Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 17th 2014 Contents B2
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, April 17, 2014
The mood was, in a sense, celebratory.
It is an achievement that events like this
are now taking place in T&T. A sign of the
times, of a movement gathering pace.
Role of social media
While offensive comments are still
uttered publicly---like those of artist LeRoy
Clarke who suggested that homosexuality
is a threat to the arts and a tool to recruit
gang members---they no longer go unchal-
lenged, thanks in part to social media sites
like Facebook, which people use as a plat-
form from which to speak out.
Anti-gay voices are also loud on Face-
book and in real life and what is most
shocking is that, in most cases, the bigotry,
hate and intolerance comes from people
claiming to represent God.
Which is why the support of the clergy
is hugely welcomed.
Fr Geofroy s bravery in speaking in sup-
port of equality for gays at the national
consultation on constitutional reform
meeting in February should not be under-
The position of Pope Francis and the
Roman Catholic Church is also now
unequivocally clear---God loves all human
beings equally, gay or straight.
That Catholicism should be the first of
the world s monotheistic religions to mod-
ernise itself on the issue is fascinating,
giving the centuries it spent obsessing over
all manner of "sins", of which homosex-
uality was seen as a major one.
There are gay priests, we now know. It
is no longer a dirty secret.
A 2002 poll in the Los Angeles Times
which surveyed 1,854 US priests across the
country found that 15 per cent of them
identified themselves as either gay or bisex-
When other Christian denominations
and religions begin to accept gay and les-
bian people, we could be well on our way
to a world free of homophobia.
Homophobia will disappear
Matthew Shepard s mother, Judy, dried
her eyes after her moving speech which
preceded her husband s at Napa. Then
Archie gave her a hug and Ramlogan shook
her hand. It was a touching moment.
She then said she is sure there will come
a time when homophobia and hate no
"I don t know if we ll see it in my life-
time. But I know the younger kids don t
understand the hate that s going on," she
In T&T, with a young, intelligent, well-
travelled population, that is certainly the
Young people, by and large, are not
homophobes. Like so many prejudices the
world has battled with, homophobia is
spread by the older generation.
"My mother was a terrible bigot," Judy
Shepard told me.
"But I m a product of the 60s so every-
thing about us was acceptance and love
for everyone. I m sure my mother had no
idea what to do with me, trying to raise
a child in the 60s, but it was a whole dif-
ferent mindset then."
Shepard knows where hate comes from.
"It s a learned behaviour. You learn it
from your environment, mass media, your
parents, grandparents, your church, all over
the place. You re not born knowing how
to do that, you re not born knowing how
to love either. You learn them both."
She also knows religion plays a part in
intolerance, but again, that s no excuse.
"I ve sort of come to the conclusion after
all these years that people really hide behind
their religion to protect their own biases,"
she said. "When people say it s because
of what I believe in, they really mean I
think it s wrong so I m going to use my
religion to justify it. "
T&T can take lead in Caribbean
Not a lot has changed in Wyoming in
the 16 years since Matthew was left dying
on that fence, covered in blood and looking,
according to the cyclist who found him,
like a scarecrow.
"Wyoming still has no state gay crime
laws," Judy Shepard told the audience.
"No state job protection at federal level
for gay people. No gay bars. People still
have to go to Denver to go to gay bars.
"We still live in Wyoming and we love
it there and we hope to change the politics.
Dennis calls us a constant poke in the eye
for people who live there.
"They wish we would just shut the heck
up. But we don t. Because creating the
environment that gay people are the devil incarnate,
gives society permission to harm them, emotionally,
physically and mentally."
As for T&T, the Shepards came here for a reason.
They think the country, as a thought leader in the
region, has an important role to play.
Dennis Shepard said, "When we came here a lot
of people did research (on us). Well, I did research
also. T&T is the leader in the Caribbean, what hap-
pens here eventually happens in the rest of the
Caribbean. Being here is a start.
"You can continue being a leader by working for
equality, not gay rights. There is no such thing as
"I m talking about equal rights. It starts here,
with your help and your support, start the discussion
about equal rights."
Judy and Dennis, who established the Matthew
Shepard Foundation, have been all over the world
telling their story, fighting for equality.
Here in the Caribbean, laws and public attitudes
lag behind those of countries like Canada, Australia
and the Netherlands, where homosexuality is seen
as an essential part of a society s rich tapestry of
After T&T, the Shepards travelled to Jamaica,
where violence towards the gay community is com-
monplace and where those who support gay people
are also likely to be victimised.
They weren t scared or intimidated.
It s rare in life you meet two people as strong and
unafraid as they are. Or as compassionate.
They even asked the court which tried their son s
murderers to spare their lives when they could have
been given the death penalty.
Perhaps, when you lose your son to a crime you
simply do not understand, your fear evaporates,
replaced by a word repeated by Doc O Connor, a
friend of the budding academic Matthew Shepard
shortly before his death: Hope.
Today's youth more tolerant than older folks
Continued from Page B1
Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming, on
October 6, 1998, and died six days later on October 12 from severe head injuries.
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