CAISO’s first Advocate Award

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.

Photo courtesy Bohemia

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.

Remembering our history (Know Your Country)

2010 feels like it will be a historic year. We began by looking forward. Now let’s take a look back. Know Your Country (gspottt’s ongoing effort to document and share a community history of GLBT T&T through monographs and memoirs by diverse Trinbagonians) opens the year with an excerpt of a memoir written for us shortly after CAISO formed by 1940s-born architect and art historian Geoffrey MacLean .

Governor Woodford
Governor Woodford

Historically Trinidad and Tobago has probably always had an active gay community – active in the sense that it has always been there. Its early colonial history is not known, but it can be assumed that it followed the British Victorian pattern – homosexuality was a “gentleman’s vice” that was enjoyed, but not spoken of. And lesbianism was likely considered a curiosity, eccentricity or for male voyeuristic enjoyment.

One of the earliest documents of this history is a reference (in Lionel Mordaunt Fraser’s 1896 History of Trinidad Vol 2: 1814-1839) to the British Governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph Woodford, who reputedly surrounded himself with “pretty young men”. There have always been rumours about the dallying of our colonial administrators, not to mention their wives, up until Independence.

In the late 1920s, a group calling itself the Society of Trinidad Independents that promoted Trinidad and Tobago’s art and published The Beacon magazine, was noted for its tolerance toward the gay and lesbian

Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.
Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.

community, their leading members being homosexual. Made up of all ethnic and social groups, from French Creole to Black, the group was considered bohemian and condemned as immoral.  Preached against by the church, the Independents were forced by the late 1930s to abandon their outspoken views.

The occupation of Trinidad by American naval and military personnel during the Second World War fuelled the free spirit of both the heterosexual and homosexual seeking to make a living to survive. Our Carnival, of course, has always been an excuse to behave in a manner that on Ash Wednesday we can either forget – “I had too much to drink” is often an adequate excuse – or repent.

Throughout the twentieth century, most gay and lesbian interaction has been through private gatherings, but there has never been a shortage of bars that welcome the GLBT Community “after hours” or those that cater purely to them. In the 1970s and 1980s there was the “Grand Canyon” in Curepe, “Lote’s” on Oxford Street, “The Iron Pot” on Abercromby Street, “The Sidewalk” then “Metal House” on Wrightson Road, “Club Liquid” in Barataria and in the 1990s “After Dark” in St. James and then Corbeaux Town. The ramps of the law courts on Woodford Square, and Murray Street in Woodbrook were, and still are, used for the late night parading of transvestites. Most recently gay clubs have opened in San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arima, St. Augustine and Port of Spain. The popular nightspots, from “J.B.s” in the 1970s and “Just Friends” in the 1980s to “Base” in the 1990s, were gay friendly, and even today “Zen” and most of the bars on Ariapita Avenue welcome gay and lesbian patrons.

And the community knew where to “pick up” as well, Victoria Square in Port of Spain in the 1960s and 1970s being a favourite spot and where one could meet with male prostitutes, other “cruisers” and characters like “Stingy Brim” who would give you a free service.

The 1970s were a very active time with well-known and flamboyant characters within the community: John, Tom, Hal (otherwise known as “The Rocket”), “Carlota”, “Pongin’ Patsy” and several others.

Continue reading “Remembering our history (Know Your Country)”

Take a bow, and press the government even harder

stabroekTrinidad is a “partial exception” to the region’s deadly and fanatical homophobia, Guyana’s Stabroek News suggests, in an editorial yesterday that addresses news reports about a Thai HIV vaccine trial and reflects on the Micah Funk material on the relationship of  homophobia to HIV which has been very visible in the international media this past week. “It is time that we faced…reality” – that Caribbean homophobia “can no longer be seen simply as a cultural quirk, it is an anachronism which is costing lives,” the editorial reads. In the region

with, perhaps, the partial exception of Trinidad, old fashioned ideas about human sexuality need to change quickly…

Well, if you live here, you might not quite agree. And while gspottt has typically tried to show the half-full nature of the glass here (highlighting the forward thinking nature of our Appeals Court, some clergy, brave citizens, the national media, our NGOs and some aspects of our culture), there are few examples of 20/20 thinking about human sexuality on the part of our elected government that account for the Stabroek view. (Sources tell us that the journalists’ views were formed in part by seeing images of our current Queen of Queens pageant displayed online.)

