Gays, lesbians take to streets today

Outlaw age, HIV and sexual discrimination! That’s the message to legislators which T&T’s gay community will “parade” through Port-of-Spain today when they will stage their second annual commemorative walk against homophobia and transphobia. The walk will particularly urge Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) members and parliamentarians to outlaw age, HIV and sexual-orientation discrimination. “The goal of the walk is to raise awareness about and to urge decision-makers to ensure everyone is treated equally and given the same human rights protections as other citizens,” says Colin Robinson, executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO). CAISO last year headed the effort by T&T’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gender communities to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia for the first time. Members had observed the anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s May 17, 1990 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

CAISO members visited ministries delivering gift packages, including T-shirts, to raise awareness of the shared costs of prejudice. This year, Robinson said, the groups were focused on equal opportunity legislation stalled in Parliament for the past year that would modernise the 12-year-old Equal Opportunity Act. This anti-discrimination statute expands the Constitution’s promise of equality and access to justice. The groups’ message is to “Add All Three”, to include in the law protection against discrimination, based on someone’s HIV status, their age and their sexual orientation. In today’s walk, they will drive home their message by first visiting the EOC commissioners at one end of Wrightson Road. They will then take their message to the Parliament Building at the other end of Wrightson Road where legislators will be attending today’s House of Representatives session from 1.30 pm. Group members want to greet MPs entering Parliament. Robinson said the groups wrote months ago asking to meet with Government to offer input on equal opportunity legislation but have not been responded to. Robinson said: “While over 50 countries outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in their laws or constitutions, including states that still have sodomy laws on their books, T&T’s anti-discrimination statute, passed by the United National Congress, discriminates expressly against gay people, specifically writing them out of the law’s protection.”

He added: “Hundreds of postcards and letters have been sent to the Office of the Prime Minister about the legislation. “This past March, however, Government told the United Nations Human Rights Council that it ‘seeks to recognise the human rights of all citizens,’ which includes the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community” The groups want the EOC to undertake a study of discrimination in T&T, based on sexual orientation; to convene hearings to listen to the experiences of LGBT people; and to recommend to Government that sexual orientation be included in the equal opportunity law. They also urge the commission to strengthen confidentiality protections for vulnerable complainants. Robinson added, “All these things the Equal Opportunity Commission is empowered to do but has declined, saying no one has filed complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which victims are forbidden to do by law.” Today’s action will launch an extended campaign by the groups on the issue, including the release of a video, Ok2byou, celebrating the value of diversity in T&T. Parliamentarians will be invited to be part of the video recording. While CAISO alone marked last year’s International Day against Homophobia, this year Robinson said the group was not alone. He said other groups involved in today’s march include the Family Planning Association, Free Pride Foundation, Friends for Life, MSM No Political Agenda, the Silver Lining Foundation and the Women’s Caucus of T&T. Robinson added; “This reflects the growing number of NGOs, the strengthened interest in advocacy and government in the LGB community, and the mainstreaming of opposition to homophobia.”

Groups say: “The Silver Lining Foundation is a response by young people to the ways in which homophobia in school systems and in society, and bullying, based on perceived sexual orientation, prevent young people’s healthy sexual and emotional development. One of the group’s founders, Jeremy Edwards, said: “It sometimes results in tragic outcomes, as it has with friends of mine. “Young people are standing up to make change. We need the country’s leaders to follow suit. Laws that punish discrimination based on sexual orientation in education are one essential plank in the solution.” Tamara J Sylvester, a lawyer with Tell Your Story T&T, added: “The Equal Opportunity Act touches and concerns everyone. It is about equality for all of us in law, not just any one group.”

Source – Guardian Media