It is heartening that the question of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people has been so much in the news since the topic of same-sex marriage was raised in the Senate on February 15, 2011. That discussion in the Upper House came during a debate on the Statutory Authorities Amendment Bill, as senators noted there was a need for discussion of same-sex marriage given that our country does not recognise even common law marriages of people of the same sex.Gender Affairs Minister Mary King was quoted in a daily newspaper as saying, “The debate must start and we must ensure that debate is taken throughout the country and when the recommendations come in they will be taken to the Cabinet for decisions.”
The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) is happy the issue is being ventilated, but we are obliged to note that marriage is only one of several human rights currently denied to GLBT people in this country. As gender relations and human rights expert Diana Mahabir-Wyatt said in a Newsday article that week, “People should have the same rights under the law.” FPATT believes, as does its parent body the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), all people ought to have the right to express their sexuality without fear of oppression. FPATT President Dr Jacqueline Sharpe, in her portfolio as IPPF President, said in the foreword to the document Sexual Rights: An IPPF Declaration: “Sexuality is a natural and precious aspect of life, an essential and fundamental part of our humanity. For people to attain the highest standard of health, they must first be empowered to exercise choice in their sexual and reproductive lives; they must feel confident and safe in expressing their own sexual identity.
Sexual rights are a component of human rights, they are an evolving set of entitlements related to sexuality that contribute to the freedom, equality and dignity of all people, and they cannot be ignored.”
Cogent to the discussion is the danger GLBT people face daily in this country. Harassment, intimidation and physical violence are visited upon many individuals simply because of their real or suspected status as GLBT people. The recent horrifying murder of Ugandan GLBT activist David Kato in Africa occasioned a statement by a group of Caribbean sexual rights organisations, including FPATT, lamenting the killing and drawing a relationship between Africa and the Caribbean: “Were it not for advocacy late last year, 13 Caribbean countries would have allowed ‘sexual orientation’ to be removed from an international statement of commitment to protect persons from unlawful killing because of who they are. David’s death, following threats against his life, is a gripping reminder of the importance of those protections, and a sobering one of how much more work needs to be done to give people the right to freedom over their bodies in places like Africa and the Caribbean, where battles against slavery, colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide, gender inequality and religious persecution ought to have taught us better lessons.”
David Kato was openly gay and targeted by the media, the church and the national community for his sexual orientation and his activism. The New York Times’ report of Kato’s killing said, in part, “‘David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by US evangelicals in 2009,’ Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. ‘The Ugandan government and the so-called US evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.’
“Ms Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals, who held rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to turn gay people straight, how gay men sodomised teenage boys and how ‘the gay movement is an evil institution’ intended to ‘defeat the marriage-based society.’” The report notes that shortly after the evangelists’ visit, the Ugandan government drafted legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death.
The report is chilling in itself, but becomes downright bloodcurdling when one considers that evangelists with the same mission have visited and continue to visit Trinidad and Tobago. There are four seminars planned for various venues here in March featuring Pastor Phillip Lee of His Way Out Ministries/ Exodus International, who will speak on the topics of coming out and homosexual conversion to heterosexuality. While anyone is entitled to believe in whatever religion they choose, and to have the full protection of the law in doing so, GLBT people do not enjoy the same rights in exercising their sexuality. Rather, their right to enjoy their human sexuality is constrained by laws that prohibit same-sex intercourse; people of the same sex in abusive domestic relationships are justifiably frightened to report the abuse to the police, for fear of harassment or intimidation; GLBT teens are too often targeted and attacked at school… the injustices and indignities are too many to list here.
The IPPF Declaration states in Article Ten:
“All persons have the right to effective, adequate, accessible and appropriate educative, legislative, judicial and other measures to ensure and demand that those who are duty-bound to uphold sexual rights are fully accountable to them. This includes the ability to monitor the implementation of sexual rights and to access remedies for violations of sexual rights, including access to full redress through restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, guarantee of non-repetition and any other means.”
Same-sex marriage is a worthy goal, but we have to agree with the Coalition for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, a local gay rights group and an FPATT ally, in saying, “The proposal is a distraction, Government clearly isn’t listening, and has its priorities on GLBT issues wrong.” We urge Government to pay heed to the GLBT community and act now to ensure the safety and security of all GLBT persons in this country, which is their right as human beings.