Rwanda puts Trinidad & Tobago to shame

Ambassador to the UN Rodney Charles (Photo: Express)

We wrote our Government. We faxed. We called. We e-mailed. The Foreign Ministry. The UN mission. We thought we could rely on the People’s Partnership campaign promise that “foreign policy and its implementation must be guided by the principles of good governance, i.e. transparency, accountability, participation and effective representation”. Or their commitment to foreign policy objectives that pursue “the sustainable human development and human security of all the people of T&T”. Or their plan to pursue six targeted priorities  at the UN, one of them human rights.

But no one could tell us how our country would vote when the UN decided yesterday whether to restore a reference to sexual orientation in a resolution about protecting people from being killed for who they are. A bloc of Arab and African nations had got narrow support to remove the specific reference in a committee vote in November. Trinidad & Tobago had abstained then. The vote had received a lot of negative attention.

Foreign Minister Suruj Rambachan (UNC-Tabaquite)

Other than St. Lucia, every other country in the region changed its vote on the issue in a positive direction when pressed to take a stand for the second vote yesterday. A majority of Caribbean nations – Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis – voted Yes to including attention to sexual orientation in the resolution! And Jamaica and Belize sent clear messages to their GLBT communities well before the vote that they would not oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation. Aren’t you proud? Of Caribbean governments. And of the calibre of GLBT advocacy in the region.

But we’re a bit ashamed of our own government. The nation with one of the most vibrant GLBT communities in the region – and, we’re sure, gay Members of Parliament – sat on the fence and abstained, again. What reason could we have; and who will explain it?

However, to our delight, an African nation has a lesson for us. Rwanda understands how critically important human rights are, and what extrajudicial executions mean. And their UN delegation told their colleagues what cynically leaving sexual orientation out of the resolution for political or “cultural” reasons would do. Imagine if our Government had shown international leadership like that: sigh! Read below or listen at 01:16:39.

Olivier Nduhungirehe, First Counsellor at Rwanda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, explains his country’s vote in the General Assembly on December 21, 2010 to support an amendment restoring sexual orientation to the language of a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

Thank you, sir, for giving me the floor. Rwanda would like to explain its vote on this amendment submitted by the United States.

Sexual orientation, sir, is a concept which sparks very animated debate in the international level, at the national level, even within our families. It relates to our respective cultures, our way of living, or our religions. This debate generally relates to the definition of this concept of sexual orientation, also the criminalization of such practices, and family rights that have to be granted to people who have a different sexual orientation. This is a complex issue, and no definitive decisions have been taken internationally, and within states or even continents there are very conflicting, seemingly irreconcilable positions. Rwanda feels that sexual orientations of our compatriots is a totally private matter where states cannot intervene, either to award new rights or to discriminate or criminalize those who have such an orientation.

But the matter before us now is very different, sir. Here the General Assembly of the United Nations is called upon, not to grant family rights to people with a different sexual orientation, not to give an opinion on the criminalization of such practices, but to decide whether such men and women have the right to life. Sir, in listing specific groups such as national or racial or ethnic or religious or linguistic or even political or ideological or professional groups, the authors of this resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution have clearly wished to draw attention to high-risk groups that are frequently the target of murder, assassination or execution. We wish to alert states to the vulnerability of such groups and the reality of the crimes committed against them, and to call for prosecution of authors of such acts. Whether or not the concept is defined or not, whether or not we support the claims of people with a different sexual orientation, whether or not we approve of their sexual practices – but we must deal with the urgency of these matters and recognize that these people continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many of the other groups listed. This is unfortunately true, and recognizing this is not a call to give them special rights; it’s just recognition of a crime, that their fundamental rights, their right to life should not be refused. But to refuse to recognize this reality for legal or ideological or cultural reasons will have the consequence of continuing to hide our heads in the sand and to fail to alert states to these situations that break families. Believe me, sir, that a human group doesn’t need to be legally defined to be the victim of execution or massacre, since those who target their members have previously defined them. Rwanda has experienced this sixteen years ago indeed, and for this reason our delegation will vote for the amendment, and calls on other delegations to do likewise.

Continue reading “Rwanda puts Trinidad & Tobago to shame”

The homosexual agenda: 4. March for children’s rights

Photos: Bohemia

Like many other Trinbagonians, we want a responsible government that is going to protect and take care of all its people, and not leave some behind…a government that is going to provide for different groups (young, middle-aged, and elderly, women, transgender people, and men, gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual) according to their needs. We want a country where no one is a second-class citizen. CAISO…is a coalition of advocates, community organizers, party promoters, parents, students and organisations connected to GLBT communities in Trinidad & Tobago. We are committed to building a nation that is inclusive, forward-thinking and just…[and] representatives who will fight to ensure that:

