We take a pride in our liberty

Some dangerously out-of-touch “ex-gay” foreigners think there’s growing tolerance of GLBT people in T&T, so they’re coming here on an evangelical mission Oct. 22-29 to try to turn back the clock. And they’re going after vulnerable young people.

Sexual citizenship & nation-building in T&T. CAISO has been successful in our short year of existence in helping foster openings for inclusion of sexual orientation in many areas of national life in our independent, postcolonial nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Over the past year we have seen such national institutions and leaders as the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister, the Elections & Boundaries Commission and the Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as the University of the West Indies, church leaders and the national media, articulate an indigenous vision of equality, citizenship and democracy that includes people of different sexual orientation and raises questions about how we protect such persons from violence and discrimination. Aren’t you proud of your nation? We have also helped promote a robust conversation about how GLBT people here find spaces to practise the faith of their choosing. What has distinguished local engagement with issues of sexual citizenship and faith community from the kinds of advocacy for “gay rights” that take place in many other settings is that ours has been a fundamentally nation-building approach.

US Christian fundamentalists export a toxic gospel overseas. Yet, because of the promise that CAISO and our nation have shown for expanding the embrace of human rights and inclusion, Trinidad & Tobago has become a key target for one of the global anti-gay evangelical ministries whose fundamentalist gospel has become a new export of the United States. Some have compared these Christian Right Wing sects to the proponents of radical Islam, because they both see their mission in terms of a “culture war” against modern developments. “These fundamentalists are no different to the Iranian Ayatollahs”, South African activist Zackie Achmat wrote recently. These evangelizing ministries are deeply focused on regulating sexuality, and they primarily target poor women and GLBT people’s rights by whipping up fears about abortion, same-sex marriage and “same-sex parenting” as threats to the “traditional” family, even in places like Trinidad & Tobago where same-sex marriage is not even being debated. Their danger to the lives of GLBT people is well documented and real. What we’ve seen in Uganda alone, where these ministries have held conferences and trained local pastors and legislators, has been a destructive national campaign of public homophobia that has pitted Ugandans against each other and detracted from other national priorities. They helped draft a stunning piece of legislation that would imprison families for not turning in gay members, execute gay people with HIV for having sex, and also impose a death sentence on people for a second offence of homosexuality, which includes merely touching someone of the same sex in an attempt to become sexual.

His Way Out director Philip Lee received by the Head of State during the group's 2009 Jamaica visit (Photo: Office of the Governor General of Jamaica)

His Way Out targets T&T to turn back social progress. One US anti-gay ministry, His Way Out, based in Bakersfield, California, has set its sights on the Caribbean. After a few visits there, they now claim to have a base in Guyana; and during a high-profile visit to Jamaica in 2009 held a meeting with the head of state, Governor General Patrick Allen. They have publicly announced a mission to our shores from October 22 to 29 because they “believe…it is time to combat what seems to be a growing acceptance of homosexuality in Trinidad”. His Way Out is one a number of troubling ministries arising in the US and Canada that spread a gospel which acknowledges that many people experience same-sex desire, but preaches that such sexuality is disordered, that homosexual acts are unChristian, and that gay people should therefore live lives of self-denial, penitence and prayer “whereby sin’s power is broken”. They typically target young people struggling with their sexuality, and adults who have been hurt by other gay people or who experience deep conflict between their faith and their sexuality. His Way Out is part of the Exodus Global Alliance network, with which they claim to be partnering “in the development of ex-gay ministry in the Caribbean”. They also fundraise aggressively. Their activities here will include a $165 prayer breakfast. Exodus’s mission is to “effectively communicate the message of liberation from homosexuality”, and they believe Christian ministry can effect “reorientation of same sex attraction” and “growth towards Godly heterosexuality”. Prominent leaders of Exodus have since renounced its views, returned to an active gay life, and apologized for the harm they caused.

