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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.

30 November, 2010

I am not only a person living with HIV… Our work in HIV prevention has to…deal with…that… I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country

Human Rights and HIV – Living Positively

It is indeed a privilege and an honour to stand before you as a person living with HIV on such an auspicious occasion. I am not only a person living with HIV, but I am currently serving as coordinator of an HIV/AIDS NGO, Community Action Resource, better known as CARe. I  pride myself on saying that I am one of the success stories that have come from this organisation; and it’s an honour to be able to serve the needs of who I fondly call “the community of care”, as I am deeply indebted to this organisation, for when I entered its doors I was literally a “walking dead.”

Since our relocation to our new home in September this year, we have seen a steady increase of newly diagnosed persons accessing our services. Our support group, for example, grew from a number of five to twenty in the space of three months. But, with this success, comes the grim face of reality. Realities of people newly diagnosed which reveal patterns of social and economic inequity. One member lost her job because her workers discovered that she was HIV-positive. Her story indicates that the discrimination began within the health care system – one of the nurses revealed her status to a co-worker, who had come to see her (the member) at the hospital for a totally unrelated illness. The nurse, on seeing the co-worker giving the member a casual goodbye kiss, told the co-worker that she should not have done something like that because the patient has AIDS. The co-worker told the other workers at the member’s workplace, who began to shun her, and in one instance one staff member refused to drink from the same cup as the member did. One day the member called in sick, and the boss called her half-an-hour later letting her know that she was no longer needed. Other members have no steady means of income. Some are unable to have at least one meal a day, much less to ensure that it’s a nutritious one. These issues impact on the individual ability to adhere to their anti-retovirals, as some require that they be taken with a meal.

At CARe, we have made a conscious decision to not play the victim role, but we see ourselves as a community that seeks to deepen its relationships with key stakeholders in order to ensure greater access and decrease levels of economic and social and gender inequity. We are not just a support group, but one that seeks to empower people living with HIV who can demonstrate leadership at any and at all levels of society. It cannot be underscored the value of this work and the need for it to be sustained and supported.

Indeed we are becoming more intuitive and responsive to the society we live in. We understand that we are all in this together – regardless of race, age, class, gender, and sexual identity.

David Soomarie, Coordinator, Community Action Resource (CARe) - Photo: UNAIDS

I am also a member of another community. A community that for far too long have been misunderstood, judged, stifled, or to put it simply: oppressed. A community that, despite its oppression, has managed to contribute to the rich tapestry of a nation’s identity through art, culture, media, and fashion. A community that diligently works in all sectors of labour, be it industry or commerce. A community oppressed by ignorance and religious bigotry. A community labelled outlaws who have no “equal opportunity” in a nation that has written in its national anthem “Here every creed and race find an equal place.”

I speak of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Our archaic laws have driven the lifestyle and culture of these groups underground, forcing many to engage in risky sexual practices, forcing others to lead double lives. Our work in HIV prevention has to move beyond short-term interventions and condom distribution. It has to deal with issues of internalised stigma and shame that one feels living a lifestyle that is “different.”  It requires a reengineering, a deeper understanding of the many sub-cultures that constitute these marginalised groups. It demands a stronger partnering with members of civil society who engage meaningfully with these communities; and a clear demonstration of leadership from the powers that govern us.

In closing, I am not limited by my HIV status or my sexual identity, nor should i be judged by it. I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country, one who is passionate about equality, justice, community and country. I long for the day when I can truly believe in those words “here every creed and race find an equal place.” I thank you.

Soomarie shared the panel with Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Hon. Rodger Samuel

17 October, 2010

We take a pride in our liberty

Some dangerously out-of-touch “ex-gay” foreigners think there’s growing tolerance of GLBT people in T&T, so they’re coming here on an evangelical mission Oct. 22-29 to try to turn back the clock. And they’re going after vulnerable young people.

Sexual citizenship & nation-building in T&T. CAISO has been successful in our short year of existence in helping foster openings for inclusion of sexual orientation in many areas of national life in our independent, postcolonial nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Over the past year we have seen such national institutions and leaders as the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister, the Elections & Boundaries Commission and the Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as the University of the West Indies, church leaders and the national media, articulate an indigenous vision of equality, citizenship and democracy that includes people of different sexual orientation and raises questions about how we protect such persons from violence and discrimination. Aren’t you proud of your nation? We have also helped promote a robust conversation about how GLBT people here find spaces to practise the faith of their choosing. What has distinguished local engagement with issues of sexual citizenship and faith community from the kinds of advocacy for “gay rights” that take place in many other settings is that ours has been a fundamentally nation-building approach.

