gspottt•t&t's triggersite for sogi passion & advocacy

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…)

27 July, 2012

Joshua Hamlet, an unlikely voice for LGBT rights on an unlikely platform

We’re always talking about young people taking the lead on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and politicians acknowledging that the LGBT community needs protection against discrimination in Trinidad & Tobago. Just this week, we might’ve got both. At a People’s National Movement rally in St. Barb’s, Laventille, youth speaker Joshua Hamlet went on the podium to say that LGBT people need the Equal Opportunity Act, and that “we cannot make it about people (individuals), it needs to about the issues of the everyday person”.

Not only does this mean that people – especially young people – are taking stands in their own ways to speak out against discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation, but that politicians (at least within the PNM) can’t ignore that this is a real issue in our country. Remember in 2009 when their then Gender Minister and current Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, said that they were “quite categorically” against dealing with our issues? Now these same issues are coming back on their own platform in a completely different way. CAISO has its own fair share of young members, and I speak not only as one of those youth but as someone who knows Mr. Hamlet personally. As a student, and activist and a friend, Joshua has always been the kind of guy that I thought our country needed on gender and sexual orientation issues, because of his insight and willingness to put himself out there for a cause no matter the arena, much like he has done here.

CAISO believes that every political party here in Trinidad & Tobago should be focusing on the issues of every single member of its society, and that the human rights of those members should not be ignored. And that is why it feels so good that a young man would stand from within a party of his own accord and say what he said. With the country approaching its 50th birthday, we should be talking about ways our country and democracy truly include every single person regardless to creed, race or sexual orientation. And it may very well be happening, in some small way, now.

We at CAISO salute you, Mr. Hamlet, for the courage to speak up on these issues in one of the places it matters the most. We truly hope that people in the PNM, and in fact every politician, is listening.

10 June, 2012

Put change into your hands: CAISO is recruiting for a community organiser to join our staff team.

The job is to build hope and capacity for making change in our communities, to help forge alliances with others, and to manage training, meetings and advocacy campaigns, actions and communication.

You’ll have to coordinate logistics, coach and inspire community advocates, travel, build your political knowledge and analysis, be savvy about computer and communications technology, keep up with administrative tasks, and work flexible hours. That means thinking ahead, having people and team skills, and being self-starting and adaptive.

Candidates should have done organising and mobilisation work in T&T or elsewhere in the Caribbean, understand political processes, know how to get around our communities, and have a depth of knowledge and comfort working with GLBT issues. The strongest candidates will have managed volunteers, have existing ties to issue and political work, be competent at facilitation and training, and bring new skills and diversity to the CAISO team.

Email us a resume and at least two references who can speak to your ability to meet the criteria above. Feel free to call us to chat about your interest: 758-7676.

27 January, 2012

One letter can make a change

In the coming weeks our community will either make a difference in our own lives, or we will lose an opportunity of a lifetime. Parliament will come the closest ever in history to outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. They’ve made it clear this can happen BUT ONLY if you speak up for yourself. People with HIV and five old people have.

One letter can make a change.

Send the letter below or at this link to the Prime Minister’s Office. FILL IN YOUR NAME AND THE AREA OR CONSTITUENCY YOU LIVE OR VOTE IN.

Get people who love you to do the same. Or you can speak up in other ways of your choosing. Please forward and repost this. One letter can make a change. Watch this video.

 

Office of the Prime Minister

13-15 St. Clair Avenue

Port of Spain

Dear Madam Prime Minister and Members of Parliament:

At the June 2011 opening of Parliament, our President said, “Our policies and practices must reflect a determination to ensure equal opportunity for all of our citizens, regardless of political affiliation or any other subjective consideration.” 

What’s your position? Should legal protection from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care and services be denied to any citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, based on whether they’re young, elderly or middle-aged, HIV-negative or not, heterosexual or not? Very shortly you will have a bipartisan opportunity to take an important and overdue step to advance Government protection of human rights in Trinidad & Tobago and bring our 49-year-old developing nation further into the 21st century. When the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) comes before Parliament for amendment in the coming weeks, you can help add ageHIV status and sexual orientation to statuses it protects from unfair discrimination in employment, education and the provision of accommodation, goods and services.

