Where’s the Gender Policy? And the really scary stuff on homosexuality?

Where’s the Gender Policy?

Wasn’t it two months ago today that Min. Marlene McDonald announced Government’s acceptance of a Draft National Gender Policy and Action Plan “not dealing with any issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation”?

The Gender Policy was announced on June 24, in time for Trinidad & Tobago’s hosting of ECLAC’s 43rd Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean (a backward sense of priorities that gspottt took note of in an earlier post)—but on July 17, three weeks later, Government missed its own schedule for laying the mystery policy in Parliament, which now stands adjourned till next week. When gspottt requested a copy of the document, we were told it would be released to citizens or stakeholder groups only after it’s laid in Parliament.

So when does the public get to see what’s actually in this much-debated Policy? It’s been five years since a draft with 218 recommendations (developed in an extensive consultation process from 2002 to 2004 that involved several community meetings and scholars at UWI’s gender and development studies unit) was circulated widely for stakeholder input. The Government claims to have spent the past five years having the 2004 document undergo “tweaking” by a Technical Review Committee and “further review and editing” by the Gender Affairs Division. But National Network of NGOs coordinator Hazel Brown says Government “is playing hide and seek with their sanitised version” of the Policy, which “cannot…be hidden from the public view any more. No one knows what was removed or added in…secret. We want to see it. Why are they hiding it?” The Network has called for a user friendly version of the Draft Policy to be published in the papers.

We can’t tell you what’s in the new, “not dealing with” version of the Policy, but we can offer gspottt readers a special preview of all the really scary stuff on homosexuality that’s caused the Policy to turn into such a national mess in the first place.


When the Policy was first released in draft form for public comment in 2004, anti-abortion Christian groups Lawyers for Jesus and Emmanuel Community and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), raised a vociferous alarm. One of their key concerns was that the Policy would ease access to abortion as a reproductive choice for pregnant women. Same-sex marriage, something that was mentioned nowhere in the policy, mysteriously became a second lightning rod. Using tactics borrowed from the US Christian Right, the Policy was cast broadly as promoting “new standards that have been set by international bodies insensitive to, and at odds with our varied local cultures, and religious and moral beliefs”, which it was “glaringly evident” would compromise our laws, “Catholic News” wrote.

But what was the language about homosexuality in that 2004 draft that was so frightening or revolutionary as to provoke such sustained controversy? Where are the recommendations with which the document was supposed to be “littered…, many of which are driven by an international agenda, which are not in keeping with the religious doctrine of many of our people in TT”?

They were totally made up! The following five passages are the only ones that CCSJ, by its own admission, has been representing as “an underlying theme running through the draft policy that TT society should legitimise same sex unions/relationships between persons with alternative sexualities”.

Click and read the actual language for yourself! Continue reading “Where’s the Gender Policy? And the really scary stuff on homosexuality?”

When history is written

Two years ago today, two young men who were lovers got in a maxi and drove in the rain from Ste. Madeleine to St. Clair to meet with an excited group of gays who had come together in an unprecedented way across race, class and gender, inspired by the stories of the past month about de maxi driver in de papers who was boldface enough to sue the stateand win. Years from now, when the history of this period is written, perhaps that lawsuit and that meeting will be markers of the birth of a new era in GLBT history in Trinidad & Tobago.

clip_image001Dear Friend:

I am writing to invite you to a meeting on Sunday August 11th [2007] that could be a cornerstone of an exciting new phase of community building and organising around sexual orientation in Trinidad & Tobago.

You may have read in the newspapers on July 4th about a case involving a young man from Ste. Madeleine who won a court judgment against the Trinidad & Tobago police force after hours of detention, humiliation and abuse in 2000. The Express accurately reported that the abuse was related to his sexual orientation. Kennty Dave Mitchell was later the subject of a feature story in the Trinidad Guardian on July 21st in which he talked about marking Gay Pride month by speaking out for all the gay people without a voice, and about the need to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to include protections for gay people.

We reached out to Kennty and he and his partner drove up from South to meet with four available community members in Port of Spain on August 1. They talked about their keen interest in using the case as an opportunity to mobilise public support, rally the gay community, raise funds and increase political pressure. Kennty is also planning a series of appearances in the electronic news media, a blog, and has some creative ideas for next year’s Carnival season. We talked about the potential of the case to foster a new kind of community-building, to strengthen public understanding of the connection of sexual orientation discrimination to other forms of prejudice and victimisation, and to expand legal protections of rights.

On August 11th Kennty and Keno [Kinno] have agreed to meet with a wider crosssection of community stakeholders who are interested in taking advantage of the opportunity related to this case and the public attention it can generate. We are coming together to find common ground and work collaboratively to move a manageable number of educational and political projects forward. We would like you to participate in the meeting, to lend your resources and ideas to the work ahead and to help us identify other key community stakeholders whose perspective or participation would be helpful. The following ideas emerged from our last meeting:

  • immediate work to get Kennty’s story on radio and television
  • creation of an internet site to facilitate conversation and public communication about the case
  • a fundraising event to acknowledge Kennty and raise money for public education and advocacy projects
  • a series of public activities around the nation (consultations, forums, addresses, etc.) to mobilise gay community and educate the public about common interests

Please join us at 5:00 pm on Sunday at 13 Rust Street, St. Clair (one block north of Tragerete Rd., btw. Maraval Rd. & Gray St.). We look forward to your collaboration on this timely project. If you need further information, please reach us at…

Click below to read the meeting notes
Continue reading “When history is written”

A more just vision of sexual orientation

chopped gay man 42 times; freed by CJ Sharma
Marvin Marcano: chopped Christopher Lynch 42 times, freed by CJ Sharma

