“No thank you!” CAISO has responded to Government’s proposal the day after Valentine’s Day for a national debate and referendum on same-sex marriage, made by Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs during Senate debate on the Statutory Authorities (Amendment) Bill. That legislation seeks to extend a death benefit available to public servants’ next of kin to the employees of statutory authorities. It goes further, to include in the potential beneficiaries common-law partners of unmarried employees and their children born out of wedlock – but restricts the benefit to only partners “of the opposite sex”. In floor debate, Government Senators defended on “religious” and “cultural” grounds their decision to recognize fornicators, but not sodomites.
Illustrating the circus such a proposed debate would be, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Subhas Panday, a Hindu, interrupted an Independent Senator, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, as she criticized the bill for “entrenching” this discriminatory provision and bucking where the world was moving, by shouting a reference to an imaginary verse of Leviticus: 52. (Leviticus has only 27 chapters.) CAISO doesn’t trust that this debate proposal won’t simply take Trinidad & Tobago down the same path of national conflict and global embarrassment as Uganda, ironically as we too chair the Commonwealth of Nations. Holding a popular “referendum” (the word the Government used) on whether citizens who are a minority group have equal rights would also make the nation a laughingstock in the international community.
The proposal is a distraction, Government clearly isn’t listening, and has its priorities on GLBT issues wrong. CAISO has consistently given the Government six politically feasible national priorities for action; and same-sex unions or debate on them was never one. We’ve written the Prime Minister, and we met with Minister King early in the new administration to share these six items.
- supportive transitional housing to address the homelessness, undereducation and employability issues created by discrimination
- training to reduce police bias and abuse
- making schools safe from bullying and violence for young people, including heterosexual young men who are also harmed by homophobia
We also advocated that Min. King build her own Ministry’s capacity to support the Government with planning, policy and programme development related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), through staffing, and government-to-government technical assistance; and we submitted an FY2011 citizen’s budget proposal for a SOGI desk in the Ministry.
Most important, we asked the Government to take action to protect us from the discrimination and violence we face on a daily basis because of who we are, discrimination that is fuelled when national leaders speak of us on television and radio from the chambers of Parliament, not as citizens who have sex in our bedrooms with other adults and party and form organizations and love each other and voted for them, but as people who are controversial and sensitive and connected to illegality and whose rights and relationships require debate.
The Equal Opportunity Act, a brainchild of the UNC Government, which has just entered its second decade, is an ideal vehicle to enact those discrimination protections. (The Catholic Commission on Social Justice, which opposed the 2004 Gender Policy, agrees that we ought to be so protected.) There is furthermore measurable national consensus in Trinidad & Tobago on protecting people from discrimination in basic walks of life, regardless to their sexuality. The Equal Opportunity Commission the Act established is also an ideal vehicle to take the national look at equality, sexual orientation and discrimination, and needed responses, that Min. King is concerned with – in a sober, deliberate and apolitical fashion. In the functions the Act assigns the Commission, it provides for it to review emerging questions of discrimination, conduct research and make recommendations.
In explaining why the Government had specifically excluded unmarried same-sex partners from the bill, Minister of Public Administration Sen. Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam admitted she was not a legal expert but went ahead to conclude same-sex relations were illegal. As a result, she argued (before correcting herself), Government “can’t put the horse before the cart”. This seems sadly true. Protecting GLBT citizens from discrimination and violence is the political horse our Government should be riding, not flogging gay marriage.
Finally, CAISO has repeatedly asked the Government to exercise leadership and speak out boldly against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression, and we congratulated the Prime Minister because she did so at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha just days after the election. She has also done so on HIV. We have also acknowledged the Government for its bipartisan work on strengthening the right to privacy.
Furthermore, we have persistently asked Government to listen and to consult, and offered our help and partnership with building a nation for everyone. But our Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CAISO the reason they abstained on two UN votes late last year was because Government does not have a position on whether gay people have a right to life. Young people are still being beaten by their families and bullied in school. Crime victims of anti-gay violence are taunted as bullers by police officers. A dozen 20-something-year-olds, many of whom have nowhere to go because of who they are and who are unsafe in the shelter, were recently charged for loitering. And our humanity is seen by the Government as in need of debate.
