CAISO is a feminist Civil Society Organisation committed to ensuring wholeness, justice and inclusion for Trinidad and Tobago’s LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities, by developing analysis, alliances and advocacy.
CAISO uses voice, space, work, play and community to improve governance and build a nation all citizens can share. One focus of this mission has been leadership at building intersectional human rights collaborations and at strengthening human rights mechanisms and their use.
Over a decade CAISO has offered the public a consistent voice and face for LGBTI issues shifting the needle measurably in how the nation imagines, understands and talks about sex/gender diversity. We have successfully built alliances—among LGBTI groups; with other T&T NGOs and movements; and internationally. CAISO’s collaborations have developed interventions and capacity to deliver justice and build resilience.
I need to tell a story because I don’t want us to forget it. Lost between prideful new clamour here and origin myths of the North. It’s a story of a Saturday ten years ago Thursday gone. All seven of us in that upstairs O’Connor St office are still alive. David’s in Canada, Sharon the US; the others mainly here.
I’ve been chatting all week with colleagues gathered in Medellín at the OAS General Assembly (GA) for the annual political fight by Caribbean states to constrict hemispheric human rights norms on sexuality and gender diversity to the smallness of their sense of justice. Beholding livestreamed hypocrisy by homewrecking politicians from tiny places holding 60 million people who can’t vote for them hostage to their masquerade of piety. Since 2007, LGBTI groups across the hemisphere have been a hopeful part of civil society presence at the GA, winning a recurring resolution putting the Americas on record together about political commitment to human rights for LGBTI people.
Ten years ago Angela represented TT, before WhatsApp kept people constantly in touch. We had Facebook, though. That’s why she went. She’d created a group, Velvet Underground, with 725 secret gay and lesbian members, aged 18-60. It was the closest thing to a mass-based organisation. The year following the historic OAS resolution, Latin American activists reached out to Caribbean counterparts to broaden national diversity in GA presence and increase pressure to join consensus on Caribbean states — unsurprisingly, the main resisters until Guyana’s minister said out loud how really backward that looked. Whatever buggery laws say, states with them can’t say they won’t protect LGBTI people from discrimination and violence.
So, thanks to open borders, and remembering Buzz and June 19th, queer TT sent our Grenadian Facebookmistress to San Pedro Sula. Imagining that when she returned from that powerful experience of a champagne toast chatting with the Secretary General, and watching her humanity named and affirmed in august diplomatic votes, something might catch fire here. We set up a Saturday meeting for the ignition to happen.
The story was in the papers Friday. Not Angela. Marlene. The gender minister surprised the press, announcing at Thursday 25th’s post-Cabinet news conference that yet another gender policy was to be laid in Parliament. The last one — that Joan Yuille Williams commissioned from UWI-IGDS — had been dramatically excised by Patrick Manning from his budget speech on the House floor after lawyers for Jesus and charismatic Catholics held prayer vigil on Jerningham Ave.
So media eagerly asked Marlene if the b*lling and bab***lling that opponents had imagined the 2003 policy would license were still in the 2009 one. McDonald bluntly clarified Government’s position on the latter — women who couldn’t afford the services of an Opposition politician’s familymember, they’d later mock on election platforms, could not depend on the PNM to help them end an unwanted pregnancy medically. But on the former, Marlene denied like Peter. Thrice. This policy provides no measures, she read from its preamble, dealing with same-sex unions. Homosexuality. Sexual orientation.
Cyrus, David, Del, Geoffrey, Luke and Sharon showed that Saturday. David and I had fought (as usual) over who should be invited. Leaders of groups only, he’d insisted, no-one else Angela might inspire. Angela mixed the dates up, anyhow, never showing for the magically catalysing event we planned.
But for the seven of us, Marlene was kindling enough. If our gender minister couldn’t include us in national policy, we concluded, we needed to include ourselves. Reverse-engineering words for an acronym spelling the thing that Rudder epitomised as “lyrics to make a politician cringe,” we came up with Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (never mind the trans and intersex folks). Putting the words in David’s mouth, our release accused Government of “1919 thinking,” power-drunk and backward; and proclaimed our 20/20 vision of citizenship and sexuality. We felt so proud.
We were blissfully ignorant our Saturday fell the day before the 40th anniversary of that riotous morning the world has made a marker of the modern gay rights movement. If we had a Stonewall, it involved police and bars, but not pennies. Emancipation Day two years before, a giggling, bigger group of us greeted the fat, gold-toothed driver, washrag over his shoulder, who alit from the green-band maxi. That July 4, we’d been mesmerised reading his story in our papers, that after police imprisoned him, taunting him naked for being gay, he’d decided he was somebody, sued. And won.
We’ve had queer groups here since the 1980s (Friends for Life’ 87), working on social support and HIV. But Kennty’s judgment was a pivot for our movement: visibility and policy were now priorities.
The OAS resolution passed by consensus again, TT footnoting its reservation.
Over the past ten years, CAISO’s gone from forced acronym to household word. And I didn’t want that Saturday to become a footnote.