Last update: 30-Jul-2014 3:39 pm
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Gay Rights And Great Leaders
Great leaders are the ones who do historic things. Free slaves, end wars, empower the disenfranchised, put men on the moon...The Prime Minister’s apparent promise to produce a “policy (that) will forge the way forward for T&T as (her) government seeks to put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation” can be Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s historic move to catapult her into the realm of great leaders in history.
Why? Because even though we decided to become independent of our former colonial power, we retain the worst of its legacies: its archaic, discriminatory laws, which even it has long changed. Because even though we’ve done away with the Privy Council as our ultimate arbiter of justice, we’ve retained a strange pride in these laws that patently victimise some of our citizens.
Because despite rare statements by regional leaders of openness to rectifying the scar of legal discrimination against gay citizens, no action has been taken. Because the international reputation of the islands has remained, and justifiably so, as a hotbed for victimisation of and violence against gay citizens born of a culture and legal system that tacitly and explicitly condone such action against gay citizens for the only reason that they are gay.
This can be Persad-Bissessar’s historic act to catapult her failing reputation into a legacy of epic proportions, something by which she will be remembered and revered for centuries to come. Because, face it, T&T is sorely lacking in great leaders.
Pave roads or change history
Think of our last four Prime Ministers. One faded into infamy, one was forced to grant amnesty to a “terrorist,” one lost an election and with it his dignity, and one went to jail. Did any of them curb rising crime, stop the drug trade, truly protect children, give us worldclass healthcare, take us to developed-nation status, or put a stop to gutter politics or tribal politics?
They built roads, paved roads, gave us unnecessary public holidays, and distributed Christmas hampers to the poor. Equal civic rights to gay citizens were not important to them because they did not seem important to anyone. That’s the thing about human rights.
People are often satisfied with their ways of life simply because it is all they’ve ever known. But looking in from the outside, from the future or from a different perspective, it can be seen people may lack many inalienable human rights. Women can’t drive, the differently abled are denied jobs, children aren’t schooled, child labour still exists, rape camps still exist, albinos are murdered for their “good luck” properties…
While social change takes time, legislative change ought not to take longer. Yet, a draft national gender policy has been floating around for more than a decade. The People’s Partnership was elected in no small part on the presumption of progressive ideals on social and civic policy.
There was the belief among some voters the Government would not “imitate foreign countries” but in its own right correct the laws that do not serve the people and enact new ones that better protect us. Instead, newspapers are conducting polls on whether protester Dr Wayne Kublalsingh should be arrested on another archaic law, one that criminalises suicide attempts.
The Prime Minister, as a lawyer, leader and woman, can take the lead in ensuring our laws match up not merely to the times but to the fundamentals of human dignity. Decriminalising homosexuality, ensuring equitable rights to all and protecting citizens with the law is not a matter of opinion or religion but of something far more inherent.
Brimstone and other BS
Public discussion on the topic will no doubt bring heated debate. No doubt the main naysayers are the ones who will take out full-page ads using the money of their congregations. Yet one would ask all parties come to the table with facts. If decriminalising homosexuality will bring fire and brimstone, let’s see an example of when this has happened (from real life, not from a parable).
If changing our immigration law such that people like Elton John are not categorised among prostitutes and imbeciles would make T&T one big orgy, show us how. If protecting the rights of gay citizens through equal opportunity laws would somehow spark economic ruin, then show us the proof.
With a little education on the topic all citizens and their respective leaders will see being gay is not a choice and being gay never hurt anyone else. The fact is these laws would really affect only the citizens they protect. The fact is some people are born with tight curls or of Indian origin or female or gay.
No one should be discriminated against by the protective services or employers or the State for any of the things they cannot change. This simple thing can be the Prime Minister and her Government’s most significant act, one on which history will shine. Let everyone really “find an equal place” in our rainbow country. Maybe this can redeem Persad- Bissessar and make her one of our “great leaders.”