As the eldest grandchild, painting his grandmother’s nails and helping her wrap her sari to go out became a normal part of Rudolph “Rudy” Hanamji’s childhood. Hanamji, the co-chair and co-founder of PrideTT felt just as comfortable making and flying kites with his grandfather. Surrounded by loving parents and other close family members, he went about his childhood routine unfettered and carefree. When his teenage years struck, he would find it difficult to come to terms with how the world would respond to him.
“I read a lot and knew that the word “homosexual” described me. I knew that that word is what I was. What I didn’t know until I went to (secondary) school is exactly how prejudiced people were about homosexuals because I would have grown up in a bubble,” Hanamji recalled during a Sunday Guardian interview.
He was a teen attending a prestigious all-boys secondary school when the realisation set in that unlike many of his peers, he was not interested in the opposite sex. In a sea of adolescents who had strict notions of how a male should speak and act, he struggled to negotiate his identity and often felt alienated.
“Anything that was not seen as the ideal masculine was bullied. For me, it was the first time in my life that I was dealing with feeling that I did not belong. The first time that I felt judged; that I felt sometimes I was not good enough,” he said.
Finding support in some of his classmates, who genuinely knew him, and in teachers, he gained the courage to tell them that he was gay. His personality and determination to be himself eventually earned him popularity towards the final years of his school tenure as he became head of several groups and was elected to leading roles.
Being open about who he was gave Hanamji a sense of freedom and empowerment and he resolved to help others who would have to walk a similar road. At 15, he had already started his activism, working with LGBTQ+ activist and publisher of “Free Forum”, Denis James, and continued through university. Funded by UNAIDS, the magazine explored the culture of gay men and promoted HIV education and prevention.
Hanamji dropped off being vocal for several years, but when gay rights activist Jason Jones challenged the constitutionality of Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act which prohibited consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex in February 2017, Hanamji was approached to help mobilise support the following year.
“I realised there was fragmentation in the community, a lack of resources, some apathy and fatigue. People were tired after fighting these battles for so many years. I decided I would re-enter the space.”
Jones won the case in April 2018 and for the first time, the LGBTQ+ community in this country assembled in large numbers publicly. Hanamji recalled that activist Sharon Mottley who was among them suggested having a local parade, similar to those in North America. By June that same year, the non-profit, PrideTT was born and enlisted NGOs, the arts community, women’s groups and other allies to host their first celebrations.
Hanamji has had to deal with criticism for speaking up. However, apart from being spat on once and receiving death threats from members of religious groups as the LGBTQ+ community celebrated their victory outside the High Court in 2018, the marketing, e-commerce and innovation professional said he has never encountered the level of discrimination that many of his peers had. Admitting that while some may think his “privileged” upbringing and life, in general, disqualify him from being a spokesperson for their reality, he felt he could still play an important role.
“There are people who have been beaten up, put out of their homes. The landlord would say: get out of here because you’re gay. They can’t stand up and say it for themselves, so somebody has to talk about it. I accept that duty.”
As a co-chair of PrideTT alongside Eva Chavez and Xoë Sazzle, and aided by a 21-member committee this year, Hanamji is charged with coordinating the implementation of month-long activities for the LGBTQ+ community in T&T under the theme, “POWHER”. He said this year’s theme was about empowering and protecting women and by extension, those that are marginalised and oppressed, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, as there had always been an intersectional relationship between the struggles of both groups…….