Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

About those gay rights

Posted: February 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 3 Comments »

I’ve been trying to explain to some people what the big fuss is over gay rights in Trinidad and Tobago. They don’t understand how or why people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) have been singled out by the law and why that matters. LGBT rights are human rights, folks, and here’s a little bit of how the T&T government has denied LGBT people those rights.

The Equal Opportunity Act of 2000 enshrines the right of our citizens to be afforded protection and redress in cases of discrimination on the basis of “status”. As the act explicitly states:

“‘status’ in relation to a person, means—
(a) the sex;
(b) the race;
(c) the ethnicity;
(d) the origin, including geographical
(e) the religion;
(f) the marital status; or
(g) any disability of that person.”

The Act explicitly rules out “sex” meaning sexual orientation; ie, someone went out of his way to exclude LGBT people from the protections of the act.

The Act defines victimisation and discrimination:

“A person (“the discriminator”) discriminates by
victimisation against another person (“the person
victimised”) in any circumstances relevant for the
purposes of any provision of this Act if he treats the
person victimised less favourably than in those
circumstances he treats or would treat other persons
(my italics)
and does so by reason that the person victimised has—
(a) brought proceedings against the discriminator
or any other person under this
Act, or any relevant law;
(b) given evidence or information in connection
with proceedings brought by any person
against the discriminator or any other
person under this Act, or any relevant law;
(c) otherwise done anything under or by
reference to this Act, or any relevant law, in
relation to the discriminator or any other
person; or
(d) alleged that the discriminator or any other
person has committed an act, which
(whether or not the allegation so states)
would amount to a contravention of this
Act, or any relevant law,
or by reason that the discriminator knows the person
victimised intends to do any of those things referred to
in paragraphs (a) to (d), or suspects the person
victimised has done, or intends to do, any of them.”

The Act continues:

“A person shall not otherwise than in private, do
any act which—
(a) is reasonably likely, in all the
circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate
or intimidate another person or a group of
(my italics);
(b) is done because of the gender, race,
ethnicity, origin or religion of the other
person or of some or all of the persons
in the group; and
(c) which is done with the intention of inciting
gender, racial or religious hatred.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is
taken not to be done in private if it—
(a) cause words, sounds, images or writing to
be communicated to the public;
(b) is done is public place;
(c) is done in the sight and hearing of persons
who are in a public place.

(3) This section does not apply to acts committed in a place of public worship.
(4) In this section—
“public place” includes any place to which the
public have access as of right or by
invitation, whether express or implied and
whether or not a charge is made for
admission to the place.”

It outlines the kinds of discrimination to which LGBT people are routinely exposed, every single day, at every level of society. The cases that make the papers–like that of the boys who were caught on video last year having oral sex at a prestige school and were threatened with beatings and death by their peers–are the tip of the iceberg. There is nothing in the law that stops the harassment, firing, denial of access to children etc of LGBT people in T&T. There are, in fact, laws that make it illegal for men to have sex with men and women to have sex with women; gay people are legally prohibited from entering the country; there is nothing in the law that recognises a same-sex cohabitational relationship (common law marriage) or grants people in such relationships the benefits and rights normal couples expect to enjoy.

How is that your (straight) problem? Well, think about it this way: substitute “black” or “Indian” or “female” or “handicapped” in this sentence and see if you find it offensive:

“I will beat they (insert term here) mudda-ass if they come round me.” What do LGBT people hear in maxis, from pulpits, on the radio, even in Parliament, all the time? Yes, the term is often “bulling” or “lesbian” or whatever homophobic slur is in vogue.

It is always open season on LGBT people in Trinidad and Tobago. In spite of this, there are LGBT teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, parliamentarians, lawyers, judges, clerks, clergy, students… you name it, LGBT people do it, because they are living their lives. All they ask is that they be allowed to live those lives with the full protection of the law, and the same rights that anybody else in Trinidad and Tobago has.

3 Comments on “About those gay rights”

  1. 1 Interesting result from a disturbing question. « said at 7:47 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    […] For background on Trinidad & Tobago’s current laws that omit protection based on sexual orientation have a gander at Lisa Allen-Agostini’s excellent blog post “About those gay rights” here. […]

  2. 2 Tweets that mention Lisa Allen-Agostini » Blog Archive » About those gay rights -- Topsy.com said at 3:57 am on February 20th, 2011:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GLBT World News and Sensual Seductions, V. O'Reilly-Ramesar. V. O'Reilly-Ramesar said: Lisa Allen-Agostini blogs "About those gay rights" as the debate hots up in tke T&T media – good bkgrnd http://bit.ly/hF030P #lgbt #t&t […]

  3. 3 CAISO said at 6:03 am on February 20th, 2011:

    Thanks, Lisa, for blogging on this. Our leading local daily is running a poll on its website asking if the Government should “grant equal rights” to gay people. As if we weren’t born with the same rights as every other citizen…

    That’s like polling if divorced people should be treated equally to single people under the law. Or if African and Indian people ought to be treated equally. The idea of asking itself is outrageous. But for hours NO was ten points ahead, and less than 55% of voters think

    On the one hand, it shouldn’t be a debate at all. But the big fuss is the outrage that it’s in fact a debate.

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