Despite being jeered, mocked, alienated and harassed by the public and even law enforcement officers, openly gay Kennty Mitchell walks the streets with his head high. He admits that he has often thought about seeking asylum abroad, but 33-year-old Mitchell refuses to hide from the glare of public scrutiny, or live his life in shame. An outspoken Mitchell commented on an exclusive story in T&T Guardian on Thursday where a Trinidadian was granted asylum in the United States last year, based on a claim that he faced continued persecution in this country because he is gay.
"I don't blame him because things are not getting better for us here at all," he said. Mitchell, who accused the Government of not caring about gays, said they must be afforded same rights and protection given to other citizens. He said he would love to get married to his significant other with whom he had been living with for the past 13 years. Mitchell, who has always been open about his sexual orientation, said life in T&T for a gay person is very difficult. He said as a homosexual, he faces discrimination and victimisation daily. As a result, he said, local gays and lesbians usually meet and hang out in secret locations.
He estimates that there are about 100,000 gay people in the country and believes there are several homosexuals masquerading as straight men because they are afraid. "I believe there are about one to two gay people in every family," he said. Despite the odds, the supermarket employee says he tries to lead a "normal" life. Mitchell says what most people detest about him is that he fights back. "I am a fighter...I do not allow people to walk all over me and do what they want," he said. So far, Mitchell has won two lawsuits against the police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment and he now has two similar lawsuits pending.
"Imagine when I was driving maxi I get 40 tickets in three years for doing nothing wrong...It's just because I'm gay," he said. "Business people refuse to give me a job because of my different sexuality.
"Passengers never used to want to travel in my maxi and sometimes customers don't want to cash by me (in the supermarket) because I gay." Although he loves his country, Mitchell says if he gets asylum elsewhere he will be "gone in a heartbeat."
Beaten for being gay
Nineteen-year-old Tim (not his real name) spent four days at Port-of-Spain General Hospital after being brutalised by his relatives for being gay. The incident has left him scarred physically and emotionally to the extent that he is now afraid to admit his sexual orientation. Recounting his ordeal, Tim said three months ago a relative took him to his home where he was slapped, then planassed and his head banged on a wall. He said his shoulder-length hair was cut off. He escaped but was caught soon after.
"Other family members join in and they beat me with a piece of wood, with a shovel and a belt," Tim recalled.
He said he was threatened with death and called derogatory names. He was ordered to take a bath, after which they rolled him down a hill and allowed a group of men to beat him. It was at that point he was rescued by officers passing in a police vehicle. Tim said the police took him to the station but did not arrest anyone. He suffered a long laceration to his hand, as well as cuts and bruises, and his body was swollen. He had to wear a neck brace and had difficulty walking. Tim, who realised he was gay in primary school, said: "I would just like to be safe...I think people should be allowed to live their life as they want."
Afraid of being alienated
He is considered the star in his family. He is a UWI student and is heavily involved in a church, but he has a deep dark secret. Derek, 28, (not his real name) is gay. "I am afraid to come out of the closet because of the stigmatisation and people frowning upon you," he said. He says his family and neighbours are suspicious, but he will not admit to them that he is gay. "It is not just about two men living together having sex," Derek said. "It's about two persons having similar interests, but it just happen to be two men or two women...We don't have a choice, we can't help it."
He said his secret homosexual life was a heavy burden to carry. "Sometimes when I hanging out with my friends and they making fun of gay people, I do the same because I don't want to be stigmatised, alienated or treated differently," he said. Derek said there should be support groups for gay people and their families. In addition, he said, there should be educational programmes to sensitise people about homosexuals and lesbians, as well as laws to protect them.