Just a few years ago, the courts in Trinidad & Tobago were not a  place GLBT people looked to with much hope of justice on matters of sexual orientation. Some of you can remember the feeling in your stomach the day your heard or read about then Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma’s 2002 verdict releasing back onto the street a man who’d been previously charged with murder and who had taken a Chinese chopper over 40 times to a gay man, splitting his skull and chopping his face open—and had been sentenced to hang for it. Marvin Marcano and a friend, both teenagers at the time, had shared drinks and watched TV with 58-year-old Christopher Lynch before something sexual triggered the violence. Margot Warner who retired recently and Wendell Kangaloo, still on the Appeals Court bench, joined CJ Sharma’s judgement. Whatever the issues of procedural fairness in the trial, there was no forgiving what Sharma read from the bench about a homosexual advance providing justification for such a crime: “The acts themselves were so unnatural that they would have caused a certain reaction,” he said.

But the Court may be changing. Three new justices are about to join the Appeals bench, Humphrey Stollmeyer, Gregory Smith and Rajendra Narine. Sat Sharma left the CJ role under a cloud, and Trinidad & Tobago now has its youngest Chief Justice in history, Ivor Archie, a man who from all appearances has a living, 20/20 vision and understanding of sexual orientation.

gspottt shared with you that across the Commonwealth a network of human rights experts, lawyers and activists has been strategizing and working together to bring an end to the remaining colonial-era buggery laws that we inherited from the mother country, one by one. Most recently Section 377 of India’s penal code was overturned in the courts.

In this final item in our Emancipation Day human rights series, we share excerpts from the 2006 judgment (Suratt v AG, CA 64/2004) penned by Ivor Archie on the constitutionality of the Equal Opporunity Act (EOA), and its deliberate attempt to exclude sexual orientation from the protections it offers against discrimination. Human rights lawyer Anand Ramlogan calls it “one of the best judgments written by a local judge”:

“The EOA is an unusual and contradictory statute since it appears to regard ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as having an identical meaning that is different from ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘sexual preference’. That is the only explanation for the fact that by the definition of ‘sex’ in section 3 it specifically excludes from its protection persons who claim discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or orientation, while at the same time purporting, in section 7, to proscribe certain acts motivated on the basis of ‘gender’. The current usage of those expressions, as may be revealed from an examination of any reputable dictionary, is that while the word ‘sex’ is generally understood to refer to the biological division of species between male and female in respect of reproductive roles, the concept of ‘gender’ is broader and is more of a social, cultural and even psychological construct. In other words, ‘gender’, although it is nowhere defined in the EOA, can include ‘sexual orientation’.

This may not be a fact that is palatable to most persons in Trinidad and Tobago where homosexual acts are generally disapproved and are still subject to criminal sanction, but orientation or preference is not the same as behaviour. I say this with the greatest of deference to the learned trial judge who undertook a very detailed and sensitive analysis of this point. It is not a crime to have a homosexual or lesbian orientation. In fact there is no evidence, at least in this case, that one can choose an orientation although there are those who argue that the sex towards which one’s romantic or sexual desires are focused is more a matter of ‘choice’ or ‘preference’.

It is not for this court to resolve that debate, but it is axiomatic that all legislation has to be construed and applied so as to remain in conformity with the Constitution and in particular the guaranteed rights to equality of treatment and equality before the law under section 4 of the Constitution. To the extent that the EOA is inconsistent with the Constitution it is void. In respect of the exercise of statutory powers, the authorities are clear that, in the absence of some compelling justification, it is unreasonable for a decision-maker to reach a decision that contravenes  or might contravene fundamental rights. Similarly, any law that is on its face discriminatory has to be justified on the basis of some reasonable distinction between those who are differently treated, otherwise it offends against section 5 of the Constitution. Sexual ‘preference’ or ‘orientation’ cannot, by itself, afford such a distinction. In any event, how does one determine such a thing unless it is self-confessed? It is a subjective distinction based on prejudice and stereotyping with no countervailing factors to justify it. Continue reading “A more just vision of sexual orientation”

Lyrics to make a politician cringe


Gender Minister Marlene McDonald’s comments about government policy and sexual orientation last week, and their timing days before the local GLBT community begins its fifteenth annual celebration of Gay Pride, have motivated gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of Trinidad & Tobago and their organizations to come together to form a new advocacy coalition. The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) aims to educate public decisionmakers about modern understandings of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to help the public embrace the full humanity of Trinidad & Tobago citizens of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. At last Thursday’s press briefing following the acceptance of the new National Gender Policy and Action Plan by Cabinet, Min. McDonald told the media: “We are not dealing with any issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation.”

“The Minister’s statement was, sadly, sadly 1919,” said David DK Soomarie. “Saying you ‘are not dealing’ with your own citizens is the kind of power-drunk thinking that we expect from unaccountable governments in places like Iran and Zimbabwe, not here in Trinidad & Tobago. Our vision is to build Trinidad & Tobago into a developed nation in its treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. GLBT people are fully human, fully citizens. We’re taxpayers. And our country will never achieve developed nation status when our Government leaders can stand up boldly and declare that they intend to leave out and treat as second-class whole groups of citizens.” Soomarie is a leader of 4Change, one of the coalition’s member groups that is named after section 4 (Recognition and Declaration of Rights and Freedoms) of the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution. 4Change formed in 2007 inspired by the successful lawsuit by maxi driver Kennty Mitchell after his humiliation by police officers for being gay.

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

CAISO’s plans include: a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups. The group also pledged to support efforts to provide affirming opportunities for GLBT people to practise their faiths.

Continue reading “Lyrics to make a politician cringe”