US Christian fundamentalists export a toxic gospel overseas. Yet, because of the promise that CAISO and our nation have shown for expanding the embrace of human rights and inclusion, Trinidad & Tobago has become a key target for one of the global anti-gay evangelical ministries whose fundamentalist gospel has become a new export of the United States. Some have compared these Christian Right Wing sects to the proponents of radical Islam, because they both see their mission in terms of a “culture war” against modern developments. “These fundamentalists are no different to the Iranian Ayatollahs”, South African activist Zackie Achmat wrote recently. These evangelizing ministries are deeply focused on regulating sexuality, and they primarily target poor women and GLBT people’s rights by whipping up fears about abortion, same-sex marriage and “same-sex parenting” as threats to the “traditional” family, even in places like Trinidad & Tobago where same-sex marriage is not even being debated. Their danger to the lives of GLBT people is well documented and real. What we’ve seen in Uganda alone, where these ministries have held conferences and trained local pastors and legislators, has been a destructive national campaign of public homophobia that has pitted Ugandans against each other and detracted from other national priorities. They helped draft a stunning piece of legislation that would imprison families for not turning in gay members, execute gay people with HIV for having sex, and also impose a death sentence on people for a second offence of homosexuality, which includes merely touching someone of the same sex in an attempt to become sexual.

His Way Out director Philip Lee received by the Head of State during the group's 2009 Jamaica visit (Photo: Office of the Governor General of Jamaica)

His Way Out targets T&T to turn back social progress. One US anti-gay ministry, His Way Out, based in Bakersfield, California, has set its sights on the Caribbean. After a few visits there, they now claim to have a base in Guyana; and during a high-profile visit to Jamaica in 2009 held a meeting with the head of state, Governor General Patrick Allen. They have publicly announced a mission to our shores from October 22 to 29 because they “believe…it is time to combat what seems to be a growing acceptance of homosexuality in Trinidad”. His Way Out is one a number of troubling ministries arising in the US and Canada that spread a gospel which acknowledges that many people experience same-sex desire, but preaches that such sexuality is disordered, that homosexual acts are unChristian, and that gay people should therefore live lives of self-denial, penitence and prayer “whereby sin’s power is broken”. They typically target young people struggling with their sexuality, and adults who have been hurt by other gay people or who experience deep conflict between their faith and their sexuality. His Way Out is part of the Exodus Global Alliance network, with which they claim to be partnering “in the development of ex-gay ministry in the Caribbean”. They also fundraise aggressively. Their activities here will include a $165 prayer breakfast. Exodus’s mission is to “effectively communicate the message of liberation from homosexuality”, and they believe Christian ministry can effect “reorientation of same sex attraction” and “growth towards Godly heterosexuality”. Prominent leaders of Exodus have since renounced its views, returned to an active gay life, and apologized for the harm they caused.

October 22-29 “sexual health” mission planned. His Way Out Ministries (HWOM) is led by Phillip Lee, a 60-year-old gay, HIV+ man who, by his own testimony, spent the 1970s and ’80s engaging in what he now regrets was destructive sex, partying and drug use, and who is coping with this personal experience by evangelizing others who experience same-sex desire about the unhealthiness and ungodliness of homosexual activity. As they have elsewhere, His Way Out is using a framework of “health” to characterize their messages about sexuality, stigmatizing what they hold out as “gay” sexual practices as unnatural and disease-prone. From November 22nd to 29th, HWOM plans youth-targeted events at Naparima Girls High School, the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, and St. George’s College; media appearances on CNC3, I-95 and other stations; and a meeting with Louis LeeSing, ostensibly in his capacity as Mayor of Port of Spain. One of their advocacy strategies will be to disseminate literature (which, according to HWOM visit organizer Dr. Judith Henry, is being prepared by Dr. Garthlyn Pilgrim) to young people and others, identifying anal intercourse and rimming as gay male sexual behaviours, and linking these to health risks.

