Gay day at the CCJ: Round 2, Day 1

Check back later for our blog on more details on today’s hearing of the CARICOM treaty challenges to the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago held at the Caribbean Court of Justice all day today. Three witnesses, the applicant Maurice Tomlinson and the acting immigration directors of both countries were cross-examined. Then Tomlinson’s lawyer, Trinidad & Tobago Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, was grilled by the judges for almost three hours. Belize solicitor general Nigel Hawke concluded his statement and the court adjourned to tomorrow at 9am T&T time, when Trinidad & Tobago will present their case and CARICOM will also make arguments.

Resisting the war on love: Day 4

Terrence Higgins Trust
  • Strange cyberting a gwa’an: one of  CAISO’s Facebook groups keeps generating errors that its messages have been reported for abusive or spammy content. And a CAISOnian reports that can’t be accessed from UWI computers. Weird!
  • A couple CAISOnians, two of them parents, were chatting not too long ago about teenagers: how horribly selfish they are. But the work young people have been doing around the His Way Out visit makes you want to have kids! Choked up yesterday talking about how the His Way Out visit has straight young people organizing to protect gay young people from the adults who are supposed to be protecting them.
  • Atillah Springer on Gayelle, Vernon Ramesar on IETV and Larry Lumsden on Power 102 stepped up to the plate and are putting this story of young people organizing on the air. If you missed WeNews last night and this morning, listen to the amazing interview on “One on One” on IETV Wednesday night at 7 (re-airing 7am Thursday). Or call in to Power 102 during the 9-10 pm broadcast Thursday: 222-TALK or 900-TALK.
  • Don’t forget: youth are again creating an alternative presence at Thursday’s IVCF-hosted His Way Out event on UWI’s campus. Meet at JFK underpass 1:15.
  • Stay tuned for information on television appearances.
  • More “homosexual agenda” jerseys coming soon. Order yours!

After saturating my brain with the culture of politics in the Caribbean for the past six hours, I’ll make this as brief as possible.

  1. Phillip Lee: Self-hating hypocrite who needs to realise he’s a flaming homo.
  2. Dr Judith Henry: Out-of-touch, bigoted sow whose medical licence should be revoked.
  3. The esteemed Mayor of Port-of-Spain: I just lost respect for you.
  4. Justice Yorke Soo-Hon: Don’t know who you are, and definitely not interested in knowing now.
  5. The person who wrote this: Go to school; clearly you don’t know the basic rules of journalism.
  6. The editor(s) who cleared this story: You should be shot reprimanded.
  7. The Trinidad Express: FAIL. Irresponsible, one-sided, embarrassing. Think about Uganda earlier this year, and the recent teen suicides in the US.

I’m ashamed to call myself a Trini right now.

A more just vision of sexual orientation

chopped gay man 42 times; freed by CJ Sharma
Marvin Marcano: chopped Christopher Lynch 42 times, freed by CJ Sharma

Just a few years ago, the courts in Trinidad & Tobago were not a  place GLBT people looked to with much hope of justice on matters of sexual orientation. Some of you can remember the feeling in your stomach the day your heard or read about then Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma’s 2002 verdict releasing back onto the street a man who’d been previously charged with murder and who had taken a Chinese chopper over 40 times to a gay man, splitting his skull and chopping his face open—and had been sentenced to hang for it. Marvin Marcano and a friend, both teenagers at the time, had shared drinks and watched TV with 58-year-old Christopher Lynch before something sexual triggered the violence. Margot Warner who retired recently and Wendell Kangaloo, still on the Appeals Court bench, joined CJ Sharma’s judgement. Whatever the issues of procedural fairness in the trial, there was no forgiving what Sharma read from the bench about a homosexual advance providing justification for such a crime: “The acts themselves were so unnatural that they would have caused a certain reaction,” he said.

But the Court may be changing. Three new justices are about to join the Appeals bench, Humphrey Stollmeyer, Gregory Smith and Rajendra Narine. Sat Sharma left the CJ role under a cloud, and Trinidad & Tobago now has its youngest Chief Justice in history, Ivor Archie, a man who from all appearances has a living, 20/20 vision and understanding of sexual orientation.

gspottt shared with you that across the Commonwealth a network of human rights experts, lawyers and activists has been strategizing and working together to bring an end to the remaining colonial-era buggery laws that we inherited from the mother country, one by one. Most recently Section 377 of India’s penal code was overturned in the courts.

