A Group of Six Faith Leaders Have Lost Their Way

The Alliance for Justice and Diversity is deeply troubled.

Originally published on Wednesday, 13 June 2018.

The Alliance for Justice and Diversity (AJD), a social justice coalition, is deeply troubled and perplexed by the call this week from men, who lead six of the nation’s faith organizations, for Government to deny protection from discrimination to LGBTI+ citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. These leaders have lost their way.

The six men united despite their well-known theological divisions over the age of marriage and the decriminalization of homosexuality to call, in their own words, for “no amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act to accommodate any LGBTQIA issue.” Their position responds to recent public calls to strengthen legal protection for LGBTI persons against discrimination. Several young LGBTI persons were evicted by landlords after they appeared in the media celebrating an April court ruling decriminalizing sodomy. LGBTI persons who have filed past cases with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) have received determinations that the cases were not within the EOC’s jurisdiction. The EOC Chair has affirmed this in a media statement following reports of the evictions and of firings of other young people for similar reasons. The Commission has been on record since 2014 asking for the authority to receive complaints of sexual orientation discrimination.

As opposed to focusing on solutions to pressing daily concerns experienced by the nation’s families—issues like crime, economic insecurity, sexual violence and political corruption—the faith representatives’ national press conference warned that “gender fluidity” and “individual autonomy” pose existential threats to the nation, because they undermine marriage and “the traditional family.” And, although there has been no advocacy in Trinidad & Tobago to extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples, a key purpose of their coming together was to call for the Parliament in September to enact legislation, by a three-fifths majority, to prevent people of the same sex from forming families through marriage.

They advanced several pieces of misinformation in their public remarks. Identifying himself as a PanCaribbean Partnership Against HIV & AIDS Champion for Change, Winston Mansingh mis-stated that Trinidad & Tobago has the highest HIV prevalence in the Caribbean. And he offered a misleading analysis that when states expand human rights protections in law this allows HIV to proliferate, and health costs to soar to an unsustainable level. Public health science has found the opposite: that stigma and discrimination against key population groups is what drives the HIV epidemic underground and prevents its elimination.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain also stated, inaccurately, that all “children are born either male or female.” This suggests that children who are born with intersex conditions are not real, and it ignores several who live as adult citizens—who are labelled one sex at birth by doctors, but go onto to identify with a different gender in later years.

The faith representatives also exaggerated that their congregations represent 90% of the national population, though only one mainline Christian church, one Hindu sect, and one Muslim conference were represented. Regardless to how small a population LGBTI persons or any other group represent, governments have the duty to protect all persons in the national community from discrimination and human rights violations.

The six leaders were convened at the Archbishop’s House by Leela Ramdeen, Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, and NGO Rebuild TT, led by Gregory Lal-beharie, who chaired the event. We are deeply concerned about this alliance, and the leaders’ judgment. A well-known woman in the LGBTI community has alleged repeated cyberbullying by a Rebuild TT founder, and shared evidence of this through screenshots of his harassing and coarse posts to her Facebook page that identify him by name. This is not the way of any faith doctrine.

AJD organizations’ communities are of different faiths, political affiliations, racial and ethnic groups, and socio-economic backgrounds. Our groups staunchly support religious freedom, and remain committed to sharing the nation. Religious freedom pivots on a principle the six faith leaders severely mis-apprehend: that the state protects people from the imposition of any faith’s cultural tenets on others, regardless of the power or numbers of that faith. The Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelical and Roman Catholic representatives voiced clear calls for faith tenets to be made into law and enforce them as culture.

AJD members continue to call upon 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. We invite all faith leaders, business, labour, civil society and youth leaders, and ordinary citizens to join others in adding their voices to that call.

The Alliance for Justice and Diversity is led by 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. The groups work together to prevent gender-based violence, strengthen school safety, improve policing, and champion protection against discrimination based on age, gender, health conditions and sexuality.

For more information, contact:

Colin Robinson 322-7373
Angelique Nixon 732-3543
Leah Thompson 782-2290