Concluding this series on homophobia, we will look at the consequences and fallout from pronounced homophobia and ways to deal with homophobia. It is necessary to mention that just last week in Grenada, two adults males were arrested and charged with having consensual sex, a statute dating back to British rule. The island is already facing a potential tourism boycott by the estimated $55 billion dollar gay community as the story has been plastered in many left-leaning websites, blogs and newspapers. This serves as an excellent reminder that in T&T though we may not be perfect we are still much better off as a society compared to our neighbours.
Homophobia, as was discussed last week, is against all of the doctrines and morals of all major religions as they demand respecting the dignity of all human beings. The reality is that homophobia goes much deeper, usually justified by the fig leaf of religion. There is often nothing more than fear of the unknown and plain ignorance that drives people to act in most violent and hateful manners.
This pure hatred and malice has lead to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) teens and youths being five times more likely to commit suicide in the US. I suspect it is lower in T&T but homophobia is a pressing problem and it is just contributing to the violence and lawlessness in our nation's schools.
Both the perpetrators and the victims may be prone to react violently and, without the services of counsellors and supportive teaching staff, rampant homophobia is being allowed to go unchecked, which may be leading to our youths killing themselves. This should shame us as a nation that we are teaching our children to hate.
One of the greatest fallouts from homophobia well-known to the United Nations and many other multilateral institutions and health organisations is that homophobia forces many gay men to remain closeted or hiding, and live a double life. They, due to societal pressure and homophobia, get married and have children but still continue having same-sex relations outside of marriage. This not only leads to a potential breakdown in family life and unhappy homes, but may encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS to their unsuspecting spouses.
The issue of homophobia being one of the main facilitators of HIV/AIDS is well known and it is indeed quite logical, since due to fear of discrimination, ridicule and shame, many GLBT people do not seek medical help and attention and are not able to access the information and resources such as condoms in order to practice safe sex.
It may seem that I am mixing the two issues, but they are interconnected as homophobia is the force that drives GLBT people to live sham lives or try to live outside the norm and suffer discrimination.
In many ways, homophobia is HIV's best friend.
A wide host of social problems, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, high divorce rates, broken homes, family tensions, etc, can be attributed to in some part to homophobia and the ways that its castigates GBLT individuals and forces them to live a lie or be marginalised. It is imperative we deal with homophobia at all levels if we are to afford dignity, respect and tolerance for all of our fellow citizens.
Now data from a national survey seems to suggest there is very little appetite nationally for gay rights, but statistics are misleading and the devil is always in the details.
The bell-weather of social change can always be traced to the attitudes of the intelligentsia and the youth population of any era. Now it seems that support stands around 40 per cent. This may seem worrying, but when looking at the details it is far from discouraging. In our conservative, semi-religious and silent culture, we have levels of support at 40 per cent, which is amazing considering gay rights are not even spoken of.
In liberal America where this issue has been a hot button public debate for decades, support stands at 60 per cent and in some extremely liberal Western European nations, support for gay rights is at 70 per cent, as low estimates. We then are not doing so bad and, as time progresses and our nation continues to interact with the outside world and explore itself, support will increase and the old prejudices will die off, they may linger but they will be relegated to the shadows and the mumblings of unhappy people.
Dealing with homophobia will prove very difficult as it is deeply engrained in some people and the change cannot be forced nor coerced. The change will have to be born in society, amongst the youths and the educated, amongst the free thinking, the returning expatriates and from the political class.
The GBLT community also has a responsibility to help themselves by educating their family members and loved ones that there is nothing to fear from GLBT people.
It is because many GLBT people "came out" and lived openly in Western Europe and the US and people came to realise that their sons and daughters, co-workers, doctors, lawyers, neighbours, grocers, cousins and friends were GLBT, that homophobia was reduced and gay rights were won.
I am not calling for a mass coming out, as "coming out" is a personal thing, but each GBLT person should try to change their loved ones and close friends and a domino effect will occur. There is no policy, no law that can force tolerance. They may help, but they are passed when the groundwork has been done; not before.
Homophobia is not some secondary issue that can be pushed to the back, it warrants the attention of the best and brightest and of all society. It is an issue that has the potential to shame us as a nation or make us feel proud that we come to respect the rights of some of the most marginalised in society.
Trinidad and Tobago has always been a land of equality and dignity. There is no doubt these values will win out in the end.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President's Medal for business studies/modern studies in 2006. He is an HBA candidate in international studies and social/cultural anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada.