As a gay Trini it’s hard to put in words my feelings after last Thursday’s High Court ruling decriminalizing the country’s archaic “buggery” law, it’s taken me a few days to process. The law, dating back to the British colonial era, prohibited anal sex between members of the same sex and fell under the country’s Sexual Offences Act carrying a maximum penalty (increased in 2000) of up to 25 years behind bars. The magnitude of the ruling alone put me on a roller-coaster of feelings delving into memories I tucked away securely since leaving Trinidad almost seven years ago.
The judge ruled that “the beliefs of some, by definition, is not the belief of all and, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, all are protected, and are entitled to be protected, under the constitution…this court must and will uphold the Constitution to recognize the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedom have been invalidly taken away.”
I never expected validation, as partial as it may be, in any form, from a nation that natures a climate of intolerance towards all things remotely LGBT. I’m happy that viable action to improve the Trinbagonian queer experience is unfolding, and the country is being forced to look at how laws like this infringe on basic human rights regardless of sexual orientation or how one chooses to engage sexually. I’m also terrified that in retaliation, the safety, protection, equity and quality of life of LGBT people on the island could be even more compromised than before.
I’m mindful that my experience growing up as a sheltered questioning middle class kid isn’t that of everyone else on the island. Even though my family, spotting my “tendencies” from as early as age six, tried on some level to shield me from the reality of what my life would be, and tried to keep me on the straight and narrow more out of concern that my queerness would tarnish the family name or jeopardize their social standing, I still ended up charred by the rampancy of normalized homophobia to the extent where I’m still recovering now.
After being forced out of the closet at 18 by relatives whose suspicion formed partly because I had too many guy friends, I was placed under house arrest for a week, roughed up, had my cellphone confiscated and no contact was allowed with anyone other than adults in the family. I wasn’t trusted to be around younger male relatives. They called every contact in my phone, visited friends places of work, outed them, told my boss and our neighbours and threatened my then-partner, effectively cutting off every form of possible support. By the end of the week, when I couldn’t commit to being normal I was chucked out of the house and expelled from the family.
I remember returning to work and being called into a meeting to discuss how uncomfortable people were working with me because of my sexuality. I remember booking Carnival accommodations for myself and a platonic male friend, only to have my money thrown back at me by the owner who wasn’t comfortable having two male guests in a one bedroom suite. Or when I was verbally attacked in KFC during my lunch hour because my pants were “too tight”. Another time, out of frustration, I attempted to make a police report about an incident where I was asked to leave a straight bar and a drink was poured on me by security, cause I “look like a buller”, the officer laughed and said “yuh look fuh dat, damn bullerman n dem”. I can go on and on… To experience this level of rejection, oppression, isolation and violence goes with the territory, it’s is like a right of passage, common to many who fall under the LGBT banner and blatantly ignored by those in positions of power.
This culture of moral hypocrisy and religious blindness was on full display last Thursday outside the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain where various religious group congregated in protest and preached the importance of the traditional family, procreation and warned of impeding doom and the spread of HIV/AIDS in the wake of the ruling. There were reports that a Muslim man spat on and verbally attacked a lesbian activist and reports have surfaced in
local newspapers of three men who were photographed at the forefront of the LGBT gathering outside the court being evicted from their homes for being gay. Other leading headlines included a call for protection by activist Jason Jones, the man responsible for the landmark ruling (Jones vs the State), pleading for proper policing following the vandalizing of someone’s car.
As a virtual supporter I recognize the bravery and activism of the men and women on the frontline, the allies and everyone working behind the scenes to push for our inclusion and protection under the law, our right to exist in our truest form and our ability to love openly and freely. Your visibility and strength over the last few days have restored some sense of national pride. Hopefully our nation can rise to the challenge and become a leader for LGBT rights in the Caribbean.
Wanna help? Here’s a few local LGBT focused organizations you can support that can help in providing shelter, safety and basic necessities to someone in need.
- Coalition Advocation for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation- CAISO https://gspottt.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/caiso-brochure.pd
- Alliance for Justice and Diversity– https://www.facebook.com/justicediversitytt
- Silver Lining Foundation– http://www.silverliningtt.com/home/
- IAM1– https://www.facebook.com/iamonetnt/