Pride Month typically takes place in June in other parts of the world; in the Caribbean, slightly later — July in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, and August in Jamaica — but there has steadily been increased regional awareness of the event. The 2023 lead-up to Pride Month in Trinidad and Tobago, however, has taken on a very different tone, because of a children's book entitled “I am a Rainbow,” written by U.S. LGBTQ+ advocate and social media star Mark Kanemura, first published in May of this year.
Carried by local book dealer RIK Services Ltd., the back cover, which is where some social media users chose to focus their fury, features a drawing of an LGBTQ+ character, wearing heart-shaped sunglasses, a belt, cape, socks, and high heel boots — all in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the global Pride movement — yellow shorts and white T-shirt complete with the rainbow motif, and carrying a fan, also in the pattern of a rainbow. Above, in an arch, are the words “You are a rainbow, too!”
The author's dedication reads:
To anyone who has ever felt lonely or danced to the beat of their own drum: I am so happy your unique light exists!
The story is based on Kanemura's own experience, and follows the journey of a young boy who, though loved by his family, struggles to find acceptance outside of it, until he learns to feel comfortable in his own skin. Judging from the author's statement, the inspiration for the book was to help children who may know they are different feel less alone. Local critics are up in arms, however, suggesting it is a form of indoctrination, a way of sexualising children, and a means of introducing gender dysmorphia.
ban and oppose the MOE book ‘You are a Rainbow Too!’ from schools IN Trinidad & Tobago.
MOE is an acronym for Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Education, which had nothing to do with the publication of the book nor the decision of a privately owned bookstore to stock it, and there is no evidence to suggest, as the petition claims, that the book is included in the country's primary school curriculum for the coming year. In fact, the ministry issued a media release on June 16 stating that “there has been no change in the Health and Family Life Education Curriculum currently being implemented in schools nationwide,” and that “any claims to the contrary are entirely inaccurate.” Yet, within 24 hours, the petition had garnered over 31,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, at least one fire and brimstone-related meme appeared, and a message was being shared via WhatsApp advising people that Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon would be “talking about the LGBTQ topic” via the archdiocese's television channel and social media live streams on the evening of June 22. The message, which was not an official communication, added, “This topic affects all of us and our children.”
For its part, RIK put out a statement on its Facebook page entitled “Don't judge a book by its cover,” which thanked the public for its “interest and robust discussion on items that we stock”:
We stand by our commitment to bookselling to all members of the public; regardless of gender affiliation or identity. We do not discriminate. We are a bookstore with one of the widest selections in Trinidad and Tobago that caters to the needs of our diverse population. We appreciate and respect all of our valued customers. All are welcome to our stores.
The support the store received was overwhelming and immediate. Facebook user Lisa Chote commented:
A wonderful response RIK. I’m very proud of you for stopping the hate. You’ve ensured that I’m a lifelong customer now. Thank you for your courage.
Gab Souldeya Hosein reposted RIK's response, noting:
Bookstores don't ban books. Right on RIK.
You really thought this through? RIK endorses and advocates all religions then? Erotica and adult romance? Folklore? Scientology? All political schemes? Because there are all these books in a bookstore. Thats how bookstores work.
Commenter Rae Marie D'Andrade, meanwhile, sidestepping the context of the current political climate in the United States, likened the situation to the boycott of Target stores, suggesting the core issue was “sexualisation of children” and “fighting against the transformation of our society into something we will not recognise in the next ten years.”
The Facebook page Newsauce was having none of this type of righteous indignation:
In the meantime underaged girls and boys being groomed daily by relatives, friends and strangers online, but a bookstore is the problem.
On the same thread, Lyndon Pk Williams retorted:
A bookstore is not the problem. There is a belief that a way of life and it's practices is trying to be normalized in a society that by and large doesn't approve of it and therefore people are ‘fighting’ back.
In a separate post, Brendon Alekseii asked:
* Is a children's book the same as ‘indoctrination'?
* If yes to the previous answer, does that mean that we should not expose children to…books? Don't text books ‘indoctrinate'? Do other children's books? Doesn't the Bible indoctrinate? Should we remove access to those books, especially the Bible, which also has active sexual themes?
* Or is it that you think that only people who think like you should be able to indoctrinate people?
Rhoda Bharath quipped:
We might think books about rainbows and glitter are the only books that will give us The Gay.
During my childhood irresponsible parents and teachers at school wickedly exposed me to a number of books that could have given me The Gay. And all of these books were just there in the library! […]
Her hilarious list includes “Of Mice and Men” (“Two male best friends working on a farm and one wants to pet a bunny. How was this book even published?”); “Little Women” (“A pack of zamies getting married to save face!”); “Robinson Crusoe” (“Honestly? This is like interracial gay porn, set in the Caribbean […] How are bookstores selling this?”); “Anne of Green Gables” (“A tomboy on a farm … what next, surgery?”); and “Moby Dick” (“Howwwwwwwwww?????”)
Via WhatsApp, Global Voices reached out to Trinidadian author André Bagoo, who had this to say about the whole debacle:
Long is the history of the weaponisation of children as a means to perpetuate bigotry.
It starts with the myth that children are incapable of understanding crucial aspects of the world around them, must be sheltered from self-evident truths unfolding in full view, and culminates in selective attempts to isolate ‘problematic’ or ‘controversial’ content from the classroom under the guise of sensitivity. Never mind the deleterious impact of censorship on LGBTQ teens who are more vulnerable to mental illness and suicide.
The truth is books — among the most beleaguered of art forms in the age of the internet and social media — show us nothing we do not already know from life, from the streets, from our homes, from our workplaces and even from the very scriptures so often held up to justify discrimination.
If there is anything that needs to be removed from the orbit of the young, if there is any poor example being set, if there is any corruption taking place it is that which is currently being perpetrated by book burners and Bible-thumpers who would preach love and practice hate.
On the evening of June 22, Archbishop Gordon delivered his “Shepherd's Corner” segment, which primarily focused on the relevance of the Concordat, an agreement between the state and religious boards pertaining to the running of denominational schools in the country. Towards the end of the interview, Gordon claimed:
The US and the United Nations — and others — are putting pressure on CARICOM [the Caribbean Community] to introduce a comprehensive sex education [curriculum]. And you know what that means: This would teach your child that his or her biological sex is not a given, that each one could choose freely to identify as he or she likes […] not understanding that the parent, the denomination, and the government have a partnership to be held.
The archbishop says he has heard that CARICOM is working on a review of its gender policy, but this could not be confirmed by Global Voices. He maintains that once the Concordat remains in effect, any proposed comprehensive sex education programme will not be able to be introduced in denominational schools — but also admits that there have been “a lot of rumours” floating around, which there has been no evidence to support.