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Trinidad & Tobago: An Argument for Gay Rights

Categories: Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Ideas, Law, LGBTQ+, Politics, Religion

In many Caribbean territories, anti-sodomy laws are still “on the books”, which essentially makes consensual homosexual relations against the law [1]. There is strong social disapproval [2] of the homosexual lifestyle, much of which is rooted in religious fervour. Sometimes the tide against gay rights can take a violent turn [3], most notably in Jamaica [4], a country with an international reputation [5] for homophobia. Despite all this, the movement for gay rights in the region forges ahead [6].

One Trinidad and Tobago-based blogger, Brendon O’Brien [7], who is straight [8], but sees the current stance as a violation of human rights, recently attended a lecture [9] at the University of the West Indies, which was hosted for the parents of the late Matthew Sheppard [10].

As Activized [11] describes it, the event was hijacked “by a bunch of Seventh-Day Adventists who say that removing buggery laws that create a hostile environment for LGBT people would not only infringe on their human rights, but would kill Christians by the hundreds.” The post takes great care to explain the particular sect of the religion:

If you’ve never heard of a group called the Thusian Institute for Religious Liberty, then I suppose you run in the right circles. They’re an organization formed by an offshoot of better-known Adventism aimed at providing ‘human rights services that are geared to promote respect for, and to cause the increase of legal protections for individual rights and freedoms, religious liberty in particular [12]‘. Sounds good on paper, and then you meet them…

At the lecture, O'Brien reported that members of the group “attempted to hand the parents pamphlets that stated that LGBT rights was a conspiracy to limit the religious freedoms of Christians, and ended up having an argument with some of the attendees about their nature as Sodomites.” So taken aback was he that he tried to engage some of the critics:

Me being a firm believer in the inherent goodness of all men, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of their much better-behaved members (basically, the only two folks who were not aggressively calling strangers abominations as far as I could tell then). They requested to have a much more deliberate conversation about LGBT rights in the future, to which I agreed. I had the idea that it would be a sort of open, informal debate…

The reality turned out [11] to be quite different:

I came as promised, with just a couple friends and a desire to share, only to be met with 15 Bible-armed Thusians sitting around me sharing their interest to ‘prove that LGBT rights is really anti-rights and freedoms’.

The conversation, which originally started as a debate about the right to a private sex life, developed into an all-out defence of the buggery law.

To try and make sense of the whole exchange, O'Brien put forward [11] some of his arguments…

Human Rights
He was happy to concede that human rights were divinely ordained, but adds:

Religious diversity calls for a more objective and universal understanding of the foundation of human rights. Something that we all have in common, like humanity for instance. But, after fifteen minutes the Thusians all pulled out their Bibles to say that human rights were given by a Christian God alone.

It’s completely okay to say that you believe in a Christian God, but this is a much more diverse world isn’t it? If the Constitution applies to people regardless of their faith or lack thereof, it needs to to take that diversity of belief in consideration.

The Issue of Consent
Referring to Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act [13] (1986), which criminalises “buggery”, O'Brien noted:

In this section ‘buggery’ means sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person.

If you took a good look at that, you’d notice that it makes no mention of consent or a lack thereof. But the Thusians seem to be convinced that this buggery law was somehow designed by the founding fathers of this nation to further strengthen the rape clause in the same Sexual Offences Act. It’s worth keeping in mind that the rape clause does mention consent heavily, and does not make reference to the genders of the assailant or victim.

All rape is covered in the rape clause, whether heterosexual or homosexual. And the buggery clause applies to all anal sex regardless of consent. It makes sense, considering that our rape clause also doesn’t specify where the person was violated, that we should charge all rapists with rape. If that’s the case, what’s the purpose of the buggery law?

Is the law enforced?
The post categorically stated that the buggery clause of the Sexual Offences Act has never been used “to target LGBT people for having sex.” But to O'Brien, that's not the problem:

The problem is that they can.

I don’t know whether you think that Trinidad is an increasingly tolerant place, but most days I do not.

what would happen if someone so inclined to fight against this conspiracy was in a position to use the law that was already there? What would stop them? Since the law’s so clearly defined, it would simply a matter of proving that two people have engaged in the act and that’s it…

Sodom and Gomorrah
The most unnerving argument at the lecture for the blogger was the theory “that we should retain laws that inhibit LGBT rights because, without them, the gay community would rise up and murder all the Christians in the nation.” He was so stunned that all he could muster at first was sarcasm:

Seems legit, right? That’s been the entire homosexual agenda all along – to amass enough inalienable human rights to eradicate the Christian population and finally achieve world domination.

Then he got serious:

That sort of logic, for obvious reasons, does not inform policy-making and legal reform in any other instance. So how is it that we allow it to here?

There was one point I will concede – no one should limit people’s religious freedom to say what they believe. But also, folks like the Thusian Institute need to understand that just because you’re speaking doesn’t mean you’re speaking sense, or that people should listen. This is a diverse society, where all people deserve respect. If you forget that, or allow yourself to disrespect others, then you might not find yourself in hell.

But you’ll definitely find yourself all alone when everyone decides not to listen to your hate any more.