To all our followers – Occupy Christmas. Turn water into wine; throw the moneylenders out. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the yuletide gay, and gather friends near who are dear to you. It can be a tough season for us, so remember: It gets better. And give us a shout if it doesn’t. Next year we’ll make history together, we think. Even if it’s a small step. Look at the Jamaica election! But that’s only if you join with us and guide us. The reason for an organization is to things together that we can’t do alone. Look out and sign up for our session early in the new year on how you can make change. Anyhow, go finish paint or bake or wrap or hang curtain. Be safe. And arrive alive (even if is not you driving). Bless!!
The President last Wednesday (June 22) assented to the Data Protection Act, a landmark piece of legislation that establishes an ambitious framework “to ensure that protection is afforded to an individual’s right to privacy and the right to maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal.” The legislation: promulgates rules and standards for all persons who handle, store or process personal information belonging to another person, in either the public or private sector; regulates the authority of public entities to collect personal information, its use, protection, accuracy and access; establishes hefty fines and corporate penalties for breaches; and includes whistleblower protections. It also provides for the development of binding industry-tailored codes of practice in the private sector.
Of great significance to gay, lesbian and bisexual communities in Trinidad & Tobago, the new law provides heightened protections for “sensitive personal information”, which is defined to include one’s “sexual orientation or sexual life”. Ensuring citizens’ autonomy in their consensual sexual affairs requires both protecting their sexual lives from unwarranted intrusion and protecting them from discrimination based on their sexuality.
This is the first piece of legislation recognizing sexual orientation and related rights that we are aware has been enacted in the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s Parliament. Originally drafted and introduced in November 2008 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government, the bill was reintroduced by the People’s Partnership in January of 2011, and shepherded to passage with bipartisan support.
The sexual orientation provision was never hidden from the public, and was reported on in the media both times the bill was debated. It is an important lesson about the ways in which our Parliament should be legislating on sexual orientation: soberly, fairly, and without appeals to politics, division, manufactured hysteria and controversy – or imaginary verses from Leviticus. It also demonstrates how legislators can integrate questions of sexual orientation into a broad approach to rights and protections for everyone, and frame them in relationship to matters of broad public and political consensus, e.g. privacy for one’s sexual life. What is of further significance for legislating on sexual orientation is that the bill was subject to unusually vigorous debate and amendment by the Senate’s Opposition and Independent benches, which left the sexual orientation provisions intact. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister MP Collin Partap, who piloted the bill, was saluted by the PNM for his flexibility and that of his staff in building consensus on the legislation.
We have previously congratulated the Government for its leadership in moving this legislation forward. Today, on behalf of the nation’s tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens, the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation pays tribute to all parties in Parliament and our Senators on the Independent bench for their support and vigorous contributions to strengthening of a forward-thinking piece of legislation that strengthens respect for human rights, and for our inclusion in it. We are proud today of our Parliamentarians, and we thank them.
This is gspottt’s 100th post!
“I wonder if you know how good that was”, the Chair of the Barbados National AIDS Commission asked the former Barbados Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Leader of the Opposition as she had just concluded another of the inspiring and visionary addresses she is well-known at home for delivering completely unscripted. But it wasn’t just any other Mia Mottley speech. The hard-hitting and truth-telling early morning address, which she began by playing in its entirety the 2006 anthem, Do You Still Care, for which Jamaican mouldbreaking songstress Tanya Stephens is best known in GLBT communities, by its end had riveted listeners to a standing ovation with its call to clarify our values and its framing of a set of questions that Mottley has repeatedly challenged us to answer as Caribbean people:
What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of children do we want to raise? And what do we have to show for having had control of our nations for two generations since Independence?
Reminding her audience at Port of Spain’s Hyatt Regency hotel that as a region the Caribbean has always “punched above our weight”, the Member of Parliament for St. Michael North East since 1994 admonished that “leadership is more than being a head of government”, but “about recognizing where we want to take our people, why we must take them there” and “sometimes that means being ahead of your population”. “We have a credible voice that must be heard as a guiding principle to the rest of the world”, she urged, on “building tolerant societies”. “Name me one other region that has been forged in the modern exploitative era…that carries every race that has populated this world within this small basin that have been forced to live together, that have been forced to forge an accommodation with each other. We have a story to tell to the rest of the world. And we have a credibility in telling that story, and our voice therefore must be heard, because it costs nothing to speak.”
At the same time, she drew laughs of recognition as she lamented the cancer of “implementation deficit disorder” that currently plagues the region, with “systems of parliament that are rooted in excessive partisanship that is a battle between political institutions, rather than being a fight to carry forward development and people” and “systems in our public service and other aspects of our governance that are so complex and Byzantine, that not even the Romans would recognize them if they returned today to be responsible for global governance.”
