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10 March, 2014

Strengthening Human Rights Protection through Constitutional Reform

Three specific recommendations for constitutional change were submitted
jointly to the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution Reform Commission by

Richie Maitland, Staff Attorney, CAISO • Lynette Seebaran Suite, Board Chair, ASPIRE • J Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director, CVC • Dona Da Costa Martinez, Executive Director, Family Planning Association • Luke Sinnette, Executive Member, Friends for Life • Jeremy Edwards, Director, Silver Lining Foundation • Stephanie Leitch, Founder, Womantra • Sharon Mottley, Director, Women’s Caucus of Trinidad & Tobago

in response to the Absence of Human Rights Recommendations in the
27 December 2013 
Report on the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform

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26 February 2014

“Several of our groups’ stakeholders and others in our communities participated in and contributed to the national consultations throughout 2013, where we noted the dominance of two concerns we share deeply:

a) the weakness or ineffectiveness of mechanisms for government and institutional accountability; and

b) that particular groups advantage members of their own unfairly, and respect for human dignity is selective and not universal.

Chapter 1 of the Consultation Report opens with observations about the vulnerabilities of citizens in small states to majoritarian democracies; that in Trinidad & Tobago “the state has emerged as a an agent of victimization”; and cites the need for more rapid development of a “a culture of scrutiny of public officials by dedicated institutions that are expected to play an enquiring role” (paras. 21-22, p. 6). These are fundamentally issues of human rights, an area in which the Commission Report, unfortunately, proposes no amendments to the Constitution (p. 13), and a dimension in particular need of strengthening in our national “political culture”, the concern with which the Report concludes.

We urge the following:

  1. Enshrinement within the Constitution of an independent National Human Rights Institution compliant with the “Paris Principles”, which would create an effective structural mechanism (unlike the Office of the Ombudsman, described as “ineffective”) to monitor, protect and promote human rights in Trinidad and Tobago, and entrench a national and institutional culture of respect for human rights, grounded in the Constitution
  2. Elimination altogether of the Savings Law Clause, Section 6, which the Report, without any discussion or explanation, recommends ((c), p. 13) continue to immunise from constitutional challenge any law in force prior to 1 August 1976 that violates fundamental human rights and freedoms
  3. Addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender” as prohibited axes of discrimination in the Bill of Rights, Section 4 – issues to which the Report affords significant importance and more attention than any other human rights consideration (p. 2; para. 14, p. 4; paras. 56-62, p. 12; p. 13).

(more…)

23 February, 2011

T&T’s most read newspaper: excluding sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunity Act is a “most egregious example of official backwardness”

Filed under: constitution,Equal Opportunity Act,human rights,media — caiso @ 08:17

Where does Govt stand on equality?

Express newspaper editorial: Wednesday 23 February 2011 – page 12.

If Trinidad and Tobago’s law on gay rights is finally being brought into the modern world, it would be deeply disappointing to witness any reactionary kicking and screaming by an administration that otherwise projects itself as cutting-edge in policy promptings.

For failure to admit sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination, T&T has been lagging behind the rest of the progressive world which has long been taking this development in stride. Some clarification is due on where this government stands: whether with the scripture-quoting homophobia identified with big names in reggae culture, or with the enlightened consensus holding that all human beings should be treated equally. The clarification is especially necessary in light of the fact that gay rights appeared to be immediately opposed by a Government Senator-Minister invoking, not only religion, but not even his own religion.

The issue reared its head, albeit not for the first time, in the context of an amendment to the Statutory Authorities Act, debated in the Senate last week, that would allow the next-of-kin of public servants to get one month’s salary benefit. Independent senators Corrine Baptiste-McKnight and James Armstrong made an argument that, in respect of persons cohabiting as spouses, the definition should not be restricted to persons of the opposite sex. It was Subhas Panday, Minister in the National Security Ministry and a supposed Hindu, who challenged Senator Baptiste-McKnight on this issue, asking how she would reconcile such a clause with Section 52 in the Book of Leviticus.

