The Opposition may flirt with gay rights ideas, but the PNM “quite categorically” will not

Well, here we are… In two television interviews earlier in the election campaign, she had hedged her answers somewhat, but last night People’s National Movement Gender Minister Marlene McDonald used the party’s Women’s Platform to state quite categorically that her Party does not support policy measures dealing with or relating to the issues of same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation – and that will not change if they return to government after May 24th.

In a half-hour address on the evening of May 19th on the People’s National Movement Women’s Platform at Bournes Rd., St. James, a sweating Marlene McDonald joined other speakers in burnishing the party’s conservative stance on sexual and reproductive rights. She called the Opposition [08:17] “a sorry bunch of mamapoules”, and claimed the PNM is [09:18] “the only political party that respects and cares for…all the citizens in Trinidad & Tobago”.

Robert Codallo, Express

Moments after noting [11:14] “I am proud to say that our policy is much more comprehensive and far-reaching and cuts across every facet of national life”, she made crystal clear that [11:40] “Our draft National Policy on Gender and Development is also unique in one particular way – that is, it does not support measures dealing with or relating to the issues of termination of pregnancy, same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation. The Opposition may flirt with these ideas if they wish, but this PNM government will not. We have stated our case quite categorically. This nation has always been and will continue to be guided by the highest principles and standards of ethical and moral behaviour, and that will not change when the PNM returns to government after May 24th.”

We love you, so we take good care of you – if you’re heterosexual

The overall goal of the policy, she boasted, nonetheless, is [13:14] “to promote gender equity, gender equality, social justice and sustainable development” and “to improve the quality of life of men and women, boys and girls at all levels of society”. And she criticized the opposition’s approach to gender policy as [13:48] “very discriminatory” for not recognising men – inconsistent with a twenty-first century view of gender and “a fundamental flaw in the interpretation of what is gender issue”, she said. She later went on to show off how girls were significantly outperforming boys academically, an issue researchers have linked to homophobia.

Both sides in the election have been engaged in what one PNM candidate (who, despite a progressive record, declined a request by CAISO to offer a vision on GLBT issues to prospective voters) characterised off-the-record as “a posturing competition” that is “not in my view how such a serious matter should be dealt with”. This same PNM Government in which McDonald is Gender Minister has, for example, voluntarily undertaken commitments to protect people from human rights violations and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity in international fora on two separate occasions in the past two yearsa record we recently sought to draw attention to, in an attempt to reset the bar and make “the starting point for election campaign debate among the parties…how they will work to fulfil those existing commitments”.

Pastor Winston Cuffie embraces Kamla (Anil Rampersad, Newsday)

On Tuesday afternoon, TV6 News reported, Opposition People’s Partnership leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar attended a worship session to accept prayers and blessings for the election from the full gospel (“born-again”) Central Ministers’ Fellowship that Carolyn Kissoon of the Express reports included “over 100 leaders…[a]mong them…Pastor Winston Cuffie of Miracle Ministries, Pastor Judy Karim of Greater Love Christian Fellowship and Reverend Keith Ramdass chairman”. “But before she got their blessings”, TV6 reported,  “Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was called on to clarify her position on some controversial issues – namely same-sex marriages, the death penalty and abortion. She says these will be determined by the national referendum her Partnership has promised.” With hand on her heart, Persad-Bissessar said:

“With respect to the abortion, the same sex, and the capital punishment, I say this: As far as the law of Trinidad &Tobago stands, we must be bound and guided by the law as it stands on these issues. And if it is that the law is to be changed, then that is not a…decision of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. I share with you the view that life is sacred. But if the people of Trinidad & Tobago want to change the law, then that is why we have advocated that a People’s Partnership government would allow for what is known as a referendum.”

Innis Francis, Guardian

Increasingly hounded by the PNM to declare a stance on abortion (in their attempt to inject and exploit divisive, hot-button sexual issues in the campaign, paint her coalition as having a liberal stance and win religious voters), Persad-Bissessar had staked out this hugely problematic position in a primetime television interview on Monday night, saying in effect that she would subject decisions about a stigmatised minority’s rights to the vote of a majority vote by popular referendum.

And, according to reports by Newsday‘s Richardson Dalai and CNews, the political leader of the United National Congress actually went much further when courting the evangelical endorsement, “saying a People’s Partnership Administration did not have any intention of changing the laws of Trinidad and Tobago including that relating to marriages”, boasting “that it was a UNC Administration which had introduced a ‘faith- based and values-based education’ into the school curriculum. ‘We had begun to put into place that the curriculum should be infused with values based education’” – and appearing to justify the UNC’s exclusion of sexual orientation from discrimination protections in the Equal Opportunity Act when it was introduced in 1999:

“She recalled that while drafting the Equal Opportunities legislation, several groups had lobbied the UNC administration to include provision for same sex marriages but this was not included in the legislation.

‘We did not include that in our equal opportunity legislation. We must be bound by the laws of Trinidad and Tobago as it stands on these issues and if it is that the law is to be changed then that is not a position of Kamla Persad-Bissessar or Jack Warner or any member of the People’s Partnership, that will have to be a decision of the people…’”

Shastri Boodan, Guardian

We will rise! (You will rise only if we vote for you to)

CAISO feels proud that we’ve succeeded in some small way in making GLBT concerns a legitimate question in this election campaign, especially with the national media, who have raised our issues as policy matters in visible ways with party leaders. There’s no question that we are part of the national community and the electorate. One breathtaking but small symbol of that achievement was Marlene McDonald’s interview with CNews’s Jessie-May Ventour. Responding to Ventour’s question about policy regarding gay and lesbian citizens and repeal of the nation’s discriminatory laws, McDonald began by characterising these as “veeery sensitive issues”. “They’re human rights issues,” Ventour shot back instantly.

