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.

Proud to tell it: Sean Drakes’s film gets T&T talking about pride

Proud to Tell It was a simple idea. In 2002, Sean Drakes, a self-made lifestyle photojournalist, picked up the new video camera he was teaching himself to use and travelled around the US to four Black Pride celebrations, in Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. The Black Prides had emerged as ways for African American communities in larger US cities to celebrate GLBT pride on their own cultural terms, often in more inward-focused ways that looked different from the larger, public, White-dominated Pride celebrations that occur around the country every June. Some of the Prides, like L.A.’s, had evolved from a group of friends getting together to throw a beach party.

Drakes had another simple idea earlier this month. In town to photograph Carnival 2010 professionally, he pitched to Bohemia‘s promoters the thought of screening the work-in-progress on the Pride events he had shot in 2002 for community members here in Trinidad. To Drakes’s surprise, within days an ad was up on Facebook, A/V equipment had been ordered, as had stocks for a bar. He pitched in for chairs.

In another seemingly simple gesture, Drakes thought to invite an NGO to facilitate a discussion about the film’s significance for organizing and community in T&T. His idea bounced around CAISO, where one person after another was charged to make it into something grand: tie it into our vision for a project documenting the community’s history? use it to launch a base-building effort that would lead into a campaign for law reform?

We ended up with a really simple discussion. But what a rich discussion it was!

One hundred and twenty people showed up on March 11th. They applauded heartily whenever CAISO was mentioned by name, including when we introduced our logo designer. One person boasted she had supported the group “from Day 1”. Evangelists on Isaac radio, we learned, are still quoting our very first press release.

Parade? A lot of the conversation the film generated was about how ready T&T’s is for the idea of a Pride parade. One participant reminisced back to when Pride in T&T first started 16 years ago (when the idea of march came up and was quickly dismissed), sharing that he never thought he would live to see people think they might be ready to march, as some attendees at the screening clearly felt they were. He noted the positive changes he’s seen over the years – people donating time, people of standing standing up, mainstream hospitality businesses seeing T&T Pride events as a market.

But what’s the right fit for Pride here, several people who spoke asked. Parade of the Bands, one person was convinced: community members should play mas together in the same Carnival band, perhaps in Pride colours; didn’t the GLBT Bajan posse show out here this year? And, although one person warned us to be more modest (Barbados and Suriname may challenge us in that regard), speaker after speaker talked about pride in how far “ahead” of the rest of the region things are for our community in T&T. Aren’t there ways outside of a parade to gain visibility, one person wondered: Why not have winners of the very popular gender illusion pageants appear on TV and do newspaper features.

 

"B. Conduct which adversely affects the USC community: 10. Public or clandestine meetings/relations with members of the same or opposite sex, which may include illicit behaviour such as homosexuality, lesbianism," (p. 48) © University of the Southern Caribbean

CYAISO? Students from UWI, USC and COSTAATT were all present, and shared some amazing efforts, small but brave, that they are undertaking to support each other and make their campuses safer spaces. Some are exploring ways they can share the skills and training they are acquiring with the GLBT community, offering peer counselling as a community service to others struggling with sexual orientation, gender identity and family issues.

What do we want? Nobody at all talked about same-sex marriage. Many people talked about the need to do internal work within the community to build dignity, self-respect and pride as being a priority of the first order. One young man talked about how the gender pageants did that for him. Make activities like Friends for Life’s chatroom happen more regularly, and do better work at publicizing them. Create similar activities for women. Plan workshops during Pride month. Create mentoring programmes. Routinely have information and resource tables set up at community events like the film screening. People talked about the need for legal protections against employment and housing discrimination; about the continued ability of murderers of gay men to successfully use as a defence the assertion that the victim came on to them. People told personal stories about the cost of coming out, being forced to leave home and losing relationships with family. One student shared that her school’s handbook says you can be expelled for being gay. And one person advanced the idea of CAISO forming constituency groups in each of the nation’s 41 constituencies, “like the PNM did in 1956”.

Velvet Underground. Organizer Angela Francis talked at length about the recent growth of her group to close to 1,000 members, and her vision for creating a lounge in the East providing sexual and mental health services, other community supports, and office space – as well as her challenge in getting community members to support the vision. The founder of Queen Mother touted the new blog.

Well-known people were there, and spoke up. The DJ for a controversial radio host promised to back us up with a big truck whenever we were “ready to be serious” about a Pride parade. (So don’t let him off the hook!)

The event worked so well and so simply, we’ve simply decided to do it again. And maybe again and again every month or two.

Look out for notices from us and Bohemia about something in April. Probably Sunday the 11th.


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”

Is Carnival season…six tips for safety

images courtesy Bohemia

Happy Carnival, family! Is winin season. Have real fun. But please do so safely. In blockin, in sexin, in drinkin, in drivin, in travellin, in leavin de party, in playin yuhself in public.

Welcome, too, to our foreign visitors. We’re proud of T&T’s reputation as the GLBT capital of the English-speaking Caribbean, where there’s no mob violence, little police harassment, a whole lot of social spaces, especially at Carnival, and certain people can walk down certain streets certain times in certain ways and not get bashed. But laws against homosexual sex are still on the books here (up to 25 years in jail, an HIV test, and listing in the sexual offender registry), even if they’re not usually used. And just like any other small place, public authorities and most police aren’t sympathetic to gay issues, individual attitudes vary, and you might be in trouble if you act “inappropriately”. So when you’re in public, pretend you’re in an ethnic or working class neighbourhood in your city; and listen to the natives.

