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10 August, 2011

Julian Kenny

Born in Woodbrook eight decades ago, Julian Kenny, the UWI professor and environmentalist who died yesterday, repeatedly stood up for the humanity of GLBT people, as a senator, a journalist and a scientist. He spoke out in the Senate about the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunity Act. Most recently, from October 18 to November 8 of last year, he authored an important four-part series of newspaper columns on the natural science of sexual orientation. Here he is writing in his May 23, 2007 Express column, titled “Genes for ignorance, bigotry?”.

Given the millennia of occurrence of homosexuality in humans, and amongst many mammals and birds, it is not unreasonable to assume that there is probably a strong genetic component, possibly even of more than one gene interacting with others, that express themselves to varying degrees as human homosexual behaviour in all its diversity.

I have often wondered at the growth of homophobia in the region and the country, when homosexuality is being muted, understood and accepted in the developed world, and, reflect back on the debate on the Equal Opportunities Bill in the Senate. When I spoke in favour of the Bill I did question the exclusion of sexual orientation. The response on the Government side while I spoke was snickering by the front bench, even from that champion of the human rights movement, rather like first formers hearing their first risqué joke. Sexual orientation was simply ignored in the final version passed by that House. And I reflected also on my childhood observations of the ways in which St Mary’s College students used to taunt a Down’s syndrome teenager being walked by a carer in Lord Harris Square – 12-year-olds shouting “chupidee, chupidee”.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that any behaviour that in any way differs from what is demanded by convention in society is fair game for discrimination and ostracism, and, even violent suppression and assault. And people use it at all levels. Historically all religions have used it to control followers or to increase numbers.

21 May, 2011

It’s a matter of how you ask the question

Filed under: government/politics,human rights,Social Development,UWI — caiso @ 01:13

Any good pollster knows it’s a matter of how you ask the question.

When asked in a 2009 survey if they “support equal rights for gays/lesbians/ homosexuals”, half of Trinbs picked “Totally Unsupportive” over other options. Instead of defining “homosexuals” for the respondents, perhaps the pollsters needed to define “equal rights”. It’s very doubtful there was much unanimity to respondents’ notions of what that phrase means.

Findings were launched May 10 from a landmark “exploratory” “Survey on the Degree of Conformity to Norms and Values in Trinidad & Tobago” commissioned by the Government’s Ministry of the People and Social Development in 2009, and conducted by the UWI-St. Augustine ANSA McAl Psychological Research Centre, under the supervision of Derek Chadee. One of the study’s 15 areas of interest was “perceptions on homosexuality”, because “the prevalence of this lifestyle is no longer an issue that can be ignored nor hidden as its portrayal in the media is easily seen and accessed.”

“Homosexuality once defined as deviant behaviour is now being seen by many as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. This transitionary period between deviance to acceptable normative is also facilitated by the media and laws. However, the major theologies have all spoken against homosexual behaviours. The contradiction between political correctness and acceptance of homosexuals as well as religious condemnation of such behaviour creates dissonance which the majority of the population may have. These inconsistencies between rational/legalistic action and traditional action need to be resolved if possible to reduce not only psychological tension but the discriminatory behaviour that can arise from stereotyping.”

The study’s “final sample consisted of 1,988 respondents in Trinidad and 319 respondents in Tobago” 15 years or older. A “proportionate stratified random sampling” “across administrative areas in Trinidad and parishes in Tobago” “utilizing the cluster method” was employed. The instrument was administered from May 22 to June 22, 2009. The 392-page report is being made available to the public in six PDF volumes.

IDAHO interviews at the Waterfront Plaza

Two questions on homosexuality were asked:

  • To what extent do you support equal rights for gays/ lesbians/ homosexuals? (using a five-point Likert scale)
  • Would you go out liming with someone whom you knew was gay/lesbian or homosexual? (No Yes: female only Yes: male only Yes: both)

69% of respondents were unsupportive of equal rights. Support ranged from 15% of primary-educated to 41% of tertiary-educated respondents; and from 21% of those with incomes under $2,000 to 37% of those earning $10,000 and more. Support decreased slightly with age, but showed little sex difference. Tobago showed less support across sex, age, education and income: overall 86% of respondents did not support equal rights.