- is seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar;
- has renewed our call for Government to partner with us in convening a public forum so citizens of this country, especially brave young gay, lesbian, bi and trans young people who live day to day in a nation that fails to protect them from prejudice and violence, can tell Government their stories and what are their priority concerns for GLBT people in Trinidad & Tobago; and
- we are urging Minister King to commission a study by the Equal Opportunity Commission on discrimination in employment, education and provision of goods, services or accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
We salute Independent Senators James Armstrong, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, and notably Helen Drayton who hammered away at the Government. They all assailed the restrictive common-law provision in the bill as antiquated and inconsistent with state obligations of equal treatment. And PNM Senators Pennelope Beckles-Robinson and Terrence Deyalsingh showed welcome compassion on the issue. Sen. Beckles-Robinson, the Opposition Leader in the Senate, proposed to Government a modest amendment, which Sen. Panday rejected, that would have avoided enshrining in law new discriminatory language and simply have the bill reference the Cohabitational Relationships Act. What these Senators displayed was that many good people in Trinidad & Tobago of different political persuasions are more than ready to end the ways in which our laws and public policy discriminate unnecessarily against gay and lesbian people. They also displayed that those who do so are in the highest office, and that they are unafraid to speak out publicly. We also saw the sad display of how politicians who defend intolerance on religious grounds often can’t even cite the scriptures they are hiding their personal prejudice behind.
16 February, 2011
Sen. Hon. Mary King
Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring & Gender Affairs
Level 14, Eric Williams Financial Complex
Independence Square, Port of Spain
Dear Minister King:
I am writing, in the wake of yesterday’s Senate debate on the Statutory Authorities (Amendment) bill, to ask you to meet again with me and other representatives of our Coalition at the earliest opportunity. We would like to discuss:
Government Senators’ conduct and remarks during the debate, including your own, and the damage we believe they risk doing to the cause of equality
the status of the community listening forum proposed in our July 8, 2010 meeting and discussions with you, MP Ramdial and other Government officials;
an alternative or complementary approach to the political referendum you proposed yesterday for achieving national engagement with human rights questions of sexual orientation, gender identity and discrimination, involving the Equal Opportunity Commission
Caribbean associations working on reproductive, sexuality and HIV issues have issued a brief joint statement of condolence and tribute to the life of slain Sexual Minorities Uganda human rights defender David Kato Kisule. The statement, signed by over 30 groups in 16 territories, calls attention, in the United Nations Year of People of African Descent, to David’s international inspiration as an African defender of sexual rights. It notes the continuing danger that sexuality and the human rights defenders who work in this area face in the Caribbean and elsewhere; and Governments’ failure to champion people’s freedom over their own bodies when it comes to sexuality.
Across the Caribbean, those of us who knew Sexual Minorities Uganda advocacy officer David Kato Kisule as a friend, as well as those who only read of his work, are deeply moved by his powerful and courageous life. As fellow sexual rights advocates, we convey deepest condolences to all his loved ones and fellow activists on his awful murder. We have been horrified by the inhumanity and hysteria of Uganda’s parliamentary, media and clergy campaigns to deny gay people like David the simple right to liberty, privacy, dignity and joy. We join others throughout the African diaspora in our pride in David’s conviction and passion as an outspoken African champion of sexual autonomy – even when it put his liberty and life in great danger – and his record as an internationally recognized human rights defender. His inspiration stretches around the globe to those who also struggle against ignorance, indifference and violence to create countries and a world where everyone can enjoy our sexuality as something good and wholesome and worthwhile, free from shame and coercion.
Were it not for advocacy late last year, 13 Caribbean countries would have allowed “sexual orientation” to be removed from an international statement of commitment to protect persons from unlawful killing because of who they are. David’s death, following threats against his life, is a gripping reminder of the importance of those protections, and a sobering one of how much more work needs to be done to give people the right to freedom over their bodies in places like Africa and the Caribbean, where battles against slavery, colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide, gender inequality and religious persecution ought to have taught us better lessons. David’s life and death are reason to renew international commitment to sexual rights, to increase our vigilance for our colleagues in danger in Uganda. We respectfully urge Uganda’s politicians, media and clergy and international Christian advocates who have become entangled in this hostility to seize the opportunity to bring an end to yet another painful chapter of intergroup violence in Africa.
AIDS Action Foundation – St. Lucia • AIDS Free World • ALFA: Alternative Life Foundation Aruba • Alianza GTH – República Dominicana • Amigos Siempre Amigos – República Dominicana • ASPIRE: Advocates for Safe Parenthood-Improving Reproductive Equity – Trinidad & Tobago • Barbados Family Planning Association • Belize Family Life Association • Belize National AIDS Commission • CAISO: Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation – Trinidad & Tobago • Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation • Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition • Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition • CariFLAGS: Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities • DiBo: Diversity Bonaire • DominicaChaps • Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago • Foko Curaçao Pride • Fondation SEROvie – Haiti • GrenCHAP – Grenada • J-FLAG: Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays • MOVADAC: Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee – Barbados • Pink Orange Dutch Caribbean LGBTI Alliance • Pride In Action – Jamaica • RevASA: Red de Voluntarios de ASA – República Dominicana • SASOD: Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – Guyana • SASH Bahamas: Society Against STIs & HIV • Tjenbé Rèd: Fédération de lutte contre les racismes, les homophobies & le sida issue des communautés afrocaribéennes • UniBAM: United Belize Advocacy Movement • United and Strong – St. Lucia • Women Against Rape, Inc – Antigua • Women’s Institute for Alternative Development – Trinidad & Tobago • Women Way – Suriname
The statement has appeared, among other places: GBM News, Guyana Chronicle, International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region News Update, International Resource Network, Kaieteur News (Sun. 31 Jan, p. 48), SASOD blog, St. Lucia Voice, Tjenbé Rèd
On January 19, 2010 Pastor Martin Ssempa holds a press conference, one of several public forums, often held in churches, in which he shows pornographic films depicting gay men fisting and rimming to whip up disgust for gay people.
On October 2, 2010 Giles Muhame publishes the following issue of Uganda’s Rolling Stone, featuring activist David Kato in the photograph at left.
On January 3, 2010 Kato and two others win damages (US$650) in a court case that enjoins the paper from further outing. The victory is reported as “Rolling Stone ruling – finally a ray of hope for gay activists in Uganda”.
On January 27, 2011 Kato dies after being bludgeoned in the head at his home. The Uganda police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba says they don’t believe this is a hate crime: “It looks like theft…some things were stolen”.
Who killed David Kato? Val Kalende, Board Chair of Freedom & Roam Uganda thinks “David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by US Evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan Government and the so-called US Evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”
Left to right: Kato, Lively, Bahati, Ssempa, Muhame
“Trinidad and Tobago hardly seems a likely battleground for America’s culture wars,” a Georgetown University professor wrote for the Washington Post/Newsweek recently.
“But recent months have seen a drama there involving visits by American pastors with an anti-gay agenda…[and] a response by locally based rights groups…The story begins with announcements of a planned visit by American pastors sent by His Way Out Ministries…a group based in Bakersfield, Calif. … As reported in a Trinidad and Tobago newspaper, the visit’s purpose was pretty clear: ‘Local Christian groups…have declared war on the issue of same-sex attractions…’
“a local group, CAISO…were especially concerned by…plans to target young people with an anti-gay agenda. …CAISO was aware of the devastating impact U.S. evangelical groups had in Uganda, where a legislator proposed an anti-gay bill imposing the death penalty for some forms of gay sex…Trying to prevent the HWO visit seemed unwise and probably futile. CAISO alerted public health, HIV, and youth welfare officials to their concerns about the likely damage the visit could do to sexuality education and the effort to combat stigma and discrimination. They challenged leaders to stand up.”
So we did in fact:
And here’s how our Ministry of the People & Social Development – the one where the Prime Minister pledged “any interest group who believes their legitimate cause is not being heard by the relevant authorities” and “feel their needs and pleas for help are being overlooked or ignored by the authorities” can “take their grievances and be heard” – responded. We thought you wouldn’t believe it unless you read it in their own words.
Well, at least they didn’t say the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would protect us. They abstained – twice – on the issue of whether people at heightened risk of murder, assassination or execution because of their sexual orientation deserved mention in a United Nations human rights resolution a few weeks ago. We’ll put theirs up here too when they write us another letter saying why our Government won’t protect us.
As CARICOM citizens, we are proud that a majority of Caribbean nations stood up in the United Nations General Assembly on December 22 and voted together, in the words of the Rwanda delegation, to “recognise that … people (of different sexual orientation) continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many … other groups”.
Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St Kitts-Nevis joined 85 other nations in voting specifically to mention sexual orientation, in a biennial UN resolution, as one ground of vulnerability for being murdered or executed unlawfully for who you are.
All but one of our Caribbean governments had supported an effort in committee by a bloc of Arab, African and Islamic nations, several of which execute gays and lesbians or would like to, to remove the reference. We appreciate their responsiveness, with the notable exception of Trinidad and Tobago, to our reasoned appeals. We salute the foreign ministries of Belize and Jamaica who communicated with gay and lesbian voters about their December vote, a welcome measure of accountability and transparency in our foreign policy.
On the other hand, the St Lucia delegation seems not to have listened to their prime minister’s pledge in Parliament this April to “stand against stigma and discrimination in all its forms” and “guarantee non-discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation”. St Lucia stood apart from CARICOM in voting no.
We, in the Caribbean, have lived largely free of the levels of violence experienced by postcolonial nations like Rwanda . But we continue to harbour a colonial mentality that some groups are more worthy than others; and homophobic killings are a reality several places in the region. We hope that, without the need for atrocity to teach us this lesson, our governments will mature in their understanding that everyone has an essential right to equality and protection because they are human.
LETTER: CARICOM citizens congratulated for vote at UN Assembly,
Dominica News Online, 31 December 2010
We wrote our Government. We faxed. We called. We e-mailed. The Foreign Ministry. The UN mission. We thought we could rely on the People’s Partnership campaign promise that “foreign policy and its implementation must be guided by the principles of good governance, i.e. transparency, accountability, participation and effective representation”. Or their commitment to foreign policy objectives that pursue “the sustainable human development and human security of all the people of T&T”. Or their plan to pursue six targeted priorities at the UN, one of them human rights.
But no one could tell us how our country would vote when the UN decided yesterday whether to restore a reference to sexual orientation in a resolution about protecting people from being killed for who they are. A bloc of Arab and African nations had got narrow support to remove the specific reference in a committee vote in November. Trinidad & Tobago had abstained then. The vote had received a lot of negative attention.
Other than St. Lucia, every other country in the region changed its vote on the issue in a positive direction when pressed to take a stand for the second vote yesterday. A majority of Caribbean nations – Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis – voted Yes to including attention to sexual orientation in the resolution! And Jamaica and Belize sent clear messages to their GLBT communities well before the vote that they would not oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation. Aren’t you proud? Of Caribbean governments. And of the calibre of GLBT advocacy in the region.
But we’re a bit ashamed of our own government. The nation with one of the most vibrant GLBT communities in the region – and, we’re sure, gay Members of Parliament – sat on the fence and abstained, again. What reason could we have; and who will explain it?
However, to our delight, an African nation has a lesson for us. Rwanda understands how critically important human rights are, and what extrajudicial executions mean. And their UN delegation told their colleagues what cynically leaving sexual orientation out of the resolution for political or “cultural” reasons would do. Imagine if our Government had shown international leadership like that: sigh! Read below or listen at 01:16:39.
Olivier Nduhungirehe, First Counsellor at Rwanda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, explains his country’s vote in the General Assembly on December 21, 2010 to support an amendment restoring sexual orientation to the language of a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.
Thank you, sir, for giving me the floor. Rwanda would like to explain its vote on this amendment submitted by the United States.
Sexual orientation, sir, is a concept which sparks very animated debate in the international level, at the national level, even within our families. It relates to our respective cultures, our way of living, or our religions. This debate generally relates to the definition of this concept of sexual orientation, also the criminalization of such practices, and family rights that have to be granted to people who have a different sexual orientation. This is a complex issue, and no definitive decisions have been taken internationally, and within states or even continents there are very conflicting, seemingly irreconcilable positions. Rwanda feels that sexual orientations of our compatriots is a totally private matter where states cannot intervene, either to award new rights or to discriminate or criminalize those who have such an orientation.
But the matter before us now is very different, sir. Here the General Assembly of the United Nations is called upon, not to grant family rights to people with a different sexual orientation, not to give an opinion on the criminalization of such practices, but to decide whether such men and women have the right to life. Sir, in listing specific groups such as national or racial or ethnic or religious or linguistic or even political or ideological or professional groups, the authors of this resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution have clearly wished to draw attention to high-risk groups that are frequently the target of murder, assassination or execution. We wish to alert states to the vulnerability of such groups and the reality of the crimes committed against them, and to call for prosecution of authors of such acts. Whether or not the concept is defined or not, whether or not we support the claims of people with a different sexual orientation, whether or not we approve of their sexual practices – but we must deal with the urgency of these matters and recognize that these people continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many of the other groups listed. This is unfortunately true, and recognizing this is not a call to give them special rights; it’s just recognition of a crime, that their fundamental rights, their right to life should not be refused. But to refuse to recognize this reality for legal or ideological or cultural reasons will have the consequence of continuing to hide our heads in the sand and to fail to alert states to these situations that break families. Believe me, sir, that a human group doesn’t need to be legally defined to be the victim of execution or massacre, since those who target their members have previously defined them. Rwanda has experienced this sixteen years ago indeed, and for this reason our delegation will vote for the amendment, and calls on other delegations to do likewise.
