efforts to reverse this crisis must be evidence informed, grounded in human rights and underpinned by the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Today, more than ever, we must work together to end homophobia and ensure the barriers that stop access to HIV services are removed."

According to Trinidad and Tobago’s 2008 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) Report, there is a 20 per cent HIV prevalence rate among local MSM. This means that as many as one in five men who has gay sex in T&T may be HIV-positive. In an e-mail response Dennis James, project director of MSM No Political Agenda (MSMNPA), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that serves MSM, said that anti-gay laws increase secrecy and sexual risk-taking.

"As long as legislature criminalises homosexuals, persons will be forced to lead double lives to safeguard their existence. This causes numerous problems such as accurate HIV surveillance and research to support best HIV practices for gay and other MSM. Homophobia fuels discrimination in a real and tangible ways that many face on a daily basis. There are a number of challenges gay and other MSM are subject to that has a significant negative impact on their lives and in turn can result in negative and many times self-destructive behaviours," he explained.

Luke Sinnette, president of Friends For Life (FFL), another local MSM NGO, agreed, stating that the HIV epidemic is partly fuelled by gay men "getting married and pretending to be heterosexual."

May 31st 2009 – Trinidad Experss

‘One in five MSM may be HIV positive’

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia last week UNAIDS called on governments to create social and legal environments that enable universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Cedriann J Martin investigates why Trinidad and Tobago is among the countries with the highest HIV rates for homosexual men. Some names have been changed in the interest of privacy. As many as one in five men who has gay sex in Trinidad and Tobago may be HIV positive. According to this country’s 2008 progress report to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), there is a 20 per cent HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men or MSM. (MSM is a clinical term referring to all men who have sexual encounters with other men, not just those who identify as gay or bisexual.)

Two other Caribbean countries made the troubling top ten list last year. Guyana’s HIV prevalence rate among MSM is reported as being slightly higher at 21.3 per cent while Jamaica is second only to Kenya with between 25 and 30 per cent. The local statistic is taken from Many Partnered Men: A Behavioural and HIV Seroprevalence Study of Men who have sex with Men in Trinidad, unpublished 2005 research done by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (Carec), Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and World Health Organisation (WHO). The study is skewed by what researchers call recruitment bias. Luke Sinnette, President of Friends For Life (FFL), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) serving MSM, explained.

"FFL was part of collecting the information for that 20 per cent statistic. That testing was done with a lot of HIV/AIDS organisations so people are coming into it either thinking that they are positive or having put themselves at risk as opposed to a general population study," he said.

In an email response Dennis James, Project Director of MSM No Political Agenda (MSMNPA), said while those numbers "may best represent the likelihood of infections amongst MSM it is almost impossible to have accurate surveillance information" because so many men are secretive about their sexuality. Since 2003 T&T’s National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS has included a mandate to address the needs of vulnerable groups including MSM. But the NACC’s "What’s Your Position" campaign which seeks to highlight the ABCDEs of HIV prevention-abstinence, fidelity, condom-use, testing and education-doesn’t specifically target this group.

FFL and MSMNPA are the only MSM specific NGOs that have received funding from the NACC for work with the community. For six months in 2008 FFL got support for the Community Chatroom, a forum for MSM to meet and discuss life, well-being and health. MSMNPA produces a newsletter, a website and other material that focus on HIV information and education. James says many in the community are being infected precisely "because of a lack of prevention initiatives targeting them". The UNGASS report corroborates. It says that one of the shortcomings of this country’s HIV response is that efforts have been aimed at the general population "with limited interventions specifically designed (for) and directed at high risk groups". MSM have been slipping through the cracks in our country’s HIV communications and programming for fully a quarter century.

Paul was 21 when he learned that he was HIV positive in 1985, just two years after the first AIDS case was diagnosed in Trinidad and Tobago. Now 45, he remembers the mystery that surrounded the virus two dozen years ago. "At that time it was labeled a homosexual disease so that was right up my alley. They were publishing signs in the tabloids things like swollen glands and fever. Before that there was no scare. We had no reason to protect ourselves. By the time I became cautious," he said, "it was too late." The 1984-1986 "AIDS file" at the Heritage Library conveys the panic of that time. One Guardian story of January 1985 starts: "The killer AIDS virus is rampant among male homosexuals in T&T". A 1984 Express piece calls HIV the "gay virus". The laundry list of symptoms Paul refers to appears repeatedly: night sweat, prolonged fever, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, coughs and swollen lymph glands. There was comparatively little mention that an HIV positive person might show no symptoms at all.

Mark didn’t have symptoms. It was the early 1990s. He’d just started to work, applied for life insurance and wasn’t worried about the blood test. "I went back to get my results and a man just gave me a piece of paper and said ‘You have AIDS. You should go see a doctor’," he remembered. "I left there totally shattered. I cried all the way back to the office. I didn’t know what to do because the only message I had about AIDS was that you were going to die."

By the time Mark started having sex HIV had spread to the heterosexual population and that was echoed in the new messages about the virus. Now 34, he reflects that he didn’t think he was at risk. "Those messages didn’t speak to me and HIV didn’t come up in conversations with any of the people I had sex with. I remember vaguely somebody telling me ‘be careful you get this thing’. But you didn’t know exactly what it was, how it affected you, what the correct messages were, where to go to get information or how to protect yourself against it. I didn’t learn about condoms until afterwards," he said.

Peter, 33, was diagnosed with HIV four years ago. He said there has always been "an air of HIV" in the gay community-talk about who had been infected and who had passed away. But that didn’t translate into either solid information or safe sex. Peter thought of the virus as a plague of the poor. "Because of the imagery that was used I thought if somebody was from a certain economic background or looked a certain way he was safe. I conjured up imagery in my mind that if you were a black person from a certain neighbourhood, possibly you were that way and if I went with someone from an upper scale neighbourhood I would be okay," he reflected. "Clearly that was a myth and a big shock to me."

Different careers. Different ethnicities. Diagnoses in different decades. But their stories illustrate the gulf between what people should know about HIV and what they really do know, even as the national response evolves.

"Most if not all national prevention, treatment and care programmes exclude MSM, or do not include them in their messaging. The need to be politically correct and fear of offending the vast majority drive such decisions," James noted. "Problem is it creates some imbalances in messaging and service delivery. MSM feel that they are treated separately and this perpetuates a sense of non-involvement. In other words many MSM can say, ‘That is not about me’. Messaging requires a gender approach-an understanding of the issues, needs and gaps within the targeted groups."

In a September 18, 2008 email response Deputy Technical Director of the NACC, Andy Fearon, said that while the new five year strategic plan due this year will aim for a higher degree of engagement with the community, the NACC actually exceeded its last spending target for that group. "The plan called for a total of TT$0.82m and expenditure up to 2006 was TT$1.72m. As we go forward, however, we need to look at programmes that deal with more behaviour change in conjunction with raising awareness for all stakeholder groups," he wrote.

Sinnette welcomes a bigger commitment and thinks it should start with more money. "The MSM community is probably about 12 to 20 per cent of the national community. I think it’s fair for that proportion of the budget to be spent on them," he submitted. UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dawn Foderingham, clarified that T&T’s strategy for addressing the human rights of vulnerable groups as it pertains to HIV does not entail MSM-specific legislative reform, like the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The approach is far broader.