In this final item in our Emancipation Day human rights series, we share excerpts from the 2006 judgment (Suratt v AG, CA 64/2004) penned by Ivor Archie on the constitutionality of the Equal Opporunity Act (EOA), and its deliberate attempt to exclude sexual orientation from the protections it offers against discrimination. Human rights lawyer Anand Ramlogan calls it “one of the best judgments written by a local judge”:

“The EOA is an unusual and contradictory statute since it appears to regard ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as having an identical meaning that is different from ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘sexual preference’. That is the only explanation for the fact that by the definition of ‘sex’ in section 3 it specifically excludes from its protection persons who claim discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or orientation, while at the same time purporting, in section 7, to proscribe certain acts motivated on the basis of ‘gender’. The current usage of those expressions, as may be revealed from an examination of any reputable dictionary, is that while the word ‘sex’ is generally understood to refer to the biological division of species between male and female in respect of reproductive roles, the concept of ‘gender’ is broader and is more of a social, cultural and even psychological construct. In other words, ‘gender’, although it is nowhere defined in the EOA, can include ‘sexual orientation’.

This may not be a fact that is palatable to most persons in Trinidad and Tobago where homosexual acts are generally disapproved and are still subject to criminal sanction, but orientation or preference is not the same as behaviour. I say this with the greatest of deference to the learned trial judge who undertook a very detailed and sensitive analysis of this point. It is not a crime to have a homosexual or lesbian orientation. In fact there is no evidence, at least in this case, that one can choose an orientation although there are those who argue that the sex towards which one’s romantic or sexual desires are focused is more a matter of ‘choice’ or ‘preference’.

It is not for this court to resolve that debate, but it is axiomatic that all legislation has to be construed and applied so as to remain in conformity with the Constitution and in particular the guaranteed rights to equality of treatment and equality before the law under section 4 of the Constitution. To the extent that the EOA is inconsistent with the Constitution it is void. In respect of the exercise of statutory powers, the authorities are clear that, in the absence of some compelling justification, it is unreasonable for a decision-maker to reach a decision that contravenes  or might contravene fundamental rights. Similarly, any law that is on its face discriminatory has to be justified on the basis of some reasonable distinction between those who are differently treated, otherwise it offends against section 5 of the Constitution. Sexual ‘preference’ or ‘orientation’ cannot, by itself, afford such a distinction. In any event, how does one determine such a thing unless it is self-confessed? It is a subjective distinction based on prejudice and stereotyping with no countervailing factors to justify it. Continue reading “A more just vision of sexual orientation”

Dating site crimes against MSM in T&T raised with international human rights body

As we approach Emancipation Day, the international celebration of one of the biggest and longest human rights struggles ever, gspottt turns our attention, in a series of pieces over the next several days, to  questions of human rights.

Since late last year, GLBT groups in Trinidad & Tobago have deepened our participation in a coalition of 17 Latin American and Caribbean organizations and networks that since 2007 has been working on gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation issues in the Inter-American Human Rights system, in partnership with Global Rights, a human rights advocacy group in Washington DC. Next weekend we will update you on our participation in the OAS (Organization of American States) 39th General Assembly meeting in Honduras last month, and what the T&T Government promised to do there.

Through this Latin American coalition and another, Commonwealth-focused one, Trinidad & Tobago citizens and our organizations are part of ongoing collaborative efforts to advance human rights for GLBT people and address the ways in which the criminalization of same-sex intimacy in our laws violates those rights.

On October 24 of last year, the Latin American and Caribbean coalition was granted a hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the first time in its history that the Commission (which has been in the news here of late) held a thematic hearing on human rights violations related to gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. The specific focus of the hearing was on the intersections between discrimination and violence based on gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation, and other forms of intolerance, namely those based on gender, age, socio-economic status and race/ethnicity.

The presentation to the Commission on the Anglophone Caribbean by human rights lawyer (and former T&T resident) Joel Simpson focused on the region’s sodomy laws and their impact on human rights. The violence many in the gay community here are aware  has happened, largely unchecked, to many local users of a well-known website was raised before this international forum in order to illustrate how in Trinidad & Tobago these laws prevent victims from seeking justice. The presentation also drew attention to the intersection between our sodomy laws and access to health.

T&T Police and Ministry of National Security officials had no response when the pattern of attacks was brought to their attention in January 2008. Continue reading “Dating site crimes against MSM in T&T raised with international human rights body”