Leeron Brummell, TV6 • Verdel Bishop, Newsday

Almost equal numbers would lime with someone gay or lesbian as wouldn’t; 37% said yes they would without differentiation as to whether it was a gay man or a lesbian; another 10% would with only one sex. Men were more likely to restrict their answers by sex than women. Responses trended with sex, age and income: 65% of primary-educated respondents and 53% percent of those earning under $2,000 would not lime with a gay/lesbian person; 53% of those with tertiary education and 50% of earners of $10,000 and over would lime with a gay person of either sex. Equal numbers of teenagers (15-18) said they would not lime with gay people as said they would lime with a gay person of either sex; 60% of those over 56 said they would not lime with gay people. Numbers who said they would lime with gays of either sex were quite similar across age.

First of all, it’s impressive that the Ministry is interested in attitudes to homosexuality; and notable that the poll was commissioned by the last government. Our colleagues in Barbados at the Rights Advocacy Project at the UWI Faculty of Law recently commissioned a fascinating poll on the death penalty which was cited in the House debates in February. While the headlines made much of the 91% support for capital punishment, what the poll also showed was that:

.

  • while Trinidadians are in favour of the death penalty by a large majority, only a minority, close to a quarter, favour the death penalty being mandatory for all murders whatever the circumstances. And when faced with scenarios of murder cases the proportion of the…persons interviewed who thought that the death penalty was the appropriate punishment for all these crimes was only 1 in 5.
  • In only a tiny number of instances (1.3%) did these Trinidadians give as one of their reasons that it might have a general deterrent effect on others who might consider committing a murder.
  • The high level of general support for the death penalty was contingent on it being enforced with no possibility that an innocent person could be executed. If this should happen only 35% of those interviewed would continue to support capital punishment.
  • Trinidadians favour a discretionary death penalty…a majority of persons interviewed did not support the use of the death penalty in all cases involving violent robbery or drug/gang killing, preferring to take into account mitigating factors

“Most pollsters ask crude questions which will leave you with results that miss the nuance… until you ask them more specific questions”, one UWI lecturer told us.

Let’s search for more nuance in what Trinbs think about homosexuality!!

The study findings were cited in a powerful editorial on gay rights the Express newspaper wrote in response to our visits, pictured above, to 16 government ministries to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. Their take, though, was that “change in attitude…will not happen by itself, just as racism didn’t become objectionable without active measures taken by various individuals and groups to battle bigotry” which include “leaders in all spheres, but particularly in religion…the People’s Partnership administration, and the Parliament”, who must “turn the page on past obscurantist and homophobic attitudes and prejudices, and have the laws appropriately reflect progressive approaches of the present and future.”

The Ministry-commissioned study itself recommends:

The potential for discriminatory behaviour towards homosexuals is extremely high and the necessary legal framework should be put in place to protect this group. Legislation alone would not change attitudes and, therefore, integrative approaches should be considered. The challenge of communicating with institutions that have strong philosophies against homosexuality will need to be addressed in attempting to reduce discrimination.

Take a look at the Homosexuality section of the study for yourself, pp. 156-164. Or browse the brochure produced by the Ministry’s Social Investigations Division (now at cor. Duke & St. Vincent Sts.)

3 December, 2010

Thou shalt not bear false witness

Filed under: community organizing,faith,UWI,violence — caiso @ 10:16

“The trip ultimately concluded with Pastor Phillip speaking at the University of the West in Trinidad” Pressure, boy!!

Here is how His Way Out Ministries reports on its recent, October trip to Trinidad & Tobago. If they can’t get the name of UWI right or the fact they were in an engineering lecture room in the corner of the campus, you can imagine many of the other details are pretty imaginative. But we will make a mas again celebrating Trinidad & Tobago’s resilience to imported homophobia when Phillip comes back for Carnival.

At no time was the expression “war on same-sex attraction” ever used during the entire time in Trinidad. The wording was unfortunate and addressed by myself and Hospital Christian Fellowship through various and numerous media outlets.