The March 24 plenary address was intended to set the tone at a United Nations consultation on universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, intended to prepare the Caribbean region for participation in the June High Level Meeting of UN member states on AIDS. The meeting drew government ministers and senior officials from Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Most listeners would agree Mottley’s speech was one of the most powerful and cogent things to happen at any of the series of regional meetings that have become well-known as of the key ways we spend HIV money in the Caribbean. In it she called for the creation of a Caribbean Human Rights Charter and for tolerance education to be part of the Caribbean Examinations Council curriculum. And three weeks later she was back at another UN HIV meeting this week in Port of Spain, spurring human rights lawyers and activists in the region to found a Caribbean Coalition for Social Justice, and taking steps towards the creation of a Caribbean Law Reform Commission.
Mottley’s countryman Henrik Ellis wasn’t the only one who thought the speech was breathtaking. I-95.5FM Radio’s Dale Enoch broadcast it in its entirety the following day; and responding to meeting participants’ advocacy, UNAIDS’s Caribbean team has graciously posted both the video of the speech and a transcript prominently on their website. These words, perhaps more than any others were the ones that reached home:
The battle against the abolition of the slave trade took, like, decades. And the battle against the slavery institution also took decades. And the battle for independence took decades. We have already started with a few decades in the battle for a common gold standard of regional human rights. But the time has come upon us to up the ante, and to call on the region to protect your own. You cannot accuse those who governed you through colonial exploitative regimes of perpetrating crimes against you, or taking away from you your dignity and your ability for controlling your destiny – and then when you have control of your own societies for two generations of independence, you are not prepared to secure the rights of every individual irrespective of whatever differences that may occupy the human race. It is unacceptable. And the time has come for it.
Why do modern independent Caribbean states, where people have fought for centuries to free our bodies from enslavement, indentureship, control by our husbands, exploitation of our labour, colonial subjection, sexual harassment and prohibtions on dancing still defend laws that say that adults cannot use our bodies in mutually consenting ways with each other sexually in private? Why are only certain forms of sex between consenting adults against the law? Why aren’t other forms of sex, which are just as “unusual”? Or others that are unlikely to produce children, simply pleasure? Why are eating pork and beef and wearing headcoverings and extramarital sex not the subject of our secular laws, but homosexuality is?
Why would anyone committed to liberty deny someone of maturity control over her or his body and sexuality?
Although in many jurisdictions our laws against private sex are only occasionally enforced, they remain on the books and serve to legitimate violence, discrimination and stigma against gay men and lesbians whom they render “unapprehended felons”, as a South African jurist quoted in a judgment overturning that country’s sodomy laws. And their enforcement is technically just one election, or even one enterprising police officer, away.
The first constitutional challenge to the region’s colonially derived laws against sexual activity between consenting adults has been filed, in Belize, targeting a law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which in common law means anal sex.
Many of our regional Independence constitutions, through “savings clauses”, hold immune from constitutional challenge any of these archaic laws (like others which PNM MP Colm Imbert mocked recently in Parliament that address wounding pigeons, bathing in the Maraval River and hanging clothes out to dry in the front of a shop) that were put in force in colonial times; these savings clauses in effect say the colonizers knew best. Belize’s constitution limited that period of immunity to five years. Trinidad & Tobago preserved our savings clause through our 1976 Republican constitution, and in a number of more recent proposals for constitutional “reform”.
We wish our Belizean GLBT counterparts, the community organizers there, and their visionary legal advocates the best success with this landmark lawsuit; and we hope their bravery and jurisprudence will benefit the region as a whole.
|Statutory penalties in the Caribbean for consensual sexual activity between two adult human beings; and the most recent date of the law’s enactment|
|Antigua & Barbuda||1995||15 years||sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person|
|5 years||an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)|
|Bahamas||1991||20 years||any adult male who has sexual intercourse, in a public place|
|20 years||any female adult who has sexual intercourse, in a public place|
|10 years||an act, whether natural or unnatural by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, on or towards another or inciting another to commit that act with the person or with another person|
|Belize||2000||10 years||carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person|
|Dominica||1998||10 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court||sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person|
|4 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court||attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person|
|5 years||an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)|
|Grenada||1958||10 years||unnatural connexion|
|Guyana||1893||life||buggery with a human being|
|10 years||attempts to commit buggery|
|2 years||any male person, who in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person|
|Jamaica||1864||up to 10 years hard labour||the abominable crime of buggery with mankind|
|up to 7 years, with or without hard labour||attempt to commit the said abominable crime|
|up to 2 years, with or without hard labour||any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person|
|St. Kitts-Nevis||1990||up to 10 years, with or without hard labour||the abominable crime of buggery|
|up to 4 years, with or without hard labour||attempt to commit the said abominable crime|
|St. Lucia||2005||5 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court||attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anus by a male person with a male or by a male person with a female person|
|10 years (5 years on summary conviction)||an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)|
|St. Vincent & the Grenadines||1990||10 years||commit buggery with any other person; permit any person to commit buggery with him or her|
|5 years||commit an act of gross indecency, in public or private, with another person of the same sex, or procure or attempt to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her|
|Trinidad & Tobago||1986||25 years||sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person|
|5 years||an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)|
Disappointed that their visionary, history-making action was being shut out of news coverage of the HWOM visit (whilst the media puts youth violence and violence against youth on its pages daily), young people spent Sunday afternoon trekking from media house to media house telling the story of their alternative vision of sexual citizenship to Hospital Christian Fellowship and His Way Out Ministries – one of inclusion, and solidarity, and safety from shame and stigma about sexuality.
