Caribbean Court of Justice reserves judgement on Maurice Tomlinson case on barred entry due to sexual orientation

judges_of_the_caribbean_court
Justices on the leave hearing panel were back row, left Jacob Wit (Netherlands Antilles) and Winston Anderson (Jamaica) and front row: Rolston Nelson (Trinidad & Tobago), CJ Sir Dennis Byron (St. Kitts & Nevis) and Winston Saunders (St. Vincent & the Grenadines)

HEAR THE AUDIO OF THE SESSION HERE and HERE

Welcome to the Caribbean Court of Justice

MAURICE TOMLINSON & TOM DECKER

The Caribbean Court of Justice heard on November 12th an application against the governments of Belize and Trinidad in which Maurice Tomlinson is challenging the immigration laws of both countries. The hearing was scheduled for two days, but it concluded today, shortly after noon. Tomlinson is Jamaica’s prominent supporter of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. His challenge is premised on the notion that the existing legislations infringe on his right to free movement, dignity and equality within the region, as preserved in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, signed in 2001.  The application for special leave to commence proceedings in the matter was held via teleconference inside the chamber of Justice Michelle Arana.  Tomlinson, the former husband of Acting Solicitor General of Belize, Michele Daly, who has left Belize, has visited the country on two occasions without any problems and has visited Trinidad and Tobago four times with no one aware of his homosexuality. He recently refused invitations by organizations to speak at their conferences and events because he discovered that the laws in both states appear to directly prohibit homosexuals from landing in each country. In Belize’s case he was to visit at the request of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) last January for a training session.

The fact that he wasn’t prohibited from entering Belize forms the basis of government’s argument that Tomlinson should not be granted leave by the appellate court to seek legal action.  Section Five of Belize’s Immigration Act forbids, among other listed groups, “any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behavior.” Tomlinson, since ending his relationship with Daly, has remarried Tom Decker, a Canadian pastor in New York.  Following today’s proceedings, Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke contended that the law in practice is not so narrowly interpreted and in any case Tomlinson has not come here to challenge the law. If he did, Hawke said, he would find that he was welcome here both in the ordinary sense and as a skilled national.

Section 5 of Belize’s Immigration Act – Chapter 156 of the Laws of Belize – lists among the categories of prohibited immigrants “any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behavior…”

Tomlinson’s case was featured in a press release last December from AIDS Free World, an organization of which he is a leading member. That organization called Section 5 of Belize’s Immigration Act “offensive and overbroad.”

It furthermore said that, “Only two countries in the Western Hemisphere, Belize and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, arbitrarily ban the entry of homosexuals as a ‘prohibited class’.”

Belize contends, though, that the law is not a blanket prohibition against homosexuals – but there is a clear commercial dimension to it, where the prohibition is directed at the earning of proceeds from such activities – as would be the case for prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation.

Tomlinson said that the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) had invited him to Belize to conduct training and sensitization sessions in January 2013, and after having learned of the provisions of the Immigration Act, he declined the invitation because he is unwilling to break the law to conduct these sessions.

Nigel Hawke, Acting Solicitor General, Belize

NIGEL HAWKE

“Basically the court heard arguments from the applicant, heard arguments from Belize and Trinidad, remember this is an application for special leave.  We made our arguments basically saying that we have a certain interpretation of the Immigration Act, our Immigration Act.  Trinidad made their application and the court has reserved its ruling on the issue of application for special leave.  Our position is that the law is interpreted a certain way, our provision is interpreted a certain way.  It is in relation to persons who profit or earn from either prostitution or homosexuality.  That is our position.”

Reporter

“I notice that you said that that won’t change and our position has been when Mr. Tomlinson was here in Belize that he got free entry and exit into the country.”

Nigel Hawke

“That’s from the standpoint that he is saying that we are saying first that there was no actual prejudice and that is clear.  Nobody is disputing that.  The question here is whether there is a potential prejudice because he says the law there is an impediment to his free movement, in particular to Belize.  We are saying no.  We are saying, based on our interpretation, it is not.  So even if that particular provision remains there our submission, our formal submission is that it remains a provision that only applies to a particular situation.  That is basically it.”

Reporter

“Could you address the comment made in court that the laws that were made were promulgated in a time when society was more homophobic and also that in this day and age with the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy that there are laws in countries such as Belize that need to be aligned with community laws?”

Nigel Hawke

“Bear in mind that that comment was made by Mr. Senior Counsel Jairam.  I think that is his understanding or opinion in respect of that law.  Yes, you concede see the fact that there are some laws in our book that are outdated but we maintain even with respect to this particular aspect of our law, it has been repeated in our Free Movement National Act and I think parliament must have meant something why they put it there.  This was a law to deal with the persons who come into Belize for employment purposes and we submit that that also gives some kind of clarity as to what meaning the legislation attaches to that particular provision in our Immigration Act.”

Reporter

“Sir, the attorney for the other side said that this particular case has no reference to that skilled labor so it shouldn’t be considered.”

Nigel Hawke

“That’s his submission; he has a right to make his submission.  That is his submission and we respect that but we’ve made our submission.”

The judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice have reserved judgment in the matter. See more HERE  and HERE

Trinidad & Tobago through its lawyer, Law Association President Seenath Jairam, SC, appearing with Wayne Sturge and three other attorneys, argued that what is relevant in determining whether a treaty had been violated was the impeached state’s practice. He argued that Trinidad and Tobago had a policy of non enforcement of the law, which he interpreted to refer to homosexuals and not homosexual prostitutes as Belize argued. The allegedly offending provisions in both laws (primarily sections 5(1)(e) of the Belize Immigration Act and 8(1) (e)of the Trinidad and Tobago Act) are almost identical. Jairam supported his arguments with such cases as the recent Shanique Myrie decision, which was repeatedly referenced in the proceedings.

