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”

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.

Children of God: a stunning new film about gay life and the Caribbean • Chaguanas (Sep 23) • UWI (Sep 24) • PoS (Sep 25, Oct 4) • Tobago (Oct 3)

Bahamas International Film Festival Opening Night • Miami International Film Festival • Queering Roma  Opening Night • Melbourne Queer Film Festival • BFI London Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Closing Night • Miami GLBT Film Festival • Boston GLBT Film Festival Closing Night • Turin GLBT Film Festival Audience Award Best Narrative • Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival • Fairy Tales Film Festival • Hawaii Rainbow Film Festival Best Film • Ft. Worth Q cinema Best Gay Film • Jacob Burns Film Center Closing Night • NewFest: New York LGBT Film Festival Audience Award Best Narrative • Oakland Black Film Festival Opening Night • QBC International Film Festival Opening Night • Frameline: San Francisco LGBT Film Festival • Philadelphia QFEST • Outfest: Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival • Out Takes: Dallas Lesbian & Gay Film Festival • Budapest Pride • Queer Lisboa • Out on Screen: Vancouver Queer Film+Video Festival • New York International Latino Film Festival • NewFest at BAM • Atlantic City International Film & Music Festival • MGLCC Outflix Programming • Cinema Diverse: The Palm Springs Gay & Lesbian Film Festival • Q Filmfest Indonesia • Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival • Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival • ImageOut: Rochester LGBT Film & Video Festival • Hamburg International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival • Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival • Rehoboth Beach Film Festival • Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest • Chillfest Jersey City • trinidad+tobago film festival

PLEASE NOTE CORRECTED LOCATIONS FOR OCTOBER 3rd and 4th SCREENINGS
Screenings are $25 at 8:00pm at MovieTowne (Invaders Bay/Price Plaza/Lowlands Mall)

The UWI screening is free and is at 5:00pm at the Institute for Critical Thinking

Children of God is the story of two individuals who learn that in order to live a truly happy life you have to risk speaking and acting on your true feelings, and in order to fulfill your potential you have to risk emotional vulnerability. • Set against the backdrop of a nation grappling with violent homophobia, this film tells the story of Jonny, a Bahamian artist who faces losing his scholarship at a local university, and Lena a conservative religious woman who is struggling with a crumbling marriage. • Rosie O’Donnell’s gay family cruise ship decides to have the Bahamas as a port of call. Mass hysteria divides the island in factions, as some fundamentalists lead widespread rallies. After severe beatings from homophobic bullies, and rejection from his alcoholic father, Jonny escapes from his gritty inner-city life in Nassau to the under populated and dramatic Bahamian island of Eleuthera. Lena Mackey, an extremely conservative forty-year-old anti-gay activist who upon finding out that her husband is not who he represents himself to be, believes that the only way to fix problems in her life is to limit the rights of homosexuals. She heads to Eleuthera for the purpose of galvanizing the community to oppose gay rights. • Their worlds collide. The audience is taken on a journey that is humorous, brave, shocking and a one of a kind surprise ending that will shake them to the core.

Director Kareem Mortimer will speak at the Sep. 24 and 25 screenings. Born in 1981, Mortimer considers himself as an Eleuthera, Long Island, Inagua, and Turks Island, Trinidadian boy. He wrote and served as one of the producers for the 1998 Bahamas Games documentary at the age of 17, and has worked on a number of award-winning films in the US and his native Bahamas since. These include short music documentaries for Hip Hop Nation: Notes from the Underground, the comedy Varmint Day, feature length documentary Where I’m From, short narrative, Chance, The Eleutheran Adventure, Best Documentary at the 2006 Bahamas International Film Festival, the gay-themed short narrative Float, winner of five international awards, Chartered Course: The Life of Sir Durward Knowles, and his most recent film I Am Not A Dummy. A second feature film, Windjammers, is in production, and three others in development. In January, The Independent named Mortimer one of ten directors “to watch”.

Read reviews by Angelique Nixon/Black Camera, Clay Cane/BET, and Nicholas Laughlin/Caribbean Review of Books.

UPDATE: Children of God won the Film Festival’s Jury Prize for “Best Film in the
Spirit of the Caribbean”, as well as the People’s Choice Award for Feature Film

J-FLAG stands up to CARICOM

Earlier today, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) mounted a “Stand Up to CARICOM” across from the entrance to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort, Montego Bay, site of the 31st CARICOM Heads of Government meeting, “because of the continued presence of anti-buggery laws in 11 of the 14 member states in CARICOM which contribute to discrimination, marginalization and other serious human rights violations of CARICOM citizens”. Members of the group bore placards calling for the immediate repeal of such laws and the full integration of LGBTI citizens into the CARICOM family”. The peaceful protest lasted 17 minutes before police professionallly asked the group to relocate due to security concerns.

CAISO links visiting “Our Caribbean” anthology editor Thomas Glave to T&T GLBT community

As promised, the CAISO/Bohemia gathering for film and conversation continues Sunday April 11th, with Thomas Glave, editor of the historic GLBT anthology Our Caribbean, as host. Phillip Pike‘s Songs of Freedom, the first documentary about gay life in Jamaica, will be screened, along with Coolie Gyal, Renata Mohamed‘s coming-out letter from a Guyanese woman to her parents.

Update: We’re now adding a third film: Campbell X‘s Paradise Lost, a visually beautiful work filmed through the lens of a woman who returns to Trinidad as an adult to ask what it’s like to be gay here. The most amazing stuff is the interviews with her parents. Watch!

Big appreciation to all three filmmakers and to our friends at
SASOD in Guyana for their generous support of the event!!

[SCROLL DOWN BELOW IMAGE FOR MORE]


Earlier that same afternoon Glave will generously offer a free workshop for local GLBT writers of all genders, ages, levels and genres to share in conversations about their vision and experience as writers, and participate in craft-focused exercises and critique. To register, email us or daviddksoomarie@yahoo.com.

Glave’s visit is sponsored by the University of the West Indies Institute for Gender & Development Studies. We’ll post more on events at UWI’s Daaga Hall and Nigel R Khan’s West Mall store featuring him next week.

Sexual rights: protection of sexuality as something good, natural, precious, essential – at the core of human expression…human freedom…human community

“Too often denied and too long neglected, sexual rights deserve our attention and priority. It is time to respect them. It is time to demand them.” – Jacqueline Sharpe, IPPF President
Nine-month-old CAISO was invited by our partner, the 53-year-old Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT), to be part of the first Caribbean region launch of Sexual Rights: An IPPF Declaration, a powerful new international human rights document developed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, under the leadership of FPATT’s President Dr. Jacqueline Sharpe.
UNIFEM, UNFPA and IPPF representatives joined CAISO as speakers at the March 22 forum at the Hyatt, and distinguished guests included former First Lady Zalayhar Hassanali, Minister of Social Development Dr. Amery Browne, Opposition Senator Verna St. Rose-Greaves, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine School for Graduate Studies & Research Campus Coordinator Prof. Patricia Mohammed, and several of CAISO’s NGO and government partners, including ASPIRE, CCNAPC, Friends for Life and PANCAP.
It was a wonderful experience of coalition and celebration around the forward-thinking and thoughtfully crafted vision of sexual rights that the Declaration advances. It is a bold and thorough tool that employs human rights to advance sexual autonomy, dignity and pleasure free from discrimination, and to strengthen protections from sexual violation and vulnerability. The 32-page page document is available for download in English and 2o other languages, as are an abridged version and a pocket guide in English. It articulates seven broad principles of sexual rights: sexuality as an integral part of personhood; the balance between the guarantee of protection of the rights of children and their “evolving capacity” to exercise rights on their own behalf; the core role of non-discrimination in human rights; the separability of pleasure from reproduction; the critical role of protection from harm; the relationship of individual rights to the rights of others, and limits on their limitation; and the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill sexual rights and freedoms. And it enumerates ten core clusters of sexual rights: equality and equal protection; participation; life, liberty, security and bodily integrity; privacy; autonomy; health; education; choice regarding marriage and reproduction; redress; and a tenth, which CAISO organizer Colin Robinson was asked to reflect on:

Respecting the Right to Freedom of Thought, Opinion and Expression of One’s Sexuality.

https://vimeo.com/41121522 w=727&h=409

These images have repeatedly landed in my e-mail inbox over the past two years, persistently labelled “Gay beating in Laventille”. The tone of the multiple senders who have received them before me (you know those e-mail forwards go…) is usually one of alarm. But occasionally I detect a hint of satisfaction or righteousness.

The images are of a real incident that happened on April 27, 2007. But not in Laventille. In Falmouth, a town a few miles from Usain Bolt’s birthplace in Trelawny, Jamaica. And you breathe a sigh of relief: Oh, Jamaica!

I am honoured that CAISO and I have been asked to join with all of you today in celebrating this wonderful international document, developed under Trinidad & Tobago and Dr. Jacqui Sharpe’s leadership of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, a document which affirms our shared values and beliefs about humanity and sexuality.

I am proud to live in Trinidad and Tobago, and to be part of this wonderful legacy: Of a 53-year-old Family Planning and sexual health movement. Of a feminist movement that has demonstrated leadership on gender and sexuality issues not just for women but for men and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

I am proud that none of our teenagers were detained last year and put to death by the state after having had homosexual sex, as has happened in Iran. Although, how many teenagers in Cocorite or Ste. Madeleine, D’Abadie or Rockley Vale are isolated, bullied and beat up and taunted every day at school? Or robbed as they make their way home through their neighbourhoods? Because they are seen as gay, regardless to what their actual sexual orientation or experience may be. How many of them have tried to kill themselves? This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that no one I know of is in hiding from the Islamic police, like one woman in oil-rich Nigeria, threatened with being hauled before a sharia court for lesbianism, and sentenced to stoning. But I can turn on Isaac and other radio stations any day and hear calls from fundamentalist faith leaders for the state to inflict such Biblical and Koranic punishments on people who have sex in private. This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that we have a forward-thinking Chief Justice willing to stand up to the executive, and who leads a largely independent judiciary – the very conditions in India that led last year to the overturn (in a case defended by their Government) of the use of Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalises “unnatural sex”. One much like our own buggery law, which can send a man to jail for 25 years for having consensual anal sex, not onlywith a man, but also with a woman – in their own home. This is what our fight is about when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that police will not sweep down on the Avenue tonight, as they have in Commonwealth member Cameroon, arrest the patrons of one of our not-at-all-secret gay clubs, ordering them to be anally examined for evidence of homosexual sex. Or will they, if we do not stand together and fight for sexual rights?


I was born one of Her Majesty’s subjects in the province of Trinidad and Tobago at the sunset of that brief and bright imaginary vision of association that was the West Indian Federation. Our nation of Trinidad and Tobago, now heading like me for 50, was forged in the fires of overcoming several forms of domination and repression: Colonialism, that says your land and decisionmaking do not belong to you. Imperialism, that says your resources do not belong to you and you do not think for yourself. Indentureship, that says your labour does not belong to you. And slavery, that says your body does not belong to you. And, as we know well from the history of miscegenation during slavery, when your body does not belong to you, neither do your sexuality nor your reproduction – they belong to the master.

Now that “massa day done”, we cannot replace massa with husbands; or political leaders; or the state; or laws and policies that say: yes you are free, but we will still tell you what you may do with your free body, with your sexuality, with your reproduction. That we decide from which forms of mental slavery you will emancipate yourselves, as Alissa Trotz wrote recently in Guyana’s Stabroek News, commenting on a constitutional suit by four brave Transgender citizens against a law against cross-dressing.

What is the point of a free body if it is not ours to enjoy and to share? of a free mind if we are not free to engage in fantasy and desire? of the lack of bondage if we are not free to come together in ways limited only by imagination, technology, the exercise of choice, and the rights of others. And, of course, by our age and maturity.

Continue reading “Sexual rights: protection of sexuality as something good, natural, precious, essential – at the core of human expression…human freedom…human community”

Guyanese transpeople file a landmark constitutional motion to overturn a law against crossdressing: Caribbean GLBT law reform work begins

Okay. The secret’s out. There’s going to be sexual orientation law reform in Trinidad & Tobago. We don’t know what, when or how, but the work here began last year. And it’s not just here. Across the Caribbean region, GLBT people have been working to write ourselves into our nations as full citizens. In different ways, with different strategies, at different paces. And soon you’ll be a part of it.
Our friends in Guyana took a tremendous step in this direction last week when four MtF transgenders (who had been rounded up, arrested, stripped, mistreated in detention, fined for crossdressing and lectured by the Chief Magistrate from the bench to give their lives to Jesus) in Rosa Parks fashion filed a historic constitutional motion for redress and to overturn a colonial-era law that makes it illegal if someone “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire”.
CAISO released the following statement applauding their landmark case today. In it we also indicate that we’re ready to follow in their steps, but would prefer to partner with Government to bring our country to “developed nation status” with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. And we try to move the hard work forward of helping others grasp this question of gender identity that is at the centre of the case.

T&T ACTIVISTS SAY GUYANA CROSSDRESSING LAWSUIT IS A SIGN OF POSITIVE CHANGES TO COME

In what Trinidad & Tobago activists say is just the first step in a regionwide effort to eliminate remaining colonial-era laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy and gender expression, transgender Guyanese citizens and human rights lawyers across the region collaborated last Friday to file a constitutional challenge to a law criminalising ‘crossdressing’ in that country’s high court. The motion was filed February 19, with the support of Guyana NGO Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and lawyers in Guyana, St. Lucia and at the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) on the Cave Hill, Barbados campus.

Peaches (née Joseph Fraser), one of the litigants in the case, introduces herself at the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference, held in Curaçao in September 2009

The litigants were four MtF transgender Guyanese who were rounded up in a crackdown, stripped, denied medical attention, detained over a weekend, and fined $7,500 under §153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8.02. Appearing unrepresented before Guyanese Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson in February of 2009, they were ridiculed by her from the bench, lectured that they were men, not women, admonished that they were confused, and instructed to go to church and give their lives to Jesus Christ. The 2009 cases generated considerable publicity, and there were many domestic and international appeals to the Guyanese Government to remove the law. After these went unheeded, the constitutional motion was filed Friday. In addition to raising due process issues, the complaint says the law is irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and infringes the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and protection from discrimination.

Organisers at CAISO (Trinidad & Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), who since their founding seven months ago have collaborated closely with other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocates across the region, applauded the Guyanese move. “The way I dress is a fundamental part of who I am, my way of life,” said Beverly Alvarez, who participated along with one of the Guyanese litigants in the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference in September of last year. “This case that Peaches and others in Guyana have filed goes to the heart of freedom of expression, our freedom to express our gender identity.”

Ashily Dior, another transgender activist with the group added, “It’s a well recognised medical fact that, for transpeople like me, who I am just doesn’t fit with the sex of the body I was born into. This is not a vice. Some of us are lucky to afford hormones and surgery; but many of us just can’t.” Dior recently represented Trinidad & Tobago at a regional meeting of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, where she was elected an alternate delegate for the Caribbean; and she is hoping to find work educating the public about gender identity issues. “At any rate,” she continued, “who is harmed when transgenders dress up? We are simply expressing our gender in non-traditional ways.”

Trinidad & Tobago transpeople have been on the map internationally since 1998. In a landmark case that year, after police officer Eric George arrested and attempted to strip search a 27-year-old transgender woman in San Fernando when she shoved a photographer harassing her, Lynette Maharaj, wife of the then Attorney-General, both clients of her business, represented her in a successful lawsuit.

"It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," said Falatama, one of the litigants. "I felt like I was less than human." She joined three other Guyanese transpeople, like those pictured here, in suing the State.

“Trinidad and Tobago may not be next in line for GLBT law reform, but we’re definitely in the queue,” said University of the West Indies (UWI) law graduate Kareem Griffith, another member of CAISO, reflecting on the case. Griffith played a key role in an international meeting held during the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting last year where representatives of 12 countries planned strategy for sexual orientation and gender identity legal reform efforts. In a session of that meeting held at UWI’s Institute of International Relations and featured on the evening news, Tracy Robinson, one of the U-RAP lawyers in the Guyanese case spoke about the strong prospects for a challenge to Trinidad & Tobago’s buggery laws. One of the lawyers in the recent case that overturned India’s criminalisation of same-sex intimacy also participated in the meeting.

“We’d rather work with the Government and Opposition to create thoughtful policy and amend the old laws, than use the courts,” Griffith emphasised. “We’ve begun this process with an overture to the Gender Minister to work with us, and we’re following up on that this week. But I’m afraid our politicians may be cowards on these issues. Questions of sexual orientation and gender expression must be dealt with in a mature and forward-thinking way if Trinidad & Tobago intends to achieve its 2020 vision and status as a developed and inclusive nation. It is our politicians who will determine if the road to these changes is a litigious one or a collaborative one.”

CAISO was launched last June in response to Government’s move to exclude sexual orientation from the draft Gender Policy, a move the group said reflected a “1919 vision”.

Media coverage:  Reuters (kudos for amending the language from the initial release!)New York TimesStabroek News, GuyanaKaieteur News, GuyanaWMJX Radio 100.5 FM, Trinidad & TobagoPress AssociationThe AdvocateAssociated PressSydney Morning HeraldExpress, Trinidad & TobagoBBC Caribbean NewsAlissa Trotz, The Diaspora Column