Government must set policy for its GLBT citizens’ needs: CAISO comments on the Gender Policy

It was Cabinet’s announcement on June 25th of last year that Trinidad & Tobago’s Gender Policy would exclude “issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation” that led to CAISO’s formation two days later.

The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs solicited public comment on the Government’s draft of the National Policy on Gender and Development, which was released to the public in September; and responses were due last Sunday, February 28. Over the past six months, CAISO took a detailed look at the draft, participated in forums and discussions on the Policy, and reviewed comparisons between it and the document widely circulated in 2004 that is now described as the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Institute for Gender and Development Studies consultants’ report.

Speaking as “a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) Trinidadians and Tobagonians”, we submitted a 1,400-word commentary on the new document last week. Friends for Life also submitted comments.

CAISO’s key message is that our Government cannot shirk its responsibility to set clear domestic policy to address the concerns of the tens of thousands of GLBTI citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.

We said our Gender Policy cannot exclude sexual orientation:

Rather than offering a laundry list of things to fix or add in the Policy, or listing scores of places where our issues were omitted, we made just five very feasible proposals for changes to the document that Government could take as a first step to setting national policy on sexual orientation and gender identity issues:

  1. Reinsert the two (and there were only two) policy measures on sexual orientation contained in the 2004 document:
    • §1.14 Restore the following 33 innocent words that were expunged: “In keeping with its international legal obligations, the state should facilitate public debate on the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons, irrespective of sexual preference or orientation”
    • §1.7 Extend marital rape and domestic violence protections in the Sexual Offences Act to all couples, regardless to gender or sexual orientation – something Barbados has already moved to do
  2. §1.10 In programmes aimed at fostering healthier masculine roles, address the ways homophobia limits the opportunities and harms the health of all men and boys – Caribbean Studies Association President Prof. Linden Lewis discussed this cogently in delivering the Ministry’s distinguished lecture in January
  3. §1.7 Include violence based on perceived sexual orientation or whether someone is “acting how a man/woman ‘should’” in gender-based violence initiatives and policy
  4. §1.11 Name the GLBTI community as a special interest population, as the Policy does for youth, the elderly, and disabled people
  5. §1.12 Build government’s capacity to deal with these issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and to make the nation ready to do so
    • hire staff with relevant expertise
    • get technical assistance from international agencies and other governments (e.g. Cuba, Brazil)
    • support local research on these issues
    • train everyone.

We offered again to sit down with the Ministry, and hope we will meet with the Minister herself and with other Cabinet-level decisionmakers to discuss how we work in partnership on these issues.

Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister and new Commonwealth Chair Patrick Manning on human rights, GLBT genocide

It “really forms no part of the agendait need
not detain us.” It is “a matter of domestic
individual countries, people have
their own positions on these matters”.

Continue reading “Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister and new Commonwealth Chair Patrick Manning on human rights, GLBT genocide”

GLBTIQ Issues Make Inroads at Commonwealth Summit

For the first time at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, at CHOGM in Trinidad & Tobago, there was significant representation of GLBTQ (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer) activists among civil society participants, and a concerted effort to highlight issues of sexual citizenship and rights. A delegation of GLBTQ activists from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean participated actively in the thematic assembly discussions and drafting process in the November 22-25, 2009 Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF), a gathering of civil society organizations that meets in advance of, and sends a statement to, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Working in partnership with gender, disabilities and other human rights advocates, they achieved visibility for a number of key concerns, and won inclusion of these issues in the broad civil society agenda for the Commonwealth.

The issues cut a wide swath: repealing laws criminalizing non-normative sexualities and gender expression; preventing and prosecuting bias-related murders and violence, including punitive rape of Lesbians; ending discrimination in accessing health services; creating safety in the school system from violence and bullying; addressing the need for support and resources for parents; and developing training and sensitization for a range of public servants and service providers. Both scheduled speakers and participants from the floor made moving contributions related to human rights violations on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Commonwealth member countries. Especially powerful speeches came from Ashily Dior, a Transgender activist from Trinidad; Canadian Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS Free World and former UN Special Envoy on HIV in Africa; and Robert Carr, director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. Together, contributors raised a comprehensive range of concerns in several of the assemblies, particularly those focused on Gender; Health, HIV and AIDS; and Human Rights.