Jairam argued that because Trinidad and Tobago’s state practice was such that it didn’t prevent homosexuals from entering and that because Tomlinson was not prevented from entering before, the application was “an academic exercise”. Tomlinson will not ever be denied entry simply by virtue of being a homosexual, he declared. He drew a comparison to hanging, saying that Trinidad and Tobago had laws on its books which allowed hanging but that they nonetheless did not hang. When asked by the court whether that meant that hanging was illegal, he responded that that was a matter for the constitutional court. He alluded to the fact that governments had financial constraints and that there were costs involved in repealing laws. (Incidentally that has not prevented Trinidad and Tobago from repealing other laws it wished to repeal.)

Jairam argued further that Tomlinson could have applied for a special permit from the Minister responsible for immigration as Sir Elton John did back in 2007. Gifford had earlier stated there is no waiver available to homosexuals of the prohibition in the law, and pointed the court to the section of the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Act which permits the Minister responsible for Immigration to grant such a  permit. While Gifford argued the permit is limited to two classes of prohibited immigrants specifically mentioned in a subsection of the law, who not include homosexuals, Jairam stated the law confers broader powers and the subsection merely qualifies entry conditions for those two classes.

Justice Nelson expressed concern over whether a policy was sufficient protection of the rights guaranteed to nationals of CARICOM countries, asking rhetorically, “what happens when government changes?” He also asked Jairam non rhetorically whether the court should strike out the allegedly offending sections since they weren’t enforced. Jairam responded, to the bemusement of many in the court, that the court should not strike out the sections because that might allow terrorists to enter the country. In back and forth questioning with the justices, he conceded that both the Belize and Trinidad and Tobago laws were likely enacted “when people were  homophobic”, and that has changed.

The Justices asked all parties whether there was case law on the homosexual provisions of the immigration laws, but none had any to offer. Both states argued that their statutes on freedom of movement for skilled nationals allow their entry notwithstanding other laws, such as the homosexual prohibition, and Tomlinson as a lawyer could have availed himself of such a provision for entry. But the Court was clear that the case was not about entry of a skilled national and that such entry was in the specific context of employment and skill certification. This prompted a series of questions as to whether a prostitute could enter to deliver a lecture instead of to acquire earnings through his/her trade.

Both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago argue that Tomlinson’s rights have not been breached as he has not been denied entry and that is the Treaty has therefore not been engaged. Gifford  responded to the State’s arguments by reiterating that a policy was just a policy and was subject to change with any given government. He also reiterated that the mere existence of the laws, whether they were enforced or not, was sufficient to restrict a person’s rights. It’s like putting up a sign that says “No homosexuals”, regardless to what your actual practice is.

Putting LGBT on Caribbean Sexual Violence Agenda

The exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons in the discussion and planning to address sexual violence, was brought into focus by United and Strong as the organization added its voice to a regional workshop staged in Saint Lucia by the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA).

The Caribbean Regional Gender Workshop on Sexual Violence in the Caribbean, Status and Needs Including in Humanitarian Situations, saw thirty-four government and NGO representatives from twelve countries attending. The three-day workshop reviewed a strategy, initiated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to reduce gender-based sexual violence and provide a framework for action and guidance in regional and in-country gender-related activities.

The three-day workshop heard country and NGO reports that detailed actions by national institutions and civil society organizations to address and prevent gender-based violence. Among the presentations however only Belize, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago included LGBT persons in national plans to combat sexual violence.

“I believe it is important to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in programs dealing with gender-based and sexual violence” states Edma Pierre, who represented U&S along with Media Consultant Maria Fontenelle. She adds, “The fact that they are also victims is often ignored and they are treated with a lack of sensitivity within the system.”

United and Strong representatives took the opportunity to highlight the risks inherent in not considering LGBT when designing responses to sexual violence, particularly in disaster and humanitarian situations. They stressed that LGBT should be given consideration across the board from the design of training; selection of staff; services provided for at risk persons; how these services are advertised; the structure of facilities, including toilets; the policies that govern safe spaces for victims of abuse and the legal challenges that can affect all of these.

The legal barrier of the Buggery law was stated as one of the chief reasons that reports from Saint Lucia did not mention LGBT in plans to reduce gender-based sexual violence and in-country gender-related activities. The meeting included representatives from PROSAF, the Massade Boys Training Centre, Voluntary Women, Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association, Women’s Shelter, Saint Lucia Crisis Centre, Saint Lucia CARIMAN, Gender Relations, CAFRA Saint Lucia, Family Court and Human Services.

Representatives of PROSAF, the Women’s Shelter, Gender Relations, Family Court and Human Services took the opportunity to stress that their doors were open to every victim of sexual violence. However it was recognised that reluctance to openly identify as LGBT due to fears of stigma, and the reluctance on the part of men generally, and gay men in particular, to admit to being sexually violated was a deterrent in acquiring data that would support the need for inclusion of LGBT in national planning.

Funding was also touted as a constraint. “What is being done sometimes is limited by our resources both at the international level and at the national level”, notes UNFPA gender specialist Jewell Quallo Rosberg. She states however that there is determination to tackle the wide-ranging issue of gender-based violence, “by uniting and using all our resources, not just financial but community resources, and focussing on prevention rather than trying to address the problem after it happens.”

By the conclusion of the conference, at least one country rep, Elaine Henry-McQueen of Grenada, undertook to push for the consideration of the needs of LGBT in national policy planning. Saint Lucia based government and civil society representatives also committed to continue to work in partnership going forward. There was general-consensus among regional partners to advocate for greater collaboration between the community and government to address sexual and gender-based violence as highlighted during the workshop.

– END –

U&S’ Edma Pierre (seated – first left) and Maria Fontenelle (standing – far right), with participants at Caribbean Regional Gender Workshop on Sexual Violence in the Caribbean

CARICOM heads of government urged to strengthen sexual rights

CARICOM heads of government urged to strengthen sexual rights

Regional civil society organizations have called on the Caribbean Community heads of government at their July 4-6 summit in St Lucia to implement an Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) that every state supported last month.

They were also urged to fully join the Inter-American human rights system, according to a press release from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) yesterday.

CAFRA (Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action), CariFLAGS (Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities) and the CVC were joined by NGOs, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in Guyana, and United and Strong in St. Lucia, where the meeting is being held.

