When history is written

Two years ago today, two young men who were lovers got in a maxi and drove in the rain from Ste. Madeleine to St. Clair to meet with an excited group of gays who had come together in an unprecedented way across race, class and gender, inspired by the stories of the past month about de maxi driver in de papers who was boldface enough to sue the stateand win. Years from now, when the history of this period is written, perhaps that lawsuit and that meeting will be markers of the birth of a new era in GLBT history in Trinidad & Tobago.

clip_image001Dear Friend:

I am writing to invite you to a meeting on Sunday August 11th [2007] that could be a cornerstone of an exciting new phase of community building and organising around sexual orientation in Trinidad & Tobago.

You may have read in the newspapers on July 4th about a case involving a young man from Ste. Madeleine who won a court judgment against the Trinidad & Tobago police force after hours of detention, humiliation and abuse in 2000. The Express accurately reported that the abuse was related to his sexual orientation. Kennty Dave Mitchell was later the subject of a feature story in the Trinidad Guardian on July 21st in which he talked about marking Gay Pride month by speaking out for all the gay people without a voice, and about the need to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to include protections for gay people.

We reached out to Kennty and he and his partner drove up from South to meet with four available community members in Port of Spain on August 1. They talked about their keen interest in using the case as an opportunity to mobilise public support, rally the gay community, raise funds and increase political pressure. Kennty is also planning a series of appearances in the electronic news media, a blog, and has some creative ideas for next year’s Carnival season. We talked about the potential of the case to foster a new kind of community-building, to strengthen public understanding of the connection of sexual orientation discrimination to other forms of prejudice and victimisation, and to expand legal protections of rights.

On August 11th Kennty and Keno [Kinno] have agreed to meet with a wider crosssection of community stakeholders who are interested in taking advantage of the opportunity related to this case and the public attention it can generate. We are coming together to find common ground and work collaboratively to move a manageable number of educational and political projects forward. We would like you to participate in the meeting, to lend your resources and ideas to the work ahead and to help us identify other key community stakeholders whose perspective or participation would be helpful. The following ideas emerged from our last meeting:

  • immediate work to get Kennty’s story on radio and television
  • creation of an internet site to facilitate conversation and public communication about the case
  • a fundraising event to acknowledge Kennty and raise money for public education and advocacy projects
  • a series of public activities around the nation (consultations, forums, addresses, etc.) to mobilise gay community and educate the public about common interests

Please join us at 5:00 pm on Sunday at 13 Rust Street, St. Clair (one block north of Tragerete Rd., btw. Maraval Rd. & Gray St.). We look forward to your collaboration on this timely project. If you need further information, please reach us at…

Click below to read the meeting notes

Eating a strange tea ring from Hilo, fifteen people stuffed into a donated conference room at a St. Clair advertising agency on a rainy Saturday afternoon, August 11th, inspired by Kennty Mitchell’s successful lawsuit after his humiliation, abuse and detention by the Princes Town police, and by his subsequent speaking out “for all the gay people without a voice” in support of protection against sexual orientation discrimination. The space was supplied by Dave Williams, the snacks by Joel Simpson, and Sharon Mottley brought a flipchart.   We were young and white-haired, women and men, from the North, South, East and West, community advocates, students, university workers, unemployed, artists, filmmakers, media hosts, party promoters, taxi drivers, social workers, NGO leaders, attorneys, HIV professionals, HIV-positive, businesspeople, writers, biological and adoptive parents, single, coupled, Trinbagonian, from elsewhere in the Caribbean, former and current US residents.

Our goal was to discuss how Kennty’s case could provide an important (and some said unique) launchpad to rally the gay community, celebrate together, educate the public, raise funds, engage in successful political advocacy to expand rights; and how, by working together, we could seize on those opportunities. Some of us were wide-eyed with the promise of the moment; others more skeptical that the effort would fizzle, like others had before. Some cautioned about paying attention to history; others counselled to let those unburdened by history lead us to places we might not imagine. We introduced ourselves to each other, talked about why we were there, and the histories, current connections and hopes we brought with us. Kennty shared his story and answered our questions. We had an agenda, but didn’t really follow it after a certain point.

We talked for some time about the Equal Opportunity Act, a bill introduced by the UNC government and passed by Parliament in 2000, overturned by the courts in 2005 as unconstitutional, and recently reintroduced in revised form, and currently in committee. We clarified that the goal and value of the legislation is to create a tribunal to which victims of certain forms of discrimination could bring their grievances and that could investigate these complaints, and award compensation and redress; currently to pursue a discrimination claim a person has to do what Kennty did: hire a lawyer and go to court, which is expensive and burdensome. However, both the original legislation and the bill currently in Parliament explicitly exclude sexual orientation discrimination from their provisions. We talked a bit about the Court of Appeals decision that overturned the 2000 Act, and language in that decision addressing the exclusion of sexual orientation from the bill that says that doing so is unconstitutional; but the decision also raises potentially confusing distinctions among sexual preference, sexual orientation and sexual behaviour that we will need to get back to. We didn’t make any group decisions about taking action with respect to the pending legislation, either immediately or in the future.

We talked about a lot of overlapping things, including: police accountability; the buggery laws; HIV-related discrimination in hiring; insurance companies using sexual orientation in their underwriting and the consequence of making false statements on enrollment forms; companies that currently do not do ask such questions when you apply for insurance ; measures those with the resources to do so might use to get around the current discriminatory provisions and how we can share such tips with each other. We talked about bias in the judiciary and increasing activism among religious conservatives in Trinidad & Tobago, including Lawyers for Jesus and their meeting in Tobago and the Rio Claro Bibleway Pentecostal Church, which recently distributed an anti-gay tract on the streets of San Fernando.

We ended the meeting by each expressing what goal we wanted to work on together next, and we made an attempt to identify areas of agreement and synergy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s