Trinidad Express Newspaper,
Even after British Empire’s public apologies to people like Oscar Wilde. Even after the insights of people like Alfred Kinsey. Even after decades of peer reviewed, research by respected medical and psychiatric boards around the world that have proven homosexuality is neither a disorder nor danger to society. Even after animal biologists have identified sexual diversity in nature. Even after countless gay and lesbian luminaries have contributed to our society, Trinidad and Tobago remains one of the forty one (41) countries in the Commonwealth that still have the old British Empire law on their books that basically states that anyone caught engaging in homosexual sexual activity or has confessed to being a homosexual is liable to be prosecuted, fined, punished (corporal) and/or imprisoned.
The constitutionality of the Offenses Against the Person Act No. 10 of 1925 and the Sexual Offences Act No. 27 of 1986. have not yet been challenged in the courts and it is overdue for revision. Not just because of foreign pressure, but for our own good.
Since May, 1998, a paper called: Comments on the Equal Opportunity Act was submitted for review to Government, Opposition and Independent Senators, Members of Cabinet, the Attorney General's Office, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministers of Government and religious and group leaders. It included peer reviewed Statistics on Homosexuality, Mental Health, Homosexuality and Teen Suicide, Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation, Homosexuality and Child Molestation, The Genetics of Homosexuality, Homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago and Homosexuality and the Law.
Nothing came of it.
Now, Australian Commonwealth delegate Michael Kirby has said that at this Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia, the agenda will include a request to scrap anti-gay laws. He told ABC Radio that HIV messages were “very difficult” to get across without removing laws against gay sex. Many representatives of the Commonwealth countries that have repealed their anti-gay laws- UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, are expressing disappointment with being associated with countries so backward in their human rights record in this day and age. There are even suggestions to attach economic penalties to countries that refuse to abide by the clearly stated human rights principles of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, has written an article in the Nairobi Star and I quote:
“I have consistently made it clear publicly that we deplore hate crimes of any nature and the vilification and targeting of gay and lesbian people runs counter to the fundamental values of the Commonwealth, which include non-discrimination on any grounds.
“I also recognised the Delhi High Court for its landmark decision to decriminalise homosexual acts. This addressed a legal legacy of the British colonial era that continues to affect more than three-quarters of Commonwealth countries long after Britain itself has moved on.”
He continued: “If attitudes are to change, if homophobia is to be challenged – as it should – and if laws on homosexuality are to be reformed the best hope lies in democratic and legal processes.”
Countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe in particular have been downright inhumane to gays and lesbians. Here in the Caribbean, Jamaica leads the field in hate crimes against gays. However in Trinidad and Tobago and other territories like Barbados and Saint Lucia, the law against homosexuality is basically already operationally defunct.
When was the last time you heard of anyone appearing before court being charged with the crime of homosexuality? We go against our laws and allow self-professed homosexuals to come to our shores, Elton John, Tim Gunn, tourists from gay cruise lines and more. The law does not even apply to lesbians! No Magistrate will ever send someone to jail just for being gay and/or having an adult consensual relationship. Nobody of any standing, save the extremely religious, ever wants to be known as THE anti-gay, inhumane, intolerant idiot by the global community. For the story will make international news just as the ridiculous religious protests over Elton John performing in Tobago in 2007, Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” and Jamaica’s homophobic dancehall made international news.
Our Government officials know all the arguements for gay rights and why they should decriminalize. They know fully well the existing laws are outmoded. They have gay and lesbian friends, family, colleagues, admired fashion designers, performers and artists too. They do not want to be seen by the world as ignorant, homophobic and backward. They are just afraid of public disapproval among certain religious circles that may cost them votes.
Why can’t we just admit it? The law is just a legislative wet blanket to existing cultural prejudices, ignorance and religious bias. It can only be enforced by catching two men in flagrante in public, a matter Public Decency Laws should sufficiently address. These laws have nothing to do with protecting consent, children, society or public decency. It is strictly a religious sanction against a group of people.
These outmoded laws have no place in a multi-cultural democracy. Christianity is not the only majority religion represented in our country and even among many Christians, there are differing views. Father Clyde Harvey, parish priest of San Fernando's Cathedral, in his address Youth - "A Force for Change" commented:
“As heterosexual transmission [of HIV] increases, especially among married people, we are forced to consider the injustice of our discrimination and prejudice against HIV+ persons . Indeed, it is the same fear and prejudice which seeks to justify the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunities Bill.”
Anantanand Rambachan, professor of Hindu Studies at St. Olaf College, Minnesota commented:
“One of the fundamental and universally accepted teachings of Hinduism is that God exists equally in all human beings. It is the immanence of the divine which confers value and worth to the human person. Since God exists equally in all human beings, all human beings, without exception, must be regarded with dignity and treated justly. To discriminate against another in the workplace on the basis of gender, race or sexual orientation is unacceptable from the Hindu standpoint and symptomatic of a failure to discern the equal presence of God.”
“Tolerance” is one of our motto’s watchwords. We are no longer under a Church/Empire that felt it was their Supreme Right to not only dictate what consenting adults do in private but publically punish even if you did not follow their religion. This is where the un-constitutionality of the Sexual Offenses Act is most glaring. Do you know that same colonial religious bias once forbade beating African drums and Orisha, Shouter Baptists and Hindus their equal right to worship freely as their conscience dictates?
These laws and the supporting culture are also killing us! To be clear, homosexual orientation is not what causes the spread of HIV/AIDS. Irresponsible, promiscuous, unsafe sex does. Living in secrecy and having low self-esteem because of social exclusion and fear of legal harrassment tends to lead to clandestine, fleeting and often risky sexual outlets. It makes education, testing and treatment difficult for our Health Services when gay men don’t come out and/or worse, hide in sham heterosexual relationships.
If you are gay, lesbian or a friend, relative or colleague of gays and lesbians who recognizes that it is time we come out of the dark ages, please sign the petition as I have. It is confidential. Trinidad and Tobago, "forged from the love of liberty" and "where every creed and race find an equal place" is the most culturally diverse, innovative, progressive and creative of the Caribbean Commonwealth Member States. We should already be ahead of the field when it comes to this matter, not be in the same basket with places like Uganda, Zimbabwe, Jamaica and religious dictatorships in the Arab world.