5 July, 2010
5 March, 2010
It was Cabinet’s announcement on June 25th of last year that Trinidad & Tobago’s Gender Policy would exclude “issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation” that led to CAISO’s formation two days later.
The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs solicited public comment on the Government’s draft of the National Policy on Gender and Development, which was released to the public in September; and responses were due last Sunday, February 28. Over the past six months, CAISO took a detailed look at the draft, participated in forums and discussions on the Policy, and reviewed comparisons between it and the document widely circulated in 2004 that is now described as the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Institute for Gender and Development Studies consultants’ report.
Speaking as “a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) Trinidadians and Tobagonians”, we submitted a 1,400-word commentary on the new document last week. Friends for Life also submitted comments.
CAISO’s key message is that our Government cannot shirk its responsibility to set clear domestic policy to address the concerns of the tens of thousands of GLBTI citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.
We said our Gender Policy cannot exclude sexual orientation:
- because this would be inconsistent with the Government’s own development plan, Vision 2020, which has a goal of having Trinidad & Tobago achieve developed country status, and seeks to foster a greater humanity and nurture “a caring society, that is, one in which all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable are loved and cared for and treated with dignity and respect”
- because gender policy for the future cannot be based on a narrow definition of gender based in the past, and that even Justice Ivor Archie believes a definition of ”gender” inclusive of sexual orientation is “revealed from an examination of any reputable dictionary”
- because Trinidad & Tobago leads the Commonwealth of Nations, which was mandated by civil society participants in the CHOGM Gender Assembly last November to “address gender and sexuality, including issues regarding violence and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities”; and because we have pledged together with the other nations of the hemisphere to protect people from violence and human rights abuses based on sexual orientation
- because the development of the Gender Policy originated in part from a human rights review under a gender convention in which we were criticized for this same kind of exclusion of sexual orientation, in that instance from the Equal Opportunity Act
- and because a policy that allows evangelical advocacy to exclude a distinct group of vulnerable citizens from a critical area on national policy on equality, and to create a state where some people enjoy less citizenship than others, based on religious belief, is a policy that frames itself in the taint of exclusion, intolerance and religious persecution.
Rather than offering a laundry list of things to fix or add in the Policy, or listing scores of places where our issues were omitted, we made just five very feasible proposals for changes to the document that Government could take as a first step to setting national policy on sexual orientation and gender identity issues:
- Reinsert the two (and there were only two) policy measures on sexual orientation contained in the 2004 document:
- §1.14 Restore the following 33 innocent words that were expunged: “In keeping with its international legal obligations, the state should facilitate public debate on the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons, irrespective of sexual preference or orientation”
- §1.7 Extend marital rape and domestic violence protections in the Sexual Offences Act to all couples, regardless to gender or sexual orientation – something Barbados has already moved to do
- §1.10 In programmes aimed at fostering healthier masculine roles, address the ways homophobia limits the opportunities and harms the health of all men and boys – Caribbean Studies Association President Prof. Linden Lewis discussed this cogently in delivering the Ministry’s distinguished lecture in January
- §1.7 Include violence based on perceived sexual orientation or whether someone is “acting how a man/woman ‘should’” in gender-based violence initiatives and policy
- §1.11 Name the GLBTI community as a special interest population, as the Policy does for youth, the elderly, and disabled people
- §1.12 Build government’s capacity to deal with these issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and to make the nation ready to do so
We offered again to sit down with the Ministry, and hope we will meet with the Minister herself and with other Cabinet-level decisionmakers to discuss how we work in partnership on these issues.