"Every one of us has the same rights and protection under the Constitution and Equal Opportunity Act but those do not protect us with respect to our HIV health status. One of the things we’re working on is a wide stakeholdership through an advocacy and human rights committee to address the rights of every citizen as it relates to HIV related issues. Through umbrella related legislation we will address stigma and discrimination based on HIV health related status," she explained.

Foderingham warned that though the stigma and discrimination experienced by MSM is a driving factor for the spread of HIV, we should not perceive either the disease or the proposed protections as their concern alone. "We need to realise that HIV is transmitted through sexual activity regardless of whether you are MSM. If you are heterosexual and having unprotected sex you are vulnerable to HIV and any other sexually transmitted disease. That is the main point. People seek to differentiate themselves too much," she said, "without minding what’s going on in their own backyards.

June 8th 2009 – Trinidad Express

‘New laws key to fight against AIDS’

by Rohandra John
The move by the Government and other partnering agencies to review the laws with a view to tackling discrimination against homosexuals and persons living with HIV/AIDS is a step in the right direction, Social Development Minister Amery Browne has said. Browne made this point on Friday during an interview with the Express following the conclusion of a function held to officially open and launch the Pearl Gomez-James Senior Activities Centre in Barataria. Browne acknowledged that discrimination among certain vulnerable groups in society was something that needed to be addressed.

He confirmed that there was "a process in train right now with the Ministry of the Attorney General, the National AIDS Coordinating Committee and several other Ministries focused on reviewing the existing laws with regards to stigma and discrimination and making recommendations that will be for the drafting of new legislation; that is an active, process ongoing".

UNAIDS and other non-governmental organisations have been lobbying the Government to review the current legislation which outlaws homosexuality in this country because they argue that it encourages discrimination against men who have sex with men. They also contend that it is fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS as men who have sex with men are forced to lead double lives and shy away from seeking medical treatment for the disease. Earlier, in his address at the function, Browne said the newly commissioned Senior Activity Centre in Barataria was all part of an overall effort to offer services to elderly citizens that will impact positively on their lives.

Noting that senior citizens now make up 11 per cent of the population, Browne said, "This centre joins with the others already in operation in St James, Maloney, Point Fortin, Chaguanas and Rio Claro thereby ensuring that senior citizens from all over the country have access to such facilities. This means that they are given the opportunity to participate socially among their peers in an environment where they could engage in constructive activities and facilitate their continued social inclusion in society."

June 29, 2009 –

Gay Community Calls Gender Minister’s Pride Month Commnets On Sexual Orientation “Sadly 1919”

—Launch new organization and education campaign to ensure they are not denied “full citizenship”

Gender Minister Marlene McDonald’s comments about government policy and sexual orientation last week, and their timing days before the local GLBT community begins its fifteenth annual celebration of Gay Pride, have motivated gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of Trinidad & Tobago and their organizations to come together to form a new advocacy coalition.

The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) aims to educate public decision makers about modern understandings of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to help the public embrace the full humanity of Trinidad & Tobago citizens of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. At last Thursday’s press briefing following the acceptance of the new National Gender Policy and Action Plan by Cabinet, Min. McDonald told the media: “We are not dealing with any issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation.”

“The Minister’s statement was, sadly, sadly 1919,” said David DK Soomarie. “Saying you ‘are not dealing’ with your own citizens is the kind of power-drunk thinking that we expect from unaccountable governments in places like Iran and Zimbabwe, not here in Trnidad & Tobago. Our vision is to build Trinidad & Tobago into a developed nation in its treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. GLBT people are fully human, fully citizens. We’re taxpayers.

And our country will never achieve developed nation status when our Government leaders can stand up boldly and declare that they intend to leave out and treat as second-class whole groups of citizens.” Soomarie is a leader of 4Change, one of the coalition’s member groups that is named after section 4 (Recognition and Declaration of Rights and Freedoms) of the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution. 4Change formed in 2007 inspired by the successful lawsuit by maxi driver Kennty Mitchell after his humiliation by police officers for being gay.

CAISO’s plans include: a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups. The group also pledged to support efforts to provide affirming opportunities for GLBT people to practise their faiths. “I just came back all inspired from the Organization of American States General Assembly meeting in Honduras, where our leaders voluntarily put Trinidad & Tobago’s name on a resolution promising to protect us against violence and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Angela Francis, beside herself.

Trinidad & Tobago also signed on to another, very similar OAS resolution a year ago. “Do we even take these international commitments seriously?” asked Francis, who manages Velvet Underground, a 725- strong online social networking group of lesbians and gay men from 18 to 60, the majority, like her, in their twenties. She represented Trinidad & Tobago at a meeting of a coalition of 17 NGOs across the hemisphere that pressed the General Assembly to unanimously adopt Resolution

Read More

July 24, 2009 – gspottt

T&T’s site for advocacy on sexual orientation issues:
(This is a weekly blog. Go to gsspottt for the latest posting.)

CAISO in the media
Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO)

As we hope you’ve been noting, CAISO has been appearing in the media repeatedly over the past month since our formation. Today’s half-page feature in the Guardian marks our ninth instance of coverage since our launch.

We started with radio: I-95, as they love to, were the first to cover us, two days after we formed, even before we’d finished writing our release. The TV morning shows followed quickly: Gayelle, always cutting-edge; and the mainstream TV6, where Andy Johnson’s longstanding interest in the National Gender Policy helped get us airtime, in early July. Columnists provided our first print coverage: Lennox Grant taking the lead in the Sunday Guardian with a touching personal story; Lisa Allen-Agostini

following two weeks later. A Newsday journalist who has covered these issues diligently for some time now provided the first print news article. TV evening news was next, with a piece many of you complained about to us that fell out of CNC3’s 7:00 pm broadcast on July 22, and appeared in a blink at 9:30. But CNC producer Ken Ali made up for it by doing a substantive interview on their morning show two days later.

On the front page of the Guardian’s well-read Friday features section, “Life Today”, editor Peter Ray Blood calls next week Thursday’s calypso event in tribute to CAISO “a most interesting and topical event”, and a link to the page B14 article appears on the home page of the paper’s website. The article also lists the link for gspottt.

And look out for another feature in Sunday’s Newsday; and coverage of Pride events on “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” on Monday.We salute T&T’s journalists for their 20/20 vision in “dealing with sexual orientation” by covering us and our issues in an open, balanced way; and Keith Clifford in particular for his firmness in handling abusive callers. CAISO is also fortunate to have lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual leaders and friends brave enough to appear on television carrying our message. Three women and two men have formed that growing team. CAISO salutes them.

To follow our media appearances and learn of upcoming ones, you can always click on the CAISO in the media link near the top of the right hand column of the website. Where links to the coverage are available, we’ll post them.

If you have a reaction, positive or negative, to coverage of CAISO or anything else that matters to you in the media, use your civic rights and write to the media house in question to share your views. And if you ever see or hear sexual orientation issues being covered somewhere in the media or addressed by a public figure, please record or save it and contact us.