Standing up for national values. The visit is an occasion for those of us committed to building a local culture of inclusion and progress in Trinidad & Tobago to stand together and stand up for our values around sexuality and citizenship, and to contrast them with destructive messages being exported by the United States Christian Right in the name of Jesus. The timing of His Way Out Ministries’ visit could also not be more out of touch. It follows a wake of suicides by young people across the US who were made to feel that their sexuality was bad, included among them young people from the Caribbean who moved to the United States. It follows on a high-profile scandal involving Eddie Long, Bishop of the AfricanAmerican New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, one of the largest Christian Right congregations in the US. Long, who runs an ex-gay ministry at his church and organized a public march against gay rights, has been accused of grooming adolescents he recruited from his youth ministry to have sex with him, one a young man of Trini heritage. We are planning at least five responses during the week of the HWOM mission to demonstrate our local values in relationship to sexual inclusion.

Youth voices. Public messages that reinforce stigma against same-sex desire, and that teach that sexuality is pathological, damage young people’s healthy sexual development. “Spiritual violence” is how this shaming is characterized when done with the tools of faith. Public health experts in the region have for years linked stigmatization of same-sex sexuality to the Caribbean’s runaway rates of HIV. Fear- and damnation-based messages are not effective or humane approaches to sexual health education: young people need proven, science-based HFLE methods and compassionate pastoral care that affirms their self-esteem and God-given sexuality. More importantly, there is scientific consensus that young people cannot change their sexual orientation. Young people in Trinidad & Tobago are mobilizing across sexual orientation and faith to provide an alternative, homegrown vision of inclusion and hope to their peers. They will be sharing this vision of human sexuality, and democratically raising questions at HWOM’s youth-targeted events on October 23 and 28, in ways that interrogate the vision and ideology of our foreign visitors. Contact Brandon O’Brien: nova.crux@gmail.com.

Media visibility.Throughout the week of HWOM’s visit, as well as before and after, local advocates of a homegrown, inclusive vision of sexual citizenship will take that message to the media. It is, after all, this proud local culture of inclusion and partnership between GLBT and non-GLBT people that is the real story behind HWOM’s evangelizing mission here to change things. The local goal is also to “change the channel” on a foreign group intent on cynically sowing controversy and division here using the red herring of same-sex marriage, when no such local debate exists.

Accountability. Some local institutions and offices, including ones responsible for the welfare of young people, appear to have readily affiliated themselves with HWOM, their visit and their message – a message whose content has been linked in the United States to teenage suicide as well as to anti-gay bullying and violence by young people, and which seems clearly inconsistent with sound

Photo: Keith Matthews, Guardian

public health practice or the new thrust to aggressively address stigma and discrimination in T&T’s national HIV response. Those associated with the visit include Port of Spain Mayor Louis LeeSing; Naparima Girls High School, a Presbyterian assisted secondary school; St. George’s College, a government secondary school; and the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. These institutions and related leaders (Principals Patricia Ramgoolam and James Sammy, and Moderator Elvis Elahie), as well as PNM Political Leader Keith Rowley, Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh, Youth Affairs Minister Anil Roberts, Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, Gender Minister Mary King, People & Social Development Minister Glenn Ramadharsingh, National AIDS Coordinating Committee line Minister Rodger Samuel, NACC Chair Angela Lee Loy, and National Parent Teachers Association President Zena Ramatali will be engaged regarding their commitment to protecting young people from harm, to ensuring scientifically sound health, family life and HIV education, and on their understanding and position with respect to the beliefs and practices of HWOM regarding young people and their sexual development. A few prominent local individuals also seem to have been included in the planning of the HWOM visit. It is quite curious whether they would publicly support legislative repeal of sections 8(e) and (f) of the Immigration Act, which prohibit entry into Trinidad & Tobago of Lee and similar homosexuals who are not citizens or residents here.

Public education. Efforts will be made to make available for public viewing dramatic and documentary films that treat in educational and solution-seeking ways with homosexuality, discrimination, mental health and faith. These include “Children of God” by Kareem Mortimer, a Bahamian filmmaker with Trinidadian heritage, which won both major prizes at the recent Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival. The film, set in the Caribbean, dramatizes the violence and hypocrisy of religious homophobia. T-shirts with affirming messages about sexual inclusion and faith are also being produced. Get yours!

Take a pride in your liberty! Get involved in protecting the dignity and respect of all Trinbagonians. Contact us at 758-7676 or caisott@gmail.com, or follow us at www.facebook.com/caiso.

5 July, 2010

Pride (noun) a sense of one’s own worth; the occasion or ground of self-esteem;

self-respect; pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement; sexual
desire, esp. in a female animal; a flamboyant or impressive group

July 2010 is the 16th annual celebration of Pride in Trinidad & Tobago
How are you showing yours?

At London Pride this past weekend, one of the first Caribbean young people to head a GLBT campus group in the UK sports his CAISO jersey. The British-born 21-year-old supported CAISO's work by ordering the shirt and making a donation online.

For a fuller calendar of Pride 2010 events, contact Velvet Underground
369-5351 • velvetunderground.tt@gmail.com

July 6
Pride Arts & Craft Workshop I: Paper Making, Clay & Plaster Sculpting

July 7
Friends for Life Pride Chatroom opens

July 8
Financial Planning for the Future 5pm

July 10
Two parties
Lesbian (women only) Pride party
Pride & Prejudice

July 14
Lesbian chatroom

July 15
Pride Arts & Craft Workshop II: Poetry, Music & Dance

July 16 &17
Social events

July 18
Rainbow Movies

July 20
All Fours Competition

July 21
Chatroom: Gay-Straight Alliances

July 23
Velvet Underground Annual Pride pool tournament

July 25
Annual Pride Memorial celebrating the lives, joy,
laughter and memories of our lost brothers and sisters
6 pm, Bohemia

July 28
Chatroom

July 30
CAISO anniversary ecumenical thanksgiving service

July 31
Party

August 14
Tobago Pride/Las Lap

pride audio (prd) KEY

NOUN:

  1. A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
  2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.
  3. Arrogant or disdainful conduct or treatment; haughtiness.
    1. A cause or source of pleasure or satisfaction; the best of a group or class: These soldiers were their country’s pride.
    2. The most successful or thriving condition; prime: the pride of youth.
  4. An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.
  5. Mettle or spirit in horses.
  6. A company of lions. See Synonyms at flock1.
  7. A flamboyant or impressive group: a pride of acrobats.

TRANSITIVE VERB:
prid·ed, prid·ing, prides

To indulge (oneself) in a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction: I pride myself on this beautiful garden.

ETYMOLOGY:
Middle English, from Old English prde, from prd, proud ; see proud
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15 May, 2010

Candidate for St. Ann’s East: “I don’t want to be popular; but to do what’s right”

Of the almost 100 candidates running to represent the people in Parliament in the May 24th general election, United National Congress (UNC) Senator Verna St. Rose-Greaves, the People’s Partnership candidate for St. Ann’s East, is the only one to date to make positive references to sexual orientation on a campaign platform.

On the People's Partnership Women's Platform in Diamond Vale. PHOTO: SEAN DRAKES/BLUE MANGO

Fielding a question from CAISO at a Congress of the People (COP) forum in March, before the election became a reality, her People’s Partnership colleague and National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) political leader, Makandal Daaga, suggested that he was open to including GLBT people in the vision for national change that led to the formation of the Opposition coalition. But on a political platform on Harris Promenade two months later, in a screeching lament that “every single institution” in the country had failed, Daaga, now COP candidate for Laventille West, listed as his first example of that failure: “Our schools are producing homosexuals”. The People’s National Movement candidate for re-election to her Port of Spain South seat did no better. In two television interviews a day apart, Marlene McDonald, who as Minister of Community Development, Culture & Gender Affairs has managed the contested gender policy for the current government,  squirmed out of any commitments to ensuring full citizenship for gay and lesbian people. But St. Rose-Greaves, UNC-People’s Partnership candidate for St. Ann’s East, is clear where she stands, and unafraid to say so. “I don’t want to be popular, but to do what’s right,” she told CAISO.

