The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is one of only two countries in the Western Hemisphere that still legally bans the entry of homosexuals, and one of only 11 that continues to criminalize same-gender intimacy.
As the country prepares to celebrate its 53rd year of independence on Aug. 31 and prepares to select a new national government on Sept. 7, a group of Caribbean LGBTI activists and allies in Toronto decided to hold a Stand for Liberty on Aug. 28 in front of the country’s Consulate General to highlight those facts.
There was a heated exchange at the Stand because, unbeknownst to us, we seemed to have “crashed the party.” There was a pre-independence celebration inside the Consulate and, although we tried to join the fun out front by singing the national anthem of TnT, several Trinibagonians took umbrage to the fact that we chose that occasion to “show up” their country, especially when “Jamaica kills more gays than Trinidad, so why you don’t go protest at their Consulate!”
I assured them that we had protested in front of the Jamaican Consulate (on Aug. 5). Even so, unlike Jamaica, Trinidad actually has a legal barrier against gays entering the country AND a law that would impose up to 25 years in prison for sodomy while Jamaica’s law is “only” for up to 10 years.
But the most amusing moment came when one lady claimed that, although she supported everyone’s right to “choose,” she was upset that we were “forcing” things down people’s throat. When I pressed her on what she thought that we were imposing on heterosexuals, she claimed that we were trying to make everyone become gay! I assured her that nothing could be further from the truth.
Quite “graciously” the Consul General came out and invited us in for refreshments (no doubt so that we would call off our demonstration). We assured her that we were quite comfortable on the sidewalk.
However, it would have been nice, and a reflection of true Trini hospitality, if she had actually brought refreshments out to us! :)
The dear woman also seemed confused as she claimed that TnT does not ban gays, and I had to remind her about her own country’s laws. She must have missed that part in her posting briefing.
One gentleman who identified himself as a journalist from TnT was visibly upset at our presence and declared that I should have taken the matter of the gay ban to court. I of course had copies of news reports covering my case before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in March where, with the support of AIDS Free World, I had done exactly as he suggested.
The trial was actually held in Trinidad (the seat of the CCJ) and I appeared via video link from Jamaica. Further, the matter was extensively covered in the TnT press, and the decision should hopefully be handed down soon.
When he realized that he had been checkmated, he then changed strategy and questioned my competence as a lawyer and declared that I have no case. I did not sink to his level and question his competence as a journalist for missing the obvious story of the gay ban case, but I will say that I have every faith in the representation and counsel of my all-Trinidadian legal team which appeared for me, including Imran Ali; Westmin James, deputy dean of the UWI Faculty of Law at Cave Hill; and senior counsel Douglas Mendes. (See his take on the case in this article in the popular TnT paper the Trinidad Express.)
As Trinidad and Tobago will go to the polls on Sept. 7, I also supplied the journalist and those in attendance with copies of the election manifesto prepared by local TnT LGBTI groups entitled: “12 Initiatives to Improve LGBTI Lives & Options for Decision Makers.”
This exchange in front of the Consulate demonstrates just how much lack of knowledge exists in and outside of the Caribbean about the fact that the region still has the only countries in the western hemisphere where consensual same-gender intimacy is criminalized. Additionally, the fact that our region defends these laws, even while claiming that they have no intention of enforcing the acknowledged British colonial relics, means that the statutes serve only one purpose: to legitimize stigma and discrimination against LGBTI people.
In fact, during the CCJ case the lawyer for the state of Trinidad said that although the government has no intention of enforcing the ban on gays, it was still necessary to keep it on the books in order to keep out “terrorists.” That, in a nutshell, describes how LGBTI people are sometimes viewed in the region. And that is why we must stridently continue the push for full-equality and inclusion across the Caribbean.
- Hearings begin over LGBT rights to travel in Caribbean (76crimes.com)
- Hearings conclude over homosexual travel ban in Caribbean (76crimes.com)
- ‘My selfish reasons for fighting Jamaican homophobia’ (76crimes.com)
- Caribbean fight to end 2 countries’ ban on gay travel (76crimes.com)
- Anti-gay law bars father from son’s spelling bee in Belize (76crimes.com)