Last Sunday, there was bubbling joy and celebration at Trinidad and Tobago’s second annual Pride Parade. A few hundred LGBT Trinis and their supporters braved the rain and followed the music truck through Port of Spain, rainbow colours aplenty.
That same day, Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon was in the Express writing eloquently of a “culture of disrespect” which has helped drive Trinidad and Tobago’s murder rate to crisis levels.
Poised outside Mandela Park, where the parade began and ended was a prime example of that disrespect. Two gloomy evangelical pastors held a placard.
It read: “Homosexuals, Baby Killers. Idolaters. Unbelieving. Liars. Drunkards. Gossips, Cowards, Thieves, Mockers, Fornicators. HELLFIRE Awaits. Turn to Jesus.”
It don’t come more disrespectful than that. Or less accurate. I don’t think anyone on T&T’s Pride Parade killed a baby yet.
Though maybe one or two of them gossip sometimes over a cold Stag.
The Archbishop is right. Disrespect can kill.
In that same Mandela Park in December 2017, a young trans woman, Sasha Fierce, was shot dead for no apparent reason. Like a piece of meat. Just yards from where the pastors brandished their placards.
Sasha was not alone. Too many LGBT people have been killed in this country. Precise motives are not always clear – but I’m talking about killings where the victim’s sexuality seems to be relevant.
Last week Friday, Raymond Choo Kong’s last production, Diva, played to a full house at the Little Carib. Raymond was not there to see it. He was stabbed to death in his home a few days earlier. So far, we’ve seen no arrests.
It’s just ten months since we had another Little Carib event to celebrate the life of Gregory Singh, a theatre producer found strangled in his home in September last year.
I spoke last week to one well-informed gay man, who quickly named six friends and associates killed in the past couple of years, and two more who barely escaped with their lives. By any stretch, that’s a shocking total.
Some killings look like hate crimes. Others may be crimes of opportunity, or a mix of both.
Either way, intolerance, disrespect and homophobia make it harder to bring killers to justice. Victim-blaming is right up there. Social pressures to keep LGBT friendships under cover push what might be promising leads out of sight. Potential witnesses don’t want to be labelled gay by association.
Worst of all, we’ve seen courts let killers off with a slap on the wrist where their victim was gay.
All this is compounded when gay sex is in itself a criminal offence.
On that front, T&T is now in a grey zone. Last year’s Jason Jones judgment overturned the colonial-era “buggery laws.” But the State’s appeal is still to be heard – and after that, we have a long wait for the Privy Council.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, other challenges are afoot.
Two gay men from St Vincent last Friday challenged their country’s “buggery laws”. One has asylum in Britain. The other lives in Chicago, but wants to come home with his partner. On their legal team is Peter Laverack, who starred in the Jason Jones case.
A week earlier, another gay man challenged Dominica’s homophobic legislation. A statement in his support says: “The claimant was savagely attacked in his home, yet the police refused to investigate, despite repeated requests by the claimant, and allowed his attacker to remain free.”
He wants to remain anonymous; such is the climate of fear on a small island.
His support statement says: “Government officials have prioritised the views of conservative religious groups over the lives of LGBT citizens.”
That’s you, pastors.
The Dominica challenge will eventually wind up in the Caribbean Court of Justice. The St Vincent case, like T&T’s, will find its way to the Privy Council.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last month gave Barbados three months to respond to a petition challenging its repressive Sexual Offences Act. The commission can refer the challenge to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has binding power to mandate Barbados to reform.
The commission has meanwhile asked Jamaica to respond to a challenge to its ban on same-sex unions and marriages, filed by Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican who lives in Toronto with his Canadian husband – and would like to come home with him to help care for his elderly parents.
Maurice Tomlinson also has a challenge to Jamaica’s “buggery law,” filed in 2015 and still stuck in a queue with no date for a full hearing.
Legal changes are important. But the other battle is for an end to the culture of intolerance and disrespect.
A few hundred felt able to parade last Sunday. But when much smaller numbers gathered at the Hall of Justice to support the Jason Jones legal challenge last year, some found themselves evicted from their homes or fired from their work.
We’re a long way from a world where teachers, police officers, construction workers, priests and pastors, or indeed senior executives can join a parade without fear of the consequences – still less, young guys living in high-crime neighbourhoods. And gay politicians daring to speak openly? Dream on.