August 9 2009 – Newsday

CAISO – seeking equal rights for gays, lesbians

by Melissa Dassrath
For those who know the anguish, shame and self-loathing that goes with caging your identity in the closet, the organisation Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) has emerged with the hopes of educating policymakers and pushing for policy reform. CAISO is of the view that the goal of Vision 2020 is obsolete if the Government continues to turn a blind eye to issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.

CAISO which was formed a month ago, is one of the many incarnations of organisations representing members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community in the country. Existing members of Friends for Life, 4 Change, Velvet Underground, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and the Trinidad and Tobago Anti-Violence Project made a collective decision to come together and lobby for the GLBT community to be included in the National Gender Policy.

The group was formed as a reaction to the unsettling statements made by the Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, Marlene McDonald, expressing her ambivalence to GLBT people of Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking at a post-Cabinet press conference about the draft document for the National Gender Policy and Action Plan, Minister McDonald declared: “We are not dealing with any issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation.”

CAISO was appalled by the archaic approach to dealing with the issues of sexual orientation and are actively campaigning for acceptance and equality. David DK Soomarie told Sunday Newsday: “The Minister’s statement was sadly, sadly 1919. Saying that you are not dealing with your own citizens is the kind of power-drunk thinking that we expect from unaccountable governments in places like Iran and Zimbabwe, not here in Trinidad and Tobago. Our vision is to build Trinidad and Tobago into a developed nation in its treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Local poet Jaase wondered: “When will the government show its commitment to the citizenship and human rights of the GLBT people, who are the fabric of our nation, if they won’t do so in the National Gender Policy.” While Pride Month marks the 15th anniversary since the first GLBT event, CAISO representatives explained that their community has been around and active a lot longer than that.

Kerwyn Jordan said that many other groups, although somewhat inactive now, have been in existence for years. The Gay Enhancement Association of Trinidad and Tobago (GETT) and Artists Against Aids, for example, have been trying to build activism and advocacy around issues that oppress and discriminate against persons with alternative sexual orientations.

These groups have been collaborating closely with the University of the West Indies, the Rape Crisis Society, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Family Planning Association and international research, advocacy and human rights groups. According to Soomarie: “CAISO recognises that if we are going to be successful in getting our message out there, then we have to work with other lobby groups so we can create supportive partnerships that are mutually beneficial.”

He added that the CAISO is bringing the GLBT community together to foster a safe and nurturing environment that offers sound advice: “Many of the groups have been trying to do in their own way, to try to create spaces for the community to interact together. Because it is important that we are connected. Particularly for people who are now coming out, they don’t feel like they have any support.”

CAISO aims to establish a more organic relationship among members of the GLBT community because they recognise the isolation, limitations and possible dangers of operating exclusively in cyberspace. “Because we are underground, there have been many instances where people in our community engage in risky behaviour including dating online and meeting potential mates and then are taken advantage of.”

Many gay men been subjected to taunting, beatings, rape and even blackmail, CAISO members noted, and most of these crimes remain unreported because of the apathetic attitude of police officers. According to the group many uninformed officers ridicule the victims instead of seeking out the perpetrators. Collin Robinson described how one homosexual male was violated and threatened and left for dead: “An intelligent, middle-class gay guy from a good family background who is working in the human services. He met someone online and after chatting on the internet for a while and talking on the phone for a while, they decided to meet in person.

When they are all alone and getting intimate, the guy locks his neck and ties him up. Two other men arrive and beat and then gang rape him. They then took his ATM card and tried to withdraw money, but they realised he gave them the wrong PIN number. So they came back and beat him again. They took a picture of him and threatened to expose him, if he went to the authorities. After the ordeal, they dropped him off somewhere. He never bothered to go to the police or even meet with us and accept any help or medical attention.”

CAISO aims to dispel homophobic beliefs, but said that the laws and those who enforce them need to protect the GLBT community from sexual and gender-based violence. Soomarie stated: “We cannot continue to operate in a society that allows that kind of injustice to happen to anyone, especially to the most vulnerable person. We have figured out it is wrong to do it against disabled persons. Its wrong to do it to elderly people. Why is it right to do it homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender persons? Why are we any different? At the end of the day we are human beings and we are entitled to our rights as well.”

Jordan explained that CAISO represents all those silent voices within the community who want to let the public know that they are here and eventually have equal status. He said in most cases the finger of blame is pointed to the victim, a gay man, for supposedly forcing himself on the accused and, therefore, asking for trouble.

CAISO holds regular monthly meetings, discussion forums as well as social mixers and fund-raising events. At Alice Yard in Woodbrook recently, CAISO organised a calypso event which celebrated the artform and the imaginative ways artistes have treated homosexuality.

The group wants to meet with Minister McDonald to discuss the concerns of the GLBT community. Robinson said that this is a good opportunity to open up the floor for discussion: “This is an invitation to the Minister to come to the table and sit down and talk about what needs to happen. We were intentionally written out of the Equal Opportunities Act. So if you are not putting us in the Gender Policy, then where are you putting us?”

September 10, 2009 – gspott

T&T’s site for advocacy on sexual orientation issues: gspottt
(This is a weekly blog. Go to gsspottt for the latest posting.)

The stories in Anton Nimblett’s new book “Sections of an Orange” sneak up on you, hidden between lyrical descriptions of everyday life. Writer Anton Nimblett is a tall, dark Trini with long locks framing his angular face. He’s the kind of man who, depending on your stereotypes, could be your dreams or your nightmares made flesh.

But once you meet him, hear his quiet voice and jokes for days, you see that Nimblett is a bit like his short stories – so understated that you don’t realize you’ve been sweet-talked until the end. His new – and first – book, Sections of an Orange, does that. The stories’ emotions sneak up on you, hidden between lyrical descriptions of everyday life.

Daily activities such as cooking, eating, and commuting to work, are told as though you were talking to a best friend on the phone – a best friend who lingers on details such as the colour of plums and evocative descriptions of how and why people behave the way they do. And then, slowly, love and death, anger and grief seep into those details.

The man who reminisces about an affair while he lies next to his unconscious lover in a car wreck, the man who mourns the loss of his now-grown niece as she falls in love, the old man who laboriously makes a last meal for his beloved wife. Several stories shift often between time frames with surprising ease, pointing out how the past informs every moment of our present.

The stories take place in Trinidad and in the USA, and sometimes, as in “Time and Tide,” travel between the two places as so many of our lives do. Nimblett has an excellent ear for Caribbean language – and not every writer who is from the Caribbean does! Betty in “Into My Parlour” is a familiar figure as she explains, “In the thirty something years that I living here on Reed Street with Emelda Johnson, she and I was never no set of friends, nothing more than ‘Morning Miss ’Melda’ and ‘Howdy do Miss Betty’.”

And he gets people’s mannerisms right as well, from Trinis who insist on feeding people even when they bring bad news, to the picong friends toss to each other, to some men’s unwillingness to show tenderness outside of sex.Before “Sections of an Orange” those looking for writing about gay Trini men have had to content themselves with a single novel

Though these stories mostly focus on men, unlike the generation of Caribbean male writers before him, Nimblett is also able to portray women, and relationships between them, as well as friendly, erotic, and romantic relationships between men. (Men who love men appear in most of the stories – though often unexpectedly or fleetingly, as in “Visiting Soldiers.”) While Trinidadians Dionne Brand and Shani Mootoo have written about Trinbagonian lesbians and transgender people, those looking for writing about gay Trini men have had to content themselves with a single novel, Aelred’s Sin.