Photo-Brian NgFatt, Guardian

Aside from the Prayer Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pastor Phillip shared in numerous schools, a Youth Rally, shared at Agape Bible Ministries Church, was a guest on two radio programs, held a training seminar for pastors and Christian leaders in Tobago, and met with the Mayor of Port of Spain in which the Mayor requested training for his staff on the complexities of homosexuality. The trip ultimately concluded with Pastor Phillip speaking at the University of the West in Trinidad which was held in the Lecture Center on the campus.

“We might be witnessing the birth of a strong grassroots LGBT movement in Trinidad and Tobago, and this is only the beginning.” Oops. That's somebody else from the US writing about the same thing…

Hospital Christian Fellowship, a Christian organization comprised of medical doctors and lawyers, could not have been more hospitable with focus and emphasis on every trip detail from beginning to end. Presently, Hospital Christian Fellowship is discussing the possibility of a return trip to Trinidad possibly in March of 2011. With the huge amount of individuals, families and church leaders approaching Pastor Phillip at each and every venue during the trip, Trinidad and Tobago stands on the threshold of birthing and offering ministry to those struggling with the complexities of same-gender attraction.

“the huge amount of individuals, families and church leaders approaching Pastor Phillip at each and every venue” – this was the signature Naparima Girls youth rally, being held in a Pentecostal church in Cocoyea

For our side of the story, read and watch:

29 October, 2010

Lying, ducking and hiding

This post has been repeatedly updated since its publication. It was last edited 13:27 Oct. 30.

click for a musical farewell to Pastor Lee

Lying

“We are not here to fight anybody, but make no bones about it, there is a war”

– Judith Henry-Porther, organizer of His Way Out Ministries T&T visit

Make up your mind, Judy! A few days ago you were crying foul and cussing out Debra John at the Express for saying you “have declared war on the issue of same sex attractions”, with “the first phase of the war to be fought…through media sensitisation”. “They are militant”, Judy warns about gay people. But we find gastroenterologist Judy a really angry lady. Not someone I’d ever let in my colon. Even if she never said “war”, her face and her diction did. When she says she loves you, her lips curl.

“Legislation is being introduced”

– Judy again

When asked what legislation, who is introducing it, and what it says, they trot out the 2004 Draft National Gender Policy like a bobolee, making wild claims that it is redefining five genders, will allow people to decide their gender, and several other versions of nonsense. Most telling, though, they said at one forum “masculinity will be redefined”. Let’s hope so! The Caribbean masculinities we’ve had (horning, absent fathers, incest, domestic violence, gangs, underachievement (and, of course, homophobia)) could stand some redefinition. The bottom line for them, though, is that the Gender Policy will bring confusion and “the beginning of the end of society as we know it”. So there it is: these are the same millenarian folks from 2004, with one key difference. Then the alarm was about “new standards that have been set by international bodies insensitive to, and at odds with our varied local cultures, and religious and moral beliefs”; now they’re importing their own international folks to promote ideas about homosexuality. Read the old Gender Policy yourself, nah. We’ve uploaded our copy of the 2004 version. We read it a few times and found some pretty mild stuff on abortion and sexual orientation, which we’ve highlighted. See if you can find Armageddon. At any rate, the Policy was thoroughly sanitised by Marlene McDonald in 2009 to remove any references to either issue. We should know: that’s why CAISO formed.

“Gay people like you represent the vast minority”

– ex-gay/”reformed” homosexual Phillip Lee

Nope. Those were his words, not ours; and he wasn’t talking about himself, either. He was trying to talk about CAISO and other GLBT folks who showed up Thursday for the second time, to offer a vibrant alternative voice to his at His Way Out’s activities in Trinidad & Tobago targeting young people. In other words, he’s saying the vast majority of gay people are invisible and self-hating. Clearly he didn’t read the Express online.

almost everything they said about homosexuality

– Phillip Lee, Garthlyn Pilgrim, anyone else from Hospital Christian Fellowship

85% of gays were sexually molested as kids (no citation).

