Sunday, January 21, 2018


‘They should have rights as other people have’


MAKING A POINT: Chairman of the Eric Williams Memorial Committee, Reginald Vidale, makes a point on the draft Constitution at UWI SPEC, St Augustine, on Monday. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

Mark Fraser

A Catholic priest has come out in support of the gay community, saying their rights, including the right to love whomever they want, should be included in the Constitution.

Dr Fr Stephen Geofroy captured the attention of the audience with his comments during consultation on the draft Constitution at the University of the West Indies Sport and Physical Education Centre, St Augustine, on Monday evening.

Geofroy said the matter should not be debated further and instead Government should be embracing of all its people.

“Now on the issue of sexual orientation being subject to further national discussion...discussion about what? Aren’t LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), aren’t they not humans still, yes or no?” said Geofroy.

“Yes? Then they should have rights as other people have,” he continued as he received loud applause from the packed hall.

Geofroy said there was no debate on whether gays are people or not as they have expressed themselves clearly that they are part and parcel of this country’s culture.

“We’ve come over a long history of slavery and indentureship and now it is time to break the many things that denigrate the person,” said Geofroy.

“This is certainly one of the things we have to do and we have to be very decisive of it.”

Geofroy said there has been discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class in this country.

“...I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have the right to love who they want irrespective,” said Geofroy .

He said to continue discussing the issue at a national level without taking a decision was to go the way of other countries such as Nigeria and Uganda as part of a political agenda.

“I think we should avoid that like the plague,” he said.

Geofroy said the rights of a minority should not be suffered because of the majority as the bill of rights speaks to upholding the dignity of all.

“We do not belong to a theocracy, neither are we in a religious oligarchy where people impose their beliefs on others,” said Geofroy.

He said if it was this way then moves would be made to criminalise adultery, masturbation and the use of condoms.

“Then all of these things should be looked at and in my tradition I would say first, they are all sins so I think we have to be very careful on human rights and our rights to our own belief but not the right to impose it on the rest of the population,” he said.

The draft Constitution recommends that the Chapter on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms should not be altered and the issue of sexual orientation and human rights should be made the subject of further national discussion and public education.

Executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), Colin Robinson, who spoke before Geofroy, expressed his disappointment that the draft Constitution did not offer equal protection and rights to persons who are gay.

Robinson said he felt ashamed when reading the draft Constitution which states there should be further discussion on the issue.

“Shame that my nation’s leading lights would miss that the point of a Constitution is to protect people from others. That the lack of consensus about my rights is the most compelling reason why they need protection. Shame that the conclusion of my nation’s constitutional reformers is that all I am worth is further national discussion, and that I will only merit constitutional protection when I don’t need it as much. Heartbreak that you got it so clearly; and you wouldn’t do anything about it. And I wonder if I feel such shame, what do young LGBT people in our nation with much less resilience and a less-loving family than me feel reading your report,” he continued.

Robinson called on the commissioners, among them Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, to ensure that protection for sexual orientation and gender be added to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Speaking to the Express yesterday by phone, Robinson said he was not surprised by Geofroy’s comments.

“He’s a real Catholic...I was encouraged, I wasn’t surprised,” he said.

He said it was not the first time someone of the Catholic faith has expressed such views.

Robinson said there was a small group of Catholics and Anglican clergy members as well as a Hindu pandita who offer “pastoral care” to persons from the gay community and give them the opportunity to worship.

Robinson said Trinidad and Tobago has reached a place where the “glass is half full” and political leadership is required to fill that glass and ensure rights for all.

CAISO staff attorney Richie Maitland pointed out during the consultation that a research poll conducted by the Caribbean Development Research Services of Barbados found that 56 per cent of this country’s population accepted gays.

He said ten years ago, under the People’s National Movement (PNM) regime, it was stated in the draft gender policy that the issue of gay rights should be discussed further and the same is being said today.

“I just wonder how long this will take, how long we will be discussing this matter?” he asked, adding that there needs to be no more political cowardice in ensuring constitutional protection for the LGBT community.