On May 4th, CAISO ran into her at Gayelle’s television studios, where she has featured GLBT issues on her show on more than one occasion. We asked her about the People’s Partnership stance on our issues and what would help prompt a positive statement on them from UNC political leader and Partnership Prime Ministerial candidate Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

“Why do you want a campaign promise?” she immediately asked, suggesting that substance and quiet work on our issues might be more strategic than rhetoric. “It tells people they are valuable”, we countered. She was non-committal regarding her party’s leadership. “I’m clear where I stand. I’ll say it”, she declared, got into her trademark yellow car moments later, drove to the Congress of the People rally in West Mall and did just so. On that platform she talked about the election as a “big” one that is about “craft[ing] the kind of country that we want to build”, including a new democracy with a political culture inclusive of sexual orientation. In doing so, she responded to attacks against the viability and integrity of political coalition-building in Trinidad & Tobago across different interests:

“This coalition will work; it can work; and it must work. It depends on every one of us to make it work. This is not about a few people. This is about the country and people who believe in taking this country forward. This coalition or coming together is not just an organization. It is an energy. An energy which cannot be destroyed. It can only change in form. It is us up to you the people to make use of that energy, to build and strengthen and protect this joining of forces across lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, class and religious persuasion. This, my friends, is the beginning of a new order, a new ethic, a new political culture, a new democracy, a dismantling of an oppressive system and an oppressive regime.”

On Friday, in their effort to reach out to various segments of her constituency, her campaign staff contacted CAISO to make sure that the GLBT community knows where she is on our issues. They also drew attention to her record on HIV.

And St. Rose-Greaves herself called this weekend to tell us what she stands for:

Framing at the outset that she did not speak on behalf of the party, she described her own commitment to GLBT issues as grounded in a track record of efforts to preserve people’s rights, and made clear that a rights-based approach cannot be selective as to whose rights it chooses or rejects.

She was quick to admit that she too had more to learn about GLBT issues. So does the nation, she said. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about gay rights” that requires education, clarifying, she shared. Homosexuality is wrongly associated with pathology – paedophilia, rape, molestation – with gay people seen in the public eye as both its perpetrators and its victims, instead of merely as humans, citizens who are free to choose and express their sexuality. “Open discussion on these matters is needed”, she urged, including with parents. And “one doesn’t need everybody to go along”.

St. Rose-Greaves shared her sense of the “inordinate amount of courage” it takes to come out in Trinidad & Tobago. She made clear that she was prepared to defend people’s right, as citizens, to choose to do so, and to be respected. She added later: The difficulty of coming out has “too many people…getting into marriages, having children, living unhappily…wives…husbands…the entire family is unhappy, cannot function”.

She also took account of the kinds of support gay people need, in particular young people she’s worked with who are struggling with their sexuality, and who have no facility where they can sort this out. In existing programmes for youth on sexual matters, she observed, facilitators talk to boys about girls, and girls about boys, and “never leave space” for anything else.

When asked whether she would support our “6 in 6” platform (six steps CAISO proposes a new government take in its first six months), and about what she would do “if elected”, she countered that there was no need to predicate anything on being elected, because she would continue to do what she always had: “People know that that is my life’s work. I’ve never been silent. I won’t support people who beat up on people.” And “if I should have a say in any of the ministries, I would continue to treat” with issues in the same manner. Pressed as to whether she found CAISO’s  proposals (which include an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act and steps for four ministries to take) “reasonable”, she said yes. But she asked whether there “are ways of fighting other than to take on the big bacchanal”, suggesting an approach of “encounters”, as opposed to engagements “where we shout at each other”. “A lot of those fights take away from the substance…you have to be very strategic”, she offered, noting that a sound gender policy should resolve a lot of these questions.

The St. Ann’s East constituency stretches from Maracas and Tyrico Bays on the North Coast of Trinidad, down through the Santa Cruz valley, and back up into Maracas Valley-St. Joseph.

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…)

3 February, 2010

Is Carnival season…six tips for safety

Filed under: carnival,HIV,laws,online dating,TTAVP,violence — caiso @ 13:17

images courtesy Bohemia

Happy Carnival, family! Is winin season. Have real fun. But please do so safely. In blockin, in sexin, in drinkin, in drivin, in travellin, in leavin de party, in playin yuhself in public.

Welcome, too, to our foreign visitors. We’re proud of T&T’s reputation as the GLBT capital of the English-speaking Caribbean, where there’s no mob violence, little police harassment, a whole lot of social spaces, especially at Carnival, and certain people can walk down certain streets certain times in certain ways and not get bashed. But laws against homosexual sex are still on the books here (up to 25 years in jail, an HIV test, and listing in the sexual offender registry), even if they’re not usually used. And just like any other small place, public authorities and most police aren’t sympathetic to gay issues, individual attitudes vary, and you might be in trouble if you act “inappropriately”. So when you’re in public, pretend you’re in an ethnic or working class neighbourhood in your city; and listen to the natives.

