This week we will continue our discussion on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gendered and queer (LGBTQ) issues, specifically on the nature of laws dealing with homosexuality in T&T and a few other chosen countries.
According to Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, homosexuality by proxy is a crime. Paragraph 8 (1) (e) of the Immigration Act makes entry for LGBTQ individuals into T&T illegal.
Now where does this leave our fair nation? First and foremost laws exists that can be used to persecute a sector of society for the very act of their existence. These laws can be used to bring about terrible and draconian treatments of LGBTQ persons should the state choose to do so. On the other hand the Immigration Act can legally bar from entry some very powerful and important persons including the vice chancellor and foreign affairs minister of Germany who is gay, the lesbian Prime Minister of Iceland, a plethora of US Democratic Congress members and British MPs as well as many others. This piece of legislation was cited by the Anglican Church in 2007 when they sought to have openly gay Elton John barred from entering our country to perform at the Tobago Jazz Festival. They were ignored and the concert went on.
As I have kept on repeating, these laws have not been used or enforced for many years and thus only stand on the books as a cold reminder to LGBTQ persons to stay in the shadows and dare not make themselves public. These laws are a form of control more terrible than most people can imagine. They speak to the very heart of the LGBTQ community that despite all of the progress that have been made around the world in their own homeland, where they have toiled and struggled, they are nothing more than illegal and can at the very whim of the state be arrested.
These laws are a holdover from the colonial era and have all been struck down in the UK, the very country that wrote them. They were based on extremely conservative and homophobic views that characterised the Victorian era and were formulated based on Judeo/Christian views on what was right and moral, views that once authorised slavery amongst real abominations. Since then recognising that these laws are unfair, groundless, discriminatory and plain wrong they have been repealed by legislatures and courts around the world.
Across the globe different levels of acceptance and legislative progress have been made on LGBTQ rights. In many European countries LGBTQ people have been accepted into society and come to form the norm, with many sweeping pieces of legislation such as anti-discrimination laws and gay marriage being legal in Spain, Belgium, Portugal and civil partnerships in others including the UK. Many of these nations are pro-gay and most of their political parties both conservative and liberal are socially progressive and embrace LGBTQ rights. This does not mean that the situation is all rosy in Europe as Eastern Europe is still heavily homophobic with the exception of Prague and a few other cities.
In Canada the situation is quite similar to Europe with a massive LGBTQ community quite active and politically powerful. In the US the fight for LGBTQ rights is one full of triumphs and defeats. A few states including Iowa and Massachusetts have full gay marriage; states like Vermont and New Jersey have civil partnerships, other states have specific bans on gay marriage. Homosexuality is legal in every state.
On the opposite end of the spectrum lie places like Iran, some African countries and much of the Middle East who execute people for being homosexual. A particularly heart- wrenching case that caused international uproar took place in Iran in 2005 when two teenage boys ( 18 and 16 years old) were publicly hanged after enduring days of taunts and ridicule for being gay. These tender youths were mercilessly hanged for the crime of being in love with each other.
T&T does not fall into either ends of the spectrum highlighted above. We have on our books laws that are not being implemented and if they were to be, would generate such a furore that our nation would be shamed. It must be made clear to the current administration that these laws are not viable or justifiable in the modern world. They were based on values and norms that have not kept pace with the times. The state must also be made aware that these laws infringe on the lives and freedoms of their citizens. The state can no longer seek to regulate the lives of consenting adults who seek same-sex relations.
T&T has always exhibited an admiration for first world countries and we try to copy them to the point of young people wearing boots and hoodies in our tropical weather and thousands of person illegally staying in them, yet we have failed to follow their respect for rights and freedoms and their recognition that anti-gay laws are untenable in the modern world.
We are seeking developed nation status yet we have a backward and disconnected way of thinking and retarded perceptions of reality. With First World development must come First World thinking. The sexual offences law is one that is ripe for repeal. Will our government rise to the challenge and do the right thing? Or will they, out of fear of angering religious voting blocs, continue to allow these laws to stand? The courts all over the world have struck down these laws time and time again.
The precedent has been set in the UK, US and most recently in India, as these laws infringe on an individual’s rights and freedoms. What is necessary is for some individual or group to file a challenge of the law and let the judicial process take place. I place absolute faith in our justice system and the Privy Council.
Next Friday: Dispelling Homosexual Myths; Facts and Inconvenient Truths.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President’s Medal 2006. He is a Bachelor of Arts candidate in International Studies and Social/Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto