Saturday, 15 May 2010

Trinidad and Tobago: A ‘policy of exclusion’

Coat of Arms, Trinidad & TobagoImage via Wikipedia
Source: Trinidad Express

By Aretha Welch

"Many people in Trinidad and Tobago are less vocal about their feelings for murderers, child rapists and drug pushers, than they are about their dislike for gay persons," says Jody Seymour (not his real name), a 24-year-old gay man from St James.

Seymour says the fact that consensual sex between two gay adults is still a criminal matter in Trinidad and Tobago gives a young man growing up gay a sense of how his society feels about him.

"It makes you feel excluded, like I do not have a right to be. But I do. I am a human being. My sexual preference does not make me less. And how dare my country say that to me!

"Why don’t the law makers say since we are to be cast aside and unhappy because of our sexuality that they should not take our tax dollars? No they don’t say that, instead they just outlaw us in a savage manner and refuse to discuss anything for decades, as though even dialogue would be too much."

Sharon Mottley, founding member of CAISO (Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), says the negative attitude about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender (GLB and T) community in T&T is reflected not only in the law but also in how persons are treated.

"While bad things happen to everyone and we do have a crime problem in Trinidad and Tobago, the reality is heterosexuals can report their cases and it be professionally probed. Can a gay man, or any man report being raped by another man and the case be properly investigated?"

Seymour’s feelings about what he and Mottley term the country’s "policy of exclusion" for gays and lesbians were shared with Express Online, after he read comments on , in response to the online exclusive, “No word on gays, abortion” – some defended  and others ridiculed the lack of dialogue about sexual and reproductive rights in T&T.

"I pay taxes, I work, I contribute to my society, and yet everyone thinks they have a right to tell me what I do in my bedroom is illegal and quote scriptures. Well, last time I checked adultery and fornication were just as wrong, but we don’t go around quoting scriptures to men who have two and three girlfriends.

"Uninformed persons,” Seymour continues, “associate HIV/AIDS mainly with gays, but all our ‘girls-men’ in T&T are just as responsible. We see it everywhere: taxi drivers and school girls; DJs and party girls; powerful men and their young girl toys; straight men are spreading diseases prevalently.

"It appears that most would prefer a son who was out every night romancing and ruining young girls. Apparently that’s less of a sin, than being in a monogamous relationship with a life partner of the same sex. I am not condemning but it is laughable that no one is as vocal about the breed of straight men we have running around, who over-compensate for their lack of achievements by raping, impregnating and infecting our daughters as if they are cattle."

Earlier this year, Minister of Social Development, Dr Amery Browne said in T&T there is a 5:1 female to male ratio for HIV infection in the 15 to 19 age group.

Mottley says the absence of GLB and T issues from political platforms reflects the fact that it is a very controversial topic. But the CAISO founding member is of the opinion that heterosexual people who “hate” gays and lesbians are in the minority. She believes most persons are on the fence.

Mottley says any party that chooses to speak about gay rights on a political platform would not be making the popular choice. Just mentioning the issue, she adds, would take both courage and forward thinking.

Seymour says: "Politicians see gays and lesbians as a minority and most would not risk offending the majority heterosexual community by addressing the topic. While they may get a few hundred gay votes, they are afraid of losing thousands of heterosexual votes. It’s not about what is right or wrong or antiquated for them, or even inclusion and equity. It is about the vote."

Seymour explains that while he is open with his friends about his sexuality and is no longer hiding who he is, he did not want to use his real name, since he is still addressing his sexuality with his immediate family, and does not want them to have to deal with intense scrutiny and harsh comments from the public after the publication of this Express Online article.

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