October 22-29 “sexual health” mission planned. His Way Out Ministries (HWOM) is led by Phillip Lee, a 60-year-old gay, HIV+ man who, by his own testimony, spent the 1970s and ’80s engaging in what he now regrets was destructive sex, partying and drug use, and who is coping with this personal experience by evangelizing others who experience same-sex desire about the unhealthiness and ungodliness of homosexual activity. As they have elsewhere, His Way Out is using a framework of “health” to characterize their messages about sexuality, stigmatizing what they hold out as “gay” sexual practices as unnatural and disease-prone. From November 22nd to 29th, HWOM plans youth-targeted events at Naparima Girls High School, the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, and St. George’s College; media appearances on CNC3, I-95 and other stations; and a meeting with Louis LeeSing, ostensibly in his capacity as Mayor of Port of Spain. One of their advocacy strategies will be to disseminate literature (which, according to HWOM visit organizer Dr. Judith Henry, is being prepared by Dr. Garthlyn Pilgrim) to young people and others, identifying anal intercourse and rimming as gay male sexual behaviours, and linking these to health risks.

Standing up for national values. The visit is an occasion for those of us committed to building a local culture of inclusion and progress in Trinidad & Tobago to stand together and stand up for our values around sexuality and citizenship, and to contrast them with destructive messages being exported by the United States Christian Right in the name of Jesus. The timing of His Way Out Ministries’ visit could also not be more out of touch. It follows a wake of suicides by young people across the US who were made to feel that their sexuality was bad, included among them young people from the Caribbean who moved to the United States. It follows on a high-profile scandal involving Eddie Long, Bishop of the AfricanAmerican New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, one of the largest Christian Right congregations in the US. Long, who runs an ex-gay ministry at his church and organized a public march against gay rights, has been accused of grooming adolescents he recruited from his youth ministry to have sex with him, one a young man of Trini heritage. We are planning at least five responses during the week of the HWOM mission to demonstrate our local values in relationship to sexual inclusion.

Youth voices. Public messages that reinforce stigma against same-sex desire, and that teach that sexuality is pathological, damage young people’s healthy sexual development. “Spiritual violence” is how this shaming is characterized when done with the tools of faith. Public health experts in the region have for years linked stigmatization of same-sex sexuality to the Caribbean’s runaway rates of HIV. Fear- and damnation-based messages are not effective or humane approaches to sexual health education: young people need proven, science-based HFLE methods and compassionate pastoral care that affirms their self-esteem and God-given sexuality. More importantly, there is scientific consensus that young people cannot change their sexual orientation. Young people in Trinidad & Tobago are mobilizing across sexual orientation and faith to provide an alternative, homegrown vision of inclusion and hope to their peers. They will be sharing this vision of human sexuality, and democratically raising questions at HWOM’s youth-targeted events on October 23 and 28, in ways that interrogate the vision and ideology of our foreign visitors. Contact Brandon O’Brien: nova.crux@gmail.com.

Media visibility.Throughout the week of HWOM’s visit, as well as before and after, local advocates of a homegrown, inclusive vision of sexual citizenship will take that message to the media. It is, after all, this proud local culture of inclusion and partnership between GLBT and non-GLBT people that is the real story behind HWOM’s evangelizing mission here to change things. The local goal is also to “change the channel” on a foreign group intent on cynically sowing controversy and division here using the red herring of same-sex marriage, when no such local debate exists.

Accountability. Some local institutions and offices, including ones responsible for the welfare of young people, appear to have readily affiliated themselves with HWOM, their visit and their message – a message whose content has been linked in the United States to teenage suicide as well as to anti-gay bullying and violence by young people, and which seems clearly inconsistent with sound

Photo: Keith Matthews, Guardian

public health practice or the new thrust to aggressively address stigma and discrimination in T&T’s national HIV response. Those associated with the visit include Port of Spain Mayor Louis LeeSing; Naparima Girls High School, a Presbyterian assisted secondary school; St. George’s College, a government secondary school; and the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. These institutions and related leaders (Principals Patricia Ramgoolam and James Sammy, and Moderator Elvis Elahie), as well as PNM Political Leader Keith Rowley, Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh, Youth Affairs Minister Anil Roberts, Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, Gender Minister Mary King, People & Social Development Minister Glenn Ramadharsingh, National AIDS Coordinating Committee line Minister Rodger Samuel, NACC Chair Angela Lee Loy, and National Parent Teachers Association President Zena Ramatali will be engaged regarding their commitment to protecting young people from harm, to ensuring scientifically sound health, family life and HIV education, and on their understanding and position with respect to the beliefs and practices of HWOM regarding young people and their sexual development. A few prominent local individuals also seem to have been included in the planning of the HWOM visit. It is quite curious whether they would publicly support legislative repeal of sections 8(e) and (f) of the Immigration Act, which prohibit entry into Trinidad & Tobago of Lee and similar homosexuals who are not citizens or residents here.

Public education. Efforts will be made to make available for public viewing dramatic and documentary films that treat in educational and solution-seeking ways with homosexuality, discrimination, mental health and faith. These include “Children of God” by Kareem Mortimer, a Bahamian filmmaker with Trinidadian heritage, which won both major prizes at the recent Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival. The film, set in the Caribbean, dramatizes the violence and hypocrisy of religious homophobia. T-shirts with affirming messages about sexual inclusion and faith are also being produced. Get yours!

Take a pride in your liberty! Get involved in protecting the dignity and respect of all Trinbagonians. Contact us at 758-7676 or caisott@gmail.com, or follow us at www.facebook.com/caiso.

Scott Long

who worked for eight years at the leading international human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, was founding director of its LGBT Rights Program, and drew the ire of Peter Tatchell and others, as well as threats of libel suits, for his sustained, blunt criticisms of how Western gay activists and journalists engage with questions of sexual rights elsewhere, has announced his resignation in a witty and thought-provoking note:

As some of you know, in mid-July I suffered a pulmonary embolism of a fairly unpleasant sort.  While running to catch a bus on a New York street, I saw a blinding effusion of white light, amid which several spangled and bell-bottomed  figures vaguely resembling ABBA beckoned me to an eternal disco complete with spinning ball. Yanked back from their blandishments by a superior fashion sense, I spent a couple of weeks in intensive care.

The LGBT Rights Program was, and to some extent remains, an experiment: the first program of its kind at a so-called “mainstream” human rights organization. Undeniably there have been frustrations. One of the most basic splits in contemporary human rights work – sometimes mapped onto a division between “global South” and “global North,” though not quite reducible to it – is between rights as a set of legal norms, and rights as a complex of human dreams and political aspirations. The split has to do, as well, with the difference between institutions and movements, the former ones formal and developing their own standards and needs, the latter fluid and chaotic and responsible to individuals’ and communities’ desires and drives….

It was never easy. Things need to change. For its efforts in this sphere to succeed in future, Human Rights Watch – and other international organizations like it – needs a far deeper understanding of what social movements are, why they are important, how they turn human rights into living values rather than legal abstractions. It also needs a far clearer comprehension of the political contexts in which it works every day; the impotence of artificial categories to explain the experiences of suffering or joy; the intersections that are the real geography of LGBT people’s, and everybody’s, lives.

Racism, neocolonialism, Islamophobia, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, and sectarian hatred, to name only a few, are as real as homophobia for LGBT people.  They are real facts within LGBT movements as well.  A “mainstream” intervention that willfully elides this complexity is doomed to make almost everything worse.

Likewise, though, our movements need to compare their histories more closely and examine their actions more exactingly.  They must reject the temptation to be parochial, simply because others are.  They must be alert for the foreshadowings of real rather than simply rhetorical universals that glimmer through the challenges they have overcome.   Every intersection is a meeting place, as well as a divergence.

