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CAISO defends non-support of CHOGM petition

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Colin Robinson

The local LGBTQI community says it did not join international counterparts in signing a petition for Commonwealth Heads of Government leaders to discuss issues affecting the groups at their meeting this week, because “what we want them to do is not in the petition.”

The community is concerned some of its members/supporters are being discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation and believes this must be addressed with urgency.

Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday as Commonwealth leaders, including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, gathered in London for the meeting, Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) head Colin Robinson said, “The attention we would like Commonwealth leaders to pay to this issue is to put money behind it. Money, money, give the Trinidad and Tobago Government the money required to build the state infrastructure to address the needs of the LGBTQI community, that’s the kind of attention that would be valuable or useful, moralising is not, apologies from Teresa May are not!”

He said to his knowledge, the petition was signed mainly by “signatories from the United Kingdom.”

The petition urged Commonwealth heads to decriminalise same sex relations, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, enforce laws against threats and violence to protect LGBTQI people from hate crimes and to consult and dialogue with LGBTQI organisations.

On the eviction of some LGBTQI members for their involvement in victory celebration after the buggery law ruling outside the High Court last week, Robinson said currently there is no law that “prevents housing in discrimination based on sexual orientation in Trinidad and Tobago unless it is the state discriminating, but in private settings where people are threatened with being thrown out from their apartments because of their beliefs, the Attorney General needs to address this and put sexual orientation in the Equal Opportunities Act to prevent this from happening.”

He also expressed concern at “the suggestion from the Attorney General that he will do nothing in terms of legislation while the appeal at the Privy Council is pending. We want to call on him again to add sexual orientation to the Equal Opportunities Act.”

At least five members of the LGBTQI community were reportedly asked to leave their places of abode after the court ruled in favour of the LGBTQI community last Thursday. Robinson said it is this type of discrimination which needs to be addressed.

“We have been lobbying for that for years not just for us, but for persons with HIV/AIDS and other conditions to also be protected under the Equal Opportunity Act.”

Social Worker with the group Friends for Life, Kurt Sinnette, said the affected persons preferred not to speak with the media but they had been relocated. He deemed it “psychological discrimination by persons. A couple of persons were put out by their families and some are facing eviction by the end of the month. They received notices after the ruling that they had to leave by the end of April.”

Sinnette believes he negative reaction against the affected persons came down to “tensions created” by religious leaders who were vocal in their condemnation of LGBTQI community after the court ruling.

“That is what I was trying to explain to the pastors to calm down, the law is going to pass, nothing is going to change, but you stirred tensions,” Sinnette said.

However, he said the group has been getting a lot of positive calls “from people who are offering room in their homes if people need somewhere to stay.” Help is also coming from persons in the diaspora who are seeing what is happening.

“So the offer is to send money to pay for a couple of weeks if there is need for a crisis response,” he said.

Sinnette said CAISO was due to meet last evening to “strategise because coming out of this if you get evicted you might need a lawyer, or you might want to make a police report.” From a personal standpoint, he said he is now fearful that “I may not get employment because of some kind of involvement in the demonstration and others may fear losing their jobs.”

Persons who claim to be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation have no recourse under the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) Chapter 22:03. The current EOA prohibits discrimination against individuals on seven status grounds namely race, ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, origin and disability, but sexual orientation is expressly excluded from protection.

Also contacted yesterday on the issue, Social Development Minister Cherrie Ann Critchlow-Cockburn said she is “not aware that people can evict people simply because of their sexual orientation.” She said she finds the claim “strange and highly unusual because I am not aware that a landlord will evict people based on sexual orientation. How will they even know what these people sexual orientation is?”


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