The final Port of Spain Civil Society Statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting includes language calling on “Commonwealth Member States and Institutions” to “recognize and protect the human rights of all individuals without discrimination on the grounds of…sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression”; to “repeal legislation that leads to discrimination, such as the criminalisation of same sex sexual relationships”; and for “the Commonwealth Foundation to facilitate a technical review of such of laws”. Further, it issues a call for “Commonwealth Member States to ensure universal access to basic” health “services for marginalised and vulnerable groups”, including “sexual and gender minorities”, and to “work to actively remove and prevent the establishment of legislation which undermines evidence-based effective HIV prevention, treatment and care available to marginalised and vulnerable groups, such as sexual minorities”. Its Gender section includes a distinct item on “Transgenders, Gays and Lesbians” (“We call on Commonwealth Member States to include gender and sexuality as a specific theme on sexualities, sexual and gender minorities, related violence and discrimination, making them no longer invisible”) and echoes the recognition in the human rights section “that gender equity implies equality for all and therefore issues related to non-normative sexualities, such as sexual and gender minorities”.

The Statement also makes reference to proposed “Anti-Homosexuality” legislation introduced in the Parliament of Uganda, home of current CHOGM Chair President Yoweri Museveni. The legislation would require reporting of homosexuals, provide a sentence of life imprisonment for homosexual touching or sex, and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, if the offender is HIV-positive. In remarks in more than one CPF assembly and in a special press conference, Lewis, Carr and a representative of the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance, spoke out forcefully against the legislation, asking Museveni to take a clear position on it, and calling on others to condemn it. The Trinidad & Tobago Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation joined these voices, asking its own Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who will assume the chairmanship of CHOGM, and other CARICOM leaders, to do the same.

Eighty-six countries in the world currently have legislation criminalizing same-sex conduct between consenting adults as well as other non normative sexual and gender behaviours and identities; half of them are Commonwealth member states. Criminal provisions in these countries may target same sex sexual conduct, men who have sex with men specifically, or more generally any sexual behaviour considered “unnatural”. Some countries criminalize other non normative behaviours, such as cross-dressing, or utilize criminal provisions on indecency or debauchery, among others, to target individuals on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. These criminal provisions not only constitute a violation of civil and political rights in and of themselves because they violate key provisions established by international human rights law; they also have significant human rights implications, representing a serious risk for the exercise of other fundamental rights, such as the right to association, the right to assembly, and the right to expression, the right to health, the principle of non discrimination, to mention a few. Furthermore, the mere existence of these laws is in many countries is an avenue for other human rights violations by state and non-state actors.

We acknowledge and welcome the civil society consensus on the above mentioned issues, and call on Commonwealth member states, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation to implement the recommendations of the Commonwealth People’s Forum.

You can access the Port of Spain Civil Society Statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 25 November at:

·     Alternative Law Forum (ALF) – India
·     Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG)  – Ghana

·     Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) – Trinidad & Tobago
·     Gay and Lesbian coalition of Kenya (GALCK) – Kenya
·     GrenCHAP – Grenada
·     Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays – (J-FLAG) – Jamaica
·     Knowledge and Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (KRYSS) – Malaysia
·     Lesbians and Gays Bisexuals Botswana (LEGABIBO) – Botswana
·     People Like Us (PLU) – Singapore
·     Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) – Guyana
·     The Independent Project (TIP) – Nigeria
·     United and Strong – St. Lucia
·     United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) – Belize
·     United Gays and Lesbians against AIDS Barbados (UGLAAB) – Barbados
·     Global Rights
·     International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)


Human Rights Defenders Look to the Commonwealth

Mia Quetzel on Caribbean Transgender Issues

“Law to protect gays, lesbians”, Barbados Nation, 26 November 2009: Minister of Family, Youth and Sports Esther Byer-Suckoo promises domestic violence protections the day after participating in the Comonwealth People’s Forum

Fridae: Letter from Trinidad

LGBT Rights in the Commonwealth

Can’t Every Body Be a Commonwealth Citizen? Making Safe Space for Sexuality on the People’s Forum Agenda

Taking responsibility for creating spaces at CPF for discussion and action on questions of sexuality, gender and development

The gayest CHOGM ever: join the conversation!

A Conversation on the Commonwealth and LGBTI Advocacy:
sharing experiences and discussing strategies

generously supported by Arcus Foundation, UWI-St. Augustine Institute of
International Relations, and individual donors

Sunday November 29th, 2009
Classroom, Institute of International Relations, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine

9:00 Setting the Stage
Stefano Fabeni, Director, LGBTI Initiative, Global Rights
Marcelo Ferreyra, Latin America and Caribbean Coordinator, IGLHRC
Zaharadeen Gambo, Program Officer, Global Rights Nigeria
Colin Robinson, Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, Trinidad & Tobago
Timothy M Shaw, PhD, Director, Institute of International Relations, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine

10.00 Decriminalizing Same-Sex Intimacy: first India, then Trinidad & Tobago?
Colin Robinson, CAISO, Trinidad and Tobago
Siddharth Narrain, Alternative Law Forum, India
Tracy Robinson, UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), Cave Hill, Barbados

11.30 Coffee break (provided)

11.45 Sexual Citizenship in the Commonwealth: charting a civil society agenda
Zoe Ware, Royal Commonwealth Society
Robert Carr, Commonwealth HIV & AIDS Group (CHAAG)/Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC)
Heather Collister, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Hassan Shire Sheikh, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

1.15 Lunch (provided)

2.00 Viewing of LGBTI advocates’ interview on TV6 CHOGM broadcast

4.00 Coffee break (provided)

4.15 Human Rights in the Commonwealth
David Kalete, Civil Society Liaison Manager, Commonwealth Secretariat
Clare Doube, Commonwealth Foundation & civil society consultation processes

Both days are free, catered and open to the public and the UWI community.
To reserve a meal, please RSVP to

Monday November 30th, 2009
Conference Room, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social & Economic Studies (SALISES), UWI-St. Augustine

9.00 The Commonwealth of Nations: functions, opportunities, obstacles and allies
Stefano Fabeni, Global Rights

10.30 Coffee break (provided)

10.45 Framing an LGBTI advocacy strategy
Moderators: Marcelo Ferreyra & Zaharadeen Gambo

12.00 Conclusions

12.30 Lunch (provided) & Networking

Eighty-six countries in the world currently have legislation criminalizing same-sex conduct between consenting adults a well as other non normative sexual and gender behaviors and identities; half of them are member states of the Commonwealth. For the first time at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, at this week’s CHOGM in Trinidad & Tobago, there is significant gay, lesbian and transgender (GLT) representation among civil society participants, and a concerted effort to highlight issues of sexual citizenship and rights. Working in partnership with gender and disabilities advocates, GLT participants have already achieved visibility for a number of key GLT concerns, and won their inclusion on the broad civil society agenda for the Commonwealth.

Read more about the event:

Continue reading “The gayest CHOGM ever: join the conversation!”

Uganda: CAISO calls on Museveni, Manning, CARICOM to speak up on homosexuality, make CHOGM a “cathedral of human rights”

CAISO released the following statement yesterday:

CAISO stands with human rights advocates of all stripes across the Commonwealth and the world in issuing a call to Commonwealth Chairs Ugandan President Museveni and our own Prime Minister Patrick Manning:

We urge them to use Trinidad & Tobago’s shores to speak out forcefully against legislation introduced by a member of the Ugandan Parliament that would deprive all gays and lesbians and people with HIV of the core benefits of citizenship. We urge President Museveni to bring to defeat the bill which would prescribe life imprisonment for consensual sex, and which singles out lesbians and gays with HIV for death if they have sex, even with a partner to whom they disclose their HIV status.

Photo courtesy Newsday

Sadly, CHOGM in Uganda saw lesbian, gay and transgender Ugandans beaten by security forces for speaking out in the Commonwealth People’s Space. CHOGM in Trinidad & Tobago provides an opportunity to repair that. We encourage Prime Minister Manning and all other CARICOM leaders to join President Museveni in making CHOGM here in Trinidad & Tobago a cathedral of human rights by joining their voices in joint opposition to moving any Commonwealth state backward on human rights.

No self-respecting leader of the Commonwealth, either incoming or outgoing, or of the region, can turn a blind eye to such a threat to sexual freedoms. Public health leaders have made it eminently politically safe for our leaders to do what is right when it comes to protecting the freedom and equality of their citizens who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and living with HIV, and who seek to harm no one in pursuit of our human and God-given gifts. What is more, here in Trinidad & Tobago doing so has no real political cost. It is, more importantly, a deeply principled way to show leadership in the world community, ensure human dignity, and save human lives.


The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009

Remarks by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World Delivered at the Commonwealth People’s Forum on the Eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

News articles

“Ugandan church leader brands anti-gay bill ‘genocide'”, UK Guardian

“Row Over Uganda Bill” by Andre Bagoo, Newsday, 26 November 2009CNews lead story, 24 November 2009: “Former UN Official criticizes leaders criminalizing same sex activity”

Museveni messaging sticks: Newsday article on his address to Commonwealth Business Forum opens: “Even as his administration is under international fire for a proposed bill which seeks to impose custodial sentences and even death for homosexuality, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni…”

“Proposed Uganda legislation could accelerate Caribbean homophobia” by Gary Eleazar, Kaieteur News, 26 November 2009

African websites

Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law

Africans Against Hate

SMUG: Sexual Minorities Uganda

Gay Uganda blog

Pambazuka News

Human rights & research

Political Research Associates: “Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia”

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Human Rights Watch

“This Alien Legacy”, HRW report on the colonial legacy of sodomy laws in Africa and Asia

Former UN Official criticizes leaders criminalizing same sex activity
Tuesday 25th November, 2009

Emancipation time?