The annual OAS SOGI resolution has been supported by every Caribbean state for the past five years, the release stated.

Among several other actions, this year’s text calls on member states to “consider, within the parameters of the legal institutions of their domestic systems, adopting public policies against discrimination by reason of sexual orientation and gender identity” and to “consider signing, ratifying, or acceding to, as the case may be, the inter-American human rights instruments”. “Other citizens in the Americas have all these human rights protections guaranteed by Inter-American regional instruments and mechanisms that millions of CARICOM citizens simply do not enjoy,” SASOD’s Joel Simpson noted.

The release said further that SASOD helped to pressure the Guyana government through the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process to undertake a national consultation on whether the state should continue to criminalize cross-dressing, and same-sex intimacy between consulting adult men in private.

“One has to wonder how committed our leaders are when the region is so underdeveloped in terms of human rights. Human rights protections are part of citizen security. We live in countries in the hemisphere where the state’s local protective mechanisms are the weakest and indicators of inequality, like access to justice and HIV rates, are the worst. And our citizens don’t enjoy recourse to regional bodies when our local protections fail,” Simpson stated.

Meanwhile, the advocates also protested CARICOM’s marginalization of civil society participation in regional governance and demanded a greater voice in contributing to the future of the Caribbean.

“CARICOM doesn’t yet have the simplest structures for routine civil society participation, unlike most other regional institutions,” said Trinidad-based Colin Robinson, who is leading the private-public partnership to develop a region-wide human rights advocacy network CariFLAGS.

CariFLAGS leaders include NGOs in Antigua, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The advocates noted, however, that PANCAP (the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS), is one of the few regional mechanisms that has genuinely sought to include civil society in its governance.

CARICOM’s Head for Human Resources, Health and HIV/AIDS, St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas just last week “endorsed a new complementarity in mission between the new Caribbean Public Health Agency and PANCAP, with the latter sharpening its focus on human rights, vulnerability and social justice, the release added.

“If we’re serious about PANCAP’s commitment to human rights, what we are asking are these two concrete steps by Heads of Government to express that,” said St. Flavia Cherry of the St. Lucia-based CAFRA, which is also campaigning to strengthen protection of sexual and reproductive rights regionally.

See more Here:

COALITION OF LGBTTTI ORGANIZATIONS WORKING IN THE OAS CELEBRATE THE APPROVAL OF THE FIFTH RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY

The Coalition of LGBTTTI Latin American and Caribbean organizations, formed by groups belonging to more than 23 countries expresses in this communiqué its assessment of the activities of the 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States, which took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia on June 3rd-5th, 2012.

Yes and No Support on Buggery Issue in Antigua …………..

Antigua St John’s – The newly appointed Roman Catholic bishop’s call for the decriminalization of buggery is not finding favour with other church leaders.

Since Bishop Kenneth Richards’ statement on radio last Friday, at least one church leader, Rev Carlwin Greenaway, superintendent of the Methodist Church, has distanced himself from the suggestion.

Now, chairman of the Provincial Elders Conference of the Eastern West Indies Province of the Moravian Church, Rev Dr Cortroy Jarvis, also wants to disagree.

“I am surprised that we seem to be re-introducing things that I thought we had settled long ago,” he said. “I totally disagree with the call to decriminalize buggery, for I feel that once that happens, it would open up the door to a lot of other things.”

Rev Jarvis added that should buggery be removed as a criminal act, this would open the door for homosexuality to “raise its head” in the open with boldness.

“You cannot control what happens in a person’s bedroom, but there has to be a moral compass for our society,” he said. “People should know what acceptable behaviour is and what is not.”

The PEC chairman noted that the Bible is very clear on the issue of homosexuality. “In Leviticus 20 verse 13 it states: ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall be put to death: their blood shall be upon them.’ While I think the second part of the passage is harsh in today’s context, it shows the seriousness with which the subject is treated from a biblical perspective,” Rev Jarvis explained.

He added that the “real picture,” as stated in the Bible, is for a man and a woman, and not man and man. He does not see any justification for repealing the laws.

“I don’t see any open discrimination against homosexuals in the society,” the reverend said. “We have been living with them amongst us for a long time. Because adultery was illegal at one time and now it is not, is not a strong enough justification in my view.”

According to Rev Jarvis, if the laws against buggery were lifted, this would strike a “serious blow” against morality. “We have enough serious problems to contend with in the country than to consider things such as lifting the laws against buggery,”  he said.

However just some days before another Bishop said he supported the repeal on the island:

The newly installed Roman Catholic bishop for St John’s-Basseterre, Kenneth Richards, said he would support any effort that will de-criminalise buggery.

Speaking on Observer Radio on Friday, Bishop Richards said while de-criminalization does not make the act right, it should be used as a tool for non-discrimination.

“The argument to de-criminalise can be justified to the extent that adultery and this is the argument that I use in time past was on the books as a criminal offense, and it has been decriminalized,” the bishop explained. “It is on this basis that buggery can also be de-criminalised. However, this does not make adultery right, nor does it make buggery right.”

Richards added that de-criminalising the act would allow anyone to feel welcome to attend his church. He said he does not place labels on anyone, as the doors are open to all.

His stance is likely to be at odds with other church leaders who have maintained a hardline stance against buggery and homosexuality.

Superintendent of the Methodist Church Rev Carlwin Greenaway said while the clergy has not issued a specific statement on the matter, the church operates on the principle that any act of sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is against the teachings of God.

“However, we recognise that there are other sexual sins. Who is to say that one is greater than the other?” he asked.

He agreed that the fact that buggery is still a criminal offense, yet other sins are not, has to be considered. “Should we make extra-marital sex a crime?” he asked. “We know that that is unrealistic to expect.”

also see: ACC Wants to Keep Anti-Buggery Laws and Antigua’s Buggery Law Unlikely To Change

The debate(s) continue across the Caribbean

Peace and tolerance

H

The UNIBAM Case Has Its First Day In Court …….. leader confronted

Source: 7 News Belize

UNIBAM’s (United Belize Advocacy Movement) challenge to the constitutionality of section 53 of the criminal code has set off Belize’s first culture war – with the Church on one side and Caleb Orozco and his supporters on the other.

