Caribbean Groups Join International Community in Saluting Murdered African Human Rights Worker David Kato Kisule

Photo: Mark Hofer, Agence France Presse/Getty Images

Caribbean associations working on reproductive, sexuality and HIV issues have issued a brief joint statement of condolence and tribute to the life of slain Sexual Minorities Uganda human rights defender David Kato Kisule. The statement, signed by over 30 groups in 16 territories, calls attention, in the United Nations Year of People of African Descent, to David’s international inspiration as an African defender of sexual rights. It notes the continuing danger that sexuality and the human rights defenders who work in this area face in the Caribbean and elsewhere; and Governments’ failure to champion people’s freedom over their own bodies when it comes to sexuality.

Across the Caribbean, those of us who knew Sexual Minorities Uganda advocacy officer David Kato Kisule as a friend, as well as those who only read of his work, are deeply moved by his powerful and courageous life. As fellow sexual rights advocates, we convey deepest condolences to all his loved ones and fellow activists on his awful murder. We have been horrified by the inhumanity and hysteria of Uganda’s parliamentary, media and clergy campaigns to deny gay people like David the simple right to liberty, privacy, dignity and joy. We join others throughout the African diaspora in our pride in David’s conviction and passion as an outspoken African champion of sexual autonomy – even when it put his liberty and life in great danger – and his record as an internationally recognized human rights defender. His inspiration stretches around the globe to those who also struggle against ignorance, indifference and violence to create countries and a world where everyone can enjoy our sexuality as something good and wholesome and worthwhile, free from shame and coercion.

Were it not for advocacy late last year, 13 Caribbean countries would have allowed “sexual orientation” to be removed from an international statement of commitment to protect persons from unlawful killing because of who they are. David’s death, following threats against his life, is a gripping reminder of the importance of those protections, and a sobering one of how much more work needs to be done to give people the right to freedom over their bodies in places like Africa and the Caribbean, where battles against slavery, colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide, gender inequality and religious persecution ought to have taught us better lessons. David’s life and death are reason to renew international commitment to sexual rights, to increase our vigilance for our colleagues in danger in Uganda. We respectfully urge Uganda’s politicians, media and clergy and international Christian advocates who have become entangled in this hostility to seize the opportunity to bring an end to yet another painful chapter of intergroup violence in Africa.

AIDS Action Foundation – St. Lucia • AIDS Free World • ALFA: Alternative Life Foundation Aruba • Alianza GTH – República Dominicana • Amigos Siempre Amigos – República Dominicana • ASPIRE: Advocates for Safe Parenthood-Improving Reproductive Equity – Trinidad & Tobago • Barbados Family Planning Association • Belize Family Life Association • Belize National AIDS CommissionCAISO: Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation – Trinidad & TobagoCaribbean Family Planning AffiliationCaribbean Harm Reduction CoalitionCaribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition • CariFLAGS: Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities • DiBo: Diversity Bonaire • DominicaChaps • Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago • Foko Curaçao Pride • Fondation SEROvie – Haiti • GrenCHAP – Grenada • J-FLAG: Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays • MOVADAC: Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee – Barbados • Pink Orange Dutch Caribbean LGBTI Alliance • Pride In Action – Jamaica • RevASA: Red de Voluntarios de ASA – República Dominicana • SASOD: Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – Guyana • SASH Bahamas: Society Against STIs & HIV • Tjenbé Rèd: Fédération de lutte contre les racismes, les homophobies & le sida issue des communautés afrocaribéennes • UniBAM: United Belize Advocacy Movement • United and Strong – St. Lucia • Women Against Rape, Inc – Antigua • Women’s Institute for Alternative Development – Trinidad & Tobago • Women Way – Suriname

The statement has appeared, among other places: GBM News, Guyana Chronicle, International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region News Update, International Resource Network, Kaieteur News (Sun. 31 Jan, p. 48), SASOD blog, St. Lucia VoiceTjenbé Rèd

Who will protect you?

Feeling safe?

“Trinidad and Tobago hardly seems a likely battleground for America’s culture wars,” a Georgetown University professor wrote for the Washington Post/Newsweek recently.

“But recent months have seen a drama there involving visits by American pastors with an anti-gay agenda…[and] a response by locally based rights groups…The story begins with announcements of a planned visit by American pastors sent by His Way Out Ministries…a group based in Bakersfield, Calif. … As reported in a Trinidad and Tobago newspaper, the visit’s purpose was pretty clear: ‘Local Christian groups…have declared war on the issue of same-sex attractions…

“a local group, CAISO…were especially concerned by…plans to target young people with an anti-gay agenda. …CAISO was aware of the devastating impact U.S. evangelical groups had in Uganda, where a legislator proposed an anti-gay bill imposing the death penalty for some forms of gay sex…Trying to prevent the HWO visit seemed unwise and probably futile. CAISO alerted public health, HIV, and youth welfare officials to their concerns about the likely damage the visit could do to sexuality education and the effort to combat stigma and discrimination. They challenged leaders to stand up.”

So we did in fact:

And here’s how our Ministry of the People & Social Development – the one where the Prime Minister pledged “any interest group who believes their legitimate cause is not being heard by the relevant authorities” and “feel their needs and pleas for help are being overlooked or ignored by the authorities” can “take their grievances and be heard” – responded. We thought you wouldn’t believe it unless you read it in their own words.

Well, at least they didn’t say the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would protect us. They abstainedtwice – on the issue of whether people at heightened risk of murder, assassination or execution because of their sexual orientation deserved mention in a United Nations human rights resolution a few weeks ago. We’ll put theirs up here too when they write us another letter saying why our Government won’t protect us.

It’s a challenging year ahead educating our clueless leaders about young people’s vulnerability to homophobia and GLBT people’s vulnerability to violence. We’ll need your earnest support.

Happy New Year!

Standing up for human rights

Published: Saturday | January 1, 2011

The Editor, Sir;

As CARICOM citizens, we are proud that a majority of Caribbean nations stood up in the United Nations General Assembly on December 22 and voted together, in the words of the Rwanda delegation, to “recognise that … people (of different sexual orientation) continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many … other groups”.

Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St Kitts-Nevis joined 85 other nations in voting specifically to mention sexual orientation, in a biennial UN resolution, as one ground of vulnerability for being murdered or executed unlawfully for who you are.

All but one of our Caribbean governments had supported an effort in committee by a bloc of Arab, African and Islamic nations, several of which execute gays and lesbians or would like to, to remove the reference. We appreciate their responsiveness, with the notable exception of Trinidad and Tobago, to our reasoned appeals. We salute the foreign ministries of Belize and Jamaica who communicated with gay and lesbian voters about their December vote, a welcome measure of accountability and transparency in our foreign policy.

Non-discrimination

On the other hand, the St Lucia delegation seems not to have listened to their prime minister’s pledge in Parliament this April to “stand against stigma and discrimination in all its forms” and “guarantee non-discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation”. St Lucia stood apart from CARICOM in voting no.

We, in the Caribbean, have lived largely free of the levels of violence experienced by postcolonial nations like Rwanda . But we continue to harbour a colonial mentality that some groups are more worthy than others; and homophobic killings are a reality several places in the region. We hope that, without the need for atrocity to teach us this lesson, our governments will mature in their understanding that everyone has an essential right to equality and protection because they are human.

The vote is a hopeful sign that in 2011 Caribbean governments may get serious about their commitments to these rights at home.

I am, etc.,

MAURICE TOMLINSON

Montego Bay, Jamaica

on behalf of

Dr Marcus Day & Kenita Placide, St Lucia

Ashily Dior & Brendon O’Brien, Trinidad and Tobago

Vidyaratha Kissoon, Guyana

Nigel Mathlin, Grenada

Caleb Orozco, Belize

Daryl Phillip, Dominica

Victor Rollins, Bahamas

 


 

LETTER: CARICOM citizens congratulated for vote at UN Assembly,
Dominica News Online, 31 December 2010

UN vote a hopeful sign
Stabroek News, Guyana, 2 January 2011

Proud Caribbean voted together at UN
Guyana Chronicle, 3 January 2011

Recognising gays and lesbians
Royal Gazette, Bermuda, 3 January 2011

Everyone has an essential right to equality and protection
Kaieteur News, Guyana, 4 January 2011

Region making progress
Barbados Advocate, 5 January 2011

Stand up for human rights
Voice, St. Lucia, 6 January 2011

Everyone has a right to equality and protection
Nassau Guardian, 12 January 2011

I am not only a person living with HIV… Our work in HIV prevention has to…deal with…that… I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country

Human Rights and HIV – Living Positively

It is indeed a privilege and an honour to stand before you as a person living with HIV on such an auspicious occasion. I am not only a person living with HIV, but I am currently serving as coordinator of an HIV/AIDS NGO, Community Action Resource, better known as CARe. I  pride myself on saying that I am one of the success stories that have come from this organisation; and it’s an honour to be able to serve the needs of who I fondly call “the community of care”, as I am deeply indebted to this organisation, for when I entered its doors I was literally a “walking dead.”