They stopped at the Express and spoke with Rickie Ramdass; the Guardian, where editor Anthony Wilson referred them to Bobie-lee Dixon, who conducted a lengthy interview; and Newsday, where Leiselle Maraj invited them to come back on Monday. Let’s see how their editors handle the story! At the AnsaMcAl media house, they also stopped by the television and radio studios, but no producers were in.
Getting back in the car at the end of the outing, on came Power 102 with the engine, and with it a familiar phrase: “the acidity of the vagina”. As if divinely ordained, it was Hospital Christian Fellowship live on the radio. We sped up to the Abercromby St. studio, halfway through the broadcast, and asked to join them on the air. The host declined, saying it would be rude to the guests, and referred us to producer Marcia Henville to schedule our own time. The young folks stayed around, called in to the show from the studio lobby, and then waited to greet the guests (Phillip Lee and two of the HCF advocates) at the end. “Are you following us?” they asked us. Er, yes! “We know all the tactics”, Lee smiled.
We hung out at MovieTowne after, where another group, wearing their “Homosexual Agenda” jerseys for the second day too, joined us. We joked that the first item on the homosexual agenda was “Buy multigrain Crix”, said we should send a jersey to the Bermudez Biscuits CEO, shared Crix recipes, and laughed about launching a Crix recipe cookbook (the rally that inspired the shirts, after all, was scheduled for Naparima Girls) as a CAISO fundraiser. Dinner at BurgerKing was uneventful except for a few stares; but everyone ran into someone they knew, including the sister of Godfrey Sealy (who must be smiling down on us). Doesn’t this keep sounding providential?
But the providence doesn’t end there: crossing the courtyard later, who should we run into but Judy Henry (who wasn’t on the radio) and her husband Trevor, who was wearing an HCF heterosexual logo shirt, and whisked her away soon after she began to preach about the fall of the US and the rise of Europe.
How way your day in this amazing country of ours? Did you send a letter, post a comment or make a call? Thanks!
Yesterday October 23rd may have been the largest (and perhaps the first) GLBT protest in T&T’s history. Young people and a few older ones filled a “big maxi” and two cars, dressed in jerseys that announced “The homosexual agenda” of GLBT people in T&T and their allies to
1. Buy Crix
2. Spend time with family
3. Work for equality.
They almost outnumbered other attendees at the His Way Out Ministries/Hospital Christian Fellowship/Lawyers for Jesus/Emmanuel Community meeting in South, built around the visit of “reformed” gay pastor Phillip Lee. The event, titled “Sexual Health: Truth Revealed” and billed as a “sexual health seminar”, was moved at the last minute from Naparima Girls High School (did Naps reject them, and why?) to the pentecostal Prayer and Praise Open Bible Chapel in Cocoyea.
The group of young people, assembled by two 20-year-old organizers who’ll tell you if you ask that they’re straight, had assembled at UWI for the journey. Along the highway to South, the 4:00pm news on I95 radio came on, and they turned up the volume in anticipation and listened intently. They sighed at the headline “Fears Gay Rights Movement Could Take Root” in Trinidad and Tobago (Hmm: haven’t we been celebrating Pride here for 14 years now?), and the amount of time the story spent covering the voices of people saying: gay people were “militant”; gay rights had come from Europe to the US and then to Latin America (ent we’s be all never-see-come-see about things whey come from Europe); calls for decriminalization of prostitution (what dat have to do with sexual orientation?) meant it would be offered as a career to young women. They cheered when CAISO’s spokesperson talked about the divisiveness US Christian evangelicals had sown in Uganda, and that people who cared about children in T&T needed to create a country where they could grow into their God-given sexual orientation free from shame and violence. They sighed again when they expected to hear the voice of a young person who’d organized the event follow, and it didn’t.
