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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:

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).

28 July, 2010

“There are so many out there who are victims as well”…PM seeks to broaden the view of discrimination, prejudice and equality to include sexual orientation

Filed under: elections,government/politics,Kamla Persad-Bissessar — caiso @ 00:15

During the general election campaign, CAISO wrote the leaders of six major parties suggesting six concrete steps they could take “within six months of forming a new Government which would have a welcome and meaningful impact on the lives of all citizens, including GLBT Trinidadians and Tobagonians”. Foremost among these, we said, was “Leadership” – “to speak out forcefully early in the life of the new Government to embrace the full citizenship and humanity of Trinbagonians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender…Send a clear message to the GLBT community that they enjoy the full protection of the Government and that they deserve and have equal access to Government services and support, according to their needs.”

And on day six after being elected, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar did! Addressing the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha at their May 30th Indian Arrival Day celebration, she said:

Photo © Newsday. Click to hear a clip of the speech, courtesy Talk City Radio 91.1FM

There is so much talk of discrimination in the East Indian community over the years and while so much is valid I would like to again broaden the view.

Discrimination and unfairness does exist in our society but it affects so many rather just one community. It includes, but is certainly not limited to, racial bias.

Discrimination and prejudice is amorphous and has different sources and motivations: it may be based on gender, class, poverty, political affiliation, contact technology or who-yuh-know, locality, sexual orientation, victims of HIV and yes, race.

So when we look at discrimination, please remember there are so many out there who are victims as well.

It’s difficult to convince those that have been seated at the dining table for such a long time that they must make room for us, that there must be an equal numbers of places for all to share, that no one is to be excluded because they are of a different colour or because they because of their religious beliefs, or because they have different lifestyles and preferences, nor because they happen to be a woman.

Here every creed and race was meant to have an equal place.

Who’s going to give up their chair to make way for others in the name of equality?

Why will they change the status quo to which you have been accustomed?

Many resist change in the name of equality, preferring instead to preserve the status quo.

But we simply will not allow that, invitations are hereby extended to all and sundry to sit at the table.

Call Kamla’s office and let her know how you feel about what she said: 622-1625.

4 July, 2010

J-FLAG stands up to CARICOM

Earlier today, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) mounted a “Stand Up to CARICOM” across from the entrance to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort, Montego Bay, site of the 31st CARICOM Heads of Government meeting, “because of the continued presence of anti-buggery laws in 11 of the 14 member states in CARICOM which contribute to discrimination, marginalization and other serious human rights violations of CARICOM citizens”. Members of the group bore placards calling for the immediate repeal of such laws and the full integration of LGBTI citizens into the CARICOM family”. The peaceful protest lasted 17 minutes before police professionallly asked the group to relocate due to security concerns.

25 May, 2010

Get ready to work with your new Government and Parliament to move our issues forward

“If we come together, working united, as one people of Trinidad and Tobago, there is no limit to what we can do. It is a lesson we all learned as children. You remember – going to school and being teased or bullied for the way you looked, or the way you dressed. It hurt, and left you feeling all alone, without a friend in the world. But at some point, we all grew up. And as we grew up, we realized we weren’t the only ones being bullied. We realized other people felt the way we did. And when we learned we weren’t alone, we felt a little stronger. And when we got a little older and a little smarter, we realized not just that there were others who felt as we did; we got together with those others and shared our problems and our experiences. By sharing our hopes and our wants and our dreams, we became stronger still. Suddenly the bully didn’t seem so tough anymore, because when we came together, each of us with others who felt as we did, we became stronger than the bully. We learned as children, that if we came together, united, as one, we could beat the bully. Let us remember that lesson now, as adults. If we come together now, united, as one, we can beat the bully. Teams, playing together, united as one, are better than any one player. Let us come together as a team, united, as one people, working to solve the problems of Trinidad and Tobago.”

20 May, 2010

The Opposition may flirt with gay rights ideas, but the PNM “quite categorically” will not

Well, here we are… In two television interviews earlier in the election campaign, she had hedged her answers somewhat, but last night People’s National Movement Gender Minister Marlene McDonald used the party’s Women’s Platform to state quite categorically that her Party does not support policy measures dealing with or relating to the issues of same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation – and that will not change if they return to government after May 24th.

In a half-hour address on the evening of May 19th on the People’s National Movement Women’s Platform at Bournes Rd., St. James, a sweating Marlene McDonald joined other speakers in burnishing the party’s conservative stance on sexual and reproductive rights. She called the Opposition [08:17] “a sorry bunch of mamapoules”, and claimed the PNM is [09:18] “the only political party that respects and cares for…all the citizens in Trinidad & Tobago”.

Robert Codallo, Express

Moments after noting [11:14] “I am proud to say that our policy is much more comprehensive and far-reaching and cuts across every facet of national life”, she made crystal clear that [11:40] “Our draft National Policy on Gender and Development is also unique in one particular way – that is, it does not support measures dealing with or relating to the issues of termination of pregnancy, same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation. The Opposition may flirt with these ideas if they wish, but this PNM government will not. We have stated our case quite categorically. This nation has always been and will continue to be guided by the highest principles and standards of ethical and moral behaviour, and that will not change when the PNM returns to government after May 24th.”

We love you, so we take good care of you – if you’re heterosexual

The overall goal of the policy, she boasted, nonetheless, is [13:14] “to promote gender equity, gender equality, social justice and sustainable development” and “to improve the quality of life of men and women, boys and girls at all levels of society”. And she criticized the opposition’s approach to gender policy as [13:48] “very discriminatory” for not recognising men – inconsistent with a twenty-first century view of gender and “a fundamental flaw in the interpretation of what is gender issue”, she said. She later went on to show off how girls were significantly outperforming boys academically, an issue researchers have linked to homophobia.

Both sides in the election have been engaged in what one PNM candidate (who, despite a progressive record, declined a request by CAISO to offer a vision on GLBT issues to prospective voters) characterised off-the-record as “a posturing competition” that is “not in my view how such a serious matter should be dealt with”. This same PNM Government in which McDonald is Gender Minister has, for example, voluntarily undertaken commitments to protect people from human rights violations and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity in international fora on two separate occasions in the past two yearsa record we recently sought to draw attention to, in an attempt to reset the bar and make “the starting point for election campaign debate among the parties…how they will work to fulfil those existing commitments”.

Pastor Winston Cuffie embraces Kamla (Anil Rampersad, Newsday)

On Tuesday afternoon, TV6 News reported, Opposition People’s Partnership leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar attended a worship session to accept prayers and blessings for the election from the full gospel (“born-again”) Central Ministers’ Fellowship that Carolyn Kissoon of the Express reports included “over 100 leaders…[a]mong them…Pastor Winston Cuffie of Miracle Ministries, Pastor Judy Karim of Greater Love Christian Fellowship and Reverend Keith Ramdass chairman”. “But before she got their blessings”, TV6 reported,  “Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was called on to clarify her position on some controversial issues – namely same-sex marriages, the death penalty and abortion. She says these will be determined by the national referendum her Partnership has promised.” With hand on her heart, Persad-Bissessar said:

“With respect to the abortion, the same sex, and the capital punishment, I say this: As far as the law of Trinidad &Tobago stands, we must be bound and guided by the law as it stands on these issues. And if it is that the law is to be changed, then that is not a…decision of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. I share with you the view that life is sacred. But if the people of Trinidad & Tobago want to change the law, then that is why we have advocated that a People’s Partnership government would allow for what is known as a referendum.”

Innis Francis, Guardian

Increasingly hounded by the PNM to declare a stance on abortion (in their attempt to inject and exploit divisive, hot-button sexual issues in the campaign, paint her coalition as having a liberal stance and win religious voters), Persad-Bissessar had staked out this hugely problematic position in a primetime television interview on Monday night, saying in effect that she would subject decisions about a stigmatised minority’s rights to the vote of a majority vote by popular referendum.

And, according to reports by Newsday‘s Richardson Dalai and CNews, the political leader of the United National Congress actually went much further when courting the evangelical endorsement, “saying a People’s Partnership Administration did not have any intention of changing the laws of Trinidad and Tobago including that relating to marriages”, boasting “that it was a UNC Administration which had introduced a ‘faith- based and values-based education’ into the school curriculum. ‘We had begun to put into place that the curriculum should be infused with values based education’” – and appearing to justify the UNC’s exclusion of sexual orientation from discrimination protections in the Equal Opportunity Act when it was introduced in 1999:

“She recalled that while drafting the Equal Opportunities legislation, several groups had lobbied the UNC administration to include provision for same sex marriages but this was not included in the legislation.

‘We did not include that in our equal opportunity legislation. We must be bound by the laws of Trinidad and Tobago as it stands on these issues and if it is that the law is to be changed then that is not a position of Kamla Persad-Bissessar or Jack Warner or any member of the People’s Partnership, that will have to be a decision of the people…’”

Shastri Boodan, Guardian

We will rise! (You will rise only if we vote for you to)

CAISO feels proud that we’ve succeeded in some small way in making GLBT concerns a legitimate question in this election campaign, especially with the national media, who have raised our issues as policy matters in visible ways with party leaders. There’s no question that we are part of the national community and the electorate. One breathtaking but small symbol of that achievement was Marlene McDonald’s interview with CNews’s Jessie-May Ventour. Responding to Ventour’s question about policy regarding gay and lesbian citizens and repeal of the nation’s discriminatory laws, McDonald began by characterising these as “veeery sensitive issues”. “They’re human rights issues,” Ventour shot back instantly.

We recognised some risk in raising GLBT issues in a high-stakes election: that we might lose, provoke reactionary responses, harden opposition,  suffer setbacks. Time will tell. But we also recognise that our intervention has prodded both parties to take positions, define some measure of difference between them; and that may be better than the protracted waffling that had characterised both sides.

The work will continue as GLBT voters gain greater knowledge and courage to raise our issues directly with the individual candidates who want to represent us, as one brave lesbian voter did with both Keith Rowley (PNM) and Rocky Garcia (COP) earlier this week as they visited her home in the Diego Martin West constituency. Both candidates’ responses demonstrate how much work needs to be done. But they also demonstrate that it is possible to start the conversation.

Do you know where your candidates stand? Have you asked?

As Verna St. Rose-Greaves has reminded us each time we have heard her talk about GLBT issues during this election, there is still much figuring out to do regarding how we best conduct this political discourse – how GLBT communities partner with others in contributing to building a new democracy that is respectful of diversity and sexual citizenship – how we avoid the media’s interest in us becoming a two-edged sword – and how we recognise that this project is a long-term, incremental effort, and not only about Monday’s outcome. That was the powerful lesson in what happened last night when Gayelle’s upstart WE News show engaged Keith Rowley with our voter’s story, and he, sadly, called her a liar. If he wins, Dr. Rowley’s will be one of the first doors CAISO knocks on after May 25th.

Vote your vision this Monday!

1 March, 2010

Congratulations, Opposition Senator Verna St. Rose-Greaves!

See how one of T&T’s newest Senators treats with GLBT issues

Pt 1: Verna's Independence 2007 interview with Kennty Mitchell

Pt 2: Verna's Independence 2007 interview with Kennty Mitchell

Click on the links above

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