They’re trying to have Belize’s buggery laws taken off the books – while the Churches are fighting to uphold God’s law.

And while there has been passionate public debate and protest, the battle hasn’t even really started. The case went to court today for the very first time – and as might have been expected, the power of prayer was brought to harness.

But while that happened outside, inside the courtroom of Justice Michelle Arana, the attorneys for the Churches, Michel Chebat, Rodwell Williams and Jackie Marshalleck – as interested parties – argued that UNIBAM had no standing to bring the case, because as an organization it has no constitutionally guaranteed rights. Additionally, they argued that their experts had not been properly brought before the courts.

For its part, the UNIBAM attorney Lisa Shoman and Simeon Sampson argued that the Churches – as only an interested party – had taken over the right of the real respondents in the case which is the Government of Belize. A point which was later contradicted by the Attorney General’s Ministry represented by Nigel Hawke.

Arguments took all day to be heard – but the monochrome hearing of all these technical preliminary matters was coloured by the Christian observers who – though few in number – had a strong presence.

Here’s our report:..

Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries, Belmopan
“So Lord we receive your strength today; we receive your legal strength. Lord we pray for Michel Chebat. We pray for Rodwell Williams. We pray for Jackie Marshalleck, Lord God.”

Jules Vasquez reporting
There was powerful prayer this morning in the open air and the shadow of the Supreme Court building.

A circle formed which seemed to marry prayer and protest, or prayerful protest and singing as well as they processed past the courthouse.

From there the prayer circle moved in front of the courtroom where an intense small circle gathered.

And on the other side of the courthouse, patriotism, prayer and protest mingled in a chorus of voices; here they read bibles not lawbooks.

Upstairs near the courtroom they also had a prayerful presence, while the lawyers and activists milled about, eventually leaving for an early adjournment due to blackout.

But arguments resumed in the afternoon, and went on until 4:40 pm – with the judge reserving judgment until a later date. It’s only a preliminary skirmish but both sides would only express only measured optimism.

Jules Vasquez
“You think UINBAM will survive as an applicant withstanding?”

Lisa Shoman, SC Co-counsel, UNIBAM
“It really matters not whether UNIBAM survives as an applicant. This case will go on. I rather suspect that it at this point almost doesn’t matter how the judge rules. There may very well be an appeal in either case. Suffice it to say that the claimants really want to get the case heard, and it is no part on the intention of the claimants to have the matter drag on and on. He’d like to get the matter before the courts. There are several options that we have open, and we will look at them when that arises because – as you can appreciate – there is no way to tell, and I don’t like guessing as to how the judge will rule.”

Jules Vasquez
“However, do you expect that eventually your experts will be accepted?”

Lisa Shoman
“I expect so, one way or another, yes.”

Jules Vasquez
“What is the prospect for an early hearing of this matter?”

Lisa Shoman
“I would hope very good. It really will depend on the court, and they’ve had quite a bit of argument and material placed before them. But I know that the courts are quite aware that this is an issue which needs to hear with some rectitude, so I am not concerned about that. I am sure it will be heard as quickly as possible.”

Jules Vasquez
“Simeon, you’ve been at this court for years. I don’t think you’ve even attended a court hearing where there has been singing and praying in and around the courtroom.”

Simeon Sampson, SC, Co-Counsel Churches
“Well I know that you assume that, but you are only associated with criminal matters. This is an intellectual exercise; it’s a human rights issue. I’ve been involved with human rights issues in Belize for 20 or so years. When I get involved I always try to ensure success. It only just began; we have a long way to go.”

Rodwell Williams, SC Co-counsel, Churches
“Our application was that that organization had no standing and we believe we have made reasonable arguments to support that request that it be struck, and that certain affidavits that are effective were given. And contrary to the rules without the leave of the court, and so on, and that those also should be struck. And I feel reasonably confident about the applications and the prospect of success. Of course, litigation has it risks, but we believe that as interested parties we have standing to bring that application – as you would readily appreciate. Interested parties have appealed decisions of this court all the way up to the Privy Council. There is no good reason to say that interested party because you are so call interested party you can make substantive application.”

Jules Vasquez
“Are you all trying to have this matter thrown out on preliminary technical matters?”

Rodwell Williams
“The application is only against UNIBAM. So if UNIBAM goes the matter is still extant.”

Jules Vasquez
“Do you think it’s a matter from your experience that will be heard expeditiously or will it be sometime before we get to the actual substance of the case?”

Rodwell Williams
“What matter will be heard?”

Jules Vasquez
“The substantive matter of the constitutionality?”

Rodwell Williams
“I suspect that that is some date in the future. How? I don’t know. You’ve heard the judge said that she will return a ruling as soon as she has one and then we go from there.”

As we noted in the story, Justice Michelle Arana has reserved Judgment which will be delivered at a date to be announced.

UPDATE Feb 12, 2011

Caleb Orozco, 38, the leader of the UNIBAM, the movement which has brought a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court to decriminalize unnatural sex acts under Belizean law, was attacked on Wednesday evening, February 8.

according to the Belize Reporter

Orozco said an unidentified assailant threw a brown beer bottle at his face, while he was on Prince Street between George and West Streets between 4:30-5:50 p.m.

He told The Reporter he had walked from Basra Street towards St Ignatius School and turned onto Euphrates Avenue when he heard someone behind him say: “tell dem bally no walk pahn my street.”

He then turned right into Dean Street when he observed two men stalking him from a distance as he walked toward the Dean Street Police substation at the corner with West Street.

He said he had turned into Prince Street and had turned to see if he was still being followed when the bottle hit him on his right jaw. The bottle did not break on impact but shattered when it hit the ground, so Caleb said he could not say for sure what brand of beer it was.

He was stunned but did not fall to the ground and continued walking away from his assailants who did not pursue him further.

