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By Miranda La Rose Wednesday, February 12 2014

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Roman Catholic priest Fr Stephen Geofroy has spoken up for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) saying they must not “suffer” for their rights in favour of a majority.

Geofroy, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, said LGBTs are people and there was no further need for national consultations on their rights being protected under the Constitution.

“We cannot suffer the rights of a minority for the majority,” he declared on Monday night.

The issues of either acknowledging God or not in the Constitution, and a need for further national consultations on the protection of LGBTs in relation to fundamental rights and freedoms were among the main issues raised at a consultation on a Draft Report for Constitutional Reform at UWI’s Sports and Physical Education Centre, St Augustine.

The report was prepared by the Constitution Reform Commission led by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar.

A recommendation that the chapter in the Constitution on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms should not be altered, and that “the issue of sexual orientation and human rights should be made the subject of further national discussion and public education,” evoked much debate mainly from the evangelical Christian community and from individuals who were totally against any special rights being given to LGBTs.

President of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion for Sexual Orientation Colin Robinson started the debate expressing disappointment that as someone whose sexual orientation is different from the majority, he may not be able to enjoy in his lifetime protection rights to his sexuality as an adult and inclusiveness in the development of the economy and to benefit from society in terms of social services, including health.

“I thought that in my lifetime, I would see full protection for persons like myself under the Constitution,” he said.

Among those speaking against the issue of sexual orientation was Paul Persad who said he does not have to be a Christian to know right from wrong and the lowering of standards and degeneration of societies that will take place by granting human rights protection to LGBTs. He cited the lowering of standards taking place in the United States on account of granting rights to LGBTs.

Two representatives who spoke on behalf of the evangelical Christian community were strong in their views about not supporting certain rights for gays noting that sexual relations between persons of the same sex were a damnation and go against the word of God. They spoke of the country being punished in the same way that Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible were.

They supported the recommendation for further national discussions on LGBTs rights while Geofroy questioned the need for further discussion.

“Aren’t lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders humans too? Yes or No? Yes. Then they should have rights as other people have,” he said to a loud round of applause.

The debate was not about whether they are people or not, he said, it was about the prejudice and injuries they have suffered on account of discrimination that has become part and parcel of TT’s culture.

“We have come out of a long history of slavery and indentureship and now is the time to break the many things that denigrate the LGBT person,” he said. “This is our time to break decisively with any discrimination and disrespect of people.”

Calling for leadership to be taken on the issue, he said, “it must be based on reason, on natural rights and what is a human person.” The business of the Constitution, he said, is to uphold the rights of citizens.

“We cannot suffer the rights of those who are powerless, those who are vulnerable to those who have power. No. That is not what the bill of rights is about. The bill of rights is to uphold the dignity of all,” he said to an audience that had gone very quiet.

Acknowledging his “Christian brothers”, he said, “religions do have a right to believe that sexual orientation is bad, it is wrong.”

If sexual orientation is bad, from a logical point of view, he said, “we should then be criminalising adultery, masturbation, the use of condoms and so on.”

In his religion, he said, they “are all sins.”

However, he said, “Now we do not belong to a theocracy neither do we (have) a religious oligarchy where religious people impose their belief on others.”

“So I think we have to be very, very careful on our human rights, and our rights to our own belief, but not the right to impose our beliefs on the rest of the population,” he said.

Noting that people have been denigrated on the basis of race, colour, class, religions, gender, and so on, he said, “I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have (a) human right to love who they want.”

To continue prolonging discussions without acting decisively on it, he said, is to go the way of Nigeria and Uganda who use the issue as part of its political agenda. “I think we should avoid that like the plague,” he said.

While acknowledging “God’s” presence must remain in the Constitution, he said the belief of those who do not believe in God must also be recognised in the Constitution.

On the debate as to whether the Constitution should delete the word “God” because everyone does not believe in God, Geofroy said he agreed a way must be found to keep the word and the recognition of God without being prejudicial in any way to those who do not believe.

According to the report on the rewording of the preamble of the Constitution the “Recognition of God” was a major area of debate and concern that such references excluded non-believers.

The report noted many concerns about the preamble, over which there were conflicting views, can be accommodated in a new preamble with an appropriately worded statement which would provide a sense of inclusion as opposed to a feeling of anyone being excluded.

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