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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.

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.

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23 February, 2010

Guyanese transpeople file a landmark constitutional motion to overturn a law against crossdressing: Caribbean GLBT law reform work begins

Okay. The secret’s out. There’s going to be sexual orientation law reform in Trinidad & Tobago. We don’t know what, when or how, but the work here began last year. And it’s not just here. Across the Caribbean region, GLBT people have been working to write ourselves into our nations as full citizens. In different ways, with different strategies, at different paces. And soon you’ll be a part of it.
Our friends in Guyana took a tremendous step in this direction last week when four MtF transgenders (who had been rounded up, arrested, stripped, mistreated in detention, fined for crossdressing and lectured by the Chief Magistrate from the bench to give their lives to Jesus) in Rosa Parks fashion filed a historic constitutional motion for redress and to overturn a colonial-era law that makes it illegal if someone “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire”.
CAISO released the following statement applauding their landmark case today. In it we also indicate that we’re ready to follow in their steps, but would prefer to partner with Government to bring our country to “developed nation status” with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. And we try to move the hard work forward of helping others grasp this question of gender identity that is at the centre of the case.

T&T ACTIVISTS SAY GUYANA CROSSDRESSING LAWSUIT IS A SIGN OF POSITIVE CHANGES TO COME

In what Trinidad & Tobago activists say is just the first step in a regionwide effort to eliminate remaining colonial-era laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy and gender expression, transgender Guyanese citizens and human rights lawyers across the region collaborated last Friday to file a constitutional challenge to a law criminalising ‘crossdressing’ in that country’s high court. The motion was filed February 19, with the support of Guyana NGO Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and lawyers in Guyana, St. Lucia and at the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) on the Cave Hill, Barbados campus.

Peaches (née Joseph Fraser), one of the litigants in the case, introduces herself at the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference, held in Curaçao in September 2009

The litigants were four MtF transgender Guyanese who were rounded up in a crackdown, stripped, denied medical attention, detained over a weekend, and fined $7,500 under §153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8.02. Appearing unrepresented before Guyanese Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson in February of 2009, they were ridiculed by her from the bench, lectured that they were men, not women, admonished that they were confused, and instructed to go to church and give their lives to Jesus Christ. The 2009 cases generated considerable publicity, and there were many domestic and international appeals to the Guyanese Government to remove the law. After these went unheeded, the constitutional motion was filed Friday. In addition to raising due process issues, the complaint says the law is irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and infringes the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and protection from discrimination.

Organisers at CAISO (Trinidad & Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), who since their founding seven months ago have collaborated closely with other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocates across the region, applauded the Guyanese move. “The way I dress is a fundamental part of who I am, my way of life,” said Beverly Alvarez, who participated along with one of the Guyanese litigants in the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference in September of last year. “This case that Peaches and others in Guyana have filed goes to the heart of freedom of expression, our freedom to express our gender identity.”

Ashily Dior, another transgender activist with the group added, “It’s a well recognised medical fact that, for transpeople like me, who I am just doesn’t fit with the sex of the body I was born into. This is not a vice. Some of us are lucky to afford hormones and surgery; but many of us just can’t.” Dior recently represented Trinidad & Tobago at a regional meeting of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, where she was elected an alternate delegate for the Caribbean; and she is hoping to find work educating the public about gender identity issues. “At any rate,” she continued, “who is harmed when transgenders dress up? We are simply expressing our gender in non-traditional ways.”

Trinidad & Tobago transpeople have been on the map internationally since 1998. In a landmark case that year, after police officer Eric George arrested and attempted to strip search a 27-year-old transgender woman in San Fernando when she shoved a photographer harassing her, Lynette Maharaj, wife of the then Attorney-General, both clients of her business, represented her in a successful lawsuit.

"It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," said Falatama, one of the litigants. "I felt like I was less than human." She joined three other Guyanese transpeople, like those pictured here, in suing the State.

“Trinidad and Tobago may not be next in line for GLBT law reform, but we’re definitely in the queue,” said University of the West Indies (UWI) law graduate Kareem Griffith, another member of CAISO, reflecting on the case. Griffith played a key role in an international meeting held during the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting last year where representatives of 12 countries planned strategy for sexual orientation and gender identity legal reform efforts. In a session of that meeting held at UWI’s Institute of International Relations and featured on the evening news, Tracy Robinson, one of the U-RAP lawyers in the Guyanese case spoke about the strong prospects for a challenge to Trinidad & Tobago’s buggery laws. One of the lawyers in the recent case that overturned India’s criminalisation of same-sex intimacy also participated in the meeting.

“We’d rather work with the Government and Opposition to create thoughtful policy and amend the old laws, than use the courts,” Griffith emphasised. “We’ve begun this process with an overture to the Gender Minister to work with us, and we’re following up on that this week. But I’m afraid our politicians may be cowards on these issues. Questions of sexual orientation and gender expression must be dealt with in a mature and forward-thinking way if Trinidad & Tobago intends to achieve its 2020 vision and status as a developed and inclusive nation. It is our politicians who will determine if the road to these changes is a litigious one or a collaborative one.”

CAISO was launched last June in response to Government’s move to exclude sexual orientation from the draft Gender Policy, a move the group said reflected a “1919 vision”.

Media coverage:  Reuters (kudos for amending the language from the initial release!)New York TimesStabroek News, GuyanaKaieteur News, GuyanaWMJX Radio 100.5 FM, Trinidad & TobagoPress AssociationThe AdvocateAssociated PressSydney Morning HeraldExpress, Trinidad & TobagoBBC Caribbean NewsAlissa Trotz, The Diaspora Column

11 January, 2010

Linden Lewis focuses Gender Ministry’s distinguished lecture on homophobia

To judge by the energy in the packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza on Wrightson Rd. tonight, 2010 is off to a promising start. Even before the programme started, the room was filled close to capacity…with men – most of them African, many of them very young. The lobby was full, too, with a crowd browsing the agency tables with materials on men’s health and wellness. (Hmmm: they didn’t invite us to table…)

The fifth? “distinguished lecture” by the Trinidad & Tobago government’s gender ministry focused on masculinity and violence. The grey-bearded 56-year-old Guyanese university professor began his talk, “Abandoning Old Shibboleths of Masculinity in the Struggle against Violence”, by explaining the funny word in the title. He cited the Old Testament’s Judges 12: 5-6, where the term originates, then hauntingly brought the story of the lisp that kills home to Hispaniola in the Caribbean and the 20th-century Parsley Massacre – both cautionary tales of how social groups try to police who does and doesn’t “belong” with violence and with snap judgements about people’s behaviour that don’t always get it right.

Then sociologist Linden Lewis, president of the Caribbean Studies Association, former UWI instructor, international consultant, and current chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bucknell University in the US, addressed another “concept” in his title: violence. He wanted to highlight three aspects of violence – structural violence; symbolic violence; and denial of rights – though he wasn’t saying that these three things were more important than what we normally think about as violence, issues like domestic violence, kidnapping, rape; but they were aspects of violence that don’t usually get talked about. They could offer us different conceptual lenses on violence than the ones we are accustomed to.

He started off reminding us that the explosive Small Arms Survey report was published by an independent research institute in Switzerland and of its statistic that East Port of Spain is more deadly than Baghdad. He recapped the per capita murder rates in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica. He cited that the Caribbean has three of the top ten rape rates in the world. He noted that prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Trinidad & Tobago – exceeding breast cancer.

Then dry, dry so, according to UWI gender scholar and activist Gabrielle Hosein, the man start talking about homophobia. And talking about homophobia. And talking about homophobia.

That the incidence of prostate cancer is linked to the fact that Caribbean men refuse to undergo rectal exams because they associate a doctor’s finger in their ass with bulling. The story of the 80-year-old blind man who would rather pee on the floor every time than sit down to do so – because if men stoop, the whole ideological infrastructure falls down. Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a Puerto Rican 19-year-old from Cayey stabbed, decapitated, dismembered and burned by a man who took him home without realizing he was a man. So you get vex; but then you cut off his head and his limbs and you set him on fire… Then he lingered on Jamaica: MP Ernest Smith’s Parliamentary rantings about gays organizing, carrying licensed firearms and serving in the police; PM Bruce Golding’s “Not in my Cabinet” statement on BBC television; still images of the April 2007 mob beating of a Trans person in Falmouth, Trelawny. And then he just let the entire cellphone video of the same noisy attack that had horrified folks around the world play, pointing out at the end how many of the assailants were women, who responded equally to the young victim’s trangression of masculinity with violence.

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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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