He consulted with his attorney, Lisa Shoman, who is representing UNIBAM in the Supreme Court, but she counselled him that reporting the assault to the police might prove a waste of time.

When Love TV’s Patrick Jones interviewed him, Orozco said he pointed out his assailant to Jones, who convinced him to make a report so the attack could be on record. Caleb said he went to the Dean St. substation and informed the officer on duty that he had been attacked and that his assailant was still just up the street, but the officer refused to leave his post to investigate, but took down his statement

Orozco was treated  for his injury at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital by Dr. Gonzalez, who certified his injury on the medico-legal form provided by the police. He said he left the hospital around 9:30 p.m. and went home to recover.

Orozco said the attack was but a small incident in the growing tide of homo-phobic violence which is sweeping the country, and he cited a litany of murders of men who had openly expressed their sexual orientation or who were believed to be homosexuals, and the numbers are indeed alarming

Gays have rights too: The Caribbean dilemma (Observer)

A statement by the prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, that his Government will not provide budgetary aid to governments that violate human rights including by discriminating against homosexuals and lesbians, has angered sections of Caribbean society.

The angry response may have arisen over a misunderstanding of Cameron’s remarks made in a BBC interview at the end of the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia from October 28 to 30. The remarks were not made at the CHOGM itself.


Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Gays-have-rights-too–The-Caribbean-dilemma_10145250#ixzz1daFD6PLB

While Cameron did say that his Government would not provide general budget support to governments that do not uphold human rights, including the rights of homosexuals, lesbians and vulnerable communities such as young girls, his remarks were not specifically about homosexuals and he did not say that all aid would be withheld.

In any event, no independent Caribbean country is a recipient of General Budget Aid from Britain, and, therefore, not one of them would be affected. In this regard, the response to Cameron’s remarks could have benefited from more careful study.

Cameron did not state a new position. What he said has been the British Government’s published policy since earlier this year when the Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a study, involving a wide range of organisations and countries, from which it was decided that General Budget Aid to governments should be linked to good governance, accountability and respect for human rights. British budgetary support is only 16 per cent of the UK’s annual aid budget of £7.46 billion (US$12.1 billion).

Nevertheless, the policies, laws and practices applicable to homosexuals and lesbians are real and growing issues in the Caribbean, not only from a human rights standpoint but as a public health one too.

At the CHOGM in Perth, an Eminent Persons Group (EPG), of which I am a member, delivered a report to Heads of Government, who commissioned it at their meeting in Trinidad two years ago, on ways to reform the Commonwealth to make it relevant to its times and its people.

Included in the 106 recommendations in the report was one that governments “should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a repeal of such laws”. Amongst these laws are those that criminalise homosexuality.

The recommendation proved to be difficult for many African and Caribbean governments. Of the current 53 nations of the Commonwealth, 41 of them retain laws that criminalise homosexuality in particular. Some of these laws dictate that homosexuals should be flogged and jailed. Of the 41 states with such laws, all 12 of the independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries are included.

Remarkably, these laws are relics of the colonial past. They were introduced in the Caribbean by the British Colonial government. But while Britain, like the majority of countries in the world, has moved on to decriminalise homosexuality, the colonial laws remain in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean.

In Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States and the majority of European and Latin American nations, many homosexuals and lesbians, freed from the criminalisation of their sexual preferences, have risen to the top of their careers. Many are captains of industries, government ministers, leading sports persons and even members of the armed forces doing duty in dangerous places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Caribbean, however, homosexuals are marginalised and the majority remain hidden, terrified of the consequences of “coming out”.

Caribbean governments face serious difficulties over this issue. There is a strong prejudice in societies based on both a lack of education and reluctance to engage the issue in public fora. The Churches in the Caribbean are the most unyielding, constraining political parties from adopting a more enlightened and modern-day view of the matter.

The facts indicate that 60 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV and 33.3 million presently live with the virus. Over 60 per cent of the people living with HIV reside in Commonwealth countries. The region with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS per capita is the Caribbean. In this sense, the problem for the Caribbean is one of human rights and public health.

Homosexuals who live under the risk of flogging and jail are reluctant to reveal themselves if and when they become HIV-infected. Consequently, they are left untreated and the disease spreads and eventually they die, although the real cause of death is usually hidden.

In any event, the laws criminalising homosexuality are depriving the Caribbean of the use of remarkably talented people in all fields of life who could be contributing to the development and prosperity of every Caribbean country. Some homosexuals have already emerged — despite the laws and the stigma — as outstanding Caribbean citizens, revered not only in the region but in other parts of the world, but they have been persons of great courage and unquestionable ability. Others have simply fallen by the wayside, or are living lives of lies.

On the eve of the CHOGM in Perth, Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, wrote to Commonwealth leaders pointing out that “it is important and urgent” for them “to promote and secure the repeal of the discriminatory laws which impede effective national HIV responses”. She called for “legislative initiatives and programmes which will repeal discriminatory laws” that “can not only turn back the HIV epidemic, but also improve the health and development of their citizens”.

She urged leaders “to seize this opportunity for the Commonwealth to turn a corner in preventing and controlling HIV by embracing the proposals to repeal laws which impede effective HIV responses”.

In part, it was to this urging that the British prime minister was responding when he spoke in the BBC interview of the need to repeal discriminatory laws.

The issue will not go away. Britain’s linking of General Budget Aid to respect for human rights is one response. Others will follow in different ways. As the international community sees it, homosexuals and lesbians are entitled to rights too, as long as they do not affect the rights and preferences of others.

The Caribbean will have to face up to that reality — as most of the rest of the world has. The best way to start is by informed public discussion.

Sir Ronald Sanders is an international consultant and former Caribbean diplomat

Responses and other commentaries at: http://www.sirronaldsanders.com

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Gays-have-rights-too–The-Caribbean-dilemma_10145250#ixzz1daF6EtCs

my two cents – Homosexuality is Not Illegal in Jamaica …. Buggery is despite the persons gender 12.11.11

 

 

Minister of Justice will have last say on Cuban same-sex marriage …… but

A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann. Thanks to the Cuban connection for this press release that preceeded the transgender wedding that took place in 2011 and the events that caused it to occur. Remembering earlier this year we had seen news that gay marriage may have been legal by July but the marriages highlighted here weren’t really gay marriages weren’t they? seeing both events had persons undergoing sex reassignment surgeries to then marry.

see: Cuba may have gay marriage legal by July on Gay Jamaica Watch
The decision to green-light same-sex unions “is up to the Minister of Justice”, according to Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX).

