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

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.

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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