Post 408.

I’ve delayed this column for a long time, intimidated by the challenge of writing in homage to my long-time friend and ally, Colin Robinson. We don’t always agree, but it’s impossible not to love Colin, his ironic sense of humour and counter-intuitive analyses of jostling over power, his detailed eye for clever strategy, and easy flow of insights and wise words.

More than ten years ago, Colin gave a speech I’ll never forget. It was on reproductive rights, but he somehow wove in Spiritual Baptists, LBGTI folk and others you wouldn’t think share the same cause. If all who understood discrimination or life at the margins of state law and social acceptance were able to connect to each other’s desires for inclusion, then we could strengthen each other’s struggle to equally belong as many different bodies.

In another decade-old memory, I arrived at a UNC rally and was captured by the sight of the CAISO logo flying in the sea of yellow. Colin was there, with CAISO’s “6 in 6” campaign which advocated for six policy and leadership steps on sexual orientation and gender identity in six months after the May 24, 2010, election. It was a bold insertion of a right to citizenship, but a hard day for the young people accompanying Colin who encountered homophobia which he had to mentor them through.

In the decade that has followed, there have been innumerable examples of Colin’s pathbreaking courage and his sensitive mentorship, and his insistence that marginalised people can make “liveable lives” in the Caribbean. He’s kept his eye on key goals, constantly refining language, reach, movement-building, leadership and actions to transform unjust power. There are core values he’s returned to again and again. For me, they are his legacy, the path he’s imagined is our best route. I asked him about them a few months ago.

What follows are excerpts from that conversation, focusing on Colin’s politics of relationship-building and his call for us to be imaginative in the ways we claim and we create ourselves.

In Colin’s words, “If we can build relationships that can be sustained across our differences, we have a basis for sharing the nation. We must show up and earn value among others by being in solidarity. The strategic route to equality and inclusion is not rights claims, which can get you there, but can’t get you there in a sustainable way. When you make a claim, somebody has to lose and that’s the challenge. It’s based on pressure, it’s contingent, it’s not values-driven or sustainable. Rights fulfilment is about focusing on how to sustain the fulfilment of rights and not just the claim. Feminist nationalism, sharinglothe nation, is based on shared values and a different approach to power through listening, seeing yourself in other people’s stories.

“We have to put out values that people find themselves in, practise patience and solidarity and forgiveness that doesn’t enable abuse of power and patriarchy, but cements those relationships. Allies don’t speak for you, they listen to your dreams and concerns. Listening can be transformative. Constant attention to solidarity starts with listening to each other’s dreams of belonging. When you show up in relationships, it is transformative.

“Imagination is as central to liberation as power. If you can’t imagine it, it doesn’t exist. The power of revolution is imagining the world as it doesn’t yet exist. We have to imagine the Caribbean imaginatively. And that’s where we fail, we imagine, but not imaginatively enough. Imagination and innovation are everywhere but not in relation to the most enduring structures of justice in our lives.

“We turn instead to order. Procedural justice and human rights is still a favour, somebody you know, a niceness. It’s not a core vision, there is still a distributive idea that we don’t all get it. We don’t know how to create a system that creates procedural fairness, we cannot imagine systems that enable. Our imaginations are around order, violence and punishment, we value rules above justice. That’s the frustration.

“We have not been able to imagine an economy and structures that are enabling, it’s still outside of the order, in Carnival, at the side of the road. Imagine is the one thing that humans do. The constant turn to authoritarianism is undermining the most valuable resource we have, which is our innovativeness.

“We put things together in a way that they have not been put before. Whether it is in terms of art or technology or society, we innovate. We have an ability to imagine futures that are not the present. It’s also about how to enter the world that way, that political work is about imagination and transformation. Imagine the future you want to create.”

Colin, our gratitude for your dreams and guidance, laughter and words. They enable so many of us to walk a path you’ve imagined, coming closer to achieving relationships of loving freedom with each other, and believing, with optimism and creativity, that it can and will happen.

Post 400.

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis has provoked local debate about what constitutes humane state and social policy toward refugees and migrants. It was inhumane to put human beings, including children, to sea in a pirogue. It’s inhumane to deport those who are in the process of resolving refugee claims. It’s inhumane to separate children from parents.

However, the nitty-gritty of a human rights approach across state agencies, the labour market and our communities is much more complex and propels us, a migrant society, to reckon with the contradictory mix of stereotypes, exploitation and sexual violence as well as compassion and opportunity that Venezuelan and other migrants encounter here.

Venezuelans were already migrating to and from Trinidad when First Peoples still called the island Kairi. Indeed, we are a broken fragment from the Venezuelan mainland. We also have a long and embedded history of Spanish-speaking communities.

