In 2007 Elton John was booked to perform at a jazz festival on the island of Tobago. As a performer, John tours frequently around the globe. What made this particular performance unusual was the fact that the Tobago Government was urged to oppose his visit.
“The artiste is one of God’s children and while his lifestyle is questionable he needs to be ministered unto. His visit to the island can open the country to be tempted towards pursuing his lifestyle,” Philip Isaac, Archdeacon of Trinidad and Tobago, said.
Colin from gay advocacy group Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) said many people failed to take the Tobago preachers seriously and thought they were embarrassing the country internationally. Elton John’s performance went ahead as planned.
San Fernando-raised Nari, 35, says his country is religious. “The Elton John scandal demonstrated the strength of conviction of their beliefs and feelings. There is a strong element who are God-fearing,” Nari said.
“People make reference that being gay is feminine – they view it as being an illness or connected to pedophilia. There’s a huge negative stigma attached to homosexuality. If you’re gay you keep it quiet, keep it to yourself.”
Although rarely prosecuted, these Caribbean islands outlaw homosexual acts with a 25-year jail sentence as punishment. The country also has laws prohibiting the entry of gay people into the country.
The Immigration Act states, “[E]ntry into Trinidad and Tobago… is prohibited [to] prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals, or persons reasonably suspected as coming to Trinidad and Tobago for these or any other immoral purposes.” However, this law is not known to have ever been enforced.
“As a culture, people in Trinidad don’t challenge what they’ve been taught. They just accept. Unless given a strong impetus to change something, there is no reason to,” Nari told SSO.
The significantly high HIV/AIDS infection rate has been a strong impetus to re-assess the laws. In June this year, the Government announced it would attempt to tackle discrimination.
“A process [is] in train right now with the Ministry of the Attorney-General, the National AIDS Coordinating Committee and several other Ministries focused on reviewing the existing laws with regards to stigma and discrimination and making recommendations that will be for the drafting of new legislation,” Social Development Minister Amery Browne said.
Colin from CAISO said he was advised by the Government that they have no intention of reviewing laws relating to homosexuality.
“The Government intends to review the law and human rights relating to HIV only. This is not a review of laws relating to homosexuality,” Colin said.
“This position the Government has staked out is exactly the problem of how institutional stigma against gay men fuels HIV and why there needs to be clearer and more honest thinking about the impact of sexual orientation-related stigma in people’s lives.”
Nari, who works as a project manager, has been in Sydney for nine years.
“The reason I stayed is because I was allowed to be me. I truly found acceptance of myself in Sydney. I can walk down the street and just be gay,” he said.