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Every citizen deserves protection

Published: 
Sunday, April 22, 2018

‘That is not their identity.

That is not their soul.

That is not the sum total of their value to society or their value to themselves…racial segregation, apartheid, the Holocaust–these are all painful memories of this type of prejudice…To now deny a perceived minority their right to humanity and human dignity would be to continue this type of thinking. In the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago ALL are protected, and are entitled to be protected, under the Constitution. As a result, this court must and will uphold the Constitution to recognize the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedoms have been invalidly taken away.’

—Thursday April 12, 2018

Justice Devindra Rampersad’s judgment ruling “buggery” laws unconstitutional paved the way to decriminalising gay sex, turned back a colonial chokehold, dignified a beleaguered group, and created a precedent for equal rights for LGBT citizens throughout Caribbean and the Commonwealth.

Outside the courthouse, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, their supporters, and human rights groups wept, rejoiced, held hands at this historic judgment, waving rainbow flags intertwined with Trinidad flags and sang the national anthem.

The opposing homophobic hectoring, evangelical groups grew more sullen, less hectoring, flattened by the weight of the rule of law, the glare of all media—live jubilant tweets from crepitating cellphones, television and radio microphones, and interviews with Jason Jones, the Trinidad-born activist at the vanguard of this local movement whose exuberance remained intact despite the sporadic shouts of B****R! He said he was used to it and there was something terrifyingly sad about that. Unlike the Shouter Baptists who were given a public holiday in 1995 by the then prime minister Basdeo Panday in recognition of the repeal of the 1917 Shouters Prohibition Ordinance that had banned the Spiritual Baptists from practising their religion, this victory came amidst little support for the LGBT community. Dissenting religious groups, and those who condemn homosexuality have little empathy for their LGBT fellow citizens, many who live in the closet, with the fear of being bullied, ridiculed, humiliated, and denied basic human rights.

The naysayers may in theory accept that the LGBT community has the same constitutional rights as they themselves do, human rights, enshrined in our Constitution: of life, liberty, equality, fair trial, education, property, work, but clearly, not the right to associate with whomsoever they wish, not respect for their family life, not of religious freedom (they want to impose their own religious beliefs), nor of free speech, and maybe not housing because the backlash has begun, with hate speech, the eviction of openly gay people from their rented and even family homes. Having legally won this constitutional right, the LGBT community has shed a spotlight on many others living on the edge of society, who don’t have the wherewithal to battle in the courts, but whose human rights remain unenforced—the hundreds of thousands who live in the underworld, below the poverty line, on the front line of violence, without access to housing, jobs, security, education, safety, or health care.

Sharlene George, 44, ostensibly a working single mother, living in a shack in Palo Seco with no running water, possibly a teenager needing psychiatric help, educational support, without a trusted babysitter for her toddler is among them.

She came home one night at 9 pm from work to find her 15- month baby girl, Raquel George, “bruised, bleeding, unresponsive”, and reportedly, her hymen broken. The mother took her baby to the Siparia Health Centre where the toddler died. A 17-yearold relative was arrested. Baby Raquel became just another number.

The 140th murder victim of the year.

The horrific, heart breaking rape and murder of her baby girl Raquel, is symbolic of what happens when the State fails to apply rights, across the society.

Even those disapproving of the ruling can see that every citizen in this country, especially the vulnerable, dispossessed, and under attack deserve protection.

A victory for any group in the margins, in this case, the LGBT community, is a fight against our everyday brutality and a nudge towards empathy, equity, and humanity for us all.

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