The event wasn’t a health seminar at all, presenters made clear very quickly, but physician Garthyln Pilgrim distributed two pamphlets she had prepared which listed references to studies she said documented the “Physical Health Risks” of homosexuality (well, receptive anal sex and rimming, in fact), studies she told questioners to look up every time anyone asked for amplification. The “seminar”‘s message was straightforward: 1. Homosexuality is most definitely an acquired behaviour. 2. Homosexuality is a just another sin, in the middle of a list of others, no lesser or worse. 3. No one has been set free from the snare of homosexuality without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Event lead organizer Dr. Judy Henry, a gastroenterologist who told the crowd “I enter colons on a daily basis” (while making a case that penises shouldn’t), was engaged by GLBT supporters after the event ended. If she and her associates cared about the health and safety about young people, would they support legislation to protect them from discrimination and violence. “Legislation doesn’t change attitudes”, she snapped back, moving away.
Henry and the groups behind the rally are trying to change attitudes, the Express story the Sunday after the event makes clear: they’re in a “war” against the love practised by some of their fellow citizens, for which they’ve imported a reformed gay American as field marshal.
It’s sad the media weren’t there to show the young people at the rally, to see them engage the organizers peacefully and respectfully and thoughtfully. Or to see them sauntering among the Saturday night shoppers at Price Plaza in their jerseys on the way back north, during a stop for dinner. But if you did, you would have been so proud. You’ll be proud, too, that these young people spent over $1,500 out of their own pockets on advocacy.
That’s the real story of what happened when people confessing to be Christians brought Phillip Lee to town: it created one of the most powerful moments for GLBT organizing and alliance-building in many people’s memory. Young people standing up for each other across sexual orientation. Sexual rights advocates rallying to the cause: ASPIRE offered their office and their media list; Family Planning reprinted their Sexual Rights Declaration in all three newspapers.
Sadly, though, it’s the out of timing message by the folks who’ve declared “war” on same-sex love (delivered at a $165 prayer breakfast) that is still the primary one in the media’s coverage. Don’t let them outshout the voices of good people!
Read and post a comment on today’s Express story NOW! Call the Express newsroom at 623-1711 and any other media houses, and ask them why they aren’t covering GLBT voices in this story? Tell them your own views about the visit. Or give them CAISO’s number: 758-7676
Something happened in July 2007 that sowed the seeds of an exciting new advocacy movement by gay and lesbian, bi and Trans people in Trinidad and Tobago – a movement that we have seen flourish over the past year. CAISO wants to recognise the person who sowed those seeds, and to acknowledge his role in making history:
On July 4th of 2007, some of us read in our newspapers about a man from Ste. Madeleine who had won a small money judgment against the Government in the courts, because of a violation he suffered from the police some years earlier. The stories told about how he had been detained by the police, stripped naked, ridiculed. Some stories talked about his size. Some of them talked about his sexuality. He wasn’t a posh middle class person with lawyer friends. He hadn’t completed a lot of school. But he was a really determined person: he ran a small business out of his home, he drove a maxi, and he’d done a lot of other things to earn a living. Three weeks later, it got even more amazing: the Saturday Guardian had a picture of the man on its front page leading to a story captioned “Give Gays Equal Rights”.
“At 29 years, Kennty Mitchell seems to have everything going for him. He is a striving entrepreneur, a community activist and is involved in a nine-year ‘common-law’ relationship. Yet, he is put down by society and verbally and physically abused by many, including the police. Why? He is homosexual. Mitchell, however, is determined to keep his head up and refuses to be forced into living his life in secrecy and shame. He has always been open about his sexuality, and now he has decided to speak out publicly. … Mitchell says he’s fed up with being ridiculed and discriminated against, and is calling on the Government to ensure gay people have equal rights. ‘Gay people are people too, they are citizens of T&T and they make a valuable contribution to the country…They should not be treated as though they don’t belong or have no rights,’ he argued. … In his way of marking Gay Pride month (July), Mitchell said he was speaking out for all the gay people without a voice. ‘We might not be able to tip the scale in the next election because we are a minority,’ he said. ‘But we belong to a family, we have friends and they all support us so it will be more than just the gay votes,’ he said.”
The fact that Kennty is a regular fellah isn’t the only remarkable part of the story. What’s equally remarkable is the public’s response: virtually all the people who wrote comments on the Express website sympathised with him, and said: Whatever your sexuality is, you shouldn’t be treated that way. That story transformed the face of GLBT organizing in Trinidad and Tobago. It said powerfully: I can stand up for myself, no matter who I am. I can stand up to the Government. I can stand up to the police. And I can win. And people will support me. And I can be visible. That story inspired gay people to come together across class and gender, race and education, age and nationality in ways we never had before. We first met with Kennty on Emancipation Day 2007; and that same group of us went on to found the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation last year.
Kennty was harassed by the police again, and he has sued the Government again, and he has won again – $125,000 the last time.
Kennty is not an angel. He is not a perfect person. He is every one of us. He is a perfect example of how every one of us can make change. And that is why he is the recipient of CAISO’s very first Advocate Award.
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.
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.