So Sections of an Orange is not only a refreshing contribution to Caribbean literature, it is also perhaps the first work of literature to portray Trinidadian men who both love other men and are not psychologically conflicted or destroyed by their sexuality. In a recent online article, Nimblett states that he did not begin writing seriously until relatively recently. His style, though, has probably been in development for much longer – evidence not only of talent, but also of a writer who is a devoted reader.

The stories in Sections of an Orange are not always easy to read and can call up deep and conflicting emotions. In the title story I wondered whether Brian was crazy, sick, or just misunderstood. And in “On the Side” I was angry with the narrator for having an affair, but still wanted him to survive the car crash. By the time you realize Nimblett’s characters are not always simple or sympathetic, they’ve snuck up on you, and you care about what happens to them.

Several of the stories are linked – “On the Side” and “Time and Tide”, Just Now” and “Marjory’s Meal”, “Sections of an Orange” and “Ring Games”. This implies that Nimblett’s next work might be longer fiction – a novella or, perhaps, a novel. His time-traveling prose could become a Marquez-like epic – or it could develop into a more experimental style.

Either way, I trust he will not lose the intense lyrical voice and emotion these first stories hold. The author’s online commentary centers on the theme of asking for and being given permission to write. With the success of this deep, subtle first collection, Nimblett should never need to ask permission to write again.

Sections of an Orange (152 pp.) is carried by Nigel R Khan (with stores in seven malls: Ellerslie Plaza, Gulf City–LaRomain & Lowlands/Tobago, Long Circular, Price Plaza, Trincity, and The Falls/West Mall); has been ordered by independent bookseller Paper Based (at Hotel Normandie in St. Anns); and can be shipped directly from the publisher, Peepal Tree press, in the UK. Or: win a free, autographed copy if you’re the first to tell us where the titles of the eight stories mentioned here are hidden in disguise throughout the blog.

Reviewer: Rosamond S King, PhD is a critical and creative writer, performer, and artist. She lives in Brooklyn when she’s not living somewhere else, and is a full-time faculty member of Brooklyn College.

01 November 2009 – TNT Times

It’s our time now

by Erline Andrews
The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) has only been around for about five months, but that’s long enough, it seems, for it to be responsible for the imminent destruction of Trinidad and Tobago. “I listen to a gospel station on a daily basis,” says Simone Roach, one of the members of the fledging gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) NGO. “About a month ago I heard this pastor speak about taking back Trinidad and Tobago because CAISO raised this issue about GLBT being excluded from the gender policy. And he’s saying that he’s rallying all his troops.”

CAISO has troops of its own. It brings together the resources of five organisations as well as some individuals. Since its formation, it’s been feverishly organising events and initiatives, including a community discussion with Father Clyde Harvey and Reverend Dr. Knolly Clarke and an ecumenical church service hosted by Archdeacon Steve West and Reverend Shelly-Ann Tenia. Its blog – mainly reports about GLBT in the region – has received more than 5,000 visits. A Facebook group has more than 400 members. The coalition is forming links with local universities and international organisations and has gotten the attention of the City University of New York, which featured CAISO in a seminar on GLBT organising in the Caribbean.

Members have been appearing openly in print and broadcast in more numbers than local GLBT have in the past. The idea of gay rights seems to be slowly percolating the Trinidad and Tobago zeitgeist and CAISO is pushing the effort. “This is an exciting time to be gay and lesbian in Trinidad and Tobago,” says CAISO-nian Sharon Mottley, who sat down to talk with TNT Times along with three other members of the organisation: Roach, Colin Robinson and David Soomarie.

TNT Times: Why the need for CAISO?

Robinson: The actual moment that formed CAISO was a moment of political negligence. A government minister got up and told the media that the National Gender Policy wasn’t going to deal with sexual orientation. The reason for coming together was to be more powerful. CAISO is party promoters; it’s NGOs; it’s individual activists as well. We all felt like we could be stronger and we could catalyse a GLBT movement in Trinidad and Tobago by pooling forces and by supporting and enhancing all the work that had been happening before that moment.

TNT Times: What are you fighting for? Or is that too simplistic a question?

Mottley: I think that what we’re fighting for is basic, simple equality, not just on paper but in practice. As contributing members of this society, our human rights should be respected in the same vein as every other citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.

TNT Times: When you formed you said your agenda was “a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups.” Have you been successful in carrying out your plans? And what are your plans going forward?

Mottley: We have a laundry list of activities planned, and we’re taking it step by step. We have had some media presence. We’ve tried to let Trinidad and Tobago know that CAISO exists and we’re here and what we stand for and address some of the concerns that the wider Trinidad and Tobago community may have. The support within the community isn’t as full as we want, but that’s to be expected because people have for so long lived in the shadows and so they slowly need the opportunities to emerge. Last week there was a CAISO retreat to revisit some of our missions. I think we’re off to a good start.

Soomarie: Right now we’re looking at doing a history project because a lot of our own gay history has been lost somewhere in the shadows. So we’re in the process of engaging different people who’ve had different experiences within the community to talk about where we’ve come from with a view to kind of create a new wave and a new spirit of activism within the community. It’s going to happen through a series of workshops with different people coming together and sharing stories. We plan to compare the best stories and do a Pride production for 2010.

TNT Times: Sharon said she wanted to address concerns that some Trinidadians and Tobagonians might have. What do you mean by that?

Mottley: I think there are many people out there who have a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be gay or bisexual. You may have the haters who you cannot reach. But I think a lot of us are middle of the road and have questions.

Roach: All we’re looking for is understanding and acceptance. As long as we continue to show up in a very positive light I think we can win those hearts over.

Entire Interview Here

25 November 2009 – Fridae

Letter from Trinidad

by Alex Au
Ahead of the biennial 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit to be held Nov 27-29, representatives of gay groups from ten countries including Singapore, Malaysia and India are attending a parallel conference called the Commonwealth People’s Forum with the aim of campaigning for the repeal of sodomy laws – a very common feature of ex-British colonies. Alex Au writes from Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.

When I told people that I was going to the Caribbean island of Trinidad, most people envied me for the chance to go to an island paradse. I laughed. Firstly, I’ve been there before, and to be brutally honest, I thought it was a boring place. It was not on my Revisit List. Now, having been here two days so far, I can assure you little has changed. Virtually all shops close by six; no one walks on the streets at night for fear of muggings and I could barely find a restaurant open for lunch on the first Sunday. Secondly, I’m here for a conference, and if you think conferences are junkets, think again. When the aim is to try to get state leaders to pay attention to the gay issue, it’s hard work and uphill all the way.

Trinidad is the venue for the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit. The Commonwealth is a grouping of 53 countries, most of which are ex-British colonies, though more recently, Mozambique (ex-Portuguese colony) and Cameroun (ex-French colony) have joined. One very common feature of ex-British colonies is that they share a nasty inheritance from victorian England – sodomy laws. It is therefore felt that if one wanted to try lobbying governments at an international level, the Commonwealth may be a good focal point.

Representatives of gay groups from ten countries are here. Including other gay activists from other countries who do not represent groups, we have a gay caucus of nearly 20 persons. I’m representing People Like Us from Singapore. There is Siddharth Narrain from India and Thilaga Sulathireh from Malaysia – the other two Asian countries in the caucus. Naturally, we don’t get to attend the summit itself, but there is a parallel conference called the Commonwealth People’s Forum running from Nov 22-26. At this conference, to which 500 people registered, but I think only about 300 showed up, we draft a statement expressing civil society’s chief concerns, and this statement is submitted to the heads of government.

What happens next is not guaranteed. Mostly, civil society statements are ignored by political leaders, but persistence over many years will pay off. Even if the backward countries take no notice of civil society concerns, such as the one we wish to make – gay rights – the more developed countries, e.g. Britain, Australia and Canada may, and may go on to encourage their fellow Commonwealth members to do something about the issues raised. No doubt, we keep our expectations low, but as activists we take the view that unless we try, we’d never know how far we can go.

Just being able to gain entry is a victory of sorts. At the previous summit, held in 2007 in Kampala, Uganda, a local LGBTI group was forced out of the publicly-accessible People’s Space (a part of the People’s Forum) and were beaten with sticks by plain-clothed police officers. Foreign visitors to the summit and the People’s Space, including committed Commonwealth activists who attemped to intervene, were also excluded from the Space. At this 2009 conference, Uganda once again is the bad boy of the class, even though we’re in Trinidad. Raising the ire of many human rights activists here – not just the gay ones – is a proposed law winding its way through that country’s legislative process, that increases penalties for homosexual sex.

A leaflet distributed here in Trinidad explains that just about everybody, not just gay people, will be affected by this proposal, driven by extreme homophobia. To quote the leaflet, the bill puts at risk.

– any parent who does not denounce his lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities; failure to do so will incur a fine of Ugandan Shillings 5 million, or a jail term of three years;

– any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours; failure to do so will incur a similar penalty as above;

– any landlord who gives housing to a suspected homosexual; seven years’ imprisonment;

– any religious leader who seeks to provide guidance and counselling to people who are unsure of their sexuality; he would be regarded as promoting homosexuality and punished accordingly;

– any NGO activist or academic, if their organisation or institution seeks to have a comprehensive position on sexual and reproductive health; their organisation risks being closed down.

But most egregious of all is the increase in the penalty for homosexual sex to life imprisonment; death penalty if HIV-positive. There’s an article in the Autumn 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative that also mentions Uganda. First, however, it refers to the many countries which still criminalise ‘unnatural sex’: "With sodomy laws still in place, judges and public figures have, in recent decades, defended them as citadels of nationhood and cultural authenticity while at the same time complaining that homosexuality comes from the colonising West. They forget that it was the West that introduced the first laws enabling governments to forbid and repress it."

But memories are short, and the article tells of a different kind of horror just over a century ago: "The overlapping relationship of colonial and post-colonial identity formation is perhaps best illustrated from within the Commonwealth African nations. In Buganda (the former kingdom of Uganda) in 1886, the Kabaka (King) Mwanga executed more than 30 of his pages within his royal court, apparently for refusing sex with him following their conversion to Christianity."

The irony would be funny if not for people being killed over all that.

Alex Au has been a gay activist and social commentator for over 10 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us, Singapore. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.

27 November 2009 – The Guardian

Fury at Uganda proposal for gay executions

by Nicholas Watt in Port of Spain,
Britain and Canada today led Commonwealth protests against a law proposed by the Ugandan parliament which would introduce the death penalty by hanging for "aggravated homosexuality". Gordon Brown expressed Britain’s concerns about the parliamentary bill when he met Yoweri Museveni, the veteran Ugandan president, at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. The suggested legislation would apply to sex between gay men or lesbian women in which one person has HIV.

The bill also proposes the introduction of a three-year prison sentence for anyone who knows of the existence of a gay man or lesbian woman and fails to inform authorities in Uganda within 24 hours. The British prime minister’s anger was echoed by his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. Harper’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said: "If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda."

Stephen Lewis, a former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, described the proposed legislation as having "the taste of fascism." In a speech in Trinidad, reported in the Globe and Mail, Lewis said: "The credibility of the Commonwealth is hanging by a spider’s thread. The putative legislation declares war on homosexuality. What is put at risk here – beyond the threat of the death penalty for HIV-positive homosexuals – is the entire apparatus of Aids treatment, prevention and care." Museveni has not endorsed the private member’s bill, which was introduced by a backbencher in the Ugandan parliament. But Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, James Nsaba Buturo, welcomed the proposal, saying that he regards the bill "with joy" because it will "provide leadership around the world".

November 28, 2009 – Fridae

Letter from Trinidad 2: Barbados

by Alex Au
Barbados Minister for Family, Youth and Sports recently announced that gays, lesbians, and transgenders will be protected under legislation against domestic violence. Writing from Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago where the Commonwealth People’s Forum was recently held, Alex Au meets with Elizabeth, a MTF transgender from Barbados and finds out more about her country.

Barbados Minister for Family, Youth and Sports, Esther Byer-Suckoo, condemned homophobic violence in speech where she announced that gays, lesbians, and transgenders will be protected under legislation against domestic violence. Gays, lesbians, and transgenders will be protected under legislation against domestic violence, said Barbados Minister for Family, Youth and Sports, Esther Byer-Suckoo. In a completely unexpected announcement made in the course of a speech, the minister told her country that "We realise there is not only violence against women, but violence against men; and then also those persons who are transgender are also subjected to serious violence.

"Regardless of our personal views towards transgenders, it’s about respect for a persons’s life," she said. "We have to take into account the realities of the situation. Right now, we have seen violence, with men against men, in homosexual relationships, women against women [and other] transgender issues. The law has to protect all its citizens. If we’re amending legislation or drafting new legislation, we have to take into consideration the nuances of the environment in which we live today," Byer-Suckoo explained, condemning homophobic violence.

Homosexual sex is illegal in Barbados, a former British colony. I met with Elizabeth, a 1.8-metre tall, broad-shouldered male-to-female transgender from Barbados, asking her if there was any recent scandal that brought about the minister’s decision. There was none that she could think of. Barbados is not a place where violence is particularly commonplace. It’s a small island country in the Caribbean, with about 300,000 people. It’s one of the more prosperous islands in the region, with tourism, financial and call centre services as the backbone of the economy. Traditional industries such as fishing are still doing well.

Elizabeth herself faces no serious threat. She goes to work, goes shopping, walks down the street with little more than surprised turning of heads. "It’s how you behave," she said "and how you conduct yourself. Society will respect you if you behave nicely." Christianity is the major religion in Barbados, and like in so many places, there is a fundamentalist strand that uses gay people as metaphorical punching bags. So it’s not as if Barbados is a completely gay-friendly place.

Moreover, domestic violence is something that tends to be invisible, taking place mostly in the home, and until people come forward to report it, it is hard to say how bad the situation really is. As far as attacks against LGBTs in public spaces go, there is only one from recent memory. A couple of years ago, three transvestites who had just finished a lip-sync performance at a show, were at a gas station, refilling their car when shots were fired at them. Fortunately, none were hurt. The shots came from one of three guys who were loitering at the gas station, probably intoxicated. The police arrested the perpetrators who were charged in court and jailed.

However, there could well be more such instances that are not reported, and this is where the very public announcement by the minister will go a long way to giving LGBTs more confidence to come forward if they are abused or attacked. Director of the Barbados Bureau of Gender Affairs, John Hollingsworth, acknowledged that few LGBTs have to date come forward to report incidents of domestic violence, as they were doubly stignmatised as being gay and battered. Hopefully, this unequivocal announcement by the minister will mark a major change in attitudes, both among LGBTs and society at large.

Alex Au has been a gay activist and social commentator for over 10 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us, Singapore. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.

28 November 2009 – Fridae

Letter from Trinidad 3

by Alex Au
Civil society activists at the Commonwealth People’s Forum work to highlight LGBT-related concerns in former British colonies that have inherited Victorian-era sodomy laws from the former colonising power. Twenty gay, lesbian and transgender activists at a conference in Trinidad, working together as a caucus, successly ensured that LBGT concerns were strongly mentioned in the set of recommendations put up by civil society to leaders of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The conference that the caucus attended was the Commonwealth People’s Forum, held 22-25 November 2009 in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. This conference of about 500 civil society activists took place a few days in advance of the biennal summit of the 53-nation Commonwealth.

Washington DC-based Global Rights organised a group of LGBT activists to attend the Commonwealth People’s Forum; the hope being to ensure that LGBT concerns were not excluded from the final document that the People’s Forum would put up. This was especially important as most countries in the Commonwealth, being ex-British colonies, have inherited Victorian-era sodomy laws from the former colonising power.

Stefano Fabeni, the Director of Global Rights’ LGBTI Initiative said: "We came here with the idea of being visible. Looking at the legislation [in many Commonwealth countries], it was extremely important to be part of the Commonwealth report. I am proud for myself and for the entire group that we had the largest delegation in the forum, coming from three continents." As to the result, he added: "We can be proud of the work of the activists in the assemblies. For the first time, the statement of the civil society forum has more than one reference to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity."

In the last Commonwealth People’s Forum meeting in 2007, held in Kampala, Uganda, LGBT concerns were only mentioned once in the document.

Moreover, this time, the human rights activists decided not to be diplomatic, but to name and shame the worst violator of LGBT rights, Uganda. A proposed law in that country, endorsed by ministers, targets not only LGBT individuals with life imprisonment and the death penalty but also makes it a crime for ordinary people not to report any suspected gay person to the government. It is, as Fabeni described it, "an extremely draconian law, not only against LGBT individuals, but is also dangeous for LGBT activists. Civil society at international level understood the implication of how dangerous this kind of targetting is. It is a larger issue of human rights."

But Uganda is just the worst case of many bad situations. Zaharadeen Gambo, Global Rights’ Program Officer in Nigeria, reported that in his country, two men were recently arrested, given about 20 lashes and sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment. People have even been killed. And for many, many more, "because of unfriendly laws, a lot of LGBT individuals are suffering in silence," he said. "As a human rights activist, I must definitely work on LGBT issues. All human beings are entitled to human rights."

Marcelo Ferreyra, IGLHRC Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean stressed that the strategy must be a long term one. While coming to this conference without much expectation, the final statement "is a success for everybody, and should prompt us to think how we are going to follow up this success." Zaharadeen, attending the Commonwealth People’s Forum for the first time, recalled that "I was really excited to be part of the a gathering like this."

But, he also encountered other delegates at the human rights forum who didn’t understand the LGBT dimension to human rights. "I remember there was this man who asked me what I did," Zaharadeen said. "I said I was working on human rights, especially gay, lesbian and transgender issues. He reacted: ‘What? What’s that that you are working on?’ " Representing Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson found the Commonwealth People’s Forum "very challenging".

"There was a diverse group of people at the conference, and we were forced to negotiate our interests while respecting theirs. My objective here," he said, "was to get more than just a phrase mentioning LGBT issues, like we had at the last meeting in 2007. I hoped to get a paragraph." In the end, "We got far more than that," Simpson pointed out. LGBT concerns were mentioned multiple times, in three different parts of the document – Gender, HIV and Human Rights. "We even got a heading," he said, pointing out the paragraph with its own title in the Gender section of the document, "and I am overwhelmed at what we achieved."

Thilaga Surathireh came halfway around the world from Malaysia. She described her experience at the Commonwealth People’s Forum as an interesting one. Realistic about how much change can be brought about through regionalism, she nonetheless thought it "encouraging to see so many people come together with the same hopes."

Like Thilaga, Nigel Mathlin, from the neighbouring Caribbean state of Grenada, had concerns about the effectiveness of the Commonwealth framework, since the heads of government had no accountability to the statements put forward by civil society. However, he found "the meeting, sharing, and strategising by advocates from around the world on human rights issues, particularly those facing LGBTs, empowering and re-energizing towards effecting more accepting social attitudes." The gay, lesbian and transgender caucus issued a media statement after the conference, signed by sixteen parties, see ‘GLBTI issues make inroads at Commonwealth summit’ for details.

11 January, 2010 – gspott•t&t’s triggersite for sogi passion & advocacy

Linden Lewis focuses Gender Ministry’s distinguished lecture on homophobia

To judge by the energy in the packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza on Wrightson Rd. tonight, 2010 is off to a promising start. Even before the programme started, the room was filled close to capacity…with men – most of them African, many of them very young. The lobby was full, too, with a crowd browsing the agency tables with materials on men’s health and wellness. (Hmmm: they didn’t invite us to table…)

The fifth? “distinguished lecture” by the Trinidad & Tobago government’s gender ministry focused on masculinity and violence. The grey-bearded 56-year-old Guyanese university professor began his talk, “Abandoning Old Shibboleths of Masculinity in the Struggle against Violence”, by explaining the funny word in the title. He cited the Old Testament’s Judges 12: 5-6, where the term originates, then hauntingly brought the story of the lisp that kills home to Hispaniola in the Caribbean and the 20th-century Parsley Massacre – both cautionary tales of how social groups try to police who does and doesn’t “belong” with violence and with snap judgements about people’s behaviour that don’t always get it right.

Then sociologist Linden Lewis, president of the Caribbean Studies Association, former UWI instructor, international consultant, and current chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bucknell University in the US, addressed another “concept” in his title: violence. He wanted to highlight three aspects of violence – structural violence; symbolic violence; and denial of rights – though he wasn’t saying that these three things were more important than what we normally think about as violence, issues like domestic violence, kidnapping, rape; but they were aspects of violence that don’t usually get talked about. They could offer us different conceptual lenses on violence than the ones we are accustomed to.

He started off reminding us that the explosive Small Arms Survey report was published by an independent research institute in Switzerland and of its statistic that East Port of Spain is more deadly than Baghdad. He recapped the per capita murder rates in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica. He cited that the Caribbean has three of the top ten rape rates in the world. He noted that prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Trinidad & Tobago – exceeding breast cancer.

Then dry, dry so, according to UWI gender scholar and activist Gabrielle Hosein, the man start talking about homophobia. And talking about homophobia. And talking about homophobia.