Special warning: Over the past couple years an unacceptable number of us have found ourselves robbed, sometimes filmed in sexual poses, in some instances raped, and in a few cases killed by guys we met online, through A4A. These attacks were in people’s own homes as well as in strangers’ places, and not all were instant hookups. A few attacks have also happened as people left gay clubs. And Carnival is always a season of opportunity.

Unprotected – and unexpected – sex also happen quite a lot every Carnival. So make some plans. Guys: the chances the person you have sex with will be HIV+ are as high as 1 in 5; and he may not even know himself. You’ll find free condoms in most parties and events this season, but not necessarily lube and usually not dams. So walk with your stuff.

Here are six simple tips we hope you’ll remember throughout this season:

  • Talk about safety with each otherthink about safety for yourself
  • When you’re thirsty, sip
  • Start on the outside
  • Always tell somebody
  • If you get hurt, get help
  • Look out for each other

1. Talk about safety with each other. Think about safety for yourself. When you dress up, when you do up, when you do stuff, when you go out. Keep your friends safe. Just talk about it. Make safety a part of how you do Carnival.

2. When yuh tusty…Sip! When yuh real tusty is when you’s make de wuss decisions. So when yuh know yuh tusty, try an sip!

3. Start on the outside. If you are going to meet somebody you met online for the first time, consider doing so in a public place you are familiar with, where there are other people. Don’t agree to have them come to your residence, and don’t go to meet them somewhere strange. You can always decide to go somewhere else once things check out.

4. Always tell somebody. Make it a habit. Point out who you are leaving the party or the band with. Ask who knows them. Text somebody where you’re going. Text the licence plate. Call somebody to say you reached. Text to say you got back safely. Tell whoever you are going off with or you are going to meet that you have people who know who they are and where you are. Even if it’s not true. If they think you have nobody or that you’re ashamed to let anyone know, you become the best victim. If you really can’t tell anybody, make files: write the information down, text yourself.

5. If you become a victim, get help. Get medical care. If you’ve been raped, don’t hide it from the doctor. Ask for “PEP” (drugs that if administered quickly can prevent you from becoming HIV+). Talk and scream and cry about it with somebody you trust. Don’t suffer alone. Call the Carnival Safety Line at 857-7676 if you need to talk, you don’t know where to go for care, or if you’ve been mistreated by a service provider. We can’t answer 24/7, but we can call you back, we’ve helped other people, and we want to prevent people from getting hurt.

6. Look out for each other. Don’t abandon your friends. Encourage them to be responsible. But help them reach home safe when they don’t.

If you want to read more about ways to be safe, or suggest some: click here.

CAISO 2010: putting you at the centre

gspotttlight: IRN

IRN website
IRN website

When we launched, CAISO said our plans included “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”. In fact, our emergence has been received with quite a bit of excitement within the region and beyond. We’ve been called on by UNAIDS (the UN’s joint programme on HIV, who asked us to share ideas about addressing homophobia and violence); UNDP (the UN’s development programme, through its new, Port of Spain-based initiative on sexual minorities); the regional Coalition for Vulnerable Communities whom we welcome back to Trinidad for a human rights consultation at the end of the month; and CariFLAGS (the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities), a 12-year-old regional GLBT coalition who have asked us to join and, with other partners, sponsored a local community member to attend their groundbreaking Regional Transgender Training and Strategy Consultation two weeks ago. The Commonwealth People’s Forum blog and the blogger portal Global Voices Online have both taken notice of our online work. As evidenced by yesterday’s City University of New York webcast, CAISO is helping strengthen links between Trinidad & Tobago and a range of regional and international work on GLBT issues. As we participate in these regional and international meetings and build relationships with partners, a periodic gspotttlight will try to tell you a bit about those meetings and allies.

launching the Caribbean IRN at the Caribbean Studies Association conference in Kingston
launching the Caribbean IRN at the Caribbean Studies Association conference in Kingston

Vidyartha Kissoon, Caribbean IRN Coordinator, talks about the entity that gave rise to yesterday’s webcast, and its consultation in Jamaica in June that a CAISO member attended.

A gathering of buller, sadamite woman, man-rayal, batty-man, anti-man and dey friend (or, if you want, a gathering of people whose political, creative and scholarly work focuses on genders and sexual minorities in the
Caribbean) meet up in Jamaica in June this year. (Jamaica, you ask? Well Jamaica was the venue for the Caribbean Studies Association conference, which had many discussions on Caribbean sexualities.) The gathering was organized by the Caribbean board of the International Resource Network (IRN). The IRN is a project based at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) of the City University of New York. It is funded by the Ford Foundation and seeks to connect academic and  community-based researchers, artists, and activists around the world in areas related to diverse sexualities and genders. The web platform is at http://www.irnweb.org.

What opportunities does the IRN present for the Caribbean? It provides a mechanism to promote the work being done by groups lIke CAISO and to network across the Caribbean and in the diaspora in a very visible way. The Caribbean is evolving in terms of how the different countries respond to LBGTT citizens and their right to achieve their full potential. The Caribbean IRN web has started to build a listing of related resources – syllabuses, films, books, papers, people. And other activities have started in the background: