On Thursday July 8, six representatives of CAISO met at the Eric Williams Financial Complex with Sen. Mary King, Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs; Parliamentary Secretary Ramona Ramdial, UNC Member of Parliament for Couva North; staff leaders in the Ministry; in its Gender Affairs Division; and in the Youth Affairs Division of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. CAISO’s representatives included women and men, GBLT people and allies. The Minister’s goal was for the new Government and our communities to begin to understand each other. It is likely the first time in the history of Trinidad & Tobago that an official meeting has taken place between a GLBT group and high-level political officials.
Our hope is that the meeting has initiated a sense of partnership between Government and our communities. On our part, we introduced ourselves as the leading national advocacy voice for GLBT issues; described the levels and history of organising activity taking place in our community; educated our Government about policy, legislation and programmes that affect GLBT citizens; and discussed the action plan for a new Government that CAISO had promoted during the election campaign. These points include:
- leadership in speaking out against discrimination and bias violence
- building greater respect for minority rights, and expanding the protection of the Equal Opportunity Act to more groups who are targeted for discrimination
- training and sensitising key government personnel with contact with the GLBT community (e.g. the protective services, social workers, health care workers) and the staff of the Gender Affairs Division
- building a culture of tolerance in our nation’s schools, and protecting all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, from bullying, and from homophobia and its clear impact on male underachievement and healthy youth development
- addressing the homelessness and joblessness young GLBT people experience as a consequence of discrimination, and often of family and institutional abuse
- training the protective services to ensure equality under the law, instead of ridicule, for GLBT crime victims, and to improve responsiveness to hate crimes
- including sexual orientation in the Gender Policy, and facilitating public discussion about sexuality, gender identity and citizenship
- building the government’s capacity to understand and respond to the needs of thousands of its GLBT citizens.
We shared leadership actions that other Caribbean politicians have taken on sexual orientation and gender identity; and we pointed out changes in attitudes to sexual orientation and gender identity that have taken place locally over time. We raised concerns about an election campaign proposal that seemed to suggest that the Government’s commitment to protect some citizens’ human rights might be determined by other citizens, through a referendum.
We agreed to work together with the Government to create further opportunities for Government to listen to the concerns and experiences of GLBT citizens with regard to violence, exploitation, inequality, discrimination and ill-treatment, in daily life and in our attempts to access basic services and benefits, including employment, education and housing, or to exercise our fundamental rights.
And that is where you come in. Stay tuned for details about our town hall meeting, planned for late September or early October. And please turn out, with your friends and family, and tell your stories to the Government.