Here is how His Way Out Ministries reports on its recent, October trip to Trinidad & Tobago. If they can’t get the name of UWI right or the fact they were in an engineering lecture room in the corner of the campus, you can imagine many of the other details are pretty imaginative. But we will make a mas again celebrating Trinidad & Tobago’s resilience to imported homophobia when Phillip comes back for Carnival.
At no time was the expression “war on same-sex attraction” ever used during the entire time in Trinidad. The wording was unfortunate and addressed by myself and Hospital Christian Fellowship through various and numerous media outlets.
Aside from the Prayer Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pastor Phillip shared in numerous schools, a Youth Rally, shared at Agape Bible Ministries Church, was a guest on two radio programs, held a training seminar for pastors and Christian leaders in Tobago, and met with the Mayor of Port of Spain in which the Mayor requested training for his staff on the complexities of homosexuality. The trip ultimately concluded with Pastor Phillip speaking at the University of the West in Trinidad which was held in the Lecture Center on the campus.
Hospital Christian Fellowship, a Christian organization comprised of medical doctors and lawyers, could not have been more hospitable with focus and emphasis on every trip detail from beginning to end. Presently, Hospital Christian Fellowship is discussing the possibility of a return trip to Trinidad possibly in March of 2011. With the huge amount of individuals, families and church leaders approaching Pastor Phillip at each and every venue during the trip, Trinidad and Tobago stands on the threshold of birthing and offering ministry to those struggling with the complexities of same-gender attraction.
For our side of the story, read and watch:
- The real story: tune in
- Brendon O’Brien on ieTV
- Lying, ducking and hiding (misinformation during the visit, including the “war on same-sex attraction” line)
- Christians declare war on love: don’t let them outshout you (Saturday, Day 1: the “youth rally” protest in South)
- Resisting the war on love, Day 2: Can young people get some credit in the media? Providence! (Sunday, Day 2: media houses & MovieTowne)
- Resisting the war on love Pt. 3 (Monday, Day 3: Emmanuel Community, Lee’s stump speech, public opinion)
- Resisting the war on love: Day 4 (Tuesday, Day 4: miscellanea)
- We take a pride in our liberty (background analysis on His Way Out Ministries, the evangelical Christian Right, the global ex-gay ministry, why they are coming to the Caribbean, and the rationale behind CAISO response)
Like many other Trinbagonians, we want a responsible government that is going to protect and take care of all its people, and not leave some behind…a government that is going to provide for different groups (young, middle-aged, and elderly, women, transgender people, and men, gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual) according to their needs. We want a country where no one is a second-class citizen. CAISO…is a coalition of advocates, community organizers, party promoters, parents, students and organisations connected to GLBT communities in Trinidad & Tobago. We are committed to building a nation that is inclusive, forward-thinking and just…[and] representatives who will fight to ensure that:
- every person in Trinidad & Tobago is protected from discrimination and violence and has equal access to protection by the police, the courts and the Equal Opportunity Commission…
- all children in our nation’s schools are safe from violence and bullying, are treated with fairness and attention regardless to who their parents may be, and are nurtured to express and grow into their individual selves
- everyone, regardless to where they live, who they are, or how they look, is able to access quality healthcare, which is delivered by personnel at all levels who treat their patients with dignity and respect
- people, especially young people, who are pushed into homelessness by circumstances in their lives, families or the economy, or by their inability to find employment, can participate in programmes that meet them where they are and provide a bridge to self-sufficiency
- young people in every community can grow up into healthy sexual lives as adults, free from physical or emotional coercion, abuse or violence
- young people in our nation can enjoy a full range of opportunities and dreams without fear that certain choices or achievement are not appropriate to their gender…
- victims of crime, regardless to the nature of the crime, are treated with professionalism and sensitivity by the police and the criminal justice system in general
CAISO’s 2010 general election brochure