The atheist psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, who championed the 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness, recanted his views and wrote a paper saying gays can change through Christ. Spitzer did conduct a controversial research project in which Lee says he was one of the subjects. But Spitzer says Lee’s organization has deliberately misrepresented his research. What Spitzer did was find 200 people (and couldn’t find any more) who in telephone interviews self-reported they had changed their sexual orientation. 97% of them were Christian. The study has been criticized because many of the subjects, like Lee, were ex-gay advocates who had political motives in participating. All Spitzer does is suggest that a very small number of people who are motivated to change their sexual orientation should not be denied reparative therapy, but in the name of client autonomy they should be supported by mental health professionals in trying to do so, once they are counselled as to the small likelihood of success and the risk of disappointment. Some critics of the study say those folks are probably bisexual, which Spitzer doesn’t factor into his analysis.

“Sexual Heath: Truth Revealed”. Our local Dr. Garthlyn Pilgrim compiled a brochure to hand out to young people that advocates against the “physical health risks of homosexuality”. The leaflet is basically premised on the idea that in gay men’s sexual “repertoire”, the main performances are unprotected anal intercourse and rimming (which for some strange reason she repeats “3. anal oral sex 4. anilingus [sic] or ‘rimming’/oral/anal contact”); and that ‘gay sex’ carries higher risks of disease than other people’s sexual practices. Well, if you use the latest big probability sample study of sexual behaviour in the US (the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior) as a guide: 40% of women 20-49 have had anal sex, the same rate as men; and receptive anal intercourse is the least popular sexual behaviour for men who have sex with men. And why not just tell gay men not to bull without condoms or not to eat ass, instead of telling them to change their sexual orientation through Christ?

8000 times. Similarly, Dr. GP cites statistics showing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is significantly higher than in the general population. Absolutely true! And, yes, even their 8,000 times figure is “real”. Let’s take some time with this one! It comes from data from the American Red Cross seized on by the Christian Right and their media. But here’s what it means: that the proportion of gay men in the US who have HIV is 8,000 times higher than the rate of HIV among people who give blood over and over (and therefore have tested HIV-negative over and over!!). Repeat blood donors are one of the likeliest groups of people to be HIV-negative (99,999 in 100,000), since their blood is repeatedly tested, and one can no longer donate after testing positive. The general population is somewhere around 135 times more likely to be HIV-positive than repeat blood donors. Read the details for yourself, though: in AI Dayton’s presentation at a 2006 US Food & Drug Administration workshop (starting on p. 244). (When you get to the figures on pp. 250-1, however, you won’t find 8,000, but 2,000, because he’s more honest that other folks using the data). And here’s something else: Black and Latino men who have sex with men in the US have rates of HIV that are way higher than White MSM; but they don’t engage in behaviours that are any riskier. So there’s something to do with being a minority group that’s discriminated against that might be linked to HIV rates: in the Caribbean, countries with buggery laws tend to have higher HIV rates among gay men than those that don’t.

Read the studies. Added to the end of  the leaflet is a list of references from “your own” organizations, i.e. amfAR: the Foundation for AIDS Research (“ám-fuh”, according to her) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, as well as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Society of Obstetricians and the link for the Gynaecologists of Canada website www.sexualityandu.ca. When we pressed her with questions, she kept saying go read the stuff. And you should in fact go visit all these sites and read the  specific material she’s “cited” for yourself, e.g. amfAR Issue Brief No. 4 (June 2006) and the 2007 CDC HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet on MSM. But we’re not sure she did, because the Canadian site has a piece on Overcoming Homophobia and it repeatedly says:

Today, sex researchers and doctors view homosexuality not as a sexual problem but as a normal sexual difference, much like green is a normal – if fairly unusual – eye colour. What all this means is that homosexuals are no more responsible for their homosexuality than heterosexuals are for their heterosexuality. It is not a “lifestyle” you choose for yourself as much as something you discover in yourself.