We recognised some risk in raising GLBT issues in a high-stakes election: that we might lose, provoke reactionary responses, harden opposition,  suffer setbacks. Time will tell. But we also recognise that our intervention has prodded both parties to take positions, define some measure of difference between them; and that may be better than the protracted waffling that had characterised both sides.

The work will continue as GLBT voters gain greater knowledge and courage to raise our issues directly with the individual candidates who want to represent us, as one brave lesbian voter did with both Keith Rowley (PNM) and Rocky Garcia (COP) earlier this week as they visited her home in the Diego Martin West constituency. Both candidates’ responses demonstrate how much work needs to be done. But they also demonstrate that it is possible to start the conversation.

Do you know where your candidates stand? Have you asked?

As Verna St. Rose-Greaves has reminded us each time we have heard her talk about GLBT issues during this election, there is still much figuring out to do regarding how we best conduct this political discourse – how GLBT communities partner with others in contributing to building a new democracy that is respectful of diversity and sexual citizenship – how we avoid the media’s interest in us becoming a two-edged sword – and how we recognise that this project is a long-term, incremental effort, and not only about Monday’s outcome. That was the powerful lesson in what happened last night when Gayelle’s upstart WE News show engaged Keith Rowley with our voter’s story, and he, sadly, called her a liar. If he wins, Dr. Rowley’s will be one of the first doors CAISO knocks on after May 25th.

Vote your vision this Monday!

9 thoughts on “The Opposition may flirt with gay rights ideas, but the PNM “quite categorically” will not

  1. I hope that everyone from the GLBT community is paying close attention to what this new government said regarding rights for members of our community (Daily Express, page 3 and 16, 17.02.2011 It is clear that the idea that they would acknowledge “us” or even amend the constitution so as to make it more progress was just a stunt to gain votes and “win” our hearts and fingers stained in red ink. I praise Independent Senators Dr. James Amstrong and Corrine Baptiste-McKnight for taking a stance and highlight the need for our laws to be more progress (in that same sex couples and common law relationships need to be recognised when it came to receiving a deceased partner’s benefits etc…) Mr. Subhas Panday, a member of the UNC was very bold when he blurted out that “Would you reconcile that with section 52 in the book of Leviticus?”

    People need to wake up and open their eyes to what is going on!!! RISE UP!!! Politics is one bag of tricks. Commend those Independent Senators who are not afraid to speak up when injustice is taking place!!!

  2. I stongly agree gays are ppl 2 dey deserve to exprees their feelings as straight ppl do..

  3. This is really a wonderfully written and well maintained blog. Really good job! You guys and gals should be proud!

  4. If TnT want’s to be as progressive as 1st world countries than they should also give gays the same rights as Heterosexuals, Its seems TnT only wants to look like a progressive country by putting up tall fancy buildings and while society and the law is clearly backwards like 60’s & 70’s Europe and USA,
    religion plays a big role in preventing T&T from progressing like other countries who dont include religion into their politics, Just Take a look at these countries who have equal rights and have a strong economy: USA,Canada,Great britain, The rest of West European countries, Australia,New Zealand, all of these are as we call the 1st world countries where real poverty is rare,
    SO Trinidad open your eyes,Gays and equal rights for them, wont stop Trinidad from moving forwards,
    And stop saying: oooh well its a different situation in the caribbean, Last time i checked and i did not we ALL live in 2010. so stop making excuses.

  5. That’s ll well and ok what you wrote, but why no one is commenting on the fact the opposition is not so much as concern for the people but rather about getting Manning out and obtaining power.
    I say this because if you were to review the budget speech that Yetming had prepared when they had called election, you will realize that it was the UNC that came up with the idea of the smelter, and the academy of performing arts etc.
    In other words, they are just opposing, because they are not in power.

  6. I live in the UK but was born in the Trinidad , So I consider Trinidad my home land.
    Before I start I would like to say that I’m not Afro nor Indo- Trinidadian.
    Also I am not Gay but a friend of mine is.

    I was never a supporter of politics but after reading this I have decided to cast my vote against the PNM.
    My concern is only for the people of T&T and having a Gov. with such a Bias way of thinking is just disgusting.
    PNM i’m very disappointed in you.
    I pray that you fail miserably this coming election.

    PNM has always held my interest but i’m deeply disappointed in myself for not opening my eyes.

    If Trinidad wants to move forward you cannot think “backward”
    Discriminating and ignorance will only lead to the rise in hate crime .
    We do not want to become like Jamaica , where gays are killed constantly and the country applauds it.
    Even in the songs and lyrics of Jamaica’s music,hate flows like a river.
    Low class music only reserved for people who will never progress and see Gods face.

    I am Pro-Life
    I am Human
    I am Important

    You can chose your Faith
    You cant chose your Race
    You can chose your friends
    But not your heart likes.
    Gays are people too and every Gov, needs to be up to ethical standards.

  7. The PNM is trying a Republican strategy:drumming up support by appealing to people’s sense of moral superiority or correctness.. We do need to address these issues but certainly not in the space of two weeks and by calling for absolute positions to be declared. The referendum approach has its own challenges for sure but it demonstrates a critical difference in the styles of these two parties. Let’s just say I know who I’m not voting for and I’ve known it for the past couple years.

    Still I wonder whether it will all backfire to some extent. Surely many PNM (like Catholic) women have had abortions. Surely many PNM people are glbt. Or will they all vote against their own self-interest like poor Republicans did for Bush.

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