  • every person in Trinidad & Tobago is protected from discrimination and violence and has equal access to protection by the police, the courts and the Equal Opportunity Commission…
  • all children in our nation’s schools are safe from violence and bullying, are treated with fairness and attention regardless to who their parents may be, and are nurtured to express and grow into their individual selves
  • everyone, regardless to where they live, who they are, or how they look, is able to access quality healthcare, which is delivered by personnel at all levels who treat their patients with dignity and respect
  • people, especially young people, who are pushed into homelessness by circumstances in their lives, families or the economy, or by their inability to find employment, can participate in programmes that meet them where they are and provide a bridge to self-sufficiency
  • young people in every community can grow up into healthy sexual lives as adults, free from physical or emotional coercion, abuse or violence
  • young people in our nation can enjoy a full range of opportunities and dreams without fear that certain choices or achievement are not appropriate to their gender…
  • victims of crime, regardless to the nature of the crime, are treated with professionalism and sensitivity by the police and the criminal justice system in general

CAISO’s 2010 general election brochure

Justice for all children: Will you march under CAISO’s banner?

CAISO has been invited to bring our banner and march with others for justice for children next week Saturday. Will you say yes, and march as CAISO? Originally organized as a march for justice in the unsolved case of Akiel Chambers (an 11-year-old boy found dead and sexually abused in an affluent neighbourhood in 1998), the Domestic Violence Coalition, ChildLine and UWI Gender Studies have now joined the Jericho Project to: raise awareness of the prevalence of child abuse in T&T; lobby for justice in several unresolved cases; and advocate for a modern and effective child welfare system.

Will you march? Let us know: 758-7676 ♦ caisott@gmail.com

The real story: tune in

on the set of IETV's "One on One" with Vernon Ramesar

When Phillip Lee gets on a plane on October 29th and leaves our shores, the story of the His Way Out Ministries’ visit to multireligious T&T will not be about a “reformed” American gay man who came to combat growing acceptance of homosexuality here…to deliver a message that homosexuality is acquired…reinforce the Lordship of Christ and the authority of scripture, which says homosexuality is a sin…and spread the news that no one has been delivered from homosexuality except through Christ.

It will instead be about three other stories:

  1. that the GLBT community in T&T is ready to organize and advocate visibly for equality;
  2. that public opinion in T&T is that gay people should be able to live their lives; and
  3. that young people care about something other than themselves, and that they hold a vision for citizenship that is about taking care of each other and standing up for what they believe in.

The mainstream media hasn’t been very interested in this last story. Even when the young people organizing to demonstrate an alternative local vision to Lee and his hosts’ visited media houses to tell their story, except in the case of Power 102, they didn’t think young people’s agency and vision that newsworthy. But a few journalists did. Catch the vision:

  • Thu 28 2:30pm Gayelle TV: Gayelle.com with Cedriann Martin & Conrad Parris
    streams live if you sign into Jump TV from gayelletv.com/livetv.html

  • Thu 28 9:00pm Power 102 Radio: Let’s Talk with Larry Lumsden
    audio and studio video stream live at power102fm.com

  • Fri 29 6:30am Gayelle TV: Gayelle.com with Cedriann Martin & Conrad Parris
    streams live if you sign into Jump TV from gayelletv.com/livetv.html

Resisting the war on love, Day 2: Can young people get some credit in the media? Providence!

Disappointed that their visionary, history-making action was being shut out of news coverage of the HWOM visit (whilst the media puts youth violence and violence against youth on its pages daily), young people spent Sunday afternoon trekking from media house to media house telling the story of their alternative vision of sexual citizenship to Hospital Christian Fellowship and His Way Out Ministries – one of inclusion, and solidarity, and safety from shame and stigma about sexuality.

They stopped at the Express and spoke with Rickie Ramdass; the Guardian, where editor Anthony Wilson referred them to Bobie-lee Dixon, who conducted a lengthy interview; and Newsday, where Leiselle Maraj invited them to come back on Monday. Let’s see how their editors handle the story! At the AnsaMcAl media house, they also stopped by the television and radio studios, but no producers were in.

Getting back in the car at the end of the outing, on came Power 102 with the engine, and with it a familiar phrase: “the acidity of the vagina”. As if divinely ordained, it was Hospital Christian Fellowship live on the radio. We sped up to the Abercromby St. studio, halfway through the broadcast, and asked to join them on the air. The host declined, saying it would be rude to the guests, and referred us to producer Marcia Henville to schedule our own time. The young folks stayed around, called in to the show from the studio lobby, and then waited to greet the guests (Phillip Lee and two of the HCF advocates) at the end. “Are you following us?” they asked us. Er, yes! “We know all the tactics”, Lee smiled.

We hung out at MovieTowne after, where another group, wearing their “Homosexual Agenda” jerseys for the second day too, joined us. We joked that the first item on the homosexual agenda was “Buy multigrain Crix”, said we should send a jersey to the Bermudez Biscuits CEO, shared Crix recipes, and laughed about launching a Crix recipe cookbook (the rally that inspired the shirts, after all, was scheduled for Naparima Girls) as a CAISO fundraiser. Dinner at BurgerKing was uneventful except for a few stares; but everyone ran into someone they knew, including the sister of Godfrey Sealy (who must be smiling down on us). Doesn’t this keep sounding providential?