Please don’t pick and choose which one(s) to add: Add all three. Discrimination is a cancer. Tolerating it against any group means politicians get to decide which minorities have rights and which do not, which human beings are worth less than others. All three statuses are used daily as grounds for unfair discrimination that offends the principles of equality on which our nation was founded. Such discrimination, when tolerated or excused by the State, robs people of their human dignity and citizenship in profound ways. You will have the opportunity to vote and show Trinidad & Tobago’s position on these matters to the world right around the time that we undergo our first comprehensive human rights review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and each member of Parliament can work and can engage others to ensure all three statuses are included in the Equal Opportunity amendment bill that Parliament passes. You will have the gratitude and support of thousands of citizens like me and the people in my life I love who are living with HIV, who are young, who are gay, and who are old, many of whom are afraid if they sign this letter they might lose their job, family support or public respect. The risk for discrimination is quite high for those the Equal Opportunity Act would protect if you add these three statuses. Yet, adding all three statuses to the bill together is hardly risky for a modern Parliament to do as an act of human rights leadership. It’s time we joined other great nations and set ourselves apart from the shameful ones that deny human rights and freedom of expression to their citizens, or that use the law to impose the rules of a particular faith on everyone.

Newspaper editorials, university researchers, legal and human rights professionals, leading civil society groups and Parliamentarians themselves have all spoken out against discrimination based on these three statuses and urged their inclusion in the EOA. I am adding my voice to theirs.

Yours truly,

Name:

Address:

Date:

26 June, 2011

Privacy rights for sexual orientation calmly take a small step forward in T&T

Filed under: government/politics,history,human rights,laws,Opposition — caiso @ 11:54

The President last Wednesday (June 22) assented to the Data Protection Act, a landmark piece of legislation that establishes an ambitious framework “to ensure that protection is afforded to an individual’s right to privacy and the right to maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal.” The legislation: promulgates rules and standards for all persons who handle, store or process personal information belonging to another person, in either the public or private sector; regulates the authority of public entities to collect personal information, its use, protection, accuracy and access; establishes hefty fines and corporate penalties for breaches; and includes whistleblower protections. It also provides for the development of binding industry-tailored codes of practice in the private sector.

Of great significance to gay, lesbian and bisexual communities in Trinidad & Tobago, the new law provides heightened protections for “sensitive personal information”, which is defined to include one’s “sexual orientation or sexual life”. Ensuring citizens’ autonomy in their consensual sexual affairs requires both protecting their sexual lives from unwarranted intrusion and protecting them from discrimination based on their sexuality.

This is the first piece of legislation recognizing sexual orientation and related rights that we are aware has been enacted in the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s Parliament. Originally drafted and introduced in November 2008 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government, the bill was reintroduced by the People’s Partnership in January of 2011, and shepherded to passage with bipartisan support.

To follow lawmaking in Trinidad & Tobago, visit the Parliament website: http://www.ttparliament.org

The sexual orientation provision was never hidden from the public, and was reported on in the media both times the bill was debated. It is an important lesson about the ways in which our Parliament should be legislating on sexual orientation: soberly, fairly, and without appeals to politics, division, manufactured hysteria and controversy – or imaginary verses from Leviticus. It also demonstrates how legislators can integrate questions of sexual orientation into a broad approach to rights and protections for everyone, and frame them in relationship to matters of broad public and political consensus, e.g. privacy for one’s sexual life. What is of further significance for legislating on sexual orientation is that the bill was subject to unusually vigorous debate and amendment by the Senate’s Opposition and Independent benches, which left the sexual orientation provisions intact. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister MP Collin Partap, who piloted the bill, was saluted by the PNM for his flexibility and that of his staff in building consensus on the legislation.

We have previously congratulated the Government for its leadership in moving this legislation forward. Today, on behalf of the nation’s tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens, the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation pays tribute to all parties in Parliament and our Senators on the Independent bench for their support and vigorous contributions to strengthening of a forward-thinking piece of legislation that strengthens respect for human rights, and for our inclusion in it. We are proud today of our Parliamentarians, and we thank them.

Bill manager Collin Partap was saluted for facilitating bipartisan legislating

This is gspottt’s 100th post!

22 May, 2011

CAISO marks T&T’s first IDAHO

On May 17, CAISO organized the first Trinidad & Tobago observance of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia

 CCN TV6 10pm news broadcast [17:37 to 19:46]

CNC3 7pm news

Kejan Haynes, C 7pm news 38:35-40:38 (click to link to video)

On “1 on 1” with Vernon Ramesar, ieTV

New politics means respect rights of all (click to link to story)

Hostility fails to dampen gays’ spirits on awareness march | Gail Alexander, Guardian | Photo: Karla Ramoo (click to link to story)

Gays call for end to homophobia | Gyasi Gonzalez, Express newspaper | Photo: Ishmael Sandy (click to link to story)

CAISO to PP Govt, fight discrimination | Verdel Bishop, Newsday (click to link to story)

Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Fareeda Ramkissoon, Ministry of Science, Technology & Tertiary Education

Maria Rollock, Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of Energy & Energy Affairs

Leeron Brummel, TV6

There were also:

and of course Gail Alexander's Guardian story the morning of IDAHO was the rave of the morning drive on radio

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.)