In fact, there is no such section, since Leviticus has only 27 chapters but, in any case, policy arguments in a multi-religious society cannot be based on theology. Desirable goals, empirical validation and ethical reasoning must inform effective policy. Besides, T&T has no law against homosexuality per se, but only an antediluvian statute against sodomy which, for obvious reasons, is unenforceable save in cases of rape. And herein lies the point: should the State interfere in sexual relationships between consenting adults?

Most citizens would say No. Yet many hold the view that, when such consent is between two adults of the same sex, the State has the right to deprive such individuals of rights enjoyed by heterosexual adults. This country’s Equal Opportunities Act, which specifically allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is the most egregious example of official backwardness on this issue. Such discrimination flies in the face of the nation’s supreme law, since Section 4 (b) of the Constitution guarantees, “the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law”.

To exclude homosexuals from such protection, even by inaction, makes a mockery of rhetoric about carrying the nation forward.

7 February, 2011

Another step in the region towards bodily freedom, in Belize

Why do modern independent Caribbean states, where people have fought for centuries to free our bodies from enslavement, indentureship, control by our husbands, exploitation of our labour, colonial subjection, sexual harassment and prohibtions on dancing still defend laws that say that adults cannot use our bodies in mutually consenting ways with each other sexually in private? Why are only certain forms of sex between consenting adults against the law? Why aren’t other forms of sex, which are just as “unusual”? Or others that are unlikely to produce children, simply pleasure? Why are eating pork and beef and wearing headcoverings and extramarital sex not the subject of our secular laws, but homosexuality is?

Why would anyone committed to liberty deny someone of maturity control over her or his body and sexuality?

Although in many jurisdictions our laws against private sex are only occasionally enforced, they remain on the books and serve to legitimate violence, discrimination and stigma against gay men and lesbians whom they render “unapprehended felons”, as a South African jurist quoted in a judgment overturning that country’s sodomy laws. And their enforcement is technically just one election, or even one enterprising police officer, away.

The first constitutional challenge to the region’s colonially derived laws against sexual activity between consenting adults has been filed, in Belize, targeting a law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which in common law means anal sex.

Many of our regional Independence constitutions, through “savings clauses”, hold immune from constitutional challenge any of these archaic laws (like others which PNM MP Colm Imbert mocked recently in Parliament that address wounding pigeons, bathing in the Maraval River and hanging clothes out to dry in the front of a shop) that were  put in force in colonial times; these savings clauses in effect say the colonizers knew best. Belize’s constitution limited that period of immunity to five years. Trinidad & Tobago preserved our savings clause through our 1976 Republican constitution, and in a number of more recent proposals for constitutional “reform”.

We wish our Belizean GLBT counterparts, the community organizers there, and their visionary legal advocates the best success with this landmark lawsuit; and we hope their bravery and jurisprudence will benefit the region as a whole.

Statutory penalties in the Caribbean for consensual sexual activity between two adult human beings; and the most recent date of the law’s enactment
Antigua & Barbuda 1995 15 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)
Bahamas 1991 20 years any adult male who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
20 years any female adult who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
Barbados 2002 life buggery
10 years an act, whether natural or unnatural by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, on or towards another or inciting another to commit that act with the person or with another person
Belize 2000 10 years carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person
Dominica 1998 10 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
4 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
Grenada 1958 10 years unnatural connexion
Guyana 1893 life buggery with a human being
10 years attempts to commit buggery
2 years any male person, who in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person
Jamaica 1864 up to 10 years hard labour the abominable crime of buggery with mankind
up to 7 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
up to 2 years, with or without hard labour any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person
St. Kitts-Nevis 1990 up to 10 years, with or without hard labour the abominable crime of buggery
up to 4 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
St. Lucia 2005 5 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anus by a male person with a male or by a male person with a female person
10 years (5 years on summary conviction) an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
St. Vincent & the Grenadines 1990 10 years commit buggery with any other person; permit any person to commit buggery with him or her
5 years commit an act of gross indecency, in public or private, with another person of the same sex, or procure or attempt to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her
Trinidad & Tobago 1986 25 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)

20 January, 2011

Who will protect you (2)?