I intend to rest a bit…and write a book: based on my own experience, about what’s moral and what’s immoral about “international solidarity,” and what’s worked and what hasn’t in campaigns for sexual rights.

Five young people walked into a CAISO meeting, said they were allies, and were organizing this event: Pack the *#% house!!

“Rights? The Debate on Sexual Orientation” is a total event:
CONTROVERSIAL Debate, REAL Discussion, LIVE Entertainment, FREE Refreshments, GOOD Music, POSITIVE Vibez!!!

Conceptualized and organized by youth. Youth debaters, youth hosts, youth poets. Passion driven!!!…Where in Trinidad and Tobago has another event like this?

Hosted by the USC Debating Society, this event is aimed toward getting the youth of Trinidad to be educated, be challenged and share their views on the resolution:

Sexual Orientation is not enough to deny any individual his/her rights.

Come with your views. What do YOU think? Let’s look at the issues surrounding sexual orientation from ALL angles with respect and brotherhood at the foundation.

Sunday August 29 · 2:00pm – 8:00pm*
Malick Youth Facility
7th Avenue, Malick (2 minutes walk off Eastern Main Road)
Limited space · Dress code: Be yuhself · Age limit: 99 years old · Voluntary contribution: $10
* Debate 3:30-5:00pm • Discussion 5:45-7:00pm
Contact: Jean-Claude 686-8781, Brandon 790-5344, Brendon 472-2438

CAISO calls on the new Government

On Thursday July 8, six representatives of CAISO met at the Eric Williams Financial Complex with Sen. Mary King, Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs; Parliamentary Secretary Ramona Ramdial, UNC Member of Parliament for Couva North; staff leaders in the Ministry; in its Gender Affairs Division; and in the Youth Affairs Division of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. CAISO’s representatives included women and men, GBLT people and allies. The Minister’s goal was for the new Government and our communities to begin to understand each other. It is likely the first time in the history of Trinidad & Tobago that an official meeting has taken place between a GLBT group and high-level political officials.

Our hope is that the meeting has initiated a sense of partnership between Government and our communities. On our part, we introduced ourselves as the leading national advocacy voice for GLBT issues; described the levels and history of organising activity taking place in our community; educated our Government about policy, legislation and programmes that affect GLBT citizens; and discussed the action plan for a new Government that CAISO had promoted during the election campaign. These points include:

  • leadership in speaking out against discrimination and bias violence
  • building greater respect for minority rights, and expanding the protection of the Equal Opportunity Act to more groups who are targeted for discrimination
  • training and sensitising key government personnel with contact with the GLBT community (e.g. the protective services, social workers, health care workers) and the staff of the Gender Affairs Division
  • building a culture of tolerance in our nation’s schools, and protecting all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, from bullying, and from homophobia and its clear impact on male underachievement and healthy youth development
  • addressing the homelessness and joblessness young GLBT people experience as a consequence of discrimination, and often of family and institutional abuse
  • training the protective services to ensure equality under the law, instead of ridicule, for GLBT crime victims, and to improve responsiveness to hate crimes
  • including sexual orientation in the Gender Policy, and facilitating public discussion about sexuality, gender identity and citizenship
  • building the government’s capacity to understand and respond to the needs of thousands of its GLBT citizens.

We shared leadership actions that other Caribbean politicians have taken on sexual orientation and gender identity; and we pointed out changes in attitudes to sexual orientation and gender identity that have taken place locally over time. We raised concerns about an election campaign proposal that seemed to suggest that the Government’s commitment to protect some citizens’ human rights might be determined by other citizens, through a referendum.

We agreed to work together with the Government to create further opportunities for Government to listen to the concerns and experiences of GLBT citizens with regard to violence, exploitation, inequality, discrimination and ill-treatment, in daily life and in our attempts to access basic services and benefits, including employment, education and housing, or to exercise our fundamental rights.

And that is where you come in. Stay tuned for details about our town hall meeting, planned for late September or early October. And please turn out, with your friends and family, and tell your stories to the Government.