Judgement, rejection, and discrimination are some of the biggest fears of people in the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/ questioning, and others) community in TT.
Those reactions from people on society keep them closeted, hiding from and lying to friends, family, living in fear of discovery by the wrong person, and hesitant to live their truth.
One lesbian from east Trinidad said around age 12 she started liking her best friend, a girl, “in that way” but she never felt “different.” She was 14 when she saw the Showtime series The L Word and realised she could put a word to her feelings.
However, she never felt it safe to express herself openly and let people know who she is.
“Trinidad and Tobago is so full of all these fake religious people who are so judgmental and ready to condemn you to hell. So, I rather keep it amongst me and my friends who are allies, or are part of the LGBT community.”
She said she has a very close relationship with her mother and still, she knows her mother would not accept that she likes women. And, since she is not out to her family, she was not going to “advertise” that she is in a relationship with a woman.
In addition, when she was first employed at her company, she paid attention to the policy on discrimination. Sexual orientation was not included. She believes if she lets her employers know she is gay, they would eventually find a reason to fire her or ask her to resign.
A gay man, who works in a male-dominated field, said he was not afraid of losing his job if he came out because companies in TT are becoming more inclusive. However, he is concerned that his coworkers, managers, and supervisors would interact with him differently.
He sometimes hears the comments his coworkers make and slurs they use when referring to gay men and he does not want that directed at him, to be isolated from them, or to be discriminated against.
“No human being wants to live their lives being judged for something they have no control over. There is a general ignorance in society. There are these preconceived notions that people believe when they hear the word ‘homosexuality.’ I feel as though this judgement comes from a place where people just don’t understand.”
He said when people think about male homosexuality they think about disease. The idea stemmed from the early 80s when, because of the promiscuity of some members of the community, HIV/Aids was rampant in the US.
“Had it been spread by heteronormative activity I don’t think it would have garnered that much hate. Would people hate themselves? No. So, it really didn’t help the cause.”
What also sickens and angers him is that some people associate homosexuality with paedophiles. The fact that there are there are so many accounts of priests “interfering” with alter boys does not help.
There is also the issue of the church which preaches that homosexuality is a sin. He said the message religious leaders are sending is one of hate rather than love which allows people to use religion as justification for hate.
“People are allowed to have their own opinions but at the end of the day, if your opinion is causing a subset of society to live in fear, to be fearful for their lives and well-being, to be discriminated against, that’s where I draw the line. That’s not coming out of love.”
He believed if every individual knows that they have the opportunity to thrive, to be themselves, to do well, if they are respected for who they are, and respected for the contribution they could make, then they would understand their worth.
“But if you remove that, telling people you don’t like them for who they are, it will cause conflict and harm. It is very hard for people to then say, ‘You treating me like a dog but I feel inspired. I’m going to do my very best.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
He said people have the right to believe what they want to and have their own opinions but it is also necessary to respect each other and appreciate the value individuals can bring to society.
“It’s not great that people have to live in the shadows but the reality of it is we haven’t embraced everyone in love, respect and appreciation. I think it’s important for us to realise we need that, and people need to be themselves in order to be a productive people.”
One trans woman said she is an awe of people who live their truth out in the open.
“I was married twice. I tried my best to be the ‘manly’ man that men are ‘supposed’ to be. It felt strange to me. I felt like I was posing and that isn’t fun.”
She said has seen people, mostly men, shouting hateful words at homosexual men and trans women in the streets. While she had no fear of being physically harmed because she grew up in an area that could called a hot spot and she could “throw down” and even enjoys fighting, she did not want that kind of vitriol directed at her.
She said the only time she dresses how she feels in public is during Halloween or Carnival when wearing feminine clothes more accepted. She said, “Deep down inside there is a female screaming, ‘I just want to like what I like.’”
She is hesitant about coming out because she believes even some open-minded friends would not accept her pronouns or how she feels about herself. She fears losing some family members and friends as she knows them and knows they would reject her or make inappropriate comments and jokes. She also fears discrimination at work.
A 39-year-old trans man told Sunday Newsday he openly lived as a lesbian for many years and got fired or was not hired for jobs because of his sexuality. However, he recently transitioned and only returned to Trinidad earlier this year.
“I was never in the closet and now I have to learn how to be in the closet at this age. It’s difficult. If the government and the doctors are not educating the citizens about people like me (intersex), there will always be people laughing at me.”
He explained that he grew up in an orphanage and the other girls used to laugh at him “because of my private parts.” Also, as a child and later as an adult, people constantly asked if he was male or female. It was only years later, when he went abroad to do top surgery, that he was told he was born with high levels of testosterone and he was intersex.
He never felt comfortable trying to live like a woman but knew nothing about transsexuals or transitioning. But even as a youth he would tell people not to “approach” him the way they would a woman because it did not feel right.
When he started travelling abroad, he recognised himself as transsexual. When he returned to TT, he went to doctors who did mastectomies to remove his breasts but they discriminated against him and refused to do so. Eventually, he went abroad and had it done.
He recalled that after surgery and recovery he returned to Trinidad. When the customs officer at the airport saw that his passport said female, he got loud, looking around at other passengers shouting that he was a woman.
He also tries to avoid people he knew before he transitioned, or people who heard the gossip that he was designated female at birth as some become confrontational while others ask disrespectful questions or laugh at him.
“I live alone and own my own business so there are some things I don’t have to worry about. But I know how Trini people are. Here people opposed me about my sexuality so image being trans. There is a difference. This level of discrimination feels like a threat.
“Deep down inside I don’t want to live uncomfortable. I want people to know I’m trans, I want people to know I was born intersex. But right now I live in an area that always has a setta badman thing and I’m not of that life.”
He asked why people insisted on labelling others. He said no one wanted to be discriminated against or have their children discriminated against because of a physical or mental disability, race, religion, background or financial situation.
He therefore questioned why people do so when it came to sexuality and gender identity.