But the providence doesn’t end there: crossing the courtyard later, who should we run into but Judy Henry (who wasn’t on the radio) and her husband Trevor, who was wearing an HCF heterosexual logo shirt, and whisked her away soon after she began to preach about the fall of the US and the rise of Europe.

How way your day in this amazing country of ours? Did you send a letter, post a comment or make a call? Thanks!

Christians declare war on love: don’t let them outshout you!

Yesterday October 23rd may have been the largest (and perhaps the first) GLBT protest in T&T’s history. Young people and a few older ones filled a “big maxi” and two cars, dressed in jerseys that announced “The homosexual agenda” of GLBT people in T&T and their allies to

1. Buy Crix
2. Spend time with family
3. Work for equality.

They almost outnumbered other attendees at the His Way Out Ministries/Hospital Christian Fellowship/Lawyers for Jesus/Emmanuel Community meeting in South, built around the visit of “reformed” gay pastor Phillip Lee. The event, titled “Sexual Health: Truth Revealed” and billed as a “sexual health seminar”, was moved at the last minute from Naparima Girls High School (did Naps reject them, and why?) to the pentecostal Prayer and Praise Open Bible Chapel in Cocoyea.

The group of young people, assembled by two 20-year-old organizers who’ll tell you if you ask that they’re straight, had assembled at UWI for the journey. Along the highway to South, the 4:00pm news on I95 radio came on, and they turned up the volume in anticipation and listened intently. They sighed at the headline “Fears Gay Rights Movement Could Take Root” in Trinidad and Tobago (Hmm: haven’t we been celebrating Pride here for 14 years now?), and the amount of time the story spent covering the voices of people saying: gay people were “militant”; gay rights had come from Europe to the US and then to Latin America (ent we’s be all never-see-come-see about things whey come from Europe); calls for decriminalization of prostitution (what dat have to do with sexual orientation?) meant it would be offered as a career to young women. They cheered when CAISO’s spokesperson talked about the divisiveness US Christian evangelicals had sown in Uganda, and that people who cared about children in T&T needed to create a country where they could grow into their God-given sexual orientation free from shame and violence. They sighed again when they expected to hear the voice of a young person who’d organized the event follow, and it didn’t.

The event wasn’t a health seminar at all, presenters made clear very quickly, but physician Garthyln Pilgrim distributed two pamphlets she had prepared which listed references to studies she said documented the “Physical Health Risks” of homosexuality (well, receptive anal sex and rimming, in fact), studies she told questioners to look up every time anyone asked for amplification. The “seminar”‘s message was straightforward: 1. Homosexuality is most definitely an acquired behaviour. 2. Homosexuality is a just another sin, in the middle of a list of others, no lesser or worse. 3. No one has been set free from the snare of homosexuality without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Event lead organizer Dr. Judy Henry, a gastroenterologist who told the crowd “I enter colons on a daily basis” (while making a case that penises shouldn’t), was engaged by GLBT supporters after the event ended. If she and her associates cared about the health and safety about young people, would they support legislation to protect them from discrimination and violence. “Legislation doesn’t change attitudes”, she snapped back, moving away.

Henry and the groups behind the rally are trying to change attitudes, the Express story the Sunday after the event makes clear: they’re in a “war” against the love practised by some of their fellow citizens, for which they’ve imported a reformed gay American as field marshal.

It’s sad the media weren’t there to show the young people at the rally,  to see them engage the organizers peacefully and respectfully and thoughtfully. Or to see them sauntering among the Saturday night shoppers at Price Plaza in their jerseys on the way back north, during a stop for dinner. But if you did, you would have been so proud. You’ll be proud, too, that these young people spent over $1,500 out of their own pockets on advocacy.

That’s the real story of what happened when people confessing to be Christians brought Phillip Lee to town: it created one of the most powerful moments for GLBT organizing and alliance-building in many people’s memory. Young people standing up for each other across sexual orientation. Sexual rights advocates rallying to the cause: ASPIRE offered their office and their media list; Family Planning reprinted their Sexual Rights Declaration in all three newspapers.

Sadly, though, it’s the out of timing message by the folks who’ve declared “war” on same-sex love (delivered at a $165 prayer breakfast) that is still the primary one in the media’s coverage. Don’t let them outshout the voices of good people!

Read and post a comment on today’s Express story NOW! Call the Express newsroom at 623-1711 and any other media houses, and ask them why they aren’t covering GLBT voices in this story? Tell them your own views about the visit. Or give them CAISO’s number: 758-7676

Send a letter to the editor about the issue:
express@trinidadexpress.com
letters@ttol.co.tt (Guardian)
letters@newsday.co.tt
ccngroupc@tstt.net.tt (Tobago News)

Make it short (one or two paragraphs) and to the point; or it will be edited. Stick to one key point. Be bold, but don’t be abusive. Include a name (of your choosing) and the area where you live (you may ask that your name not be published). Bcc us if you’d like: caisott@gmail.com