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21 May, 2011

It’s a matter of how you ask the question

Filed under: government/politics,human rights,Social Development,UWI — caiso @ 01:13

Any good pollster knows it’s a matter of how you ask the question.

When asked in a 2009 survey if they “support equal rights for gays/lesbians/ homosexuals”, half of Trinbs picked “Totally Unsupportive” over other options. Instead of defining “homosexuals” for the respondents, perhaps the pollsters needed to define “equal rights”. It’s very doubtful there was much unanimity to respondents’ notions of what that phrase means.

Findings were launched May 10 from a landmark “exploratory” “Survey on the Degree of Conformity to Norms and Values in Trinidad & Tobago” commissioned by the Government’s Ministry of the People and Social Development in 2009, and conducted by the UWI-St. Augustine ANSA McAl Psychological Research Centre, under the supervision of Derek Chadee. One of the study’s 15 areas of interest was “perceptions on homosexuality”, because “the prevalence of this lifestyle is no longer an issue that can be ignored nor hidden as its portrayal in the media is easily seen and accessed.”

“Homosexuality once defined as deviant behaviour is now being seen by many as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. This transitionary period between deviance to acceptable normative is also facilitated by the media and laws. However, the major theologies have all spoken against homosexual behaviours. The contradiction between political correctness and acceptance of homosexuals as well as religious condemnation of such behaviour creates dissonance which the majority of the population may have. These inconsistencies between rational/legalistic action and traditional action need to be resolved if possible to reduce not only psychological tension but the discriminatory behaviour that can arise from stereotyping.”

The study’s “final sample consisted of 1,988 respondents in Trinidad and 319 respondents in Tobago” 15 years or older. A “proportionate stratified random sampling” “across administrative areas in Trinidad and parishes in Tobago” “utilizing the cluster method” was employed. The instrument was administered from May 22 to June 22, 2009. The 392-page report is being made available to the public in six PDF volumes.

IDAHO interviews at the Waterfront Plaza

Two questions on homosexuality were asked:

  • To what extent do you support equal rights for gays/ lesbians/ homosexuals? (using a five-point Likert scale)
  • Would you go out liming with someone whom you knew was gay/lesbian or homosexual? (No Yes: female only Yes: male only Yes: both)

69% of respondents were unsupportive of equal rights. Support ranged from 15% of primary-educated to 41% of tertiary-educated respondents; and from 21% of those with incomes under $2,000 to 37% of those earning $10,000 and more. Support decreased slightly with age, but showed little sex difference. Tobago showed less support across sex, age, education and income: overall 86% of respondents did not support equal rights.

Leeron Brummell, TV6 • Verdel Bishop, Newsday

Almost equal numbers would lime with someone gay or lesbian as wouldn’t; 37% said yes they would without differentiation as to whether it was a gay man or a lesbian; another 10% would with only one sex. Men were more likely to restrict their answers by sex than women. Responses trended with sex, age and income: 65% of primary-educated respondents and 53% percent of those earning under $2,000 would not lime with a gay/lesbian person; 53% of those with tertiary education and 50% of earners of $10,000 and over would lime with a gay person of either sex. Equal numbers of teenagers (15-18) said they would not lime with gay people as said they would lime with a gay person of either sex; 60% of those over 56 said they would not lime with gay people. Numbers who said they would lime with gays of either sex were quite similar across age.

First of all, it’s impressive that the Ministry is interested in attitudes to homosexuality; and notable that the poll was commissioned by the last government. Our colleagues in Barbados at the Rights Advocacy Project at the UWI Faculty of Law recently commissioned a fascinating poll on the death penalty which was cited in the House debates in February. While the headlines made much of the 91% support for capital punishment, what the poll also showed was that:

.

  • while Trinidadians are in favour of the death penalty by a large majority, only a minority, close to a quarter, favour the death penalty being mandatory for all murders whatever the circumstances. And when faced with scenarios of murder cases the proportion of the…persons interviewed who thought that the death penalty was the appropriate punishment for all these crimes was only 1 in 5.
  • In only a tiny number of instances (1.3%) did these Trinidadians give as one of their reasons that it might have a general deterrent effect on others who might consider committing a murder.
  • The high level of general support for the death penalty was contingent on it being enforced with no possibility that an innocent person could be executed. If this should happen only 35% of those interviewed would continue to support capital punishment.
  • Trinidadians favour a discretionary death penalty…a majority of persons interviewed did not support the use of the death penalty in all cases involving violent robbery or drug/gang killing, preferring to take into account mitigating factors

“Most pollsters ask crude questions which will leave you with results that miss the nuance… until you ask them more specific questions”, one UWI lecturer told us.

Let’s search for more nuance in what Trinbs think about homosexuality!!

The study findings were cited in a powerful editorial on gay rights the Express newspaper wrote in response to our visits, pictured above, to 16 government ministries to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. Their take, though, was that “change in attitude…will not happen by itself, just as racism didn’t become objectionable without active measures taken by various individuals and groups to battle bigotry” which include “leaders in all spheres, but particularly in religion…the People’s Partnership administration, and the Parliament”, who must “turn the page on past obscurantist and homophobic attitudes and prejudices, and have the laws appropriately reflect progressive approaches of the present and future.”

The Ministry-commissioned study itself recommends:

The potential for discriminatory behaviour towards homosexuals is extremely high and the necessary legal framework should be put in place to protect this group. Legislation alone would not change attitudes and, therefore, integrative approaches should be considered. The challenge of communicating with institutions that have strong philosophies against homosexuality will need to be addressed in attempting to reduce discrimination.

Take a look at the Homosexuality section of the study for yourself, pp. 156-164. Or browse the brochure produced by the Ministry’s Social Investigations Division (now at cor. Duke & St. Vincent Sts.)

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