BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — In a letter to a queer rights advocate in the UK, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago has promised to "put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation” as part of a new national gender policy, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reports.
According to the report, the Aug 14 letter to Lance Price of Kaleidoscope Trust is reportedly in response to one Price wrote to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in which he complained about the Caribbean nation's immigration laws and its Sexual Offences Act, which contain discriminatory provisions against gays.
Section 8 of the Immigration Act prohibits entry to homosexuals, people with mental health issues and those with physical disabilities.
Price had met with Persad-Bissessar in June when he visited Trinidad for a conference and wrote to her the following month to express his concern about the continuing stigma to which gay people are subjected.
In November, Jamaican gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson said he was planning to sue the Trinidad and Tobago government over the entry ban, after he rejected invitations to attend a United Nations HIV workshop and a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) human rights conference this month, because of the immigration provision. The Guardian reports that Tomlinson pursued his challenge in court.
In her response to Price, Persad-Bissessar says she doesn't support "discrimination in any form against any individual, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. I share your view that the stigmatisation of homosexuality in T&T is a matter which must be addressed on the grounds of human rights and dignity to which every individual is entitled under international law. As such I am pleased to inform you that I have mandated my Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Senator the Honourable Marlene Coudray to prepare and present a national gender policy to Cabinet over the coming months."
Price called the prime minister's response "very encouraging," adding that she is showing "great understanding and leadership" on the matter, according to The Guardian.
Colin Robinson, head of the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, also praised Persad-Bissessar's response to Price, telling The Guardian that he didn't think a male politician could have done the same, because of issues regarding masculinity.
“I don’t know when advocating human rights has marred the leadership of historic leaders," Robinson is quoted as saying. "I hope she will be remembered as a brave Caribbean prime minister who acted for justice.”
Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller had indicated during a televised election debate last year that she was in favour of MPs voting their conscience on the island's buggery law.
Her health minister, Fenton Ferguson, recently said he wanted to see a review of the law. "We can’t hide, we can’t dodge it. Whatever might be our past in terms
of tradition, culture and views, the rest of the world is moving, and the
Caribbean must also move in relation to recognizing human rights
issues," he said in a Television Jamaica report.
But The Jamaica Observer
carried a Nov 22 story headlined "Promised buggery review put on
back-burner" in which the minister responsible for information, Sandrea
Falconer, is quoted as saying that the issue is not yet on the table, as
the administration is prioritizing other legislation that must be
approved this year.
"Not that the buggery law is not of concern to a segment of the
population, but the issues like crime and the economy, we decided, we
were going to give those priority in terms of the legislation that we
pass this year," Falconer said.
Meanwhile, Tomlinson has also indicated that he plans to sue Belize for its entry ban against gays, contained in Section 5 of the country's Immigration Act, Gay Star News reports.
Tomlinson has been invited to Belize to conduct training and sensitization sessions regarding the rights of individuals infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Landing image: Trinidad and Tobago High Commission