Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Persecution claims of Caribbean LGBT asylum seekers 'not exaggerated'

Source: Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

By Wesley Gibbings

At least one T&T national was granted asylum in the United States last year, based on the claim that he faced continued persecution in this country as a result of his sexual orientation. Immigration Equality (IE), a US-based human rights NGO, handled 37 asylum claims from T&T in 2010. There were 38 successful actions by Jamaican nationals and four from Grenada.

The names of applicants are not usually disclosed and not all claims are handled by the organisation. Legislative shortcomings that do not address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation were cited in most instances.

“In many cases, the clients who turn to Immigration Equality for help are literally running for their lives,” IE executive director Rachel B Tiven said in a press release. This, US-based Puerto Rican immigration attorney Sheila Velez said, frequently occurs because there was a lack of access to adequate anti-discrimination legislation in the Caribbean and the result can often be acts of violence including torture and outright job and other discrimination. Local activists do not believe such claims were exaggerated.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) spokesman, Cyrus Sylvester, told the Guardian: “While some may be of the opinion that this claim is overstated, for many members of the GLBT community here in Trinidad and Tobago, persecution based on sexual orientation is a frightening reality.

“While all claims for asylum will not be of the same merit, I strongly believe that some of these cases can amount to legitimate claims for asylum in other, more tolerant societies,” he said, adding he was aware of other successful applications in Canada and Europe.

“It (persecution) happens and some persons are so traumatised by these attacks that they sometimes contemplate or even commit suicide, some become withdrawn from (GLBT) social activities and continue a life in seclusion, some become introverted and some even attempt desperately to flee from these shores vowing never to return,” Sylvester said.

Velez, who has spoken extensively on Caribbean human rights issues, suggested in an interview with the T&T Guardian that “the stigma and discrimination against all homosexual acts, gays, lesbians, transgenders and ‘all sexuals’ in Caribbean societies is largely due to a longstanding heteronormative culture.

“However, the fact that it is a long- standing part of our culture does not mean we should not do away with it,” she said. The immigration attorney cited as one example, moves to address issues such as domestic violence—something she said that was “for many years sanctioned as part of the justified exercise of authority and control of a husband over his wife. “By now, most Caribbean states have adopted legislation protecting women from domestic violence,” Velez said.

Colin Robinson, who serves on the steering committee of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso), expressed some discomfort with media attention on the issue. “Irresponsible media scrutiny on a mechanism that can be a matter of life and death can trigger political conservatism and responses that can be quite harmful,” he said.

Caiso has rebuffed a proposal by Gender Affairs Minister Mary King to have a national debate and referendum on same-sex marriages, saying it would make the country a “laughing stock” in the international community.

When the suggestion arose in the Senate, Minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday cited a “chapter” in the biblical book of Leviticus in an apparent attempt to invoke religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality. This incident, Caiso said in one blog, was evidence of the “circus” the national debate was likely to become.

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