But what the Stabroek editorial, and last week’s Guardian reader poll, do point to is that there is hope for real change here. And that is a tribute to the work each of you has done to make Trinidad and Tobago a place where we can dream of – and work towards – a future where stigma and exclusion based on how people express their sexuality consensually, or their gender, are things in our history.

So stand up, take credit; take a bow. And commit to working harder, and more collaboratively, to press our government to catch up to where you are!

Are we all citizens? Are we different, but are we equal?

Republic Day is coming up next week, and many of us are looking forward to a work week with two public holidays, some trying to figure out how to break biche Friday and make it a four-day weekend. But this annual period between August and September in which the country is draped in red, white and black bunting – between our celebration of 47 years of Independence and the 33rd anniversary of Trinidad & Tobago’s entry into full adulthood in the community of nations – provides us at gspottt with an opportunity to reflect on how well we’ve moved beyond the puberty of independence and taken up the local responsibility for our sovereignty and statehood that being a republic involves.

Are we growing up as a nation? We’ve raised that question here before. To help us examine it again, we turn to: CAISO’s friend Kennty Mitchell; one of our own members; disabilities advocate George Daniel; grandmother with HIV Catherine Williams; and activist/journalist Verna St. Rose-Greaves.

caisoOn her 2007 “Treeay” television show marking the 45th anniversary of Independence, Verna looked back at herself standing in Woodford Square in 1962 with her parents, “waving my little red, white and black, feeling my chest full as if it would burst, so proud I was of my country”. Though “much older and much more in love with my country”, she laments that, despite the diversity and richness of our beauty, culture and “wealth…that can take care of all of our citizens”, we still “have citizens who live in constant fear, citizens who are discriminated against, who are marginalized, who are beaten, who are spat upon, who are kicked, who are treated worse than animals”.

Through a long live interview with Mitchell, interwoven with taped segments from Daniel, Williams and the young gay man, she issues an invitation to viewers “to remember a time when you were discriminated against, to remember how you felt, to remember what it did to you, how it stayed with you, how did you react”, and helps us contemplate: Are we all citizens? Are we different; but are we equal? “Are you all organized? … You need to be organized,” she also urges.

Click here to watch Part 1

(Apologies! We’ve now fixed the link above. Next time, please let us know.)

Click here to watch Part 2

Video courtesy Gayelle TV.

Kennty & Kinno


October 15th 2009 will mark eleven years of living together with my partner Kinno. I love him very much. He made a huge difference in my life and for that I am grateful. When we met I was 20 and he was 21.

Since my victories in the courts vs. the state I have not yet been awarded any compensation, but the victories were a small satisfaction because it acknowledged my rights as a human being and as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. My victories have fuelled my ambitions to work harder and to be an example to others who might have experienced similar circumstances or any ill treatment as a result of sexual orientation.

Personally speaking, I feel that the government of Trinidad and Tobago and other leaders would like to make our country a place where equal rights are afforded to everyone regardless of class, religion, race or sexual orientation; besides, it is part and parcel of a developed country that can meet international standards. However, governments of the past and present are afraid to address these matters correctly because of the fear of losing political mileage. They don’t want to be accused of “de-moralizing” society by opposing forces.

I think that society is changing and has become more aware of gender differences and sexual orientation. Crime has plagued our country for some time now and our young people are being taught to hate, discriminate and show little regard for human life. I say this not only because of the action of government on issues of sexual orientation, but also because our radio stations and cable channels are allowed to preach hate music with sexually perverse lyrics and it is being absorbed in the minds of the impressionable. And when these young minds mature, they act on what they were fed as it becomes established in their judgment, hence crime, violence, domestic abuse, drug abuse, AIDS, etc. How many lives must be sacrificed in order to make money?

