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

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).

1 August, 2010

CAISO’s first Advocate Award

Something happened in July 2007 that sowed the seeds of an exciting new advocacy movement by gay and lesbian, bi and Trans people in Trinidad and Tobago – a movement that we have seen flourish over the past year. CAISO wants to recognise the person who sowed those seeds, and to acknowledge his role in making history:

On July 4th of 2007, some of us read in our newspapers about a man from Ste. Madeleine who had won a small money judgment against the Government in the courts, because of a violation he suffered from the police some years earlier. The stories told about how he had been detained by the police, stripped naked, ridiculed. Some stories talked about his size. Some of them talked about his sexuality. He wasn’t a posh middle class person with lawyer friends. He hadn’t completed a lot of school. But he was a really determined person: he ran a small business out of his home, he drove a maxi, and he’d done a lot of other things to earn a living. Three weeks later, it got even more amazing: the Saturday Guardian had a picture of the man on its front page leading to a story captioned “Give Gays Equal Rights”.

“At 29 years, Kennty Mitchell seems to have everything going for him. He is a striving entrepreneur, a community activist and is involved in a nine-year ‘common-law’ relationship. Yet, he is put down by society and verbally and physically abused by many, including the police. Why? He is homosexual. Mitchell, however, is determined to keep his head up and refuses to be forced into living his life in secrecy and shame. He has always been open about his sexuality, and now he has decided to speak out publicly. … Mitchell says he’s fed up with being ridiculed and discriminated against, and is calling on the Government to ensure gay people have equal rights. ‘Gay people are people too, they are citizens of T&T and they make a valuable contribution to the country…They should not be treated as though they don’t belong or have no rights,’ he argued. … In his way of marking Gay Pride month (July), Mitchell said he was speaking out for all the gay people without a voice. ‘We might not be able to tip the scale in the next election because we are a minority,’ he said. ‘But we belong to a family, we have friends and they all support us so it will be more than just the gay votes,’ he said.”

The fact that Kennty is a regular fellah isn’t the only remarkable part of the story. What’s equally remarkable is the public’s response: virtually all the people who wrote comments on the Express website sympathised with him, and said: Whatever your sexuality is, you shouldn’t be treated that way. That story transformed the face of GLBT organizing in Trinidad and Tobago. It said powerfully: I can stand up for myself, no matter who I am. I can stand up to the Government. I can stand up to the police. And I can win. And people will support me. And I can be visible. That story inspired gay people to come together across class and gender, race and education, age and nationality in ways we never had before. We first met with Kennty on Emancipation Day 2007; and that same group of us went on to found the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation last year.

Photo courtesy Bohemia

Kennty was harassed by the police again, and he has sued the Government again, and he has won again – $125,000 the last time.

Kennty is not an angel. He is not a perfect person. He is every one of us. He is a perfect example of how every one of us can make change. And that is why he is the recipient of CAISO’s very first Advocate Award.

13 April, 2010

What CAISO wants this election season

Thousands of GLBT voters will be participating in the May 24th general election. Like many other Trinbagonians, we want a responsible government that is going to protect and take care of all its people, and not leave some behind, regardless of which party or coalition wins at the polls. We want a government that is going to provide for different groups (young, middle-aged, and elderly, women, transgender people, and men, gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual) according to their needs. We want a country where no one is a second-class citizen.

CAISO is committed to building a nation that is inclusive, forward-thinking and just. We were formed in response to an act of Government exclusion. We are participating in the current election campaign to ensure that GLBT citizens have a voice in national affairs:

  • by educating our communities on the issues, and mobilising them to deepen their political participation; and
  • by engaging and assisting political leaders to understand and respond to GLBT issues.

A member of Patrick Manning's detail promises CAISO a meeting with the Political Leader

CAISO is non-partisan, meaning that we do not endorse one party over another. Our constituents belong to and are active in several political parties. But we will let our constituents know where parties stand on issues important to them, and where there are relevant differences between parties and candidates.

CAISO’s stake in participating in the election is to promote the election of representatives who will fight to ensure that:

  • every person in Trinidad & Tobago is protected from discrimination and violence and has equal access to protection by the police, the courts and the Equal Opportunity Commission
  • no minority group in Trinidad & Tobago is unjustly persecuted or deprived of opportunity
  • PNM Chairman Conrad Enill & General Secretary Martin Joseph with copies of CAISO's election literature

    all children in our nation’s schools are safe from violence and bullying, are treated with fairness and attention regardless to who their parents may be, and are nurtured to express and grow into their individual selves

  • everyone, regardless to where they live, who they are, or how they look, is able to access quality healthcare, which is delivered by personnel at all levels who treat their patients with dignity and respect
  • people, especially young people, who are pushed into homelessness by circumstances in their lives, families or the economy, or by their inability to find employment, can participate in programmes that meet them where they are and provide a bridge to self-sufficiency
  • young people in every community can grow up into healthy sexual lives as adults, free from physical or emotional coercion, abuse or violence
  • CAISO in the Balisier...next stop UNC/COP/TOP (Photos courtesy Bohemia)

    young people in our nation can enjoy a full range of opportunities and dreams without fear that certain choices or achievement are not appropriate to their gender

  • we remain a multireligious society where people have a right to practise the faith of their choosing, or no faith at all, and where the government does not support or promote one faith over others
  • sex in private between consenting adults is not treated as illegal
  • everyone is able to belong to organisations and engage in private social activities of their choosing, without harassment or fear
  • victims of crime, regardless to the nature of the crime, are treated with professionalism and sensitivity by the police and the criminal justice system in general

You can join CAISO this election, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity:

24 September, 2009

Garth John murdered

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Another member of our community, a legal professional and resident of Curepe, has died violently, stabbed to death repeatedly in his home by three assailants who then stole his car Wednesday night. We have no confirmation, but his meeting with one or more of the assailants is being widely rumoured as having been initiated on A4A.

Our condolences go out to all of his loved ones. Those we spoke with this evening remembered his generosity, self-acceptance, involvement in his neighbourhood, and passion for interior design.

The murder comes on the heels of those of Nirel Parks and Oral Brathwaite, and in the middle of an ongoing spate of internet dating-initiated violence and blackmail of community members, perpetrated in part by a ring of gay and non-gay assailants who are out on bail for one of these offences.

It’s beyond time to take stronger community action to prevent and address such violence, many community members are saying. Calls are also being raised about how we partner more effectively with victims’ families to fight together for justice and strengthen community commitment to safety. And about the need for our communities to undertake stronger partnership and advocacy with law enforcement on violence against us.

Look out for some action steps and community activities from CAISO and others soon. And tell us what YOU think our community and organizers should be doing.

Tell us as well how we can make the safety tips we posted on here two months ago more meaningful for you and those you know. Those tips have been visited by our readers fewer than 20 just about 35 times, as compared to our entries on murders and violence, which you have read over 700 1,200 times. Dating-related violence, though not the only form of violence targeting our community, appears to be the most common. And it is also a form of violence where our own prevention efforts can achieve significant success.

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.