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:
- 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
- §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
- §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
- §1.11 Name the GLBTI community as a special interest population, as the Policy does for youth, the elderly, and disabled people
- §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
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.