It’s clear that contemporary capital and elites move across borders with an ease and invisibility that the most poor and vulnerable are inequitably and visibly denied, whether because of their nationality, race, gender, sexuality or disability, or limited formal schooling. Yet, migrants always contribute to economies and societies, particularly when there are legal options for them to integrate, and should never be maligned simply as burden or criminal threat.

There has been and will always be migration, within and across national borders. It is increasing as a result of growing economic inequality and climate change, both of which are linked to political instability. The question is how we choose to understand and manage it. And, we should keep in mind, we may be in the same position one day.

There is Minister Young’s commitment to upholding immigration law combined with the porous reality of our borders, which makes such commitment operate through highly unsystematic policing, often accompanied by an extra-legal male threat, extortion and violence to those entering under the shadows of state oversight.

There is an informal economy that can absorb both documented and undocumented migrants because they can be paid lower wages and their labour can be more greatly exploited, particularly women working in feminised roles as domestics, carers, low-waged employees in supermarkets and factories, and in service jobs in restaurants and bars.

Unclear policy direction has also meant that Venezuelan migrants, especially women and girls, are vulnerable to violence of various kinds, from partners, employers, landlords, immigration officials, and traffickers, and are at risk of deportation if they report any of these crimes. Children of parents without asylum or citizenship status also become stateless, living in countries in which they have no right to education, livelihoods and health. This will certainly become a challenge. Given the numbers of migrant children out of school, it already is.

I’ve been listening a lot. Hearing both heart and help from so many on the ground, and also fear and condemnation, not only of Venezuelans, but migrants overall. As young migration scholar Tivia Collins wrote in her letter to the editor of August 28, “Despite our personal opinions on the circumstances of Venezuelans’ arrival to Trinidad and Tobago, or on the ways we think they live, we have a right to be kind and show empathy to others in need” In their article documenting interviews with Venezuelan migrant women, Collins and Richie Ann Daly recommend that “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago implement a migration policy that guarantees the rights of migrants in vulnerable situations within the country.” They call for “local legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, which would provide a formal system for Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Trinidad and Tobago.” Third, they emphasise training for immigration officers and public education to promote empathy.

R4V (Response for Venezuelans), a co-ordination platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, additionally calls on Caribbean states to ensure that “returns to Venezuela are not forced.” In its own words, “It is important to note that returning to one’s home country is a human right, and often the most desirable durable solution for many refugees. However…the current conditions in Venezuela remain problematic and not conducive for a dignified and safe return. At this point, returns should continue to be only for those who truly wish to voluntarily return and are not forced…since this would amount to…a serious human right violation”.

Such discrimination and violation are happening here, with tragic impunity. I reflect on this reading the newspapers, reminding myself about justice and kindness, and a nation of migrants yet again struggling to recognise our common humanity.

Post 224.

It isn’t often that Caribbean people who support struggles for equality get good news. On August 10, 2016, the Belize Supreme Court struck down the country’s sodomy law as unconstitutional. This is an historic victory for our region and reflects home-grown leadership and strategizing to secure greater justice through our institutions.

The movement to take a case to the courts was started by UWI Faculty, of whom we should be proud. In 2007, Jamaican legal feminist scholar Tracy Robinson, then at Cave Hill’s Faculty of Law, opened a conversation about litigation as a strategy.

Later discussion with Joel Simpson, then of the Guyanese LBGT organisation SASOD, Douglas Mendes SC, and Godfrey Smith, former Attorney General of Belize, led to the formation of the Lawyers from the UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-Rap). However, U-Rap’s litigation possibilities were first outlined in an UWI LLB research paper by Conway Blake in 2004, and drew on Jamaican lawyer Philip Dayle’s legal assessment of laws criminalising same-sex sex in the Caribbean in 2006.

U-Rap member, Guyanese Arif Bulkan, now at the Law Faculty in St. Augustine, also worked with claimant, Caleb Orozco, a long-time LGBT activist, in this case against Section 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code. Counsel were Trinidadians Christopher Hamel-Smith and Westmin James, now Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at Cave Hill.

We need such fearless regionality, which included the community-based strength of Belizean LBGT and HIV Advocacy groups such as UNIBAM (United Belize Advocacy Movement ) and PETAL (Promoting Empowerment Through Awareness for Lesbian and Bisexual women), as well as Caribbean scholars and activists.

Following Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin’s decision, Caleb Orozco is quoted as saying, “This is the first day of my life in which it is legal for me to be me.” I can’t think of a more over-due experience, one which we can imagine enslaved ancestors felt as far back as 1834 when they were first formally recognized as human. We wait to see how this momentous precedent will affect law across the region as the long struggle for full emancipation for all, and recognition of the equal humanity of all, is re-energised with hope.