Special warning: Over the past couple years an unacceptable number of us have found ourselves robbed, sometimes filmed in sexual poses, in some instances raped, and in a few cases killed by guys we met online, through A4A. These attacks were in people’s own homes as well as in strangers’ places, and not all were instant hookups. A few attacks have also happened as people left gay clubs. And Carnival is always a season of opportunity.

Unprotected – and unexpected – sex also happen quite a lot every Carnival. So make some plans. Guys: the chances the person you have sex with will be HIV+ are as high as 1 in 5; and he may not even know himself. You’ll find free condoms in most parties and events this season, but not necessarily lube and usually not dams. So walk with your stuff.

Here are six simple tips we hope you’ll remember throughout this season:

  • Talk about safety with each otherthink about safety for yourself
  • When you’re thirsty, sip
  • Start on the outside
  • Always tell somebody
  • If you get hurt, get help
  • Look out for each other

1. Talk about safety with each other. Think about safety for yourself. When you dress up, when you do up, when you do stuff, when you go out. Keep your friends safe. Just talk about it. Make safety a part of how you do Carnival.

2. When yuh tusty…Sip! When yuh real tusty is when you’s make de wuss decisions. So when yuh know yuh tusty, try an sip!

3. Start on the outside. If you are going to meet somebody you met online for the first time, consider doing so in a public place you are familiar with, where there are other people. Don’t agree to have them come to your residence, and don’t go to meet them somewhere strange. You can always decide to go somewhere else once things check out.

4. Always tell somebody. Make it a habit. Point out who you are leaving the party or the band with. Ask who knows them. Text somebody where you’re going. Text the licence plate. Call somebody to say you reached. Text to say you got back safely. Tell whoever you are going off with or you are going to meet that you have people who know who they are and where you are. Even if it’s not true. If they think you have nobody or that you’re ashamed to let anyone know, you become the best victim. If you really can’t tell anybody, make files: write the information down, text yourself.

5. If you become a victim, get help. Get medical care. If you’ve been raped, don’t hide it from the doctor. Ask for “PEP” (drugs that if administered quickly can prevent you from becoming HIV+). Talk and scream and cry about it with somebody you trust. Don’t suffer alone. Call the Carnival Safety Line at 857-7676 if you need to talk, you don’t know where to go for care, or if you’ve been mistreated by a service provider. We can’t answer 24/7, but we can call you back, we’ve helped other people, and we want to prevent people from getting hurt.

6. Look out for each other. Don’t abandon your friends. Encourage them to be responsible. But help them reach home safe when they don’t.

If you want to read more about ways to be safe, or suggest some: click here.

CAISO 2010: putting you at the centre

1 December, 2009

Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister and new Commonwealth Chair Patrick Manning on human rights, GLBT genocide

Filed under: Commonwealth,HIV,human rights,Patrick Manning — caiso @ 10:50

It “really forms no part of the agendait need
not detain us.” It is “a matter of domestic
policy
individual countries, people have
their own positions on these matters”.

(more…)

26 November, 2009

Uganda: CAISO calls on Museveni, Manning, CARICOM to speak up on homosexuality, make CHOGM a “cathedral of human rights”

CAISO released the following statement yesterday:

CAISO stands with human rights advocates of all stripes across the Commonwealth and the world in issuing a call to Commonwealth Chairs Ugandan President Museveni and our own Prime Minister Patrick Manning:

We urge them to use Trinidad & Tobago’s shores to speak out forcefully against legislation introduced by a member of the Ugandan Parliament that would deprive all gays and lesbians and people with HIV of the core benefits of citizenship. We urge President Museveni to bring to defeat the bill which would prescribe life imprisonment for consensual sex, and which singles out lesbians and gays with HIV for death if they have sex, even with a partner to whom they disclose their HIV status.

Photo courtesy Newsday

Sadly, CHOGM in Uganda saw lesbian, gay and transgender Ugandans beaten by security forces for speaking out in the Commonwealth People’s Space. CHOGM in Trinidad & Tobago provides an opportunity to repair that. We encourage Prime Minister Manning and all other CARICOM leaders to join President Museveni in making CHOGM here in Trinidad & Tobago a cathedral of human rights by joining their voices in joint opposition to moving any Commonwealth state backward on human rights.

