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Attorneys launch project to highlight discrimination against gays

Published: 
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

After years of knocking on closed doors, local gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders (GLBT) finally have a glimmer of hope. Two young attorneys, Trinidadian Tamara Sylvestor and American Jacqueline Bevilacqua, have launched a collaborative project to document discrimination against persons of such sexual orientation in T&T. They have also set up an e-mail account, [email protected] for such persons to lodge complaints. Their goal is to provide a base for policy or legal action and for public education. The two have set out to document real cases and to find facts and trace patterns of discrimination and denial of services and employment based on sexual orientation or gender expression.

In a media release, Sylvestor said citizens documenting discrimination helps the Government fulfil its obligations to protect human rights. She noted recent pledges by Gender Affairs Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves and by the Government at the United Nations to include GLBT under those protections. Sylvestor said she read recently that the Government decided to pass legislation to outlaw age discrimination based on just five cases filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). “So my initial goal is to find at least six cases for sexual orientation,” she added, noting that even this might present a challenge.

“The majority of GLBT persons living here feel pressured to remain silent and invisible, a consequence, no doubt, of past Governments’ disregard for their rights and protections before the law.” In the release, Bevilacqua, of New York, said she was surprised when doing research on T&T’s human rights record to find testimony given by an official in the Attorney General’s Office to a United Nations body in 2002 that “there was no discrimination whatsoever against homosexuals in T&T.” Encouraging people to come forward, Sylvestor said the project was slow in getting off the ground because of the country’s closet culture. “They are afraid to be themselves,” Bevilacqua said.