“We’ll keep fighting to get an answer soon”, the sexologist said during the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the TransCuba Group.

Legalization of same-sex marriage is one of the reforms CENESEX has been striving to include in Cuba’s new Family Code since 2007.


The issue came to the fore again recently when former CENESEX staff member Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman who had a sex-change operation in 2007, married a gay man who is against the Center’s activity.


Iriepa quit her job as health assistant on July 7, citing “differences” with Mariela Castro regarding her new fiancé. She had decided to undergo sex-reassignment surgery a year before the Cuban Ministry of Public Health passed Resolution 126 declaring such service legal and free of charge. In early 2011, she got a whole new set of identity documents.

“I always thought the wedding of a transsexual these days would give us all an opportunity to celebrate TransCuba’s achievement together, but Wendy took that right away from us. I hope Cuban society understands that not all transgender people are the same,” Marifí Herández Lugo remarked.

CENESEX Director Castro Espín, in turn, admitted to be “very happy that she can get married with a man who seems to be the love of her life, even if he’s not exactly the straight man she expected to find. We wish her all the best, because we have worked very hard for our women’s happiness.”

In response to journalists who asked about the likely politicization of a wedding where the dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez and her husband acted at witnesses, the sexologist pointed out: “The U.S. government provides funds for LGBT groups opposed to what we do at CENESEX and smear campaigns against Cuba, and some people fall for it. They just don’t like CENESEX’s success”.

Since 1988, as a result of the Center’s efforts, 16 genital modification operations have been conducted and 3 sets of completely new IDs have been issued, out of 31 requests Cuban transsexuals have submitted to the National Commission for Transgender People’s Affairs.

The first wedding of a Cuban transsexual took place in the late 1980s, after doctors in the Island performed a successful operation on Mavi Susset or Mabi Suse, who has been married twice since then. This without any media coverage as it is understood at the time until a documentary was done on her and transgenderism in Cuba called in the wrong body – here is an excerpt of the piece

CENESEX has championed a widespread campaign to raise political awareness of, and gain respect for, people’s free sexual orientation and gender identity.

Antigua & Barbuda: UN Representatives Urge End To Anti-buggery Law

Source: Antigua Observer

06/10/2011

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A number of representatives at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday recommended that Antigua & Barbuda do away with its anti-buggery law.

The recommendations came following Attorney General Justin Simon’s presentation of the country’s human rights policies. As expected, there were several questions and recommendations raised with many focused on the anti-buggery law.

US representative Charles Blaha said homosexuality should be decriminalised, and he also urged the twin-island state to condemn human rights violations based on sexuality.

“We urge Antigua & Barbuda to decriminalise homosexual conduct by reforming the penal code so that for the purposes of prosecution, gross indecency would not apply to private acts between consenting adults,” the US representative said.

“We (also) urge Antigua & Barbuda to condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and to ensure adequate protection for those human rights defenders who work on the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons,” Blaha added.

The US representative at the UN said discrimination against the LGBT community remains a major concern of the US.

“The criminisalation of homosexual conduct exacerbates homophobic attitudes in the general population and prevents LGBT persons from fully participating in society and taking advantage of opportunities afforded to all other Antiguans,” Blaha said.

Simon also came under pressure on the LGBT matter from other representatives including Spain’s Manuel Alhama Orenes.

“We recommend the adoption of political and legislative measures to set up a specific framework for the protection of discrimination on the grounds of sexual discrimination as well as the striking of legal provisions that criminalise consensual same-sex adult relationships. In a similar vein, we recommend the implementation of public awareness raising campaigns in this area,” Orenes said.

In response, the attorney general, who is a strong proponent of the buggery law, said he does not believe the proposal would receive the support of residents right now. However, he said public opinion could change.

“There is a certain amount of public acceptance, it’s rather acceptance in a rather silent way, but we do not believe that at this stage that we do have the political mandate in respect of changing the laws notwithstanding the fact that the enforcement of those laws are not actively sought,” Simon said.

“The government will continue with its efforts in respect of education and information to ensure that at some later date, that public opinion in respect of this particular matter would certainly adopt the international standards,” Simon added.

Thirty-one country delegates intervened following the presentation of the opening statement by the attorney general on the Human Rights National Report to the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Tuesday morning.

By OBSERVER News – Thursday, October 6th, 2011.

LGBTI Groups Advance Gains with Passage of Fourth Resolution at 41st OAS General Assembly

SASOD - Guyana

June 11, 2011

 

Jermaine Grant represented Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) at the 41st Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly that was held on June 5-7, 2011, in San Salvador, El Salvador. SASOD’s participation in this year’s OAS General Assembly served as the fifth year of its advocacy in the Inter-American system for human rights protection of persons on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

 

SASOD’s representative along with other members of the Coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Organisations of 21 countries in the hemisphere participated in peripheral meetings with Dr. Irene Klinger, Director of the Department of International Relations of the OAS and Vanda Pignato, First Lady of El Salvador and the country’s Secretary ofSocial Inclusion who both expressed support and appreciation of the work of the Coalition in its human rights advocacy. Further, Grant and others also participated in the Informal Dialogue with the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza on June 4, 2011 with other members of civil society in highlighting the human rights situation of LGBTI persons in the Americas in strengthening transparency and inclusion of human rights defenders participating in the decision-making process of the organization.

 

In the context of the General Assembly’s theme, “Citizen Security in the Americas,” and noting that the concept of security is multi-dimensional, members of the coalition recognised that any threat to the survival and livelihood of all human kind compromises citizens’ security. From this perspective, participants from the Anglophone Caribbean LGBTI civil societyarticulated that laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy serves to create an unsafe environment and perpetuate discrimination in the forms of harassment, abuse and violence of LGBTI persons.