16 April, 2011

Mia Mottley, Champion for Change

“I wonder if you know how good that was”, the Chair of the Barbados National AIDS Commission asked the former Barbados Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Leader of the Opposition as she had just concluded another of the inspiring and visionary addresses she is well-known at home for delivering completely unscripted. But it wasn’t just any other Mia Mottley speech. The hard-hitting and truth-telling early morning address, which she began by playing in its entirety the 2006 anthem, Do You Still Care, for which Jamaican mouldbreaking songstress Tanya Stephens is best known in GLBT communities, by its end had riveted listeners to a standing ovation with its call to clarify our values and its framing of a set of questions that Mottley has repeatedly challenged us to answer as Caribbean people:

What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of children do we want to raise? And what do we have to show for having had control of our nations for two generations since Independence?

Click on Mia Mottley’s image to listen to her full speech

Reminding her audience at Port of Spain’s Hyatt Regency hotel that as a region the Caribbean has always “punched above our weight”, the Member of Parliament for St. Michael North East since 1994 admonished that “leadership is more than being a head of government”, but “about recognizing where we want to take our people, why we must take them there” and “sometimes that means being ahead of your population”. “We have a credible voice that must be heard as a guiding principle to the rest of the world”, she urged, on “building tolerant societies”. “Name me one other region that has been forged in the modern exploitative era…that carries every race that has populated this world within this small basin that have been forced to live together, that have been forced to forge an accommodation with each other. We have a story to tell to the rest of the world. And we have a credibility in telling that story, and our voice therefore must be heard, because it costs nothing to speak.”

At the same time, she drew laughs of recognition as she lamented the cancer of “implementation deficit disorder” that currently plagues the region, with “systems of parliament that are rooted in excessive partisanship that is a battle between political institutions, rather than being a fight to carry forward development and people” and “systems in our public service and other aspects of our governance that are so complex and Byzantine, that not even the Romans would recognize them if they returned today to be responsible for global governance.”

The March 24 plenary address was intended to set the tone at a United Nations consultation on universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, intended to prepare the Caribbean region for participation in the June High Level Meeting of UN member states on AIDS. The meeting drew government ministers and senior officials from Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Most listeners would agree Mottley’s speech was one of the most powerful and cogent things to happen at any of the series of regional meetings that have become well-known as of the key ways we spend HIV money in the Caribbean. In it she called for the creation of a Caribbean Human Rights Charter and for tolerance education to be part of the Caribbean Examinations Council curriculum. And three weeks later she was back at another UN HIV meeting this week in Port of Spain, spurring human rights lawyers and activists in the region to found a Caribbean Coalition for Social Justice, and taking steps towards the creation of a Caribbean Law Reform Commission.

Mottley’s countryman Henrik Ellis wasn’t the only one who thought the speech was breathtaking. I-95.5FM Radio’s Dale Enoch broadcast it in its entirety the following day; and responding to meeting participants’ advocacy, UNAIDS’s Caribbean team has graciously posted both the video of the speech and a transcript prominently on their website. These words, perhaps more than any others were the ones that reached home:

The battle against the abolition of the slave trade took, like, decades. And the battle against the slavery institution also took decades. And the battle for independence took decades. We have already started with a few decades in the battle for a common gold standard of regional human rights. But the time has come upon us to up the ante, and to call on the region to protect your own. You cannot accuse those who governed you through colonial exploitative regimes of perpetrating crimes against you, or taking away from you your dignity and your ability for controlling your destiny – and then when you have control of your own societies for two generations of independence, you are not prepared to secure the rights of every individual irrespective of whatever differences that may occupy the human race. It is unacceptable. And the time has come for it.

18 February, 2011

We don’t need debate on gay marriage, Mary King. We need Government action on violence and discrimination.

“No thank you!” CAISO has responded to Government’s proposal the day after Valentine’s Day for a national debate and referendum on same-sex marriage, made by Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs during Senate debate on the Statutory Authorities (Amendment) Bill. That legislation seeks to extend a death benefit available to public servants’ next of kin to the employees of statutory authorities. It goes further, to include in the potential beneficiaries common-law partners of unmarried employees and their children born out of wedlock – but restricts the benefit to only partners “of the opposite sex”. In floor debate, Government Senators defended on “religious” and “cultural” grounds their decision to recognize fornicators, but not sodomites.

Illustrating the circus such a proposed debate would be, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Subhas Panday, a Hindu, interrupted an Independent Senator, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, as she criticized the bill for “entrenching” this discriminatory provision and bucking where the world was moving, by shouting a reference to an imaginary verse of Leviticus: 52. (Leviticus has only 27 chapters.) CAISO doesn’t trust that this debate proposal won’t simply take Trinidad & Tobago down the same path of national conflict and global embarrassment as Uganda, ironically as we too chair the Commonwealth of Nations. Holding a popular “referendum” (the word the Government used) on whether citizens who are a minority group have equal rights would also make the nation a laughingstock in the international community.

