As the debate rages over same-sex relations in TT, members of the gay community are appealing to the public to see them as humans, and not by their sexual orientation.
“See me as a human being, not only as a homosexual. I would like to enjoy the freedom everybody else has,” John, a 28-year-old, well-educated professional from South Trinidad, who has wrestled all of his life with his difference, appealed.
John has struggled for years to find his identity, to gain acceptance from his predominantly heterosexual Christian family, and his peers.
While the familial relationship is better now than it was a few years ago, John says he still has to be cautious because of the misconception and misinformation about his sexual orientation.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon is an advocate for the decriminalisation of the buggery and sexual indecency laws but maintains the church’s position that it is an immoral act.
Other Christian churches and Hindu and Muslim groups have differed with the Archbishop, saying it is both immoral and criminal and want the buggery law to remain on the statute books.
Last Thursday, Justice Devindra Rampersad ruled that sections of the Sexual Offences Act, which prohibited “buggery” and “serious indecency” between two men, criminalised consensual same-sex activity between adults, and were unconstitutional.
Psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh said while there has always been gay bashing and bullying in schools of people who appear to be different, Trinidad and Tobago is a very tolerant society.
“Amnesty International wants to do away with hanging; our government intends to continue with hanging. As a Parliament, the government has the power to determine what is right for the country and that is where the consensus of the people would be important.
“The world is becoming more acclimatised to it. It is in the media; it is in our movies, it is in television shows. It is up to the parliamentarians to decide what they are willing to open up this society to.”
John was not among those celebrating gay rights activist Jason Jones’ victory in the High Court, last week.
He is afraid to be photographed, give his real name, his specific address, job or any information that can identify him to others who are unaware of his sexual orientation.
“I am open about my identity, but I don’t walk around with a neon sign saying, ‘Hi, my name is John, and I am gay’. I had to go through the process of self-acceptance. I am no longer going through the trials of who I am. That was not such a great time, but I am relatively open.”
Masking your identity is not the way one should live, John advances but hopes that the bold step Jones initiated to challenge the law would help to bring about some “softening by the public” and end discrimination against the gays.
While he is not sure it may happen, as Attorney General Faris Al Rawi has already indicated the State’s decision to appeal, John said the ruling would open the door for active and positive discussion.
“That conversation was never entertained and the fact that this has happened, opens the door for positive and actual discourse.” He reflected on his process of self-discovery and the difficulty he experienced in the absence of support and having someone to talk to.
“It was a difficult process to internalise and then begin the whole process of acceptance, especially for one who grew up in a religious household. Homosexuality was not synonymous with a lot of the things I was taught,” he said
“But I believe I was born this way. It is not something I learnt; it was feelings that would have come about naturally and spontaneously.”
Regarding acceptance by his family, he said, “It is coming along. It has not always been in the position it is now. It has been good for the last couple of years because I live by the mantra of mutual respect and understanding. Even if a person is intolerable to my lifestyle or unaccepting, we can still co-exist.
While the law has not yet been struck down, and the judge has given three months given for attorneys to make recommendations on the way forward, John said, “Hopefully this would spark a conversation on actual human rights because the Equal Opportunities Act protects everything else except sexual orientation.
“But it is still on the law books, so, I can go to jail. I can lose my house, I can lose my job, I can lose a whole lot of things because I identify as a homosexual and that is sad.”
Those who are opposed to the decriminalisation of the law see the ruling as opening the doors for legislation permitting same-sex marriage. Among them is Stacey, a heterosexual, professional female in her late 30’s.
Opposed to the ruling from a religious standpoint, Stacey said, “I don’t subscribe to discrimination, but the legislation was put in place for a reason. So it starts with that and next thing we recognise gay marriages. This is the opening a can of worms. Trinidad and Tobago already have enough issues to deal with, and this is just going to confuse the younger generation even more and open the window for more confusing legislation. “
John, however, said, “It is happening all over the world, but Trinidad has been behind in a lot of things happening in the globe. Do I see it happening here? Not in the foreseeable future. Would I like to see it happening? The answer is, of course.”
“Everybody would like to express their love openly, but I think there is some confusion about the process.
“There is a process. There is a system in place to deal with that, and the system is very time consuming and very expensive, but it is something I would like to happen.”
At pains to understand the homophobia, John argued, “My sexual orientation is just a minor piece of the person I am. Because I am attractive to somebody of the same-sex does not negate the fact that I am intelligent. It does not negate the fact that I am creative. It does not negate the fact that I am a loving person. It does not negate the fact that I am of a certain ethnicity. It is just part of my make-up, and I think there are so many other things that could identify that I am a good person, rather than have people harping on my sexual orientation.”
“I always tell people we can have a difference of opinion and still co-exist. Similarly, I think it is important people be cognizant of our diversity and understanding of the different perspective. The bottom line is you don’t always have to agree but have respect.”
He said a Trinidad and Tobago with people who are gay is not a new phenomenon. “We have always been here.”
He said Jones’ case just made them more visible and vocal and attributed the escalation of anti-gay sentiments and bashing to the religious and spiritual arguments which have also become more evident.
He said the gay community has always been discriminated against and the issue of hate crimes and violence is always at the back of his mind.