I am writing today to support the LBGTI community in their hopes, raised every election amidst platform speeches about a better future. These hopes are for what others already have, equality and freedom from discrimination. The kind of rights enslaved Africans and indentured Indians dreamed of and fought for, the kind of rights those Africans and Indians who became our post-independence shipmasters now deny, forgetting history then and charting us on the wrong side of history now.
What can our political leaders say to these members of our families and nation when they are not safe to be themselves? How much are our political leaders their leaders too? Or is it okay to lead the nation for the benefit of some, and to simply defer sharing that experience of citizenship to all?
When asked about her position on ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, by for example amending the Equal Opportunity Act, approving the National Gender Policy or removing draconian provisions in the Children’s Act that legalise life imprisonment of young people engaging in same sex experiences, Kamla 2015 said, ‘let the people decide’. When asked, the PNM leader, Keith Rowley, said the party never discussed the issue, though that is not exactly true. Both leaders decided that there are no political gains in pursuing full equality amongst citizens. ‘Suffer on’ is their message to those asking.
Imagine it is 1815, and enslaved Africans are asking those leaders in power for the same rights that they have. Imagine them saying, we’ve never discussed it. Maybe later. Suffer on.
Imagine it is 1915, and indentured Indians are asking country leaders for equal citizenship, and they respond, let the plantation owners decide, for giving you full citizenship is too controversial right now. Maybe one day. Suffer and wait.
Imagine it is 2015 and those African and Indian leaders are now playing the mas of colonial masters, able to deny rights and willing to do so, while those of you who have rights and enjoy full equality, quote religious text or tradition or family belief, to get on happily with unequal power.
Every election is a chance to create more inclusion, to lead in ways that are principled rather than simply popular, to articulate a vision for another generation to truly understand, evermore, what it means to be one people, one nation.
In frustration, voting citizens in the LBGTI community have created their own manifesto, one where non-discrimination isn’t negotiable or denied. Just six of the twelve actions they call on are for:
- All national officials to vocally support inclusion and dignity for all, including LGBTI members of the national community, and denounce discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.
- Pilot a life skills programme for LGBTI young people made homeless by discrimination.
- Lower to 16 the direct eligibility age for social welfare for young people abused by their families.
- Implement school-based initiatives and policy that prevent and protect young people from violence and bullying in educational settings.
- Repeal paragraphs 20(1)(c), 20(2)(c), and 20(3)(c) of the Children Act of 2012, which came into force on 18 May 2015 and specifically target young people of the same sex for criminalization and life imprisonment for sexual exploration with each other.
- Equip and charge the Victim & Witness Support Unit to support LGBTI complainants of domestic and bias violence.
Representation, school tolerance, state services for victims, and children’s care are what citizens are saying they hope to vote for. These are not unreasonable dreams for inclusion. Of Keith and Kamla, who will first stop repeating, ‘suffer on’?
There are many issues in this election, with the economy, crime, corruption and the environment being the most important. Yet, these issues of sexuality and gender are ones show whether our leaders understand what it means to lead us all, equally, regardless of the political costs because the costs will not be ones citizens are instead made to bear. Regardless of race or religion, this is a value we should share.
I listen to rallies, read manifestos, and see worn words without commitment to full equality. Why vote for such leadership when our hopes matter so little to them in 2015?