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.

Pride (noun) a sense of one’s own worth; the occasion or ground of self-esteem;

self-respect; pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement; sexual
desire, esp. in a female animal; a flamboyant or impressive group

July 2010 is the 16th annual celebration of Pride in Trinidad & Tobago
How are you showing yours?

At London Pride this past weekend, one of the first Caribbean young people to head a GLBT campus group in the UK sports his CAISO jersey. The British-born 21-year-old supported CAISO's work by ordering the shirt and making a donation online.

For a fuller calendar of Pride 2010 events, contact Velvet Underground
369-5351 •

July 6
Pride Arts & Craft Workshop I: Paper Making, Clay & Plaster Sculpting

July 7
Friends for Life Pride Chatroom opens

July 8
Financial Planning for the Future 5pm

July 10
Two parties
Lesbian (women only) Pride party
Pride & Prejudice

July 14
Lesbian chatroom

July 15
Pride Arts & Craft Workshop II: Poetry, Music & Dance

July 16 &17
Social events

July 18
Rainbow Movies

July 20
All Fours Competition

July 21
Chatroom: Gay-Straight Alliances

July 23
Velvet Underground Annual Pride pool tournament

July 25
Annual Pride Memorial celebrating the lives, joy,
laughter and memories of our lost brothers and sisters
6 pm, Bohemia

July 28

July 30
CAISO anniversary ecumenical thanksgiving service

July 31

August 14
Tobago Pride/Las Lap

pride audio (prd) KEY


  1. A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
  2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.
  3. Arrogant or disdainful conduct or treatment; haughtiness.
    1. A cause or source of pleasure or satisfaction; the best of a group or class: These soldiers were their country’s pride.
    2. The most successful or thriving condition; prime: the pride of youth.
  4. An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.
  5. Mettle or spirit in horses.
  6. A company of lions. See Synonyms at flock1.
  7. A flamboyant or impressive group: a pride of acrobats.

prid·ed, prid·ing, prides

To indulge (oneself) in a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction: I pride myself on this beautiful garden.

Middle English, from Old English prde, from prd, proud ; see proud
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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.

A gay parade down Frederick St., complete with floats and drag queens

clad in outrageous Pride colours. Walking through the Promenade on a Friday evening, hand in hand with your same-sex lover. Making a lifetime commitment to your same-sex partner.

As 2009’s Pride season draws to a close, David Soomarie reflects:

If you ask any gay person what they want in terms of gay rights, they will easily pick one or all of the above. The ability to publicly and openly demonstrate our same-gender affection is visible manifestation of our freedom of choice and of our right to be.

At the heart of what we’re really saying is that we want the freedom to express ourselves in those ways, if we so chose. However, the issue is more than just these open and public displays of same-gender behaviors; it’s an issue of openness, acceptance and equality. It’s the ability to co-exist with our heterosexual community. It’s living in a country where diversity of sexual expression is not oppressed, but embraced. In other words, can we not equally co-exist with our heterosexual brothers and sisters?

Why are co-existence and equality important? Any society understands that in creating a 20/20 vision you must uphold the dignity and respect of all its citizens, and that includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In creating this 20/20 vision, archaic laws that have allowed for oppression and injustice will have to be repealed, and in so doing pave the way for a new wave of social activism.

What does this mean for the LGBT community? It means that social, medical and protective services will have no grounds to discriminate against us. In fact, it will call for a review of social policies that allow for discrimination and provide a basis for redress. We will no longer have to hide our sexual orientation on insurance applications for fear of not getting it. We can challenge the blood bank, which will not take blood from HIV negative gay men, as we constitute a “high risk” group. It means we have ammunition to sue landlords, employers or any one else who discriminates against us.

It also means that we can be free to create our own social spaces. That we can develop appropriate and relevant social programmes specially designed for our LGBT community, and address its psychosocial needs.

More than that, it means that we can provide hope to an upcoming generation of LGBTs. It means than we can provide a safe and nurturing environment for a young gay man and reduce his risk taking behaviours…behaviours that can endanger his life.  We can provide a home for those ostracised by their families. It means that we have mentors to aid in empowering the young lesbian so she can defend her sexuality in a machismo society. It would mean that we no longer have to hide and suppress our sexuality under the cloak of heterosexualism.

More than just a gay parade.

It’s about having the right to be…no more, no less, just human.

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Over 200 people attended T&T’s 15th annual Pride Memorial Sunday before last: Jaase shares her photo essay on the event

Celebrating those gone before us

Rainbowed faces smile and dance while mortal brothers and sisters dance and prance weekend after weekend. Not realising the deeper meaning behind PRIDE. Being caught in the heat of the moment, forget condomise…some flooded with lies of the reality of HIV and AIDS….Brother…Sister…do you prefer to see your face on the wall? or do you want to celebrate another memorial on this Earth…It’s your call.

The wall says volumes

A tapestry of emotion plastered on plain walls. If these walls could talk they could cry from pain and love. While we sit and listen to unending calls to protect ourselves memorial after memorial. After 15 years of Pride, what have we achieved? Only but 15 years of crying walls? or 15 years of love?

Standing in the light of remembrance

Standing in the light of remembrance. And in each flame burns a memory of all who went before us. Faces reflect in the light of the eyes of bowed heads and in the memory of all of us as a family as we interlink souls, forming one community.

As the list grows every year, we need to see the importance of protecting ourselves from HIV/AIDS.

Names read out minute after minute.A constant flow which you wish could cease, but can’t . Name after name after name. I know her, I know him….Sheldon, Jason, Tracy, Kim. I remember when we limed…they eyes shone dim. And my friend…oh dear friend..I did not assist. Did I disappoint? Because maybe I was not there to help you when you needed, but maybe I was there before and prayed that you heeded my warnings of HIV….but maybe you did not listen to me. Now I stand and annually hear you name, but I will never hang my head in shame, but instead hold my head so proud and know that the message of HIV is reaching and educating a much larger crowd.

Fallen soldier
A face of our fallen. Rest in peace, till the day we meet again. Your legacy lives on in our hearts and your story plays on the life’s stage everyday.

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Build an authentic community! The worship thing will come…

In one of the surprise successes of the 2009 Pride season, some sixty men and women turned out in equal numbers Wednesday night July 22 to talk about faith and sexuality, pain and healing, abuse and inclusion by the Christian church. For over two hours they talked with each other, Anglican Canon Dr. Knolly Clarke, and Roman Catholic Fr. Clyde Harvey. The two priests have led efforts at pastoral care and understanding on behalf of the GLBT community. The event brought to a close a Pride month series of discussions in the Friends for Life “Chatroom” on spirituality and sexuality, aimed at setting in motion community efforts to create an interfaith worship service for the community in late August.

The diverse crowd, ages 20 to 50, included a journalist, a former seminarian, a bisexual man, someone living with HIV, someone who spends most of her free time in church, a TV personality, an unemployed young person, a Spiritual Baptist, the child of a Jehovah’s Witness, a woman who said she sees God when she eats pussy, among others. In over two hours of conversation, powerful words and experiences were shared on all sides.

A series of Pride month discussions of sexuality in the Friends for Life chatroom leads into an August interfaith worship service
A series of Pride month discussions of sexuality in the Friends for Life chatroom leads ti me & ti de into an August interfaith worship service

Jesus became human in order to show us how to do so, Rev. Clarke opened by saying. Fr. Harvey, who arrived later, would echo those same words, saying a common mistake is the idea that God is a reward for being good, when the Gospel is in fact a gospel of grace in our imperfection. Both priests shared a vision of creating healing worship communities that allow people to be free to live out their true selves instead of “playing a mas”, to take care of each other, and to challenge each other to grow. They talked about how fundamentalism uses the Bible as a weapon to inflict spiritual violence.

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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.