That the incidence of prostate cancer is linked to the fact that Caribbean men refuse to undergo rectal exams because they associate a doctor’s finger in their ass with bulling. The story of the 80-year-old blind man who would rather pee on the floor every time than sit down to do so – because if men stoop, the whole ideological infrastructure falls down. Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a Puerto Rican 19-year-old from Cayey stabbed, decapitated, dismembered and burned by a man who took him home without realizing he was a man. So you get vex; but then you cut off his head and his limbs and you set him on fire… Then he lingered on Jamaica: MP Ernest Smith’s Parliamentary rantings about gays organizing, carrying licensed firearms and serving in the police; PM Bruce Golding’s “Not in my Cabinet” statement on BBC television; still images of the April 2007 mob beating of a Trans person in Falmouth, Trelawny. And then he just let the entire cellphone video of the same noisy attack that had horrified folks around the world play, pointing out at the end how many of the assailants were women, who responded equally to the young victim’s trangression of masculinity with violence.

He then turned to Trinidad & Tobago, talked about “sexuality and citizenship”, and asked whether GLBT citizens were just as “Trini to the bone”, or instead second-class citizens, outside the social order. And then he made the point: that our shibboleth is that the only valid sexuality for men is heterosexuality. Then softly he said: “We must change”. The goal of his talk was not instant conversion, though, he quickly admitted. And abandoning the shibboleths of masculinity was necessary, but not sufficient, to eliminate violence, he cautioned. Nor did the answer to violence lie in more after-school programmes or football teams, but rather in how we spend time with our children, in how leaders set an example, in how we engage in dialogue with each other. In how we and our politicians treat responding to the problem of violence as an urgent and ongoing investment in our future.

The promise of the evening didn’t end there, though. It continued with the handful of audience members who got a chance to speak during the question period. Donald Berment from Men Against Violence Against Women, noting honestly that Lewis’s remarks were not what a number of those seated around him in the room wanted to hear, thanked him by saying “You said what I wanted to hear.” Lewis responded to his comment with curiosity about what it was people wanted to hear and, if they already knew it, why they had come. Brian Bradshaw, identifying himself as a hot-blooded heterosexual, lamented how organized religion sees anything outside traditional masculinity as threatening, that the media are very fond of hypersexual, homophobic masculinity, and how difficult it is for men like him to find space and partners to engage with in alternative practices of masculinity – adding that women, also, make it hard. And the evening ended with Lewis still standing, trapped at the front of a now empty room, with a small group of young men who were fundamentalist believers, continuing to engage them as they struggled with what he had said, and insisting that whatever they believed spiritually, they had to afford GLBT people humanity.

Hazel Brown: "We will use that in our advocacy"

Although neither the minister nor her permanent secretary was there, the programme was sponsored and Lewis was invited by the Ministry of Community Development, Culture & Gender Affairs – the same one Marlene McDonald heads, the same one that developed the Gender Policy, the same one that took any concerns about sexual orientation, homosexuality or same-sex unions out of the Policy just six months ago. Did Lewis know this story, asked Hazel Brown of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women, and one of the most tireless advocates for the Policy. She reminded the audience that Bruce Golding’s Hardtalk comments were preceded by our own Prime Minister’s at a 2006 conference on the 50th anniversary of the PNM: “My religious beliefs do not allow for a flexible definition of gender. A man is a man; a woman is a woman. And whenever the twain meet it is in special circumstances.” Had Lewis read our Gender Policy? Yes, he noted matter-of-factly.

The power of the evening was its focus precisely and calmly on the logic and connections between gender policy and homophobia that were the reasons the drafters of the 2004 document put issues of sexual orientation in there in the first place. It was a surprising and refreshing moment for CAISO and our allies in the room (like ASPIRE, IGDS and MAVAW) – but a moment that is in no small part the product of our work: at this year’s Caribbean Studies Association meeting, where we met Lewis, around the Gender Policy itself, and in building alliances of principle with each other.

It also offers clear hope for what is shaping up to be a packed agenda for CAISO in 2010 (more on this in the coming weeks!); and that, the flawed policy notwithstanding, our gender ministry may in fact take up some of these issues.

February 10, 2010 – Vimeo

Patricia Gone With…Millicent? How has Trinidad calypso dealt with sexual orientation over eight decades?

CAISO’s first public event (a July 30, 2009 Pride month cultural activity in Woodbrook’s Alice Yard, open to all) paid tribute to the national artform from which the group takes its name. In a listening session involving some two dozen songs, Colin Robinson reviewed how calypso has dealt with sexual orientation over eight decades, a topic to which, he argued, the artform has "brought some of its subtlest imagination and sweetest ingenuity".

Please help us find additional opportunities to present the work!! Contact

5 March, 2010 – spottt•t&t’s triggersite for sogi passion & advocacy

Government must set policy for its GLBT citizens’ needs: CAISO comments on the Gender Policy

It was Cabinet’s announcement on June 25th of last year that Trinidad & Tobago’s Gender Policy would exclude “issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation” that led to CAISO’s formation two days later.

The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs solicited public comment on the Government’s draft of the National Policy on Gender and Development, which was released to the public in September; and responses were due last Sunday, February 28. Over the past six months, CAISO took a detailed look at the draft, participated in forums and discussions on the Policy, and reviewed comparisons between it and the document widely circulated in 2004 that is now described as the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Institute for Gender and Development Studies consultants’ report.

Speaking as “a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) Trinidadians and Tobagonians”, we submitted a 1,400-word commentary on the new document last week. Friends for Life also submitted comments. CAISO’s key message is that our Government cannot shirk its responsibility to set clear domestic policy to address the concerns of the tens of thousands of GLBTI citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.

We said our Gender Policy cannot exclude sexual orientation:

* because this would be inconsistent with the Government’s own development plan, Vision 2020, which has a goal of having Trinidad & Tobago achieve developed country status, and seeks to foster a greater humanity and nurture “a caring society, that is, one in which all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable are loved and cared for and treated with dignity and respect”
* because gender policy for the future cannot be based on a narrow definition of gender based in the past, and that even Justice Ivor Archie believes a definition of ”gender” inclusive of sexual orientation is “revealed from an examination of any reputable dictionary”
* because Trinidad & Tobago leads the Commonwealth of Nations, which was mandated by civil society participants in the CHOGM Gender Assembly last November to “address gender and sexuality, including issues regarding violence and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities”; and because we have pledged together with the other nations of the hemisphere to protect people from violence and human rights abuses based on sexual orientation
* because the development of the Gender Policy originated in part from a human rights review under a gender convention in which we were criticized for this same kind of exclusion of sexual orientation, in that instance from the Equal Opportunity Act
* and because a policy that allows evangelical advocacy to exclude a distinct group of vulnerable citizens from a critical area on national policy on equality, and to create a state where some people enjoy less citizenship than others, based on religious belief, is a policy that frames itself in the taint of exclusion, intolerance and religious persecution.

