...but local gays press for equal rights
By Sue-Ann Wayow South Bureau
SISSY men, battie men, men haters.
Call them what you want, but the gays and lesbians in this country are humans like everyone else and should be treated as such. That's the view of Colin Robinson, spokesman for the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), in response to a survey that showed 69 per cent of Trinidadians were unsupportive of gays and lesbians.
The polling was done by the ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre of the University of the West Indies
The research was commissioned by the Ministry of the People and Social Development and the results released last month.
It found that 76 per cent of persons 56 years and older were unsupportive of equal rights for homosexuals. Persons with a higher income and education level were more supportive than those who were primary educated and of a lower income. Females were more likely to be supportive than men.
The issue of equal rights has the attention of Government ministers who have had several debates pertaining to same-sex marriages in Parliament. In February, former gender affairs minister Mary King called for a national debate.
Robinson said he found the results of the report to be "very interesting".
"It does not say that those attitudes are acceptable..... we need to ensure that those attitudes don't fuel stigma and discrimination and prevent people from accessing rights. That part is the significance of the study."
Thirty-three-year-old Kenty Mitchell, who is openly gay, has been living with his partner for 14 years. Williams said he was never attracted to women.
The maxi driver from Ste Madeleine said men were more likely to be victimised if they were seen liming with a homosexual man.
"I think the majority does not really have anything against gays, but the men. They don't like other men to see you with them.They might be victimised or their friends might say they are gay, too, so that's why the men are in hiding."
He said many men, even though they had relationships with women, were attracted to others of their sex, but were hiding.
Mitchell, who boasts of a successful relationship, said nobody knew about his boyfriend except those who live in his area because he wanted to protect his loved one from daily discrimination.
"You are living your life pleasing to you and people are discriminating you so people who are gay or bisexual or whatever they are not coming out in the open because people tend to look at you funny."
Some of Mitchell's family members do not speak to him and he said his partner was the main person in his life.
"I would love to get married because if something happened to me today or tomorrow if I die, my family will contest it. If my friend have to get anything, my family would fight him down to the end and he has to get everything. They would not give him what is his own."
He said he would even like to have his own family if possible. And the government had full responsibility in making that happen, he said.
Robinson said some think that people do not deserve equal rights, which was alarming.
"We need desperately to create and Government needs to take leadership in creating a culture that says everyone has equal rights regardless to who they are."
He said homophobia — a negative attitude towards homosexuals and transgender individuals — created a social culture. "It is a climate that says that some people can be deprived the rights based on who they are and it could be gay people and lesbians today, it could be Hindus or Spiritual Baptists or any other group that is not the majority of the population."
Robinson said, "The recommendations in the study are about strengthening the protection of people from discrimination and I would add further creating a culture of equal rights for everyone in the country. We need to do more work to create a culture of equality for everyone."
He said people are willing to socialise with gay people and, because of that, attitudes will change and "people become humanised over the course of time."
More "sophisticated questions" should be asked by researchers to "really understand the context in which attitudes and behaviour is related to sexuality," Robinson said.
"How you ask the question will shape the answer that you get. What would have happened if people in had been asked do you believe that any group in Trinidad and Tobago should be discriminated against based on who they are?"
He said the responses from the various groups were expected.
" Those differences are well known in other settings, that gender and income and education all influence people responses to questions around sexual inclusion.....it gives us hope that with greater exposure and education that people's attitudes change."
Dr Gabrielle Hosein, lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Developmental Studies at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, said all citizens should have the right to choose their partner, to marry, to inherit from their spouse or from their common-law partner and to be free of discrimination.
"We are living in a multicultural society, so we need to live in a society where the views of different persons are not necessarily imposed on others."
"The fact that certain sexual relations are criminalised and others are not speaks to a discrepancy and also hypocrisy in ways in which the state sees sex," Hosein said.
The report recommends —"The necessary legal framework should be put in place to protect homosexual persons from discriminatory practises. Legislation alone would not change attitudes and therefore,integrative approaches should be considered. The challenge of communicating with institutions that have strong philosophies against homosexuality will need to be addressed in attempting to reduce discrimination."