April 20, 2018 at 9:16 am EST | by Rachael Espinet
Trinidad and Tobago sodomy ruling prompts backlash

LGBT rights activists outside the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on April 12, 2018, celebrated a landmark ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. The decision has sparked a backlash in the Caribbean nation. (Photo by Rachael Espinet)

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — Members of Trinidad and Tobago’s LGBTI community have reported cases of victimization and cyberbullying following last week’s ruling that found the Sexual Offenses Act’s sodomy clause is unconstitutional and void.

Last week, hundreds of members of the LGBTI community and their allies gathered outside the Trinidad and Tobago High Court and Parliament to show their pride and support of striking down the sodomy clause. Members of the country’s media and supporters took their pictures. A fallout subsequently occurred.

Cherisse Lauren Berkeley, a 26-year-old activist who was assaulted outside the High Court on April 12, had to flee from her home and find a safe space to stay until the homophobic attacks died down.

She has received calls from people who were asked to leave their homes since the ruling and has been threatened online or from people who intended to intimidate and threaten her.

Berkeley has received threats online by people who are angered by the ruling. In the comments of a national newspaper’s Facebook page, someone identified her home address and since then she has been staying in multiple places, hiding from the public.

Berkeley said she received a death threat from an unknown caller who said, “We see you on the TV. We coming to kill you.” She also said straight allies were also receiving threats for either being outside supporting the community or publishing pro-LGBTI posts on social media.

Berkeley said she and her cadre of activists are collecting all evidence of threats for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, their lawyers and the Equal Opportunities Commission. While sexual orientation is explicitly excluded from the country’s Equal Opportunities Act, the LGBTI community can get some protection under a provision that deals with hate speech.

Berkeley also noted several people were asked to leave their homes, either by their families or their landlords who served eviction notices for their participation in last week’s Pride rallies. Those who got sudden notice to leave are currently living with friends in the community. Berkeley noted, however, that two from Tobago who were given a month’s notice to leave their apartments now have to move to Trinidad in order to find a job and housing.

Luke Sinnette, a social worker who is an executive member of Friends for Life, an LGBTI support group, said his organization has counted eight members of the community who have received eviction notices and two who were asked to leave by their families.

Sinnette said many of the people who showed up to the rallies were already out. He believes, however, the evictions were triggered by people who wanted to appear moral by condemning homosexuality.

“Not one of these cases would have been people who were hiding their sexuality,” said Sinnette. “People are acting on a facade to be seen as moral.”

Sinnette and Berkeley were both part of a strategy meeting held by the Coalition Advocating for Sexual Inclusion (CAISO) to see how to deal with the evictions. They are creating a database of LGBTI-friendly landlords and workplaces to house those who are displaced.

The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian publically outed a Commonwealth Games gold medallist amid the homophobic attacks.

The lead story of the newspaper published photos of the athlete, who currently lives in Texas, and her partner. The article also published the athlete’s Instagram handle. Subsequently, she deleted all her social media accounts.

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