Rather than offering a laundry list of things to fix or add in the Policy, or listing scores of places where our issues were omitted, we made just five very feasible proposals for changes to the document that Government could take as a first step to setting national policy on sexual orientation and gender identity issues:

1. Reinsert the two (and there were only two) policy measures on sexual orientation contained in the 2004 document:
* §1.14 Restore the following 33 innocent words that were expunged: “In keeping with its international legal obligations, the state should facilitate public debate on the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons, irrespective of sexual preference or orientation”
* §1.7 Extend marital rape and domestic violence protections in the Sexual Offences Act to all couples, regardless to gender or sexual orientation – something Barbados has already moved to do
2. §1.10 In programmes aimed at fostering healthier masculine roles, address the ways homophobia limits the opportunities and harms the health of all men and boys – Caribbean Studies Association President Prof. Linden Lewis discussed this cogently in delivering the Ministry’s distinguished lecture in January
3. §1.7 Include violence based on perceived sexual orientation or whether someone is “acting how a man/woman ‘should’” in gender-based violence initiatives and policy
4. §1.11 Name the GLBTI community as a special interest population, as the Policy does for youth, the elderly, and disabled people
5. §1.12 Build government’s capacity to deal with these issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and to make the nation ready to do so
* hire staff with relevant expertise
* get technical assistance from international agencies and other governments (e.g. Cuba, Brazil)
* support local research on these issues
* train everyone.

We offered again to sit down with the Ministry, and hope we will meet with the Minister herself and with other Cabinet-level decisionmakers to discuss how we work in partnership on these issues.

April 28th 2010 – Trinidad Express

No word on gays, abortion

by Aretha Welch
Less than one month before the country faces the polls, neither the Opposition coalition nor the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) has any conclusive position on legislation to treat with the controversial issues of gay marriage and abortion.
Both issues were neglected in the Government’s National Gender Policy, much to the dismay of several civil society groups, including the Hazel Brown led Network of NGOs.

When asked about his party’s position on the issues of sexual and reproductive rights, which have been ignored on the political platform thus far, PNM party chairman, Conrad Enill did not offer an answer, but instead, defended the presence of a disclaimer in the preamble to the current version of the National Policy on Gender and Development.

The disclaimer states, in bold print, ’the national policy on gender and development does not provide measures dealing with or relating to the issues of termination of pregnancy, same sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation.’ Asked about the exclusion of these issues, which are seen as part and parcel of human rights discussions in most modern, secular societies, Enill said: ’The Gender Policy is not concluded.

’There will be further examination and consultation, I cannot say whether it will support any one position on the issue yet, but we will be guided from the results (of the consultations) once more work is done.’ Questioned about the UNC/COP coalition’s position on amending policies on gay sex, same sex unions and the termination of pregnancy, leader of the Congress of the People, Winston Dookeran, said ’we are still deciding on policies.’

He told Express Online: ’I’m just leaving a meeting, where policy was being finalised. I cannot say that we have treated with that.’ However, Dookeran said the coalition – United National Congress, Congress of the People, National Joint Action Committee, Tobago Organisation of the People, and Movement for Social Justice – does know the issues exist, and will take note. Express Online contacted United National Congress leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar to get her views. She asked that the questions be emailed to her. On Wednesday evening, Persad-Bissessar had not yet responded to the email.

17 October 2010 –

It gets better

[I tried to make an It Gets Better video, but it didn’t work. If I spoke it sincerely I kept bursting into tears, and speaking it insincerely sounded robotic and terrible. I am much better with the written word, so inspired by Tom, here’s my contribution. This is a message to gay kids. You can read it if you’re not a gay kid, but you’re not the intended audience.]

Hi. So I know this is several paragraphs long and you were born into the age of YouTube so you may not get to the end of this. In which case, here’s the summary: it gets better. It’s really bad now, it may even get worse, it will become unbearable, but somehow you’ll bear it anyway. And then it will get better. When I was fifteen and sixteen, I thought about suicide quite a lot. Not vague unfocused intentions, but specific plans of where, when, how high up I would start and how hard I would hit the ground. I was going to do it because I had realized I was gay, and I couldn’t face it. My parents were pretty conservative, especially my father, and I lived in Trinidad, a small island in the Caribbean with a whole lot of religions, most of which were pretty clear that being gay was a bad thing.

My school didn’t help. It was an all-male, Catholic school run by priests. It was an all-day machismo competition and intensely homophobic. I was already unpopular for being a geek; I was already getting beat up every day, even before I realized I was gay. So I couldn’t come out, I was sure of that. I was sure my parents would disown me, my few friends would reject me, my school would expel me. And I couldn’t leave, literally. On an island, there is nowhere to run to.

I already knew that after school I would be leaving the island to go to college. But that was three years away — three years! An unbearably long time to endure the hell of knowing I was a sick pervert, of hearing friends belittle each other constantly for the slightest hint of less-than-total masculinity. Of hating myself for being unable to change myself to be "normal". I wanted desperately to be just be normal. Most of all, I wanted to kill myself because I couldn’t see how things would get better. As far as I could see I had fucked up my life. My plan had been: school, college, job, wife, kids, retire. Now that whole plan was derailed. I felt like I had lost everything I was looking forward to. I didn’t know anything about gay people except that a lot of them seemed to get AIDS, and that a lot of people hated them.

And that’s why I’m writing this now. Because I was wrong, totally wrong, about all of that stuff. And because what I really needed then was someone who knows the stuff I know now to turn up and tell me that things would be okay, that it would get better. To tell me it was worth hanging on. I found those people when I got Internet access, via the Youth Lists. The love and support of my friends on that list saved my life. But lots of gay kids don’t find those people, and they do terrible, drastic things that break my heart every time. So I am adding my voice to the chorus, hoping you can hear me: it gets better. And here’s how.

The first step is to stop judging yourself by what you thought you had. Don’t think about the things that your being gay has denied you, don’t think about what you’ve lost. Think about what you have. Your youth, your health, your mind, your body, your potential. So much potential, to do things that are brave and beautiful and smart and funny. The reason we older gays get so upset every time one of you guys kills yourselves is because we see ourselves in you. We see the same shitty situation, and we get angry that nothing seems to have changed in those schools that made our lives so terrible. But overwhelming our anger is our grief, because we see what might have been. We cry because of all the things you never got a chance to do just because we didn’t find you in time, we didn’t try hard enough, we didn’t say it loudly enough: it gets better.

The next step is to come out. Even if it’s just to yourself. You don’t have to decide now and lock in your decision forever. You’re allowed to change your mind later. But be honest with yourself, about what it is — who it is — that you want right now, and who you want to be. There’s no right and wrong in recognizing what you want. There’s no weird and normal. There’s just you, and what makes you happy. There’s nothing more normal than just wanting to be happy.

Maybe you can come out to some friends. My friends surprised me, and they were from a crazy homophobic country, and that was fifteen years ago. Your friends grew up watching Will and Grace, and Ellen, and that awesome Justin kid on Ugly Betty, and Kurt on Glee. Even if they might not think about it, they know that it’s okay to be gay. They know that only crazy old folk really think it’s wrong to be gay, even if they sometimes say otherwise.

And, amazingly, they’ll realize that the person you were before you say the words "I’m gay" is the same person you are afterwards. They won’t abandon you. I remember when it was so hard to believe that. So tell a friend. And then another. And that’s when it will start to get better.

And after that, it keeps getting better. You can go to college, or just get a job, and leave home. That makes telling your parents easier, believe me. Once they realize that you’re not around, and them acting like jerks just because you like dick means they might never see you again, they come around. And if they don’t, then it’s their loss, and their fault, not yours. You’re not doing anything to hurt them. You’re just telling the truth, like they taught you.

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