Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has promised to end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the proposed national gender policy.
She said so in a private letter, dated August 14, 2012, to Lance Price, which was obtained by the T&T Guardian.
Price is executive director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, an NGO based in the UK which campaigns globally for gay/LGBT rights and diversity. He served as media adviser to former British prime minister Tony Blair and has also worked as a BBC correspondent.
The PM’s letter to Price was in response to one he wrote to her complaining about T&T’s immigration law and the Sexual Offences Act, which he said discriminated against homosexuals.
Price met Persad-Bissessar when he visited T&T for an International Press Institute (IPI) conference in June, at which the PM spoke. He wrote to her in July expressing concern about the stigmatisation of homosexuality in T&T.
Section 8 of the Immigration Act bars entry to homosexuals, describing them as a “prohibited class.”
Earlier this month, Aids-Free World, an advocacy NGO, challenged the controversial immigration law in court.
Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican lawyer, the group’s legal adviser for marginalised groups, carried the challenge forward. He received an invitation from the UNFPA to participate in an HIV workshop in T&T on December 3 and 4.
Contacted by the T&T Guardian yesterday, via telephone in London, Price said: “I did receive the letter from the Prime Minister but it was never made public. It was a personal letter from her to me and I can’t discuss the contents with you.
“I found it very encouraging and thought it showed great understanding and leadership on the issue.”
Colin Robinson, head of Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, wanted to hear what the PM had to say on the matter in her own words. “I am looking forward to her taking leadership and making public statements on the matter,” he said.
Robinson added that the PM’s words in her letter to Price showed brave leadership. He said: “The kind of leadership we have been yearning for from Caribbean politicians... this is the kind of leadership that would make her a legacy.”
Robinson said he did not think a male politician could have done that because of masculinity and other issues. “It’s something about a woman that makes it possible, her maternal instinct, her style of leadership,”
Told bringing gay-rights legislation might cause opposition to Persad-Bissessar, Robinson said: “I don’t know when advocating human rights has marred the leadership of historic leaders. I hope she will be remembered as a brave Caribbean prime minister who acted for justice.”
Jason Jones, of the group I Am One, has been lobbying for full equal rights for the LBGT community.
He said: “We are aware the gender policy is about to be ratified by Cabinet and it’s a great thing the PM is seeking to end discrimination against this group.
“T&T is deemed homophobic and, internationally, this is not looking very good. The Prime Minister has our full approval and support.”
The T&T Guardian contacted Marlene Coudray, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, but her secretary referred us to the Communications Unit, which promised to respond.
Lisa Ghany of the Communications Department at the Office of the Prime Minister also promised to return our calls.
What the PM said: “With respect to the concerns raised in your letter regarding aspects of T&T's Sexual Offences Act and the Immigration Act which may target persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), I wish to assure you that due consideration is being given to these issues by my Government.
“I do not support discrimination in any form against any individual, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“I share your view that the stigmatisation of homosexuality in T&T is a matter which must be addressed on the grounds of human rights and dignity to which every individual is entitled under international law.
“As such I am pleased to inform you that I have mandated my Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Senator the Honourable Marlene Coudray to prepare and present a national gender policy to Cabinet over the coming months.
“It is expected that once adopted, this policy will forge the way forward for T&T as my Government seeks to put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.”
Thanking Price for writing to her and expressing his concerns, she added: “Please rest assured that my Government is doing its utmost to uphold the human rights of all citizens and residents of T&T as we remain committed to a democratic, people-centred approach to governance and development.”