No self-respecting leader of the Commonwealth, either incoming or outgoing, or of the region, can turn a blind eye to such a threat to sexual freedoms. Public health leaders have made it eminently politically safe for our leaders to do what is right when it comes to protecting the freedom and equality of their citizens who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and living with HIV, and who seek to harm no one in pursuit of our human and God-given gifts. What is more, here in Trinidad & Tobago doing so has no real political cost. It is, more importantly, a deeply principled way to show leadership in the world community, ensure human dignity, and save human lives.

LINKS:

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009

Remarks by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World Delivered at the Commonwealth People’s Forum on the Eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

News articles

“Ugandan church leader brands anti-gay bill ‘genocide'”, UK Guardian

“Row Over Uganda Bill” by Andre Bagoo, Newsday, 26 November 2009CNews lead story, 24 November 2009: “Former UN Official criticizes leaders criminalizing same sex activity”

Museveni messaging sticks: Newsday article on his address to Commonwealth Business Forum opens: “Even as his administration is under international fire for a proposed bill which seeks to impose custodial sentences and even death for homosexuality, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni…”

“Proposed Uganda legislation could accelerate Caribbean homophobia” by Gary Eleazar, Kaieteur News, 26 November 2009

African websites

Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law

Africans Against Hate

SMUG: Sexual Minorities Uganda

Gay Uganda blog

Pambazuka News

Human rights & research

Political Research Associates: “Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia”

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Human Rights Watch

“This Alien Legacy”, HRW report on the colonial legacy of sodomy laws in Africa and Asia

Former UN Official criticizes leaders criminalizing same sex activity
Tuesday 25th November, 2009

6 October, 2009

gspotttlight: IRN

IRN website

IRN website

When we launched, CAISO said our plans included “a website, monthly meetings, fundraising at home and abroad, educational activities with public and religious officials, and collaboration with local and international research, advocacy and human rights groups”. In fact, our emergence has been received with quite a bit of excitement within the region and beyond. We’ve been called on by UNAIDS (the UN’s joint programme on HIV, who asked us to share ideas about addressing homophobia and violence); UNDP (the UN’s development programme, through its new, Port of Spain-based initiative on sexual minorities); the regional Coalition for Vulnerable Communities whom we welcome back to Trinidad for a human rights consultation at the end of the month; and CariFLAGS (the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities), a 12-year-old regional GLBT coalition who have asked us to join and, with other partners, sponsored a local community member to attend their groundbreaking Regional Transgender Training and Strategy Consultation two weeks ago. The Commonwealth People’s Forum blog and the blogger portal Global Voices Online have both taken notice of our online work. As evidenced by yesterday’s City University of New York webcast, CAISO is helping strengthen links between Trinidad & Tobago and a range of regional and international work on GLBT issues. As we participate in these regional and international meetings and build relationships with partners, a periodic gspotttlight will try to tell you a bit about those meetings and allies.

launching the Caribbean IRN at the Caribbean Studies Association conference in Kingston

launching the Caribbean IRN at the Caribbean Studies Association conference in Kingston

Vidyartha Kissoon, Caribbean IRN Coordinator, talks about the entity that gave rise to yesterday’s webcast, and its consultation in Jamaica in June that a CAISO member attended.

A gathering of buller, sadamite woman, man-rayal, batty-man, anti-man and dey friend (or, if you want, a gathering of people whose political, creative and scholarly work focuses on genders and sexual minorities in the
Caribbean) meet up in Jamaica in June this year. (Jamaica, you ask? Well Jamaica was the venue for the Caribbean Studies Association conference, which had many discussions on Caribbean sexualities.) The gathering was organized by the Caribbean board of the International Resource Network (IRN). The IRN is a project based at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) of the City University of New York. It is funded by the Ford Foundation and seeks to connect academic and  community-based researchers, artists, and activists around the world in areas related to diverse sexualities and genders. The web platform is at http://www.irnweb.org.

What opportunities does the IRN present for the Caribbean? It provides a mechanism to promote the work being done by groups lIke CAISO and to network across the Caribbean and in the diaspora in a very visible way. The Caribbean is evolving in terms of how the different countries respond to LBGTT citizens and their right to achieve their full potential. The Caribbean IRN web has started to build a listing of related resources – syllabuses, films, books, papers, people. And other activities have started in the background:

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