Will GLBTs be heard at CHOGM?
Will GLBTs be heard at CHOGM?

On human rights for gays, T&T makes great promises abroad and breaks them at home. Will November’s Summit help bring gay rights home?

by Colin Robinson

We all remember the recent crackdown on citizens’ free speech and assembly in order to make the country safe for visiting foreign leaders during April’s OAS summit. And Prime Minister Manning in a rare appearance in the Senate in July said that the upcoming Commonwealth Summit would prevent the country from holding local government elections before November.

Are our leaders more focused on pappyshowing for an international audience than doing the right thing by us here at home? On the question of sexual orientation and human rights, that certainly seems to be the case.

In one of the steps that facilitated CAISO’s formation last month, at the end of 2007 Trinidad & Tobago became part of a hemispheric coalition of  NGOs working through the InterAmerican/OAS human rights system to strengthen the enjoyment of human rights and equality by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual and Tranvestite and Intersex (LGBTTTI) people. Mulabi in Buenos Aires serves as the Coalition’s Secretariat; and Global Rights in Washington DC is a key partner.

Look out for Angela's report on the trip, coming soon
Look out for Angela's report on the trip, coming soon

Local GLBT groups agreed to collaborate informally to maintain T&T’s seat in the coalition. So when we were invited to participate with 23 other NGOs from 16 countries in meetings around the Organization of American States (OAS) 39th General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, Honduras last month, Velvet Underground founder Angela Francis agreed to represent us.

In San Pedro Sula, the NGOs met with and lobbied countries’ representatives to the OAS. They were successful in getting the Assembly, including Trinidad & Tobago and every other country in the Caribbean, to unanimously adopt the following resolution:

R to L: Angela Francis, Namela Baynes-Henry (Guyana), OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza at the civil society dialogue in San Pedro Sula

AG/RES.  2504 (XXXIX-O/09) HUMAN RIGHTS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, AND GENDER IDENTITY (Adopted at the fourth plenary session, held on June 4, 2009)


BEARING IN MIND resolution AG/RES.. 2435 (XXXVIII-O/08), entitled “Human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity”;


That the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status; and

That the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man establishes that every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person;

CONSIDERING that the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) proclaims that the historic mission of America is to offer to man a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of his personality and the realization of his just aspirations;

REAFFIRMING the principles of universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights; TAKING NOTE of the Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity presented to the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 2008; and

NOTING WITH CONCERN acts of violence and related human rights violations perpetrated against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, RESOLVES:

  1. To condemn acts of violence and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. To urge states to ensure that acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals because of sexual orientation and gender identity are investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice.
  3. To urge states to ensure adequate protection for human rights defenders who work on the issue of acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  4. To request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the other organs of the inter-American system to continue to pay sufficient attention to this issue.
  5. To reiterate its request for the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) to include on its agenda, before the fortieth regular session of the General Assembly, the topic of “Human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
  6. To request the Permanent Council to report to the General Assembly at its fortieth regular session on the implementation of this resolution, the execution of which shall be subject to the availability of financial resources in the program-budget of the Organization and other resources.
Celebrating....prematurely? (Photos:

In other words, at the beginning of June, the Government of Trinidad & Tobago stood up in front of all our fellow nations in the Americas and for the second time pledged with them to protect its citizens from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Then they came home and at the end of the month bluntly refused to put this commitment into the National Gender Policy and Action Plan.

The second time? Yes: the 2009 resolution references a very similar resolution that Trinidad & Tobago also supported the year before, the first time in the history of the hemisphere that the words sexual orientation and gender identity appeared in an official document approved by the 34 countries of the Americas:

  • The Commonwealth summit in Port of Spain this November poses a fascinating opportunity for GLBT Trinbagonians. British Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant wants gay rights to be a focus of the meeting and of UK foreign policy. And across the Commonwealth, human rights lawyers and activists are strategizing together to bring an end to the buggery laws we all inherited from colonization. When India’s was overturned in the courts in early July, the question was: will Trinidad & Tobago be next? Click below to find out.

Continue reading “Emancipation time?”