So the truth revealed might be that Dr. Garthlyn didn’t really read or find these studies: she just lifted the references from a Christian Right website, like the North Carolina Family Policy Council, which is “engaged in a battle to retain the Judeo-Christian values that are the foundation of western civilization. These are the same values which supported the establishment of the United States and which are embodied in the Ten Commandments…” And it looks like she didn’t even finish the damn pamphlet: there are four dangling headers with nothing below them.

Ducking and hiding

Thanks to CAISO’s advocacy, television took a keen interest in the past few days in His Way Out Ministries’ efforts targeting young people. We’re not ashamed of our efforts, and took pains to let the media know what young people are doing in response to the visit, giving the young people a key voice in our media appearances.

But there seems to be some ducking and hiding on the part of others with respect to young people and sexuality. A newspaper photographer and two television camerapeople showed up at the His Way Out event at the UWI campus yesterday. It appears all were turned away by event organizers. Some say it’s simply UWI’s media policy,  but others say it’s Gender Studies at the university who invited the media. But neither explains why the Family Planning Association says they were the only cheese left standing in a proposed discussion about young people and sexuality involving His Way Out and CAISO youth for a Sunday morning television show on C. All the other youth organizations and government entities responsible for youth invited, it seems, couldn’t take a position on youth sexuality. I guess this requires a referendum.

UN Right to Education Special Rapporteur Vernor Muñoz said sex education is a human right

It didn’t require a referendum, however, for something deeply troubling that happened this week, not here, but in New York. While His Way Out was advertising youth activities in secondary schools and universities, Trinidad & Tobago was speaking up for CARICOM at the United Nations opposing young people’s right to comprehensive sexual education. Joining the African bloc of nations, who at least were honest that they were being homophobic, we voiced CARICOM’s position trashing the Special Rapporteur on the right to education Vernor Muñoz, and his report in which he tries to focus on “the human right to comprehensive sexual education…by placing it in the context of patriarchy and control of sexuality”. The UN itself notes that the “Committee on the Rights of the Child had urged States to integrate sexual education into school curricula.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its general comment No. 14, had interpreted the right to health as including access to education and information on sexual and reproductive health, while the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had called on States to make sex education compulsory and systematic in schools, as a means to address high abortion, adolescent pregnancies and maternal mortality rates.”

Following the Africans’ statement that “it is common knowledge that there is no universal agreement on the notions of sexual orientation, sexuality or sexual education and gender identity under existing internationally agreed human rights instruments,” CARICOM chimed in.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted with deep concern that the former Special Rapporteur had chosen to…focus his entire deliberations on a so-called “human right to comprehensive sexual education”.  According to CARICOM’s understanding, a right to sexual education, a right to comprehensive sexual education or a right to sexuality education does not exist in any internationally agreed human rights instrument, nor indeed under international law.  … Noting that CARICOM recognized the need for sexual education, the group took umbrage at the license taken by the former Special Rapporteur in indulging his personal interests at the expense of Member States.  CARICOM was also gravely concerned by the former Special Rapporteur’s attempts to undermine the following universally accepted rights:  the right of parents to determine the quality of education and to provide appropriate direction and guidance to the child in the exercise of his rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the right of Member States to educate their citizens in a manner consistent with their own cultures; and the right of everyone to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

 

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar addresses UN General Assembly on Millennium Development Goals in September|AFP

Research assistance by Nadine & Soraya

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.

24 August, 2010

Scott Long

who worked for eight years at the leading international human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, was founding director of its LGBT Rights Program, and drew the ire of Peter Tatchell and others, as well as threats of libel suits, for his sustained, blunt criticisms of how Western gay activists and journalists engage with questions of sexual rights elsewhere, has announced his resignation in a witty and thought-provoking note:

As some of you know, in mid-July I suffered a pulmonary embolism of a fairly unpleasant sort.  While running to catch a bus on a New York street, I saw a blinding effusion of white light, amid which several spangled and bell-bottomed  figures vaguely resembling ABBA beckoned me to an eternal disco complete with spinning ball. Yanked back from their blandishments by a superior fashion sense, I spent a couple of weeks in intensive care.

The LGBT Rights Program was, and to some extent remains, an experiment: the first program of its kind at a so-called “mainstream” human rights organization. Undeniably there have been frustrations. One of the most basic splits in contemporary human rights work – sometimes mapped onto a division between “global South” and “global North,” though not quite reducible to it – is between rights as a set of legal norms, and rights as a complex of human dreams and political aspirations. The split has to do, as well, with the difference between institutions and movements, the former ones formal and developing their own standards and needs, the latter fluid and chaotic and responsible to individuals’ and communities’ desires and drives….

It was never easy. Things need to change. For its efforts in this sphere to succeed in future, Human Rights Watch – and other international organizations like it – needs a far deeper understanding of what social movements are, why they are important, how they turn human rights into living values rather than legal abstractions. It also needs a far clearer comprehension of the political contexts in which it works every day; the impotence of artificial categories to explain the experiences of suffering or joy; the intersections that are the real geography of LGBT people’s, and everybody’s, lives.

Racism, neocolonialism, Islamophobia, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, and sectarian hatred, to name only a few, are as real as homophobia for LGBT people.  They are real facts within LGBT movements as well.  A “mainstream” intervention that willfully elides this complexity is doomed to make almost everything worse.

Likewise, though, our movements need to compare their histories more closely and examine their actions more exactingly.  They must reject the temptation to be parochial, simply because others are.  They must be alert for the foreshadowings of real rather than simply rhetorical universals that glimmer through the challenges they have overcome.   Every intersection is a meeting place, as well as a divergence.

I intend to rest a bit…and write a book: based on my own experience, about what’s moral and what’s immoral about “international solidarity,” and what’s worked and what hasn’t in campaigns for sexual rights.

12 April, 2010

T&T events for “Our Caribbean”, the GLBT anthology, continue all week

Filed under: books,community voices,culture,UWI — caiso @ 09:48

On Wednesday April 14th, Nigel R Khan Bookseller hosts a “Meet the Author” event at 6:00 pm at the West Mall store. Meet Thomas Glave and other contributors to the book up close and intimate. Get your copy signed. The book will also be on display and available for purchase at all seven Nigel R Khan stores – Long Circular Mall, Ellerslie Plaza, Grand Bazaar (new store), Trincity, Price Plaza, Gulf City, Lowlands.

On Thursday April 15th, from 5:30 to 8:30, Thomas Glave’s hosts, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine hold their headline lecture and reading.

3 April, 2010

CAISO links visiting “Our Caribbean” anthology editor Thomas Glave to T&T GLBT community

Filed under: books,Caribbean,community voices,culture,film,UWI — caiso @ 16:13

As promised, the CAISO/Bohemia gathering for film and conversation continues Sunday April 11th, with Thomas Glave, editor of the historic GLBT anthology Our Caribbean, as host. Phillip Pike‘s Songs of Freedom, the first documentary about gay life in Jamaica, will be screened, along with Coolie Gyal, Renata Mohamed‘s coming-out letter from a Guyanese woman to her parents.

Update: We’re now adding a third film: Campbell X‘s Paradise Lost, a visually beautiful work filmed through the lens of a woman who returns to Trinidad as an adult to ask what it’s like to be gay here. The most amazing stuff is the interviews with her parents. Watch!

Big appreciation to all three filmmakers and to our friends at
SASOD in Guyana for their generous support of the event!!

[SCROLL DOWN BELOW IMAGE FOR MORE]


Earlier that same afternoon Glave will generously offer a free workshop for local GLBT writers of all genders, ages, levels and genres to share in conversations about their vision and experience as writers, and participate in craft-focused exercises and critique. To register, email us or daviddksoomarie@yahoo.com.

Glave’s visit is sponsored by the University of the West Indies Institute for Gender & Development Studies. We’ll post more on events at UWI’s Daaga Hall and Nigel R Khan’s West Mall store featuring him next week.

23 March, 2010

Sexual rights: protection of sexuality as something good, natural, precious, essential – at the core of human expression…human freedom…human community

“Too often denied and too long neglected, sexual rights deserve our attention and priority. It is time to respect them. It is time to demand them.” – Jacqueline Sharpe, IPPF President

Nine-month-old CAISO was invited by our partner, the 53-year-old Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT), to be part of the first Caribbean region launch of Sexual Rights: An IPPF Declaration, a powerful new international human rights document developed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, under the leadership of FPATT’s President Dr. Jacqueline Sharpe.
UNIFEM, UNFPA and IPPF representatives joined CAISO as speakers at the March 22 forum at the Hyatt, and distinguished guests included former First Lady Zalayhar Hassanali, Minister of Social Development Dr. Amery Browne, Opposition Senator Verna St. Rose-Greaves, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine School for Graduate Studies & Research Campus Coordinator Prof. Patricia Mohammed, and several of CAISO’s NGO and government partners, including ASPIRE, CCNAPC, Friends for Life and PANCAP.
It was a wonderful experience of coalition and celebration around the forward-thinking and thoughtfully crafted vision of sexual rights that the Declaration advances. It is a bold and thorough tool that employs human rights to advance sexual autonomy, dignity and pleasure free from discrimination, and to strengthen protections from sexual violation and vulnerability. The 32-page page document is available for download in English and 2o other languages, as are an abridged version and a pocket guide in English. It articulates seven broad principles of sexual rights: sexuality as an integral part of personhood; the balance between the guarantee of protection of the rights of children and their “evolving capacity” to exercise rights on their own behalf; the core role of non-discrimination in human rights; the separability of pleasure from reproduction; the critical role of protection from harm; the relationship of individual rights to the rights of others, and limits on their limitation; and the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill sexual rights and freedoms. And it enumerates ten core clusters of sexual rights: equality and equal protection; participation; life, liberty, security and bodily integrity; privacy; autonomy; health; education; choice regarding marriage and reproduction; redress; and a tenth, which CAISO organizer Colin Robinson was asked to reflect on:

Respecting the Right to Freedom of Thought, Opinion and Expression of One’s Sexuality.

https://vimeo.com/41121522 w=727&h=409

These images have repeatedly landed in my e-mail inbox over the past two years, persistently labelled “Gay beating in Laventille”. The tone of the multiple senders who have received them before me (you know those e-mail forwards go…) is usually one of alarm. But occasionally I detect a hint of satisfaction or righteousness.

The images are of a real incident that happened on April 27, 2007. But not in Laventille. In Falmouth, a town a few miles from Usain Bolt’s birthplace in Trelawny, Jamaica. And you breathe a sigh of relief: Oh, Jamaica!

I am honoured that CAISO and I have been asked to join with all of you today in celebrating this wonderful international document, developed under Trinidad & Tobago and Dr. Jacqui Sharpe’s leadership of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, a document which affirms our shared values and beliefs about humanity and sexuality.

I am proud to live in Trinidad and Tobago, and to be part of this wonderful legacy: Of a 53-year-old Family Planning and sexual health movement. Of a feminist movement that has demonstrated leadership on gender and sexuality issues not just for women but for men and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

I am proud that none of our teenagers were detained last year and put to death by the state after having had homosexual sex, as has happened in Iran. Although, how many teenagers in Cocorite or Ste. Madeleine, D’Abadie or Rockley Vale are isolated, bullied and beat up and taunted every day at school? Or robbed as they make their way home through their neighbourhoods? Because they are seen as gay, regardless to what their actual sexual orientation or experience may be. How many of them have tried to kill themselves? This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that no one I know of is in hiding from the Islamic police, like one woman in oil-rich Nigeria, threatened with being hauled before a sharia court for lesbianism, and sentenced to stoning. But I can turn on Isaac and other radio stations any day and hear calls from fundamentalist faith leaders for the state to inflict such Biblical and Koranic punishments on people who have sex in private. This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that we have a forward-thinking Chief Justice willing to stand up to the executive, and who leads a largely independent judiciary – the very conditions in India that led last year to the overturn (in a case defended by their Government) of the use of Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalises “unnatural sex”. One much like our own buggery law, which can send a man to jail for 25 years for having consensual anal sex, not onlywith a man, but also with a woman – in their own home. This is what our fight is about when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that police will not sweep down on the Avenue tonight, as they have in Commonwealth member Cameroon, arrest the patrons of one of our not-at-all-secret gay clubs, ordering them to be anally examined for evidence of homosexual sex. Or will they, if we do not stand together and fight for sexual rights?


I was born one of Her Majesty’s subjects in the province of Trinidad and Tobago at the sunset of that brief and bright imaginary vision of association that was the West Indian Federation. Our nation of Trinidad and Tobago, now heading like me for 50, was forged in the fires of overcoming several forms of domination and repression: Colonialism, that says your land and decisionmaking do not belong to you. Imperialism, that says your resources do not belong to you and you do not think for yourself. Indentureship, that says your labour does not belong to you. And slavery, that says your body does not belong to you. And, as we know well from the history of miscegenation during slavery, when your body does not belong to you, neither do your sexuality nor your reproduction – they belong to the master.

Now that “massa day done”, we cannot replace massa with husbands; or political leaders; or the state; or laws and policies that say: yes you are free, but we will still tell you what you may do with your free body, with your sexuality, with your reproduction. That we decide from which forms of mental slavery you will emancipate yourselves, as Alissa Trotz wrote recently in Guyana’s Stabroek News, commenting on a constitutional suit by four brave Transgender citizens against a law against cross-dressing.

What is the point of a free body if it is not ours to enjoy and to share? of a free mind if we are not free to engage in fantasy and desire? of the lack of bondage if we are not free to come together in ways limited only by imagination, technology, the exercise of choice, and the rights of others. And, of course, by our age and maturity.

(more…)

5 March, 2010

Government must set policy for its GLBT citizens’ needs: CAISO comments on the Gender Policy


It was Cabinet’s announcement on June 25th of last year that Trinidad & Tobago’s Gender Policy would exclude “issues related to…same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation” that led to CAISO’s formation two days later.

The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs solicited public comment on the Government’s draft of the National Policy on Gender and Development, which was released to the public in September; and responses were due last Sunday, February 28. Over the past six months, CAISO took a detailed look at the draft, participated in forums and discussions on the Policy, and reviewed comparisons between it and the document widely circulated in 2004 that is now described as the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Institute for Gender and Development Studies consultants’ report.

Speaking as “a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) Trinidadians and Tobagonians”, we submitted a 1,400-word commentary on the new document last week. Friends for Life also submitted comments.

CAISO’s key message is that our Government cannot shirk its responsibility to set clear domestic policy to address the concerns of the tens of thousands of GLBTI citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.

We said our Gender Policy cannot exclude sexual orientation:

Rather than offering a laundry list of things to fix or add in the Policy, or listing scores of places where our issues were omitted, we made just five very feasible proposals for changes to the document that Government could take as a first step to setting national policy on sexual orientation and gender identity issues:

  1. Reinsert the two (and there were only two) policy measures on sexual orientation contained in the 2004 document:
    • §1.14 Restore the following 33 innocent words that were expunged: “In keeping with its international legal obligations, the state should facilitate public debate on the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons, irrespective of sexual preference or orientation”
    • §1.7 Extend marital rape and domestic violence protections in the Sexual Offences Act to all couples, regardless to gender or sexual orientation – something Barbados has already moved to do
  2. §1.10 In programmes aimed at fostering healthier masculine roles, address the ways homophobia limits the opportunities and harms the health of all men and boys – Caribbean Studies Association President Prof. Linden Lewis discussed this cogently in delivering the Ministry’s distinguished lecture in January
  3. §1.7 Include violence based on perceived sexual orientation or whether someone is “acting how a man/woman ‘should’” in gender-based violence initiatives and policy
  4. §1.11 Name the GLBTI community as a special interest population, as the Policy does for youth, the elderly, and disabled people
  5. §1.12 Build government’s capacity to deal with these issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and to make the nation ready to do so
    • hire staff with relevant expertise
    • get technical assistance from international agencies and other governments (e.g. Cuba, Brazil)
    • support local research on these issues
    • train everyone.

We offered again to sit down with the Ministry, and hope we will meet with the Minister herself and with other Cabinet-level decisionmakers to discuss how we work in partnership on these issues.

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