In another U-Rap case, four transgender women challenged an 1893 law against cross-dressing in Guyana, arguing that it reproduced discrimination on the basis of gender. In 2013, in what LBGT advocates decried as a ‘dubious decision’, the judge ruled that cross-dressing is a criminal offense only if it’s done for an “improper purpose”, which could include prostitution. The law was considered to already allow cross-dressing to express or accentuate one’s sexual orientation. In essence, the law was reinterpreted and upheld instead of being struck down as unconstitutional.

The Belizean case also comes after decades of work by a range of groups, from feminists to scholars to HIV/AIDS activists to public health advocates, to create constitutional reform recommendations, policy positions and OAS resolutions committed to ending discrimination, inequity, stigma, vulnerability and human rights violations on the basis of sex, gender and sexuality.

Indeed, the Belize decision recognized that Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” and primarily targeted same-sex sexual activities, denied a right to dignity, privacy, equality and freedom.

Consenting adults of the same sex are now free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy and are due equal protection under the law, meaning simply what everyone else already expects and gets.

Key about the Chief Justice’s ruling was his view that the bill of right’s protection of sex from discrimination includes sexual orientation. This reflects part of a larger, nuanced critique of legislation that polices sexual orientation as fundamentally and unfairly policing how LBGT persons live their own conceptions of sexual rights and human rights as well as manhood and womanhood.

These legal challenges continue, pressing for discriminatory legislation to be taken off the books. Earlier this year, a CCJ ruling made clear that Caribbean homosexuals must be allowed the right of free movement within CARICOM, and that immigration laws banning their entry, for example to Trinidad and Tobago, should be repealed.

Every generation, resistance against unjust laws and policies ignites across the region. That spark burns bright, fed by last week’s decision.

Post 228.

“On behalf of the Government and People of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I wish to convey heartfelt condolences to the President of the United States of America and the American People with respect to the unspeakable horrors of the June 12th attack on an Orlando, Florida nightclub, the worst mass shooting in twentieth century US history.

Today, we urge the American people to acknowledge the national and global danger of their pro-gun culture; religiously-legitimized sexism and homophobia; embedded racism and classism against African-descended persons, people of colour and immigrants; and pervasive realities of violence against women. Violence against persons, who do not fit dominant ideals of manhood, womanhood and heterosexuality, profoundly intersects these other issues and experiences. True greatness is showing fearless will to dismantle these points where oppression and fear meet, instead making them meeting points for cross-cutting transformation.

The People of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago recognize that members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities share the right of all citizens of all nations to live in conditions of safety, respect and equality, and to create spaces for affirmation, empowerment and joy. Members of these communities are part of our nations’ families, civil society organizations, workplaces, religions and schools. We understand that threat to their lives also harms those who know and love them, and whose solidarities are with them.

As the Government and people of the United States of America struggle to come to terms with this terrible tragedy, Trinidad and Tobago is also gripped by shock, sadness and outrage. This strengthens our resolve to collaborate across the region and hemisphere to fulfill the dream of full emancipation born out of the subjugation experienced, refused and resisted by so many of our resilient peoples. The lesson to us is that violence to one constitutes violence to all as it violates the hope of a world of greater justice and peace.

No doubt, members of Trinidad and Tobago’s LBGT community wish to hear even greater government commitment to ending discrimination and criminalization on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, knowing that such laws perpetuate the conditions for many forms of gender based violence, which harm citizens, including children, across all sexualities.

Without commitment behind them, words remain just such. They offer little genuine solace or solidarity on behalf of the nation’s representatives, highlighting above all our own fears of challenging homophobia and surviving in political life.

Acknowledging this vulnerability means being truthful about what it takes for LBGT persons to survive and thrive daily. Therefore, my government takes this moment to conscientiously state its commitment to ending the conditions within which such an American massacre becomes possible. It is not enough to say may it never happen or should never happen in Trinidad and Tobago. True leadership means taking action so that it does not. Prejudice will not keep us from acting, for our watchword of tolerance does not extend to inhumanity and inequity.

Our hearts are also heavy at the loss of so many young, promising lives. We are reminded that protection of children and youth includes those who are lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender, for they face greater vulnerability. As Prime Minister, I assure our own LBGT young people that we honour your need for safe spaces to grow and flourish, whether in schools or other public places.

No nation should ever have to face such tragedy and it is hoped that nothing of this nature will ever befall any nation again. I call on everyone, from religious leaders to teachers, from youth to parliamentarians, to affirm a place for the human rights of all.

Join me in assuring the LGBT community that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago will unite to treat each other as we wish to be treated, to choose compassion instead of conflict, and to tolerate and protect gender and sexual diversity as we do religious and cultural diversity. May we strengthen our resolve to create a nation where each of us is surrounded by love, and safe within our shared home.”

Dr. Gabrielle Hosein for Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley
Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago