Last year the T&T Guardian published an article about a Trini who got US asylum after claiming gay persecution in T&T. One year later, a fierce debate has escalated, triggered by the Equal Opportunity Act and the request from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community for the inclusion of sexual orientation. In May, then communications minister Dr Suruj Rambachan announced that the Government was looking at the issue of gay and lesbian marriages.
This followed the announcement by US President Barack Obama that he supported same-sex marriage. Rambachan said, “sooner or later” the Government would have to make a policy decision on the matter. Religious leaders, government ministers and heads of organisations have all had their say. But what about the people who live every day with a homosexual lifestyle? The T&T Guardian interviewed three people from the LGBT community to find out what they had to say. To protect the identities of the interviewees, their real names have not been used.
Kathy is a lesbian and has been this way for as long as she can remember. Though Kathy, like most members of the LGBT community, insists on anonymity, she is fiercely passionate when she speaks about her orientation. She believes homosexuality is an inborn trait that cannot be changed. “Criminalising people for just existing is so obviously wrong,” she said. Kathy is referring to the Sexual Offences Act, which lists buggery as a criminal act, effectively making sexual intercourse between males, consensual or not, a crime. “It’s a law that doesn’t make sense,” said Kathy. Asked if she feels homosexuals are persecuted in T&T, she says she has never experienced persecution herself. “I have heard of gay people being harassed by the police, though.”
Britney wants equality
Britney, a 24-year-old lesbian, says she is not even considering the idea of gay marriage at the moment. “What I’m interested in is the amendment of the Equal Opportunity Act. “We are not a religious state, so why should the laws of our land be patterned after any religious doctrine? Basic human rights have absolutely nothing to do with religion,” Britney said. “If you don’t approve of homosexuality, then don’t be a homosexual. Simple,” she said. Britney says from what she has seen, transgender men frequently get arrested for loitering. She said she has heard of cases where drag queens are taken to the police station and ridiculed because of their sexual orientation.
Christian: What’s the agenda?
During his interview, Christian, a gay Trinidadian male, described the “uproar” over the gay marriage issue as an agenda orchestrated to overshadow the call for the inclusion of age, HIV status and sexual orientation under the Equal Opportunity Act. Christian said people assumed the march to Parliament was about a demand for the legitimisation of gay marriages but denied this was the plan. He said T&T could not even look at the gay-marriage issue until the Government ensured the protection of all its citizens. Christian felt, as it stood, the Equal Opportunity Act denied basic human rights to homosexuals. "Once legislation reflects homophobic sentiments, it legitimises homophobia in a society at large, and if a government openly treats specific groups as second-class, second-rate or, even worse, criminals, it openly invites the public to do the same,” he said. T&T has an Equal Opportunity Commission, meant to protect citizens from various types of victimisation under the Equal Opportunity Act. This applies to discrimination in the areas of employment, renting or purchasing homes, education and the provision of goods and services. The grounds on which discrimination is prohibited are race, disability, ethnicity, marital status, religion, sex and geographical origin. Sexual orientation does not appear on this list.