CAISO’s first Advocate Award

Something happened in July 2007 that sowed the seeds of an exciting new advocacy movement by gay and lesbian, bi and Trans people in Trinidad and Tobago – a movement that we have seen flourish over the past year. CAISO wants to recognise the person who sowed those seeds, and to acknowledge his role in making history:

On July 4th of 2007, some of us read in our newspapers about a man from Ste. Madeleine who had won a small money judgment against the Government in the courts, because of a violation he suffered from the police some years earlier. The stories told about how he had been detained by the police, stripped naked, ridiculed. Some stories talked about his size. Some of them talked about his sexuality. He wasn’t a posh middle class person with lawyer friends. He hadn’t completed a lot of school. But he was a really determined person: he ran a small business out of his home, he drove a maxi, and he’d done a lot of other things to earn a living. Three weeks later, it got even more amazing: the Saturday Guardian had a picture of the man on its front page leading to a story captioned “Give Gays Equal Rights”.

“At 29 years, Kennty Mitchell seems to have everything going for him. He is a striving entrepreneur, a community activist and is involved in a nine-year ‘common-law’ relationship. Yet, he is put down by society and verbally and physically abused by many, including the police. Why? He is homosexual. Mitchell, however, is determined to keep his head up and refuses to be forced into living his life in secrecy and shame. He has always been open about his sexuality, and now he has decided to speak out publicly. … Mitchell says he’s fed up with being ridiculed and discriminated against, and is calling on the Government to ensure gay people have equal rights. ‘Gay people are people too, they are citizens of T&T and they make a valuable contribution to the country…They should not be treated as though they don’t belong or have no rights,’ he argued. … In his way of marking Gay Pride month (July), Mitchell said he was speaking out for all the gay people without a voice. ‘We might not be able to tip the scale in the next election because we are a minority,’ he said. ‘But we belong to a family, we have friends and they all support us so it will be more than just the gay votes,’ he said.”

The fact that Kennty is a regular fellah isn’t the only remarkable part of the story. What’s equally remarkable is the public’s response: virtually all the people who wrote comments on the Express website sympathised with him, and said: Whatever your sexuality is, you shouldn’t be treated that way. That story transformed the face of GLBT organizing in Trinidad and Tobago. It said powerfully: I can stand up for myself, no matter who I am. I can stand up to the Government. I can stand up to the police. And I can win. And people will support me. And I can be visible. That story inspired gay people to come together across class and gender, race and education, age and nationality in ways we never had before. We first met with Kennty on Emancipation Day 2007; and that same group of us went on to found the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation last year.

Photo courtesy Bohemia

Kennty was harassed by the police again, and he has sued the Government again, and he has won again – $125,000 the last time.

Kennty is not an angel. He is not a perfect person. He is every one of us. He is a perfect example of how every one of us can make change. And that is why he is the recipient of CAISO’s very first Advocate Award.

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
Continue reading “When history is written”

Lyrics to make a politician cringe


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 decisionmakers 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 Trinidad & 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.

                                      a "1919" vision of sexual orientation:                                      backwards, out of touch with reality, elitist
Gender Minister Marlene Mc Donald: a "1919" vision of sexual orientation—backwards, out of touch with reality, elitist

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.

Continue reading “Lyrics to make a politician cringe”