“I decided to stop speaking support and to start giving support by showing up.”
THEY can seem like strange things. Full of pageantry, pantomime, and artifice. But while there is a staged quality to every protest, demonstrations are fundamental to the Trinbagonian psyche. We are a society dominated by the theatre of the street, where the body is the site of power in the truest possible sense. We write our essays, editorials, poems and novels not with ink and paper, but with placards, fabric and the mas on our backs.
The observance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2018 presented yet another opportunity for us to speak truth to power; to do what we did outside Parliament on April 7 and then again on the steps of the Hall of Justice on April 12. This time on May 17, a pride flag-raising ceremony is held at the British High Commission; a picnic is convened at Nelson Mandela Park; and a fete featuring music and poetry is held at Studio on Tragarete Road. All these events have at least one thing in common. They represent the irruption of the private into the public, something all protests exemplify. In a sense, these kinds of activities, for better or worse, are natural responses to the burden we all know intimately, whatever our fragmentation as a community. We can all attest to the profound violation represented by the public imposition of mob rule onto our private affairs.
“I feel like contributing to my country,” says Johannah-Rae Reyes, 23, attending the picnicat the Nelson Mandela Park. “This is nation-building. People think of revolution in terms of armed violence. But I feel revolution can also be a picnic.”
Viewed through this lens, Nelson Mandela Park becomes a fitting location in more ways that one. Its name evokes the decades-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa. But the park, with its bustling playgrounds, sport facilities and exercise areas, is also something of a living memorial. Sasha Fierce, a transgender woman who was an agent of outreach and advocacy within the LGBTQI community, was murdered there. Our presence is counter to that history of violence, a history that is, sadly, still a reality for many.
All over the world, homosexual love remains the love that dare not speak its name. About 70 per cent of the planet live under laws that limit freedom of expression around sexual orientation and gender identity. Same sex relations are still illegal in 72 countries. Worse, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the penalty is death in: Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, 12 states in Nigeria, parts of Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar and, at one stage, in the ISIS/ISIL-areas of Iraq and Syria.
In Trinidad and Tobago, notwithstanding the breakthrough represented by the Jason Jones case, Parliament continues to ban the entry of homosexuals from the country (Immigration Act); to remove gay people from the protections of anti-discrimination law (Equal Opportunity Act); and to leave gaps in the law effectively allowing hate-crimes under the guise of “provocation” (Offences Against the Person Act).
“This is a good time to get out there and do something,” says Keita Smith, 22,a picnicker who also opts to attend the Studio event. In the warm atmosphere of the bustling lounge overlooking the Oval, members of the Alliance for Justice & Diversity urge attendees to lobby for inclusion of sexual orientation, HIV status and age under the protections of the Equal Opportunity Act.
“This is my first pride event,” says Odella Jowaheer, 22, in the audience that night alongside Smith. “I’m not a part of the community but I am an ally. I decided to stop speaking support and to start giving support by showing up.” She is not alone.
The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is now the largest LGBTQI solidarity event in the world. It involves over 1,000 events in more than 120 countries. And, judging from things in Port of Spain, it is growing.
“It is important to stand proudly against hate, prejudice and fear and to do it so that others, who are more vulnerable and oppressed, can have hope and a sense of a brighter future,” says Rudy Hanamji, 34.
As the sun sets over Mandela Park, turning the sky into a billowing flag of yellow, orange and red, Josh Ryan, 22, adds, “We must stand up for who we are. The key to ending homophobia is speaking love.”