CAISO is a feminist civil society organisation committed to ensuring wholeness, justice and inclusion for Trinidad and Tobago’s LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) communities, by developing analysis, alliances and advocacy.
Founded in June 2009 as Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, CAISO changed its name in 2016 to CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice, to align closer with the growth in our areas of focus, namely wholeness, justice, and inclusion. For over a decade, CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice has offered the public a consistent voice and face for LGBTQI+ issues and human rights, shifting the needle measurably on how the nation imagines, understands, and talks about sex and gender diversity and sexual justice.
CAISO has successfully built alliances – among LGBTQI groups, with other Trinidad & Tobago NGOs and movements, and internationally – and has worked collaboratively to build capacity and resilience, make interventions, and deliver justice. CAISO is a leader in sharing and building others’ capacity with respect to human rights mechanisms and advocacy – and has participated in three cycles of the UN human rights mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) through testimonies and joint submissions with fellow human rights organisations. CAISO championed the creation of a shared delivery mechanism to make core management functions affordable for CSOs, and mobilised the Inter-American Development Bank NextGen Board and the Cropper Foundation to develop a pilot, which is in progress and launched in December 2021 as the Online Hub, CSO Go.
Since 2011, CAISO has focused attention on the Equal Opportunity Act and campaigned for legislative amendments to add three (age, health, LGBTI status) Equal Opportunity protections. CAISO continues to recognise national (Equal Opportunity Commission), regional (IACHR) and international institutions and mechanisms (UPR) as important guardians of human rights. This advocacy led to CAISO developing a model LGBTI Workplace Policy launched in 2021 targeting the private sector and small businesses and organisations who want to create an enabling working environment for all.
CAISO has been the lead convener of the Alliance for Justice and Diversity (AJD), which is a social justice coalition of LGBTQI+ organisations. Through this coalition, CAISO led the creation of two shared LGBTI Policy Agendas (in 2015 and 2020), which continue to drive our political and policy advocacy work. Further, CAISO was a lead partner of the successful Human Rights Project in partnership with AJD and the UWI IGDS (2017-2021) – “A Sexual Culture of Justice” - which created important local and regional research and knowledge products and transformative approaches to ending GBV and LGBTQI+ discrimination.
CAISO is fueled by creativity and is a programme partner of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Through this partnership, CAISO has organised an annual festival event that celebrates Caribbean LGBTQI+ writers and writing (in 2017 as Lit On Fleek and in 2018 and 2019 as BackChat). CAISO also partnered with Bocas to host and produce "The Treachery in Every Poem - Celebration of Colin Robinson's Poetry" in 2020. This work of celebrating and using creative imagination remains at the centre of our work to transform harmful cultural norms.
In 2021, CAISO went through many changes with the loss of founder Colin Robinson, but weathered challenging times (and a pandemic), which continue to affect us. CAISO was able to sustain the work as well as possible through a year of succession planning – building upon Colin’s legacy. The CAISO team embraced the challenges and developed pathways for expansion and were able to initiate several new projects and a service provision programme that reflect our growth as an organisation.
The largest expansion started in 2020 through the programme Wholeness & Justice, (launched officially with a smaller scope due to the pandemic, May to Oct 2020, and full launch of the programme in Dec 2020). The programme provides legal and psyco-social support services for LGBTQI+ people living in Trinidad & Tobago who experience human rights violations – and thereby expands access to wholeness, justice and health and human services. The programme is committed to responding to violations of LGBTQI+ community members, with an emphasis on trans, non-binary, gender-non-conforming and intersex people; and to deliver clinically competent, trauma-informed interventions that enable healing and resilience. Key insights and analysis from over a full year of providing legal, clinical, and social services (to over thirty clients in 2021) have affirmed the need for this programme and our continued investment.
Other notable projects include “Sign Together” – a year-long project that is training LGBTQI+ people and service providers in Sign Language, offering support for Deaf LGBTQI+ leaders, and providing LGBTQI+ sensitivity and deaf culture training for sign interpreters and service providers; and “Finding an Equal Place at Work,” which builds upon the workplace policy through education and training for organisations. In June 2021, CAISO launched a Caribbean Responsive Grant Mechanism for Caribbean LGBTQI+ organisations (in partnership with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), which funded 13 organisations across 8 countries in Cycle One. The methodology and review process for the Responsive Grant Mechanism was co-created by CAISO, Astraea, and a regional committee.
CAISO’s growth and expansion since 2020 reflect a dedicated board of directors, team of consultants, and volunteers who are fierce and defiant in justice work and activism. The development of our 2022 to 2025 Strategic Plan builds upon past legacies yet also charts new ground for us to change and evolve. Our areas of work are designed and implemented to achieve our mission, reflect our vision and core values, and structured around three main thematic areas: Wholeness: development of projects and approaches that contribute to the building of coalitions and alliances for the advancement of human rights and social justice. Justice: advancing both the institutional framework for LGBTQI+ justice and the opportunities for redress and legal support for persons whose human rights have been infringed because of their sexual orientation, sex/gender identity or expression. Inclusion: advancing a human-rights and social justice approach to inclusion for LGBTQI+ people living in Trinidad and Tobago (and the wider Caribbean).