22 September, 2009
In what some participants described in eager anticipation with terms like “This is our Stonewall” and “Today I’m proud to be Trinidadian”, last Friday evening about 50 Trans, lesbian, gay, bi and straight Trinbagonians, mostly laypeople but a few clergy from other denominations, were welcomed by one of the most senior officials of the Anglican church and one of its youngest woman priests into a church in Curepe. The two priests celebrated a mass targeted to GLBT people and their loved ones on the theme of peace, human rights and inclusion. It was a simple service. Its biggest stroke was the lip-synched performance of the offertory hymn. The sermon challenged GLBT people to not see our struggle as so unique, to hold on to and learn from similar struggles of Biblical characters like Esther, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and to recognize that inclusion requires hard work and not just telling a victim story and expecting to get a bligh.
Following on a July conversation between clergy and GLBT laypeople about Biblical interpretation, faith community and reconciliation with the Church, it is one of the ways in which GLBT Trinbagonians are claiming our right to faith and partnering with those willing to practise a theology of inclusion to create safe spaces for us to worship and heal from the spiritual violence organized religion has inflicted on our lives. No demonstrations in Tamarind Square, no full-page paid ads in the Express, no foreign evangelists or donations, no grand statements by faith leaders, no letters to the editor to Pastor Cuffie. Just a small action step that proves that our nation is capable of “dealing” with sexual orientation, and that people of faith of all sexualities can work together to build faith communities of inclusion.
Here are the prayers that GLBT community members offered at the service:
As members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community and as children of God, we bow not only our heads but our hearts in prayer.
We pray that we will know that there is a place for each one of us in you. That you provide not only strength, hope and comfort but there is peace, security and safety in your loving arms. We pray that in our times of danger, in times when we feel that there is no one else there, that we will know that your love is non-judgemental, and in your eyes we are all your creation.
We especially pray for those among us who choose to cross-dress and be on the streets at night until the wee hours of the morning. We pray that you will keep them safe and in their times of terror that they will feel your strength.
We pray for those who have been cast out of their homes, those who have been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. We pray that you keep them safe in a world that can be cruel, brutal and exploit their vulnerablities.
Above all, we pray that you rekindle a spirit of community within all of us, so that we can be our brother’s keepers.
In your name we pray. Amen
O Powerful, Wondrous and Loving God, who has overseen humans’ creation of law and order, hear our prayers.
Creator of all nations and all times, who manifests in so many different forms in this multicultural and multireligious land of ours, we call on you in our Christian traditions to fill the hearts and acts of all those who hold political, judicial and law enforcement power in Trinidad & Tobago with the compassion and simplicity of our New Covenant. May they govern with the sense Jesus Christ laid out two thousand years ago, long before our young nation was born, that the core of justice is not the retribution of the Old Testament but the redemption and reconciliation of the New.
In the spirit of Christ’s words, similarly recounted in the Gospel by his disciple Matthew – “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” – keep our leaders firmly on a path that separates their administration of secular justice from the judgments that are only yours, o God, to make.
O Jesus, who called out hypocrites and ran usurers from your father’s temple, drive religious bigots and panderers and those who use your name falsely out of our courts and legislatures, ministries of government and state corporations.
We pray especially at this time for those officeholders whose work and vision touch our lives deeply: For Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Chief Secretary Orville London, Leader of the Opposition Basdeo Panday and Minority Leader Ashworth Jack. For Independent Senators Ali, Anisette, Baptiste-McKnight, Deosoran, Drayton, Merhair, Nicholson-Alfred, Ramkhelawan and Seetahal. For Minister of Social Development Amery Browne, Attorney General John Jeremie, Minister of National Security Martin Joseph, Minister of Gender Affairs Marlene McDonald and for Acting Chief of Police James Philbert and his force. For Ellis Clarke and others drafting our new constitution, for Chief Justice Ivor Archie and all judges and magistrates, especially newly appointed Appeals Court Justices Humphrey Stollmeyer, Gregory Smith and Rajendra Narine, and for high court judges Shafeyei Shah and Judith Jones. For the members of the Equal Opportunity Commission who will one day hear our complaints. We pray fervently for those who work to create safety for people of all genders and sexualities in this bloody country – that you will continue to bless them with integrity.
We pray for the bravery and effectiveness of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, members of all charter and treaty bodies, special rapporteurs, lawyers, advocates and all those who defend human rights and address conflict internationally, especially in places where we are persecuted in yours and other Gods’ names. We pray for safety and relief for those of us who seek asylum, and your grace and protection for those of us who are able to stand and fight.
In profound recognition that Jesus took on our humanity and of the lessons that this continues to teach us, we pray to more perfectly reflect your vision for the divinity of humankind in our own mortal commitment to ensure that no human whom God has created is alienated from the rights with which that humanity is automatically endowed.
Finally, with faith that nothing can keep us from the love of God, we pray sincerely for those who have in good faith enacted laws and rendered judgments that have violated our rights. We pray for former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, retired Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma, and for Justice Smith. We pray for the deceased colonial administrators who enacted our buggery laws, and for the members of the 1986 Parliament that enacted the gross indecency law. We pray that those among them who have entered into your kingdom and been enlightened by your grace may intercede with those still living to change their understanding of God’s wondrous purpose for sexuality and sexual diversity, so that the living may one day add their voices to our work to change policy and legislation, hearts and minds and to ensure the freedom and equality of gay, lesbian, bi and trans communities here on earth, as it is in heaven.
And we ask you to bless and keep us in that difficult work, until you welcome us into your kingdom, where we and all those who oppose our right to God’s love shall be equal in your sight, and all redeemed.
Lord, hear our prayer!
Most Precious and Sanctifying Lord, we come before you this evening with humble hearts, seeking strength, wisdom and guidance.
For our community, that we may be open to accept ourselves for who we are. For our family and friends, that they would embrace us.
For society, that they would tolerate us and for the groups that make up our community; which seek to implement these, that you would continue to grant wisdom and courage.
Open their minds to new ideas, bless their hearts to positively contribute to our community and in turn to society as we appeal for peace, human rights and inclusion.
Continue walking with us Lord as seek to become closer to you. For in these times, whom can we turn to?
All this I ask, in no other name, but in the Most Precious Name of Jesus Christ, who is Lord forever and ever.
Lord, hear us!
24 July, 2009
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.
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.
Welcome to gspottt, Global Voices & Guardian readers!
29 June, 2009
GROUPS LABEL GAYS’ EXCLUSION FROM NATIONAL GENDER POLICY “1919” THINKING: LAUNCH NEW COALITION WITH 20/20 VISION OF CITIZENSHIP & SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Gender Minister Marlene McDonald’s comments about government policy and sexual orientation last week, and their timing days before the local GLBT community begins its fifteenth annual celebration of Gay Pride, have motivated gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of Trinidad & Tobago and their organizations to come together to form a new advocacy coalition. The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) aims to educate public decisionmakers about modern understandings of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to help the public embrace the full humanity of Trinidad & Tobago citizens of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. At last Thursday’s press briefing following the acceptance of the new National Gender Policy and Action Plan by Cabinet, Min. McDonald told the media: “We are not dealing with any issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation.”
“The Minister’s statement was, sadly, sadly 1919,” said David DK Soomarie. “Saying you ‘are not dealing’ with your own citizens is the kind of power-drunk thinking that we expect from unaccountable governments in places like Iran and Zimbabwe, not here in Trinidad & Tobago. Our vision is to build Trinidad & Tobago into a developed nation in its treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. GLBT people are fully human, fully citizens. We’re taxpayers. And our country will never achieve developed nation status when our Government leaders can stand up boldly and declare that they intend to leave out and treat as second-class whole groups of citizens.” Soomarie is a leader of 4Change, one of the coalition’s member groups that is named after section 4 (Recognition and Declaration of Rights and Freedoms) of the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution. 4Change formed in 2007 inspired by the successful lawsuit by maxi driver Kennty Mitchell after his humiliation by police officers for being gay.
CAISO’s plans include: a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups. The group also pledged to support efforts to provide affirming opportunities for GLBT people to practise their faiths.