The proposal is a distraction, Government clearly isn’t listening, and has its priorities on GLBT issues wrong. CAISO has consistently given the Government six politically feasible national priorities for action; and same-sex unions or debate on them was never one. We’ve written the Prime Minister, and we met with Minister King early in the new administration to share these six items.

Three of them address responses to areas where social vulnerability is highest for members of the GLBT community, none requiring legislation or referenda:

We also advocated that Min. King build her own Ministry’s capacity to support the Government with planning, policy and programme development related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), through staffing, and government-to-government technical assistance; and we submitted an FY2011 citizen’s budget proposal for a SOGI desk in the Ministry.

Most important, we asked the Government to take action to protect us from the discrimination and violence we face on a daily basis because of who we are, discrimination that is fuelled when national leaders speak of us on television and radio from the chambers of Parliament, not as citizens who have sex in our bedrooms with other adults and party and form organizations and love each other and voted for them, but as people who are controversial and sensitive and connected to illegality and whose rights and relationships require debate.

The Equal Opportunity Act, a brainchild of the UNC Government, which has just entered its second decade, is an ideal vehicle to enact those discrimination protections. (The Catholic Commission on Social Justice, which opposed the 2004 Gender Policy, agrees that we ought to be so protected.) There is furthermore measurable national consensus in Trinidad & Tobago on protecting people from discrimination in basic walks of life, regardless to their sexuality. The Equal Opportunity Commission the Act established is also an ideal vehicle to take the national look at equality, sexual orientation and discrimination, and needed responses, that Min. King is concerned with – in a sober, deliberate and apolitical fashion. In the functions the Act assigns the Commission, it provides for it to review emerging questions of discrimination, conduct research and make recommendations.

In explaining why the Government had specifically excluded unmarried same-sex partners from the bill, Minister of Public Administration Sen. Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam admitted she was not a legal expert but went ahead to conclude same-sex relations were illegal. As a result, she argued (before correcting herself), Government “can’t put the horse before the cart”. This seems sadly true. Protecting GLBT citizens from discrimination and violence is the political horse our Government should be riding, not flogging gay marriage.

Finally, CAISO has repeatedly asked the Government to exercise leadership and speak out boldly against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression, and we congratulated the Prime Minister because she did so at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha just days after the election. She has also done so on HIV. We have also acknowledged the Government for its bipartisan work on strengthening the right to privacy.

Furthermore, we have persistently asked Government to listen and to consult, and offered our help and partnership with building a nation for everyone. But our Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CAISO the reason they abstained on two UN votes late last year was because Government does not have a position on whether gay people have a right to life. Young people are still being beaten by their families and bullied in school. Crime victims of anti-gay violence are taunted as bullers by police officers. A dozen 20-something-year-olds, many of whom have nowhere to go because of who they are and who are unsafe in the shelter, were recently charged for loitering. And our humanity is seen by the Government as in need of debate.

CAISO:

We salute Independent Senators James Armstrong, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, and notably Helen Drayton who hammered away at the Government. They all assailed the restrictive common-law provision in the bill as antiquated and inconsistent with state obligations of equal treatment. And PNM Senators Pennelope Beckles-Robinson and Terrence Deyalsingh showed welcome compassion on the issue. Sen. Beckles-Robinson, the Opposition Leader in the Senate, proposed to Government a modest amendment, which Sen. Panday rejected, that would have avoided enshrining in law new discriminatory language and simply have the bill reference the Cohabitational Relationships Act. What these Senators displayed was that many good people in Trinidad & Tobago of different political persuasions are more than ready to end the ways in which our laws and public policy discriminate unnecessarily against gay and lesbian people. They also displayed that those who do so are in the highest office, and that they are unafraid to speak out publicly. We also saw the sad display of how politicians who defend intolerance on religious grounds often can’t even cite the scriptures they are hiding their personal prejudice behind.

16 February, 2011 

Sen. Hon. Mary King
Minister of Planning, Economic & Social Restructuring & Gender Affairs
Level 14, Eric Williams Financial Complex
Independence Square, Port of Spain

Dear Minister King:

I am writing, in the wake of yesterday’s Senate debate on the Statutory Authorities (Amendment) bill, to ask you to meet again with me and other representatives of our Coalition at the earliest opportunity. We would like to discuss:

  • Government Senators’ conduct and remarks during the debate, including your own, and the damage we believe they risk doing to the cause of equality
  • the status of the community listening forum proposed in our July 8, 2010 meeting and discussions with you, MP Ramdial and other Government officials;
  • an alternative or complementary approach to the political referendum you proposed yesterday for achieving national engagement with human rights questions of sexual orientation, gender identity and discrimination, involving the Equal Opportunity Commission

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).

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