A landmark victory for LGBT rights.
“Here every creed and race find an equal place” is one of the most oft-quoted lines in Trinidad and Tobago’s national anthem. Today, over 200 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) community and their allies of all ages, races, creeds and cultures united to call for equal rights to be granted to all citizens.
The gathering, said to be one of the largest in the community’s history, was heldin front of the country’s Parliament, where the participants engaged Members of Parliament, sang the national anthem and called for an end to bigotry. They called on the Attorney General to urgently introduce already drafted legislation that would expand legal protections from discrimination, specifically by adding age, HIV status and sexual orientation to the Equal Opportunity Act, as recommended by the Equal Opportunity Commission. Participants were jubilant at the turnout and the wide range of people represented, including artists, film-makers, lawyers, doctors, priests, trade unionists, activists, and others. They were encouraged by the fact that several MPs seemed to be sympathetic to their cause. Rudolph Hanamji said it showed that T&T was uniting behind human rights, and not just the LGBTQIA community but also heterosexual allies. In an interview with local radio station I95.5, activist Terry-Ann Roy said “we’re here to share love and light and to put a face to the LGBT community. We realize how difficult it is to remove a savings law clause and we’re therefore calling on the Government to find other ways to protect us, such as the Equal Opportunity Act. LGBT people still have to work, go to school, be able to exist in spaces, and in the public and if we don’t have rights to do that, it becomes a public issue.”
The peaceful protest was done to counter protests carried out over the last month by Evangelical Christians in the run-up to the handing down of a verdict in the case of Jason Jones vs the Attorney General. Jones, a local gay rights activist has challenged the Government on Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalize anal sex between a man and a woman or a man and a man in the first instance, and serious indecency in the second instance, which is defined as “an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” Neither of these sections apply to married (heterosexual) people. The removal or amendment of these sections is complicated by the fact that they are protected by a savings law which was instituted in many former UK colonies when they were granted independence.
This case has aroused the ire of some local Christian groups, who have stated that if the court rules in favour of Jones, it will lead to the moral decline of the nation, the viewing of homosexuality as moral and natural, and the slippery slope to pedophilia, bestiality and same-sex marriage. The groups, which have banded together as an entity called T&T Cause, led by Bishop Keith Ramdass, Bishop Dr Victor Gill and Vernon De Leon, have led several protests through the streets of the capital city, Port-of-Spain.
This in turn prompted the gathering by local LGBT groups and activists to draw the attention of Parliamentarians to the impact the Evangelical campaign has had on hate speech in the nation and the fears of LGBTI+ persons about discrimination and safety as a result of the court case. In an interview with local TV station CNC3, head of the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), Colin Robinson, said “despite what people have been marching and saying for the last month, we all have to share the nation, no matter how small a group we might be, no matter how large the population of Evangelical Christians is in T&T, we all have to share the nation.”
CAISO Board member Dr. Angelique V. Nixon said “Dr. Angelique V. Nixon – it’s important for us to standup against fear, because fear is so dangerous. I especially worry about young people who are LGBTQIA and they’re hearing all of that hate from the church and the pastors, and it can lead to them harming themselves.”
The protest was organized by the Alliance for Justice and Diversity, a social justice coalition of organizations and allies led by some of T&T’s LGBTI+ NGOs: CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice, Friends for Life, I Am One, Silver Lining Foundation, Transgender Coalition of T&T, Women’s Caucus of T&T, and Womantra.