How Young People Are Attempting To Overcome The Colonial Origins Of Anti-LGBTQ Sentiment In Trinidad and Tobago

It’s no secret how society within the West Indies perpetuates a tight-lipped, conservatively religious mindset, a culture that has not significantly changed since the days of British rule in the 60s. Unchanged and outdated laws on abortion and LGBTQ rights are merely a reflection of the societies, reluctance or even fear of adopting a more progressive viewpoint. The emerging progressive mindset of millennials and gen z has brought a renewed hope for closeted individuals of all ages. However, with little change in laws and little engagement by governments in making a safe environment for LGBTQ people it is unlikely that we will see any immediate or radical changes in the near future. Still, it is important to recognise the origins of such rigid and close-minded opinions, many of which date back to the days of slavery, indentureship and colonial rule within our islands. It may just be the only way we can progress.

Colin Robinson an LGBTQ and anti-colonial activist from Trinidad and Tobago is credited as being one of the reasons why there has been so much progress in the acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in the country. His passing in March 2021 had the community in mourning as well as appreciation for all his work in making Trinidad and Tobago a true equal place for every creed and race. He founded many NGO’s and was the Executive Director of CAISO (Coalition Advocating for Sexual Inclusion: Sex and Gender Justice) which he also founded. It is fair to say that Collin Robinson singlehandedly started an era of continued reform of Trinidad’s deeply conservative society. He challenged the status quo brazenly and unrelenting, not allowing the negative critics to derail his goal. Revolutionary is the only word that can describe the person he was. Though his loss leaves a huge hole in the hearts and minds of those who looked up to and admired him, his legacy continues on through the works he has left behind as well as the people he inspired. His attempts at separating Trinidad from its deeply engrained colonial past that still has a heavy-handed grip on the collective mindset has proven successful in many accepts. Especially in giving visibility and acceptance to young LGBTQ individuals growing up in Trinbagonian society.

And yet still, within homes all over the country, homophobia prevails, often causing those without the privilege to hide away or surround themselves with queer friendly circles, great pain. After speaking with two queer Trinidadians, it became clearer to me that Trinidad is in desperate need of more Collin Robinson’s and at the very least more drastic intervention than finding homophobic laws unconstitutional. Malique, a gay teen from Trinidad spoke to me about the homophobic gaslighting he faced in his household from family members. 

‘I was outed through text messages with a friend and when I had my phone searched through. It was a long year for me mentally, I went through and still go through some harsh words from my parents and I never truly got the acceptance I wanted.’

Having grown up in a Christian household he was never truly able to explore his sexuality and it took him a long time to come to terms with his identity.

‘I first became aware of my sexuality around the age of thirteen and it has only ever been a painful process throughout the years after. I ignored it after I realized I was gay and I often prayed out about, having been raised in a Christian household. I was always told that being gay is a sin but they took a step further and demonized anything I found interesting that seemed feminine in their eyes.’

Malique’s experiences draws light on the ways Christianity has been weaponised to spout hatred towards people and things that have essentially been decided by these religious leaders as being ‘immoral’. The parallels between its usage to demonise LGBTQ groups and the ways in which it was used to control our ancestors in times of slavery is stark. Any semblance of the deep rich history of our ancestors, both in Africa and India, where multiple genders existed and the fluidity of sexuality was embraced has been stripped away from our identity. Through no fault of our own we have perpetuated a belief system that damages young people trying to find themselves.

In comparison to Malique’s experiences Adam, is non-binary and queer individual in their early twenties who for the past few years has resided in Paris. They spoke about their experiences in Trinidad versus France and why they probably would not return to Trinidad given the chance. Unlike Malique, Adam had certain privileges that allowed them to process their identity slightly easier.

‘When I was a teenager, I was able to date virtually via Grindr; it was the only way to explore romantic relationships, even though I never met anyone in real life. These days, I don’t end up staying in Trinidad long enough to date or interact with the community. However, social media, Twitter in particulier, has made it possible to meet other queer Trinis online and it has improved my quality of life greatly.’

They’re out as bi to their mother but still has to contend with the fact she believes her homophobic comments are ‘a disagreement’. Still the vague semblance of acceptance they received seems to be as far as Trini parents are able to go. 

‘Fortunately, I don’t have issues regarding safety as an adult. I recognise I have the privilege to generally restrict my social circles to people who are queer-friendly and I have learned how to conceal aspects that would tip others off. However, as a teenager in an all-boys school, it was less easy to conceal the fact that I’m different and that led to a lot of emotional and physical bullying.’

Educational institutions in Trinidad have often been the biggest perpetrators of colonial mindsets, with its outdated teachings and traditions. It is not a huge surprise that the underlying homophobia especially within boys’ schools, where gender roles and fixed masculinity are taught, are unsafe places for queer children.

Ultimately, despite the taunts of slurs like ‘bullerman’ and ‘battyman’ that queer individuals like Malique and Adam have had to endure, they still refuse to be silenced. Indeed, theirs and others’ persistence to be authentic to their identities in a hostile environment is nothing short of revolutionary. Perhaps also an inadvertent ode to Colin Robinson and the work he started in our twin islands. It is fair to say that Trinidad does have a long way to go before any kind of meaningful change can be seen in society. A separation of Church, state and people need to be the first step, the second being the acknowledgment of the chokehold colonialism still has on our mindset. We are taught to hate something that is not fully understood but with proper education and the resilience of young people we may just be able to make ‘TnT’ sweeter.

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