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Gays criticise ‘unbalanced’ report: Homophobic slant taken in TV series
For four nights, the In Depth team presented a series on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi- and transsexual) community. Since the TV series aired, some members of the community have criticised the feature as being unbalanced and as taking a homophobic slant. The In Depth team invited the critics and others from within the community to speak openly about the areas in which they believe the series fell short and to address the issues that weigh heavily on them.
“Right now I do not have the same rights as you, Golda. I can’t marry the person that I love,” Jason Jones, one of the most outspoken critics of the first piece, told presenter Golda Lee-Bruce. He said the story did not feature a wide enough cross-section of the LGBT community. He added that Saucy Pow was not representative of the majority of the LGBT community, and that the story seemed to focus on Saucy.
“There needs to be an eloquent person that’s putting these points across. And I don’t think that anyone is doing that for the LGBT community effectively,” Jones said. Most of the criticism centred on the view that the diversity of the community as well as its struggles were downplayed or overshadowed by religious views. Eight members of the LGBT community who answered the call to be interviewed for this follow-up, said the things they wished had been said to the wider community.
Craig Rodriguez-Seijas is a student and national scholar. “This is a tiny aspect of who you are. It’s not an identifier, there’s no need to say, ‘This is how I identify myself.’ “No, I identify myself as Craig, as a student, as a scholar. I identify myself by the work I do, by the friends I keep. This is almost last on the list, because it’s not important,” Seijas said.
People said the series should have focused more on the fight for equal rights. “Putting forward the idea that people who are in the community are somehow strange or have some kind of alternative agenda,” said Jean, a bisexual woman who asked to remain anonymous. “No, we’re just normal human beings trying to live our lives.”
Chebioam Vieira, an outspoken lesbian, said, “We’re not different. Somebody’s aunt could be a lesbian. I know grandparents who are gay. I know children who accept their gay parents. “Anybody could have curly hair; anybody could be gay.” Participants also felt the issue of discrimination had not been adequately addressed, and called for the Equal Opportunities legislation to be changed to include sexual orientation as grounds for protection, among other changes.
“Until we are seen as equal by law, then how can we expect our fellow Trinidadians to respect us?” asked Jones. There was also contention about the fact that one participant refused to go on camera. The In Depth team left the choice on whether or not to go on camera up to the interviewee. But some within the community felt anonymous interviews do more harm than good.
“It’s not that someone is scared, but they’re afraid of the risks that are involved. You come out here and you speak on an issue, but you do not want to get the repercussions and the stigma. You want to do as much as you can, but you still have to protect yourself because the law is not even there to protect us,” said Shawn (not his real name), a gay man.
“I live in a society that is not gay-friendly,” Jean said. “It’s not going to be as easy for me to walk into church. It’s not going to be as easy for me to talk to clients. “If I get victimised because of my sexuality, there’s no protection for me. So what am I going to do? Stand up on a principle and potentially lose my children?”
Members of the gay community felt very strongly that the parts of the series that focused on religious perspectives were homophobic and should never have been given voice. The Rev Shelly Ann Tenia is the assistant curate at the All Saints, Port-of-Spain parish of the Anglican Church.
Two years ago she attended a meeting with members of the LGBT community. She says religious leaders were asked to create an opportunity for worship. Since then she’s been involved with the two services that have been held specifically for local LGBT.
“All persons are welcomed in God’s house,” said Tenia. “And all people are children of God. And so, while we cannot at this time condone or authorise same-sex blessings—services for persons in same-sex relationships—and while we cannot accept persons who are in ordained ministry living in active same-sex relationships, as the church we have a responsibility to include all persons who understand themselves to be of same-sex affection, recognising and understanding that there are faithful Christians who understand themselves in that way.”
Tenia also makes herself available to counsel LGBT people, even though her involvement with the community has received mixed reviews from members of her church. “There were some people who were very adamant that they thought it was just insane and wrong and crazy. And that’s ok.”
Fr Clyde Harvey has also played a lead role in accommodating members of the LGBT community. He has worked along with Tenia to provide these opportunities for worship. “No matter what your sexual orientation is, you are a human being—and that has to be the bottom line,” said Harvey. “You’re not some pervert, some retrograde species or something like that. You are a human being, and in dealing with people we deal with that to start with.”
Harvey also counsels homosexual couples. The In Depth team asked Fr Harvey how he manages to reconcile his involvement with the community with the position of the Roman Catholic church on homosexuality. “They [gays] have challenged us a lot about, ‘What does love mean? What is sexuality?’
And the church has to listen to that. And when you come to worship, why can’t we be together in worship? In my own worshipping community, I know that there are some people who are gay and they come to church. Not everybody knows that. Some of them have dared to come and tell me, they’ve been free enough for that. And I respect that.”
Following the report, some people complained that the views of some religious leaders should not have been aired at all. Sat Maharaj of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha “used his religion as an excuse to validate his homophobia and discrimination,” said Shawn. “But the way he spoke of it as if that was his religion saying it—this was not what his religion said. I doubt religion will advocate for hate and discrimination, violence against people who they love based on their gender.”
The Rev Tenia said, “My work here is not even to advocate one way or the other. My work here is to remain available for those who seek God.” The Rev Tenia and Fr Harvey agree that members of the LGBT community must be held to the same moral standards as everyone else, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“To hold up to them a mirror and an understanding of who we are as church. That they understand to be faithful to God often requires struggle and sacrifice; and they can do that work, and they don’t have to do that work alone. But there is a faithfulness that they are called to,” said Tenia.
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