Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 22nd 2015 Contents Our US$100 million
Caribbean Court of Justice
spent much of its expen-
sive time this week listening to
arguments about whether gay
people should be allowed into
Belize or T&T.
That still needs to argue?
Apparently, yes. In both coun-
tries, immigration laws bar gay
people from entry.
These antiquated laws have
been challenged by Maurice
Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer
and academic, who is gay and
argues that they are an affront
to his dignity---and also conflict
with the obligation to allow an
automatic six months "hassle-
free" entry to Caricom citizens.
Section 8 of T&T s Immigra-
tion Act says: "Except as pro-
vided in subsection (2), entry
into Trinidad and Tobago of the
persons described in this sub-
So who gets excluded? Shut-
outs include "prostitutes, homo-
sexuals or persons living on the
earnings of prostitutes or homo-
sexuals, or persons reasonably
suspected..." etc etc.
Pastor Cuffie and others cam-
paigned in 2007 to ban Sir Elton
John from the Plymouth Jazz
Festival. That earned Tobago
well-deserved mockery on US
cable channels; Sir Elton was
eventually admitted, with an iffy
waiver from on high.
And "living off the earnings?"
That means excluding not just
Sir Elton, but anyone who works
for him, in any capacity.
And there s nothing about "at
the immigration officer s discre-
tion." Prohibited, that s what is
says. Full stop. And subsection
2? It simply says the minister or
"a person designated by him"
can let people pass quickly
through Piarco "under guard to
All of this was eccentric
enough when the act was first
passed in 1969. In today s big
world, it s off the wall. There
have been plenty of chances to
clean up these absurd provi-
sions---the act was amended in
1974, 1978, 1980, 1988 and 1995;
chances all missed.
Faced with Tomlinson s chal-
lenge, the Government had three
choices. Amend the act; that
would have been nice and easy.
Sit back, and await the court s
decision. Or fight tooth and nail
to retain the ban.
They went for the third
choice. They ve spend taxpayers
cash on a high-octane six-mem-
ber legal team, including Law
Association President Seenath
Jairam, Wayne Sturge and Gerald
One of these luminaries
argued in court that T&T with
its limited resources could need
two years to delete the word
"homosexual" from the act.
Some other words in the act
also need the chop. Also prohib-
ited from these shores (along
with criminals, drug addicts,
chronic alcoholics and people
who advocate the assassination
of public officials) are "idiots,
imbeciles, feeble-minded per-
sons, persons suffering from
dementia" who are "likely to be
a charge on public funds."
So, no bringing in granny
from Grenada, not if she has
Alzheimer s and needs your per-
sonal care. Well, maybe she s OK
if you live in Westmoorings and
have a platinum credit card to
guarantee the health costs---but
not if you re of modest means
and from Barataria or Barrack-
Wheelchair passengers? Watch
out! There s a similar ban on
"persons who are dumb, blind
or otherwise physically defective,
or physically handicapped." Your
brother had his left leg ampu-
tated? Better leave him in
T&T s expensive legal team
argue that these bans are not
enforced in practice. Immigration
officers don t quiz visiting
tourists and business executives
about their sexuality and mental
Every half-baked discussion on
crime and violence includes a
call for "zero tolerance." That s
fine, if your laws make sense. If
your only route to sanity is not
enforcing the more stupid bits of
your legal code, you can t be
In any case, what s the point
in a law if you say straight out
that you re not going to enforce
it? Remember, the act s stated
prohibition leaves no wriggle-
room for discretion.
Regionwide, the ten English-
speaking countries which still
outlaw gay sex look increasingly
weird. Nations which have
junked those laws or never had
them make up 99.4 per cent of
the population of the Americas,
and a clear majority even in
Same-sex marriage is allowed
in Canada, Brazil, Argentina,
Uruguay, and a growing slice of
the US and Mexico; civil part-
nerships are on the books in
Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.
That s almost all the big coun-
tries in the hemisphere.
Only two places have laws
banning gay people from entry:
T&T, and Belize.
This seemingly trivial case is a
test for the Caribbean Court. So
far, only four countries use the
CCJ for their final appeals.
There are many arguments for
others to join. Of these, by far
the least sensible is that the CCJ
might allow the development of
an inward-looking Caribbean
jurisprudence, reflecting the
region s social preferences and
perhaps its sexual insecurities.
Jamaica fought hard in 2011
for Shanique Myrie s right to
enter Barbados. For Maurice
Tomlinson, I ve heard not one
word of support.
Jamaica is now (not for the
first time) debating whether to
use the CCJ as its final appeal
court. Many Jamaicans would
welcome a ruling against this
challenge to T&T s Immigration
The court will earn interna-
tional respect if it makes a stand
for human rights. Over to you,
Afriend of mine called me up
and said: "I have two press
tickets to a play called Play
Mas by Mustapha Mathura, a
prominent Trinidad-born play-
wright here. As a Trini I thought
you would like to come." Did I
ever? I was intrigued. Why had I
not heard of Mustapha Matura? I
checked him out. He was
described by the New Statesman
as "the most perceptive and
humane of black dramatists writ-
ing in Britain."
Born as Noel Matura in Decem-
ber 1939, of mixed parentage in
Trinidad, he changed his name
when he became a writer. He left
Trinidad in 1962 and after a year
working as a hospital porter, he
and fellow Trinidadian Horace
Ové went to Rome where he
worked on stage productions such
as Shakespeare in Harlem. Matura
thereafter wrote plays about the
West Indian experience in Lon-
don. In his interviews he openly
says he writes about Trinidad
almost as a way of overcoming
Now that I knew who he was, I
too, like Mustapha could do with
a little feel of home.
There is nothing like a long
winter for becoming completely
maudlin about Trinidad. I was
down to asking friends and family
on Skype if they spotted any poui
flowers, any immortelle? I longed
to feel the sun on my face. Did
coconut water taste good; what
the sun felt like on your face?
So I found myself at the Orange
Tree Theatre in Richmond on a
freezing day. I soon felt the
warmth of the intimate theatre
and settings. Here was familiarity.
Oh calypso. Steelband music. So
gentle it felt like a breeze on a
On each corner of the tiny the-
atre, I saw with a melting heart,
street signs, "Woodbrook" "St
Clair" "Laventille" "St James."
Such is the power of art. It can
transport you back 65 years and
lunge you geographically in the
present to the island you call
home. Play Mas is set in a tailor s
shop in the early 1950s in Laven-
tille with three main characters
around Carnival time. Samuel, of
African descent, is an apprentice
of the Indian tailor Ramjohn
Gookool and Ramjohn s mother
Ramjohn and his mother treat
Samuel more like a servant than
an apprentice. Yet their mutual
affection and rapport is obvious.
Their relationship shifts when
Carnival comes around and there
is a buzz about a new leader
called Eric Williams. Samuel
wants to play mas.
Ramjohn says: "Niggers only
like to chase down women and
fight. They don t want to know
about the world." Samuel counters
that "Coolies are NOT Trinidadi-
ans. They are Coolies."
He takes time off one day from
work to hear Eric Williams speak-
ing. He is indignant that the oil
companies get 75 per cent of the
profit. That the locals get only a
quarter from their own.
When Samuel insists he wants
to play mas, Mrs Gookool fires
Thereafter a number of Carnival
characters appear. Starting with
Samuel, who shows up dressed
like an armed marine soldier and
threatens to shoot both Ramjohn
and his mother and after he terri-
fies them, reveals he is in cos-
tume. The midnight robber shows
up. Rum swigging female Bishop
By 1963 the roles have reversed.
Samuel, a police inspector under
the PNM, uses Ramjohn as a
pawn to find out about the guns,
the trouble on the hill.
The playwright Mustapha
Matura has this to say about his
character Samuel. "Samuel is the
play itself. He evolves in the play.
He s kind of riding the political
wave and a movement that is tak-
ing place in Trinidad at the time.
"This was from 55 to 60;
independence came in 1962. The
African origin population had
found a champion---Dr Eric
Williams who was socking it to
the colonial powers. What was
happening in the 50s was there
were these were bright, hungry
boys. They were coming out of
colonialism and they wanted to
"It was a force you couldn t
stop. So Eric Williams was a
powerhouse and he knew how to
deliver a speech. He had a dead-
pan way of speaking and he loved
to use big words and the crowd
loved it. Dr Williams got into
power, but it got all messy. I don t
think he was interested in the
mechanics of government.
"There s a wonderful story that
he used to sit down with his Chi-
nese businessmen, playing poker
and eating ice cream and this is
the PM of my country."
I want to cringe every time I
hear the words "coolie" and "nig-
ger." I want to tell my English
journo friend that it s not like that
in Trinidad anymore. We have
problems but race isn t one of
them. It s just a political divide.
Then I read that a man called
Anthony Mcleod, called a "stink-
ing nigger" by United National
Congress (UNC) activist Jaishima
Leladharsingh, has accepted
Leladharsingh s public apology.
I read that many found the
Opposition Leader, Keith Rowley s
aim at the PM degrading to
woman: "She could jump high,
she could jump low, she could
drink this, she could drink that,
she could bark at meh dog,
because I go ignore she cat."
I think of the play. Nothing has
changed. In fact, people living in
Trinidad in the 50s had it good.
We are still not interested in the
mechanics of governance.
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt March 22, 2015
WE'RE NOT INTERESTED IN MECHANICS OF GOVERNANCE
T&T'S GAY BAN: WHICH WAY WILL CCJ JUMP?
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