 

Mentioned was that most member states of the OAS from Latin and North America have made notable strides in the promotion and protection of human rights on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression whilst those in theAnglophone Caribbean are retrogressing by not taking legislative steps in repealing laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing along with enactment of legislation that willfully exclude rights of LGBTI persons.

 

SASOD’s representative posited that such actions by member states of the Anglophone Caribbean make them complicit in perpetuating discrimination and intolerance; thus, legitimising human rights abuses and violence that oppress LGBTI persons, compounded by an unsafe environment, which creates social vulnerabilities. These laws embody state-sanctioned homophobia which devalues human life and undermines citizens’ security.

 

In advocacy to effect human rights on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, Grant, along with other human rights defenders from the Anglophone Caribbean drafted a statement that was distributed to government delegations from the sub-region, on the human rights situation of LGBTI persons and which called for “leaders of CARICOM to guarantee the rights of all citizens… and aggressively address the scourge of homophobia that undermines our collective security.” (Please see statement attached.)

 

SASOD’s participation in the 41st OAS General Assembly serves to reinforce and strengthen advocacy of previous years for human rights protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Further, its participation highlights the realities and challenges of LGBTI persons in Guyana to the attention of the OAS and member states whilst urging definitive action in legal and policy changes. This year’s General Assembly approved a fourth resolution on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” that encouraged member states to consider “adopting public policies against discrimination by reason of sexual orientation and gender identity,” inter alia.

 

—END—

Attachments:

1. San Salvador Communiqué of the Coalition of LGBTI Organisations of Latin America and the Caribbean

THE COALITION OF LGBTTTI ORGANIZATIONS FROM 21 LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES WITNESSING THE APPROVAL
OF THE FOURTH RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY
The Coalition of LGBTTTI Latin American and Caribbean organizations, formed by groups belonging to more than 20 countries expresses in this communiqué its assessment of the activities of the 41st General Assembly of the Organization of American States, which took place in San Salvador on June 5th-7th, 2011.
This Assembly adopted the fourth resolution AG/RES. 2653 (XLI-O/11) “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, showing the increasing attention to our situation and the need of encouraging member states to commit to taking action to fight human rights violations against our communities. The mentioned resolution, which is the result of the advocacy of the coalition, makes progress towards the realization of an hemispheric thematic study. It also highlights the need for member states to implement public policies against discrimination of LGBTTTI people, calling on the States to investigate, record, and punish hate crimes against our population.
We are pleased for the possible reinvigoration of the negotiation process of the draft Inter American Convention against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.
However, we are concerned that, on the very occasion of the Assembly, whose theme was “Citizen Security in the Americas,” the opportunity to advance in the construction of an instrument that would contribute to challenging the structural causes of violence has been lost by opening the door to the possibility of dividing the draft Convention in one main text, and one or more additional protocols (which would strengthen the idea of the existence of a hierarchy among forms of discrimination). We recognize, in any event, that advancing the discussion on racism would be in itself a fundamental achievement that would improve the quality of life for all.
With reference to the Declaration of San Salvador, we are concerned that it focuses on issues related to organized crimes and not on day-to-day security. The majority of killings, serious assaults, sexual abuses, and other crimes against the individual are the result of bias and vulnerability associated with gender violence; discrimination against afro-descendant and indigenous people; sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; xenophobia; disability; migrants, displaced people and other vulnerable groups.
Additionally, we express our concern for the lack of visibility we suffer by the omission of any reference to specific security needs of LGBTTTI people, despite being especially affected by the consequences of violence and crimes caused by homophobia, lesbophobia and, most of all, transphobia. These concerns were raised in our intervention during the dialogue between the civil society and the heads of delegations of member states.
We report the election to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of Felipe González, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Tracy Robinson and Rosa Maria Ortiz. The election of Rosa Maria Ortiz and Tracy Robinson is an honor for the Coalition; women of great value for their well-known commitment and expertise in human rights, and whose candidatures the Coalition have supported vigorously through our ministries of foreign affairs.
Finally, we want to highlight a fundamental concern for civil society, related to the attempt by some member states and OAS organs to weaken the scope of work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

About the Coalition’s activities
Beyond the resolution that has been formally adopted, the Coalition celebrates the
consolidation of its space as civil society component after four years of advocacy work within the OAS and in the region, before, during and after the General Assemblies.
In the days that preceded the 41st General Assembly, the Coalition organized a two-day parallel event in preparation for the advocacy and participation within the OAS. Our main discussion topics were:

(a) implementation of the resolution “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”;

(b) Interaction with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (with specific focus on thematic hearings); (c) Interaction with the Commission on Juridical and Political Affairs; (d) Advocacy in the negotiation process of the draft Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance; (e) Advocacy with member states.
During the two days, invited participants included Irene Klinger, director of the Department of International Relations of the OAS, who highlighted the importance of the commitment of the LGBTTTI civil society in all processes of the OAS and the increasing visibility of the issue within the OAS, particularly with reference to the Hemispheric Forum.
The Coalition met the First Lady of El Salvador and Secretary for Social Inclusion Vanda Guiomar Pignato, who spoke about the need that societies make progress in regard to the inclusion and the respect for all forms of diversity and greeted the Coalition for its presence within the OAS.
Finally, Edgar Carrasco and Herbert Betancourt from UNAIDS, and Maria Tallarico from UNDP also attended the workshop.
During the informal dialogue with the Secretary General of the OAS and the civil society in San Salvador, four delegates of the LGBTTTI coalition addressed to Secretary General José Miguel Insulza their concerns regarding the undue influence of religion on states and the weakening of the principle of secularity, violence and discrimination that LGBTTTI individuals suffers within their own families, hate crimes and the need of recognition of self-perceived identity for travesti, transgender, transsexual and intersex people.
Mr. Insulza confirmed the OAS commitment to fight for recognition of the rights of LGBTTTI individuals and expressed his concern for the lack of progress of the draft Inter American Convention against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, partially due to the criminalization of same-sex intimacy in several Caribbean countries. He also indicated that some countries still have official religions, statement that would suggest that official religions are an obstacle to the introduction of protective policies, as religions would be prioritized over human rights protection.
The Coalition also met Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State of the Government of the United States, and Paula Uribe, Senior Advisor of the Department of State of the United States, who were accompanied by a delegation from the U.S. Embassy to El Salvador; the first secretary of the Mission of Canada before the OAS Douglas Janoff and Danilo Gonzalez Ramirez, Minister Counselor of the Mission of Costa Rica before the OAS and Chair of the Working Group in charge of drafting the draft Inter American Convention against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance were also present at the meeting. The discussion focused on the commitment of the U.S. Department of State to support LGBTTTI human rights in the region and the progress in the discussion on the Convention.
Later on, the Coalition met Víctor Madrigal Principal Specialist of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who explained the working plan to draft a hemispheric report on the situation of human rights of LGBTTTI people, the success of which will depend on the participation of the organizations of the region that will provide continuous information to the Commission.
The Coalition also met Lionel Veer, Ambassador for Human Rights of the Netherlands, who expressed his support and availability to strengthen civil society organizations and highlighted the need of establishing a dialogue between the ministries of foreign affairs and the IACHR.
We welcome the increasing interest for the work of the coalition that constitutes an acknowledgment of the work carried out in these years.
We thank Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, UNAIDS, UNDP, and Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights for their support to make our participation to this General Assembly possible.

Trinidad Happenings: Homophobia, society effects and way forward

By Rajiv Gopie

Concluding this series on homophobia, we will look at the consequences and fallout from pronounced homophobia and ways to deal with homophobia. It is necessary to mention that just last week in Grenada, two adults males were arrested and charged with having consensual sex, a statute dating back to British rule. The island is already facing a potential tourism boycott by the estimated $55 billion dollar gay community as the story has been plastered in many left-leaning websites, blogs and newspapers. This serves as an excellent reminder that in T&T though we may not be perfect we are still much better off as a society compared to our neighbours.
Homophobia, as was discussed last week, is against all of the doctrines and morals of all major religions as they demand respecting the dignity of all human beings. The reality is that homophobia goes much deeper, usually justified by the fig leaf of religion. There is often nothing more than fear of the unknown and plain ignorance that drives people to act in most violent and hateful manners.

This pure hatred and malice has lead to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) teens and youths being five times more likely to commit suicide in the US. I suspect it is lower in T&T but homophobia is a pressing problem and it is just contributing to the violence and lawlessness in our nation’s schools.
Both the perpetrators and the victims may be prone to react violently and, without the services of counsellors and supportive teaching staff, rampant homophobia is being allowed to go unchecked, which may be leading to our youths killing themselves. This should shame us as a nation that we are teaching our children to hate.
One of the greatest fallouts from homophobia well-known to the United Nations and many other multilateral institutions and health organisations is that homophobia forces many gay men to remain closeted or hiding, and live a double life. They, due to societal pressure and homophobia, get married and have children but still continue having same-sex relations outside of marriage. This not only leads to a potential breakdown in family life and unhappy homes, but may encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS to their unsuspecting spouses.
The issue of homophobia being one of the main facilitators of HIV/AIDS is well known and it is indeed quite logical, since due to fear of discrimination, ridicule and shame, many GLBT people do not seek medical help and attention and are not able to access the information and resources such as condoms in order to practice safe sex.

It may seem that I am mixing the two issues, but they are interconnected as homophobia is the force that drives GLBT people to live sham lives or try to live outside the norm and suffer discrimination.
In many ways, homophobia is HIV’s best friend.
A wide host of social problems, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, high divorce rates, broken homes, family tensions, etc, can be attributed to in some part to homophobia and the ways that its castigates GBLT individuals and forces them to live a lie or be marginalised. It is imperative we deal with homophobia at all levels if we are to afford dignity, respect and tolerance for all of our fellow citizens.
Now data from a national survey seems to suggest there is very little appetite nationally for gay rights, but statistics are misleading and the devil is always in the details.
The bell-weather of social change can always be traced to the attitudes of the intelligentsia and the youth population of any era. Now it seems that support stands around 40 per cent. This may seem worrying, but when looking at the details it is far from discouraging. In our conservative, semi-religious and silent culture, we have levels of support at 40 per cent, which is amazing considering gay rights are not even spoken of.

In liberal America where this issue has been a hot button public debate for decades, support stands at 60 per cent and in some extremely liberal Western European nations, support for gay rights is at 70 per cent, as low estimates. We then are not doing so bad and, as time progresses and our nation continues to interact with the outside world and explore itself, support will increase and the old prejudices will die off, they may linger but they will be relegated to the shadows and the mumblings of unhappy people.
Dealing with homophobia will prove very difficult as it is deeply engrained in some people and the change cannot be forced nor coerced. The change will have to be born in society, amongst the youths and the educated, amongst the free thinking, the returning expatriates and from the political class.

The GBLT community also has a responsibility to help themselves by educating their family members and loved ones that there is nothing to fear from GLBT people.
It is because many GLBT people “came out” and lived openly in Western Europe and the US and people came to realise that their sons and daughters, co-workers, doctors, lawyers, neighbours, grocers, cousins and friends were GLBT, that homophobia was reduced and gay rights were won.

I am not calling for a mass coming out, as “coming out” is a personal thing, but each GBLT person should try to change their loved ones and close friends and a domino effect will occur. There is no policy, no law that can force tolerance. They may help, but they are passed when the groundwork has been done; not before.
Homophobia is not some secondary issue that can be pushed to the back, it warrants the attention of the best and brightest and of all society. It is an issue that has the potential to shame us as a nation or make us feel proud that we come to respect the rights of some of the most marginalised in society.
Trinidad and Tobago has always been a land of equality and dignity. There is no doubt these values will win out in the end.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President’s Medal for business studies/modern studies in 2006. He is an HBA candidate in international studies and social/cultural anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada.

rajivgopie@hotmail.com