Wednesday, February 21, 2018

New politics means respect rights of all


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Some history was made on Tuesday as a core activist group speaking on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago's gay and transgender citizens held a march in Port of Spain to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Under the banner of the Coalition for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, (Caiso) participants in that small, quiet demonstration visited Government ministries and delivered messages advancing the cause of constitutional and legal recognition of sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination on par with race, sex, religion and national origin. It's also historic that the Caiso group reported meeting only "a little hostility'' which, optimistically, might signify a progressive public acceptance of the equality rights applicable to all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

At the same time, official politeness may well have masked the usual prejudice against gays in Trinidad and Tobago. While our society is not one where obviously gay persons are at risk of physical attack or incarceration, unlike many African and Middle East nations and notably in neighbouring Jamaica, most citizens are still largely homophobic in their views.

A survey on social norms carried out last year by the ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre, under the aegis of the Ministry of the People and Social Development, found that more than two out of every three persons rejected equal rights for homosexuals. This was so even among younger persons in the 15 to 30 age group, who might be expected to have more open minds on this issue. Even among persons with tertiary education, who usually have more liberal views on most issues, just 41 per cent supported equal rights for gays.

This hardly reflects well on the perennial boast that T&T is such a tolerant society, notwithstanding that the same survey showed that 80 per cent of persons were comfortable with their children marrying someone of a different race. But, in the same way that racism is not publicly acceptable as it was 100 or even 30 years ago, so too is bigotry directed at homosexuals likely to be roundly condemned in the near future.

Such a change in attitude, however, will not happen by itself, just as racism didn't become objectionable without active measures taken by various individuals and groups to battle bigotry. Leaders in all spheres, but particularly in religion and government, should make it clear that gays are human beings who should have the same rights as all other citizens.

The People's Partnership administration, and the Parliament, should fall in line with advancing world trends, turn the page on past obscurantist and homophobic attitudes and prejudices, and have the laws appropriately reflect progressive approaches of the present and future. That would indeed be new politics.