THE issue of sexual orientation is one of the more controversial topics associated with discussions of the national gender policy in its various incarnations. But, according to Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray, the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation does not currently form part of the Draft Gender Policy.
Coudray made the comment to the media yesterday following the opening of the new wing at St Michael's School for Boys in Diego Martin.
Questioned about the status of the gender policy, Coudray responded that it is still before Cabinet.
"It is a very delicate issue. Consultations never really stopped. There was a draft before the Cabinet. There was a formal process we went through and there are still people who are coming to meet with us on some concerns they have. A lot of it is rumours," she said.
"This policy really is addressing discrimination at the workplace. Those were the issues the committee was concerned with in terms of Government departments and ministries and to end any form of discrimination. You have the HIV and others, not only, (but) people are focusing on some of the issues that really are not relevant to this particular case."
Questioned whether the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation was included in the gender policy, she responded: "Not as far as I am aware. And I really do not want to preclude anything the Cabinet committee would decide, and it is still before the committee."
Dr Gabrielle Hosein, of the University of the West Indies' Gender and Development Studies Unit, in a letter to the press last month, called on the minister to clear up "contradictory" statements being made by the Government on the gender policy, and questioned the consultation process.
Coudray said the stakeholder groups the ministry is meeting with include NGOs, CBOs (community-based organisations), and religious organisations, with the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) and the media formally represented on the committee.
Last month, Fr Martin Sirju, the Catholic Church representative on the IRO, reported that he had not yet seen a Draft Gender Policy.
Colin Robinson, president of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), in a telephone interview yesterday, said they would not comment about the gender policy until they see it.
"The whole back and forth about what is in the gender policy; the Government needs to release the gender policy.
"It has been 24 years. What is the delay?"
Questioned about including protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the gender policy, Robinson responded: "It would be something any self-respecting modern state would want to address, whether it's done through the gender policy or any other means."
On the consultation issue, he noted that CAISO was involved in the initial round of public consultations and "everybody in T&T has had an opportunity for input".
"I have no clue why we don't have a gender policy yet," he stressed.
He said the Prime Minister continually speaks about inclusion and discrimination, and the issue was for her to enact those words.
"People are spending time trying to prevent other people from benefiting from a gender policy. A gender policy should be a gender policy for everyone," he said.
Robinson added: "Enough of the back and forth. Government needs to enact a gender policy for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and it needs to do so now."