Our new Government is seeking to amend our Constitution. It is not doing so to provide you with stronger guarantees of your rights as people of different sexual orientations. It is not doing so to eliminate the half-century-old provisions in the Constitution that currently insulate the buggery law from legal challenges. It is doing so in large part to make it easier for the State to execute people who have been convicted of murder. It is doing so in order to be (or to be perceived as being) responsive to one of the biggest and most widely shared concerns of voters: the nation’s murder rate, and the ineffectiveness of the State in addressing violent crime.

Their legislative proposal is to add a section of about 2,500 words to our 30,000-word constitution laying out in considerable detail at the constitutional level (vs. in a law) procedures, conditions and stipulations regarding the implementation of capital punishment. The result of this would be to make these provisions unable to be challenged in a court. This would significantly reduce legal challenges to executions; and the proposed amendment specifically seeks to circumvent rulings courts have made previously, which have frustrated many, that provide protections from summary execution for people convicted of murder.

“Hang chi-chi gal wid a long piece a rope / Mek me see di han’ a go up” – Beenie Man

The proposal also seeks to implement within the Constitution a UNC bill passed into law ten years ago to have a three-part framework for offences involving killing someone. Conviction of “Murder 1″ would require the death penalty and cover seven types of killing, including intentionally killing someone because of their “race, religion, nationality or country of origin”.

But not their sexual orientation. Or their gender. In fact, last month the Government abstained twice on a UN vote that sought to strengthen international vigilance and responsiveness to murders or summary executions of people based on their sexual orientation.

Here’s how the Government explains the provisions we’re highlighting:

This Bill seeks to amend the Constitution in relation to the implementation of the death penalty.

The Bill seeks to alter the Constitution and, in accordance with section 54(3) of the Constitution, needs to be passed by a special majority of three-fourths of the members of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the members of the Senate in as much as it would amend section 89 of the Constitution.

By clause 2, the proposed Act would come into operation on such date as is fixed by the President by Proclamation.

By clause 3, the proposed Act would be construed as altering the Constitution. Clause 4 would insert into the Constitution a new Part IIA which would make special provisions with respect to capital offences. New sections 6A to 6L contain provisions of the Offence Against the Person (Amendment) Act, 2000 (Act No. 90 of 2000) which has not been brought into force. These provisions pertain to the creation of the categories of murder 1, 2 and 3, the mandatory imposition of the death sentence in relation to murder 1, the circumstances in which the death sentence or life imprisonment may be imposed for murder 2 and other matters connected thereto.

A new section 6M of the Constitution would declare that the imposition of a mandatory sentence of death by a Court or the execution of such a sentence shall not be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of section 4 or 5 of the Constitution. For the removal of doubts, the new section 6M would further declare that on no grounds whatsoever would the execution of a sentence of death be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of section 4 or 5 of the Constitution, including any, or any combination, of the following grounds: (a) a delay in the hearing or determination of a charge for a capital offence; (b) a delay in executing the sentence of death; (c) the conditions or arrangements under which a person is held in prison, or otherwise lawfully detained, pending the execution of the sentence of death; or (d) the effect of reading to a person, more than once, a warrant for the execution of the sentence of death on him.

Read the bill in its entirety for yourself, or follow the debate in Parliament. It requires the votes of 32 members of the House (the People’s Partnership has 29 seats); and 21 members of the Senate (the Government effectively has 15 seats; the Opposition 6; and there are 9 Independent Senators).

26 May, 2010

37-year-old T&T Attorney General Anand Ramlogan

is a leading human rights attorney who “has  represented
many a downtrodden citizen and is re-defining the law in the
area of unfairness and discrimination”
. He thinks current Chief
Justice Ivor Archie’s Appeals Court opinion in the Equal
Opportunity Commission case (Suratt v AG)
is “one of the
best judgments written by a local judge”
. Read it for yourself.
Or browse our excerpts of some interesting sections.

one of the best judgments written by a local judge,

23 February, 2010

Guyanese transpeople file a landmark constitutional motion to overturn a law against crossdressing: Caribbean GLBT law reform work begins

Okay. The secret’s out. There’s going to be sexual orientation law reform in Trinidad & Tobago. We don’t know what, when or how, but the work here began last year. And it’s not just here. Across the Caribbean region, GLBT people have been working to write ourselves into our nations as full citizens. In different ways, with different strategies, at different paces. And soon you’ll be a part of it.
Our friends in Guyana took a tremendous step in this direction last week when four MtF transgenders (who had been rounded up, arrested, stripped, mistreated in detention, fined for crossdressing and lectured by the Chief Magistrate from the bench to give their lives to Jesus) in Rosa Parks fashion filed a historic constitutional motion for redress and to overturn a colonial-era law that makes it illegal if someone “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire”.
CAISO released the following statement applauding their landmark case today. In it we also indicate that we’re ready to follow in their steps, but would prefer to partner with Government to bring our country to “developed nation status” with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. And we try to move the hard work forward of helping others grasp this question of gender identity that is at the centre of the case.

T&T ACTIVISTS SAY GUYANA CROSSDRESSING LAWSUIT IS A SIGN OF POSITIVE CHANGES TO COME

In what Trinidad & Tobago activists say is just the first step in a regionwide effort to eliminate remaining colonial-era laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy and gender expression, transgender Guyanese citizens and human rights lawyers across the region collaborated last Friday to file a constitutional challenge to a law criminalising ‘crossdressing’ in that country’s high court. The motion was filed February 19, with the support of Guyana NGO Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and lawyers in Guyana, St. Lucia and at the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) on the Cave Hill, Barbados campus.

Peaches (née Joseph Fraser), one of the litigants in the case, introduces herself at the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference, held in Curaçao in September 2009

The litigants were four MtF transgender Guyanese who were rounded up in a crackdown, stripped, denied medical attention, detained over a weekend, and fined $7,500 under §153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8.02. Appearing unrepresented before Guyanese Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson in February of 2009, they were ridiculed by her from the bench, lectured that they were men, not women, admonished that they were confused, and instructed to go to church and give their lives to Jesus Christ. The 2009 cases generated considerable publicity, and there were many domestic and international appeals to the Guyanese Government to remove the law. After these went unheeded, the constitutional motion was filed Friday. In addition to raising due process issues, the complaint says the law is irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and infringes the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and protection from discrimination.

Organisers at CAISO (Trinidad & Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), who since their founding seven months ago have collaborated closely with other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocates across the region, applauded the Guyanese move. “The way I dress is a fundamental part of who I am, my way of life,” said Beverly Alvarez, who participated along with one of the Guyanese litigants in the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference in September of last year. “This case that Peaches and others in Guyana have filed goes to the heart of freedom of expression, our freedom to express our gender identity.”

Ashily Dior, another transgender activist with the group added, “It’s a well recognised medical fact that, for transpeople like me, who I am just doesn’t fit with the sex of the body I was born into. This is not a vice. Some of us are lucky to afford hormones and surgery; but many of us just can’t.” Dior recently represented Trinidad & Tobago at a regional meeting of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, where she was elected an alternate delegate for the Caribbean; and she is hoping to find work educating the public about gender identity issues. “At any rate,” she continued, “who is harmed when transgenders dress up? We are simply expressing our gender in non-traditional ways.”

Trinidad & Tobago transpeople have been on the map internationally since 1998. In a landmark case that year, after police officer Eric George arrested and attempted to strip search a 27-year-old transgender woman in San Fernando when she shoved a photographer harassing her, Lynette Maharaj, wife of the then Attorney-General, both clients of her business, represented her in a successful lawsuit.

"It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," said Falatama, one of the litigants. "I felt like I was less than human." She joined three other Guyanese transpeople, like those pictured here, in suing the State.

“Trinidad and Tobago may not be next in line for GLBT law reform, but we’re definitely in the queue,” said University of the West Indies (UWI) law graduate Kareem Griffith, another member of CAISO, reflecting on the case. Griffith played a key role in an international meeting held during the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting last year where representatives of 12 countries planned strategy for sexual orientation and gender identity legal reform efforts. In a session of that meeting held at UWI’s Institute of International Relations and featured on the evening news, Tracy Robinson, one of the U-RAP lawyers in the Guyanese case spoke about the strong prospects for a challenge to Trinidad & Tobago’s buggery laws. One of the lawyers in the recent case that overturned India’s criminalisation of same-sex intimacy also participated in the meeting.

“We’d rather work with the Government and Opposition to create thoughtful policy and amend the old laws, than use the courts,” Griffith emphasised. “We’ve begun this process with an overture to the Gender Minister to work with us, and we’re following up on that this week. But I’m afraid our politicians may be cowards on these issues. Questions of sexual orientation and gender expression must be dealt with in a mature and forward-thinking way if Trinidad & Tobago intends to achieve its 2020 vision and status as a developed and inclusive nation. It is our politicians who will determine if the road to these changes is a litigious one or a collaborative one.”

CAISO was launched last June in response to Government’s move to exclude sexual orientation from the draft Gender Policy, a move the group said reflected a “1919 vision”.

Media coverage:  Reuters (kudos for amending the language from the initial release!)New York TimesStabroek News, GuyanaKaieteur News, GuyanaWMJX Radio 100.5 FM, Trinidad & TobagoPress AssociationThe AdvocateAssociated PressSydney Morning HeraldExpress, Trinidad & TobagoBBC Caribbean NewsAlissa Trotz, The Diaspora Column

17 February, 2010

Remembering our history (Know Your Country)

2010 feels like it will be a historic year. We began by looking forward. Now let’s take a look back. Know Your Country (gspottt’s ongoing effort to document and share a community history of GLBT T&T through monographs and memoirs by diverse Trinbagonians) opens the year with an excerpt of a memoir written for us shortly after CAISO formed by 1940s-born architect and art historian Geoffrey MacLean .

Governor Woodford

Governor Woodford

Historically Trinidad and Tobago has probably always had an active gay community – active in the sense that it has always been there. Its early colonial history is not known, but it can be assumed that it followed the British Victorian pattern – homosexuality was a “gentleman’s vice” that was enjoyed, but not spoken of. And lesbianism was likely considered a curiosity, eccentricity or for male voyeuristic enjoyment.

One of the earliest documents of this history is a reference (in Lionel Mordaunt Fraser’s 1896 History of Trinidad Vol 2: 1814-1839) to the British Governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph Woodford, who reputedly surrounded himself with “pretty young men”. There have always been rumours about the dallying of our colonial administrators, not to mention their wives, up until Independence.

In the late 1920s, a group calling itself the Society of Trinidad Independents that promoted Trinidad and Tobago’s art and published The Beacon magazine, was noted for its tolerance toward the gay and lesbian

Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.

Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.

community, their leading members being homosexual. Made up of all ethnic and social groups, from French Creole to Black, the group was considered bohemian and condemned as immoral.  Preached against by the church, the Independents were forced by the late 1930s to abandon their outspoken views.

The occupation of Trinidad by American naval and military personnel during the Second World War fuelled the free spirit of both the heterosexual and homosexual seeking to make a living to survive. Our Carnival, of course, has always been an excuse to behave in a manner that on Ash Wednesday we can either forget – “I had too much to drink” is often an adequate excuse – or repent.

Throughout the twentieth century, most gay and lesbian interaction has been through private gatherings, but there has never been a shortage of bars that welcome the GLBT Community “after hours” or those that cater purely to them. In the 1970s and 1980s there was the “Grand Canyon” in Curepe, “Lote’s” on Oxford Street, “The Iron Pot” on Abercromby Street, “The Sidewalk” then “Metal House” on Wrightson Road, “Club Liquid” in Barataria and in the 1990s “After Dark” in St. James and then Corbeaux Town. The ramps of the law courts on Woodford Square, and Murray Street in Woodbrook were, and still are, used for the late night parading of transvestites. Most recently gay clubs have opened in San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arima, St. Augustine and Port of Spain. The popular nightspots, from “J.B.s” in the 1970s and “Just Friends” in the 1980s to “Base” in the 1990s, were gay friendly, and even today “Zen” and most of the bars on Ariapita Avenue welcome gay and lesbian patrons.

And the community knew where to “pick up” as well, Victoria Square in Port of Spain in the 1960s and 1970s being a favourite spot and where one could meet with male prostitutes, other “cruisers” and characters like “Stingy Brim” who would give you a free service.

The 1970s were a very active time with well-known and flamboyant characters within the community: John, Tom, Hal (otherwise known as “The Rocket”), “Carlota”, “Pongin’ Patsy” and several others.

(more…)

18 January, 2010

With boundless faith in our destiny: CAISO 2010

Happy New Year, family! And what a year it will be.

a "1919" vision of sexual orientation

CAISO holds our first meeting of 2010 today. In it we will look back on the magic of the past year: our unplanned formation, our unexpected success, and our unprecedented achievement. On the pleasures and memories that these brought us and many of you.

Stacy, sole survivor from Haitian support group

We will do so chastened: by the lives we lost to violence and illness over that same period; and by the horrible tragedy of Haïti’s earthquake, including the news we received this week that 14 of 15 men attending a support group at our partner organization SEROvie’s office in Port-au-Prince perished together. The sobering idea that everything can crumble in minutes.

Notwithstanding, we look forward with an incredible excitement to the possibility of a new year.

With the inspiration of Linden Lewis’s talk a week ago, and a hope in alliances. With the new vision our work with the international GLBT partners who joined us for CHOGM inspired in us of how our nation is blessed, and of what is possible here.

A vision of a new year that builds on the last one, that builds a bigger base, that builds more focused leadership, that builds more strategic direction, that builds more ambitious projects, that builds better relationships and more pleasure in our work, and that – whatever each of us believes spiritually – builds our faith in our own divine worth and our access to the power to achieve our vision.

A year in which faith will continue to be critical to our work.

We embark on the new year with a new logo that we’ll unveil to you, our community and allies, along with our plans for 2010, in the coming days.

Click and read on as a number of CAISOnians share their visions for the New Year with you. (more…)

22 September, 2009

Lord, hear our prayer

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.

service 2

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

crop

Click to link to Cedriann Martin's TnT Times story

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!

Prtz@EcuService(2)

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!

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17 September, 2009

Are we all citizens? Are we different, but are we equal?

Republic Day is coming up next week, and many of us are looking forward to a work week with two public holidays, some trying to figure out how to break biche Friday and make it a four-day weekend. But this annual period between August and September in which the country is draped in red, white and black bunting – between our celebration of 47 years of Independence and the 33rd anniversary of Trinidad & Tobago’s entry into full adulthood in the community of nations – provides us at gspottt with an opportunity to reflect on how well we’ve moved beyond the puberty of independence and taken up the local responsibility for our sovereignty and statehood that being a republic involves.

Are we growing up as a nation? We’ve raised that question here before. To help us examine it again, we turn to: CAISO’s friend Kennty Mitchell; one of our own members; disabilities advocate George Daniel; grandmother with HIV Catherine Williams; and activist/journalist Verna St. Rose-Greaves.

caisoOn her 2007 “Treeay” television show marking the 45th anniversary of Independence, Verna looked back at herself standing in Woodford Square in 1962 with her parents, “waving my little red, white and black, feeling my chest full as if it would burst, so proud I was of my country”. Though “much older and much more in love with my country”, she laments that, despite the diversity and richness of our beauty, culture and “wealth…that can take care of all of our citizens”, we still “have citizens who live in constant fear, citizens who are discriminated against, who are marginalized, who are beaten, who are spat upon, who are kicked, who are treated worse than animals”.

Through a long live interview with Mitchell, interwoven with taped segments from Daniel, Williams and the young gay man, she issues an invitation to viewers “to remember a time when you were discriminated against, to remember how you felt, to remember what it did to you, how it stayed with you, how did you react”, and helps us contemplate: Are we all citizens? Are we different; but are we equal? “Are you all organized? … You need to be organized,” she also urges.

Click here to watch Part 1

(Apologies! We’ve now fixed the link above. Next time, please let us know.)

Click here to watch Part 2

Video courtesy Gayelle TV.

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