Since our relocation to our new home in September this year, we have seen a steady increase of newly diagnosed persons accessing our services. Our support group, for example, grew from a number of five to twenty in the space of three months. But, with this success, comes the grim face of reality. Realities of people newly diagnosed which reveal patterns of social and economic inequity. One member lost her job because her workers discovered that she was HIV-positive. Her story indicates that the discrimination began within the health care system – one of the nurses revealed her status to a co-worker, who had come to see her (the member) at the hospital for a totally unrelated illness. The nurse, on seeing the co-worker giving the member a casual goodbye kiss, told the co-worker that she should not have done something like that because the patient has AIDS. The co-worker told the other workers at the member’s workplace, who began to shun her, and in one instance one staff member refused to drink from the same cup as the member did. One day the member called in sick, and the boss called her half-an-hour later letting her know that she was no longer needed. Other members have no steady means of income. Some are unable to have at least one meal a day, much less to ensure that it’s a nutritious one. These issues impact on the individual ability to adhere to their anti-retovirals, as some require that they be taken with a meal.

At CARe, we have made a conscious decision to not play the victim role, but we see ourselves as a community that seeks to deepen its relationships with key stakeholders in order to ensure greater access and decrease levels of economic and social and gender inequity. We are not just a support group, but one that seeks to empower people living with HIV who can demonstrate leadership at any and at all levels of society. It cannot be underscored the value of this work and the need for it to be sustained and supported.

Indeed we are becoming more intuitive and responsive to the society we live in. We understand that we are all in this together – regardless of race, age, class, gender, and sexual identity.

David Soomarie, Coordinator, Community Action Resource (CARe) - Photo: UNAIDS

I am also a member of another community. A community that for far too long have been misunderstood, judged, stifled, or to put it simply: oppressed. A community that, despite its oppression, has managed to contribute to the rich tapestry of a nation’s identity through art, culture, media, and fashion. A community that diligently works in all sectors of labour, be it industry or commerce. A community oppressed by ignorance and religious bigotry. A community labelled outlaws who have no “equal opportunity” in a nation that has written in its national anthem “Here every creed and race find an equal place.”

I speak of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Our archaic laws have driven the lifestyle and culture of these groups underground, forcing many to engage in risky sexual practices, forcing others to lead double lives. Our work in HIV prevention has to move beyond short-term interventions and condom distribution. It has to deal with issues of internalised stigma and shame that one feels living a lifestyle that is “different.”  It requires a reengineering, a deeper understanding of the many sub-cultures that constitute these marginalised groups. It demands a stronger partnering with members of civil society who engage meaningfully with these communities; and a clear demonstration of leadership from the powers that govern us.

In closing, I am not limited by my HIV status or my sexual identity, nor should i be judged by it. I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country, one who is passionate about equality, justice, community and country. I long for the day when I can truly believe in those words “here every creed and race find an equal place.” I thank you.

Soomarie shared the panel with Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Hon. Rodger Samuel

Must-see video: CAISO’s Brendon O’Brien on ieTV’s “1 on 1” with Vernon Ramesar

The interview aired October 27th, 2010 on FLOW Channel 1. Ramesar writes:

Brendon is only 20 and, being a spoken word poet, very charismatic and a good communicator. His passion for fighting for equal rights was palpable and I think it made for an interesting interview. Heck, just having someone young talking about the subject in these parts is interesting enough. We discussed why there is suddenly a voice on the subject now and how social networking is a powerful tool for organizing young people. He seems very confident…the movement for changing the society here will grow from strength to strength as he noted that people of all orientations are joining in.

A high-resolution M4V file of the video can be downloaded on Vimeo.

Lying, ducking and hiding

This post has been repeatedly updated since its publication. It was last edited 13:27 Oct. 30.

click for a musical farewell to Pastor Lee

Lying

“We are not here to fight anybody, but make no bones about it, there is a war”

– Judith Henry-Porther, organizer of His Way Out Ministries T&T visit

Make up your mind, Judy! A few days ago you were crying foul and cussing out Debra John at the Express for saying you “have declared war on the issue of same sex attractions”, with “the first phase of the war to be fought…through media sensitisation”. “They are militant”, Judy warns about gay people. But we find gastroenterologist Judy a really angry lady. Not someone I’d ever let in my colon. Even if she never said “war”, her face and her diction did. When she says she loves you, her lips curl.

