According to Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago is not yet ready to decriminalize homosexuality.
Additionally, she states that it is not an issue for the Government to decide but one the people must decide. This statement brings to light an abdication of responsibility by the Prime Minister.
Is Trinidad and Tobago willing to let the majority decide whether the minority gets fundamental rights or not? Rights are not given to citizens based on whether or not the majority of the population thinks that they should have them. Rights are given to citizens because they are citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, by merit of birth.
We at the Silver Lining Foundation are quite disappointed by this stance. The Silver Lining Foundation has come into contact with a number of young people who are afraid to be who they are. They live in constant fear of bullying and persecution; of being attacked physically and verbally because of their sexual orientation. Many of these individuals have been, and continue to be, victims of abuse within their homes, schools and the general public. Young teenagers have been put out of their homes because they are members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. There have been many cases of hate crimes, the most recent involving victim Akil Thomas, which have been ‘swept under the rug’.
The Silver Lining Foundation has been working tirelessly over the past two years to help these individuals in any way possible. To then receive no support from the head of our government is quite disheartening. If the government is not to make a decision on these matters, what then is the purpose of a governing body? There are a number of other organisations working to help members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. However, without the help of the government to change the laws which criminalize individuals because of their sexual orientation, how far can we really get? All individuals need to be protected from discrimination. The LGBT community may be seen as a minority but minorities are the groups that need the most protection.
On May 30th 2010, The Honorable Prime Minister herself said that no one is to be discriminated against because of different lifestyles or preferences. Also saying that many may resist change but she is not about to allow that. These statements would evoke the idea that removing unjust and undemocratic laws would be at the forefront. It brings us to question what has changed since that day. From eradicating discrimination and wanting equality for all to saying that ‘the people’ should decide the fate of an entire community.
However, the population has indeed spoken and in a survey funded by the British High Commission and conducted by the Barbados based Caribbean Development Research Services 56% of Trinbagonians are either tolerant of or accepting of homosexuals. Therefore, the acceptance rate is higher than the rejection rate bringing us to the conclusion that Trinidad and Tobago is not a homophobic country and should not be labeled as such.
In an October 2013 article in the Newsday newspaper former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma was in complete support of homosexual relationships saying that “Such a love does not hurt anyone”. Dr Fr Stephen Geofroy, a Catholic priest, showed full support for the LGBT community by saying that members of the LGBT community should have rights as other people have. Therefore we are brought to question the actions of the Prime Minister. If the majority of the people in Trinidad and Tobago are not homophobic then why is decriminalizing homosexuality still an issue? We believe the solution is quite simple. If the Prime Minister is concerned about making “prudent” decisions then we can advise her that the most prudent thing to do at this point in time is to move forward with the addition of age, HIV status and sexual orientation to the Equal Opportunities Act.
Jeremy Steffan Edwards
The Silver Lining Foundation