It seems like there is no limit, since the government is poised to pay me over $150,000 for wrongful arrest and police harassment, rather than to make all citizens safe and protected under the Equal Opportunity Act.

In spite of the so-called homophobic society we live in, I feel a sense of empowerment since my court victories. People within my home and work community who have supported me were very proud of my victories. I feel like I have a responsibility to prove to them that although I am gay I am first a human being and a man who works hard. Never in my life did I ever feel the need to hide or pretend and they all seem to admire me for that. Things are going quite well for me and partner Kinno, and we will continue to fight in the battle for equality.

Two years ago, Guardian journalist Sascha Wilson and Verna St. Rose-Greaves (host of Treeay on Gayelle TV) introduced Trinidad & Tobago to Kennty Mitchell, his partner, and his unique story. gspottt lae.msy.roj.ram Community Voices is proud to feature them telling you their story in their own words.


From the outside looking in, they call me immoral, they say that I like vice and I have no ambition. How could you live with a man?” they asked me. Others commented, “How long do you think it would last?”

My 10+ years with Kennty were not at all easy, as with all relationships, and just like a heterosexual relationship, there are fears of uncertainty and a number of mental challenges. Imagine me a young man living with another man, afraid of what society may say, afraid to go out, afraid of police harassment. It was not easy. I don’t think that I have one third of the courage that Kennty has. He was mostly a maxi taxi driver. He took care of me and I would play the role of house husband, attending to the special needs of my man. I made some money at home for a while also.

Let’s say that the relationship came to an end. No court in this land that would hear our pleas. All of my inputs, all my contributions, all of my years and tears down the drain. This is another problem faced by many people in same-sex relationships. All of their hard work and money invested, lost. I think that if the law of this land was fair and equal to all, it would allow for gay people to live more meaningfully and, as a result, be able to make more valuable contributions to our country’s development.

My ten years with Kennty have taught me how to be brave, strong and determined.

Looking back at my life now, I can see that we have had a symbiotic relationship. I was never in a relationship before, nor was I a self-confessed homosexual, but from the day I first saw him, I felt an attraction that only he can make me feel. I felt like I needed to show him so much and make his life better. I felt that I needed to take care of him and protect him. But it turned out quite the opposite. I love Kennty very much and I will never forget the day I first met him. We met at a time in my life when I was having difficulty being myself with my family. Kennty is a unique individual and it brings me great joy and satisfaction sharing my life with him. I hate missing a day without just looking at him.

My family has grown to respect our relationship and people within our community admire us for the years spent together. Friends and neighbors often seek us for assistance with many of their varied concerns. I think that the community is aware of the struggle faced by homosexuals and the need to be treated equally. “So what if he gay, as long as he don’t interfere with me,” some would say. And as for them who say “How long you think it would last?”, I am determined to show them.

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”

Know Your Country

A maxi driver made history: Kennty Mitchell sued the State for harassment, and won
A maxi driver made history: Kennty Mitchell sued the State for harassment, and won—twice

Do we know more about the history and struggles of gay, lesbian and transgender people in New York City or Jamaica, South Africa or Cuba, than we do about our own community right here in Trinidad and Tobago?

Do you think there’s anything to know? Would you like to learn?

Do you want to share with other people those sweet stories about back in the day that you laugh or tear up at with those three good friends who are still alive or haven’t migrated? The story your godfather told you about that bar he used to go to, the characters who were the regulars, the people you wouldn’t imagine used to go there, and the time the police raided it?

Jowelle deSouza has been living her life as a Trans woman for decades
Jowelle deSouza has been living as a Trans woman since age 19

Do you know your country? Do you know that there’ve been Pride celebrations in Trinidad & Tobago for 15 years? That a host of colourful and unsung characters have made unrecognized contributions to GLBT community in Trinbago.

CAISO wants to hear these stories; and to share these stories with you!

Stay tuned for our post-Pride history event. And e-mail us if you have history stories you want to share.

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”