“Legislation is being introduced”

– Judy again

When asked what legislation, who is introducing it, and what it says, they trot out the 2004 Draft National Gender Policy like a bobolee, making wild claims that it is redefining five genders, will allow people to decide their gender, and several other versions of nonsense. Most telling, though, they said at one forum “masculinity will be redefined”. Let’s hope so! The Caribbean masculinities we’ve had (horning, absent fathers, incest, domestic violence, gangs, underachievement (and, of course, homophobia)) could stand some redefinition. The bottom line for them, though, is that the Gender Policy will bring confusion and “the beginning of the end of society as we know it”. So there it is: these are the same millenarian folks from 2004, with one key difference. Then the alarm was about “new standards that have been set by international bodies insensitive to, and at odds with our varied local cultures, and religious and moral beliefs”; now they’re importing their own international folks to promote ideas about homosexuality. Read the old Gender Policy yourself, nah. We’ve uploaded our copy of the 2004 version. We read it a few times and found some pretty mild stuff on abortion and sexual orientation, which we’ve highlighted. See if you can find Armageddon. At any rate, the Policy was thoroughly sanitised by Marlene McDonald in 2009 to remove any references to either issue. We should know: that’s why CAISO formed.

“Gay people like you represent the vast minority”

– ex-gay/”reformed” homosexual Phillip Lee

Nope. Those were his words, not ours; and he wasn’t talking about himself, either. He was trying to talk about CAISO and other GLBT folks who showed up Thursday for the second time, to offer a vibrant alternative voice to his at His Way Out’s activities in Trinidad & Tobago targeting young people. In other words, he’s saying the vast majority of gay people are invisible and self-hating. Clearly he didn’t read the Express online.

almost everything they said about homosexuality

– Phillip Lee, Garthlyn Pilgrim, anyone else from Hospital Christian Fellowship

85% of gays were sexually molested as kids (no citation).

The atheist psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, who championed the 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness, recanted his views and wrote a paper saying gays can change through Christ. Spitzer did conduct a controversial research project in which Lee says he was one of the subjects. But Spitzer says Lee’s organization has deliberately misrepresented his research. What Spitzer did was find 200 people (and couldn’t find any more) who in telephone interviews self-reported they had changed their sexual orientation. 97% of them were Christian. The study has been criticized because many of the subjects, like Lee, were ex-gay advocates who had political motives in participating. All Spitzer does is suggest that a very small number of people who are motivated to change their sexual orientation should not be denied reparative therapy, but in the name of client autonomy they should be supported by mental health professionals in trying to do so, once they are counselled as to the small likelihood of success and the risk of disappointment. Some critics of the study say those folks are probably bisexual, which Spitzer doesn’t factor into his analysis.

“Sexual Heath: Truth Revealed”. Our local Dr. Garthlyn Pilgrim compiled a brochure to hand out to young people that advocates against the “physical health risks of homosexuality”. The leaflet is basically premised on the idea that in gay men’s sexual “repertoire”, the main performances are unprotected anal intercourse and rimming (which for some strange reason she repeats “3. anal oral sex 4. anilingus [sic] or ‘rimming’/oral/anal contact”); and that ‘gay sex’ carries higher risks of disease than other people’s sexual practices. Well, if you use the latest big probability sample study of sexual behaviour in the US (the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior) as a guide: 40% of women 20-49 have had anal sex, the same rate as men; and receptive anal intercourse is the least popular sexual behaviour for men who have sex with men. And why not just tell gay men not to bull without condoms or not to eat ass, instead of telling them to change their sexual orientation through Christ?

8000 times. Similarly, Dr. GP cites statistics showing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is significantly higher than in the general population. Absolutely true! And, yes, even their 8,000 times figure is “real”. Let’s take some time with this one! It comes from data from the American Red Cross seized on by the Christian Right and their media. But here’s what it means: that the proportion of gay men in the US who have HIV is 8,000 times higher than the rate of HIV among people who give blood over and over (and therefore have tested HIV-negative over and over!!). Repeat blood donors are one of the likeliest groups of people to be HIV-negative (99,999 in 100,000), since their blood is repeatedly tested, and one can no longer donate after testing positive. The general population is somewhere around 135 times more likely to be HIV-positive than repeat blood donors. Read the details for yourself, though: in AI Dayton’s presentation at a 2006 US Food & Drug Administration workshop (starting on p. 244). (When you get to the figures on pp. 250-1, however, you won’t find 8,000, but 2,000, because he’s more honest that other folks using the data). And here’s something else: Black and Latino men who have sex with men in the US have rates of HIV that are way higher than White MSM; but they don’t engage in behaviours that are any riskier. So there’s something to do with being a minority group that’s discriminated against that might be linked to HIV rates: in the Caribbean, countries with buggery laws tend to have higher HIV rates among gay men than those that don’t.

Read the studies. Added to the end of  the leaflet is a list of references from “your own” organizations, i.e. amfAR: the Foundation for AIDS Research (“ám-fuh”, according to her) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, as well as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Society of Obstetricians and the link for the Gynaecologists of Canada website www.sexualityandu.ca. When we pressed her with questions, she kept saying go read the stuff. And you should in fact go visit all these sites and read the  specific material she’s “cited” for yourself, e.g. amfAR Issue Brief No. 4 (June 2006) and the 2007 CDC HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet on MSM. But we’re not sure she did, because the Canadian site has a piece on Overcoming Homophobia and it repeatedly says:

Today, sex researchers and doctors view homosexuality not as a sexual problem but as a normal sexual difference, much like green is a normal – if fairly unusual – eye colour. What all this means is that homosexuals are no more responsible for their homosexuality than heterosexuals are for their heterosexuality. It is not a “lifestyle” you choose for yourself as much as something you discover in yourself.

So the truth revealed might be that Dr. Garthlyn didn’t really read or find these studies: she just lifted the references from a Christian Right website, like the North Carolina Family Policy Council, which is “engaged in a battle to retain the Judeo-Christian values that are the foundation of western civilization. These are the same values which supported the establishment of the United States and which are embodied in the Ten Commandments…” And it looks like she didn’t even finish the damn pamphlet: there are four dangling headers with nothing below them.

Ducking and hiding

Thanks to CAISO’s advocacy, television took a keen interest in the past few days in His Way Out Ministries’ efforts targeting young people. We’re not ashamed of our efforts, and took pains to let the media know what young people are doing in response to the visit, giving the young people a key voice in our media appearances.

But there seems to be some ducking and hiding on the part of others with respect to young people and sexuality. A newspaper photographer and two television camerapeople showed up at the His Way Out event at the UWI campus yesterday. It appears all were turned away by event organizers. Some say it’s simply UWI’s media policy,  but others say it’s Gender Studies at the university who invited the media. But neither explains why the Family Planning Association says they were the only cheese left standing in a proposed discussion about young people and sexuality involving His Way Out and CAISO youth for a Sunday morning television show on C. All the other youth organizations and government entities responsible for youth invited, it seems, couldn’t take a position on youth sexuality. I guess this requires a referendum.

UN Right to Education Special Rapporteur Vernor Muñoz said sex education is a human right

It didn’t require a referendum, however, for something deeply troubling that happened this week, not here, but in New York. While His Way Out was advertising youth activities in secondary schools and universities, Trinidad & Tobago was speaking up for CARICOM at the United Nations opposing young people’s right to comprehensive sexual education. Joining the African bloc of nations, who at least were honest that they were being homophobic, we voiced CARICOM’s position trashing the Special Rapporteur on the right to education Vernor Muñoz, and his report in which he tries to focus on “the human right to comprehensive sexual education…by placing it in the context of patriarchy and control of sexuality”. The UN itself notes that the “Committee on the Rights of the Child had urged States to integrate sexual education into school curricula.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its general comment No. 14, had interpreted the right to health as including access to education and information on sexual and reproductive health, while the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had called on States to make sex education compulsory and systematic in schools, as a means to address high abortion, adolescent pregnancies and maternal mortality rates.”

Following the Africans’ statement that “it is common knowledge that there is no universal agreement on the notions of sexual orientation, sexuality or sexual education and gender identity under existing internationally agreed human rights instruments,” CARICOM chimed in.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted with deep concern that the former Special Rapporteur had chosen to…focus his entire deliberations on a so-called “human right to comprehensive sexual education”.  According to CARICOM’s understanding, a right to sexual education, a right to comprehensive sexual education or a right to sexuality education does not exist in any internationally agreed human rights instrument, nor indeed under international law.  … Noting that CARICOM recognized the need for sexual education, the group took umbrage at the license taken by the former Special Rapporteur in indulging his personal interests at the expense of Member States.  CARICOM was also gravely concerned by the former Special Rapporteur’s attempts to undermine the following universally accepted rights:  the right of parents to determine the quality of education and to provide appropriate direction and guidance to the child in the exercise of his rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the right of Member States to educate their citizens in a manner consistent with their own cultures; and the right of everyone to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

 

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar addresses UN General Assembly on Millennium Development Goals in September|AFP

Research assistance by Nadine & Soraya

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