Following court judgment on buggery laws …”I AM A GAY TRINIDADIAN”

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Jason Jones, the man who challenged the constitutionality of the buggery laws in Trinidad and Tobago and won in the High Court last week, has been featured in the London Guardian.

He tells of his struggles to fight the inequality in the law, and why he left Trinidad to reside in England.

The following is Jones’ interview in the Guardian following last Thursday’s court judgment:

“I am a gay Trinidadian. Up until three days ago, making that statement could have landed me in prison.

Before Thursday, it was a crime for adults of the same gender to have sex. Our “buggery” law imposed 25 years’ imprisonment. All other intimacy between two women or two men risked five years’ imprisonment under the demeaningly named offence of “serious indecency”.

Last year I said enough is enough and sued my country to change the law. My legal team, led by Richard Drabble QC, argued that these laws violate the right to privacy, family life, equality before the law and freedom of expression.

On Thursday we won the case – and resoundingly so. Mr Justice Rampersad in the high court of Port of Spain, our capital, handed down judgment agreeing that each of these rights was violated. On a rough count, there are about 100,000 LGBTQ+ people in Trinidad and Tobago. Finally, each of us is free from the fear of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment simply for living our lives.

Listening to the judgment, I broke down in tears as I realized that I had won, that my country – for the first time – had accepted me for who I am. I can’t describe how it feels to hear a judge say that as a gay man I have an inherent human dignity with which the state must not interfere. His firmness on this point was commendable – laws that criminalize homosexuality, he ruled, are as heinous as those that allowed apartheid, segregation and the Holocaust. I agree.

The judge recognized that when human dignity is stripped away, so as to render one characteristic “superior” to another, society goes awry. After the judgment, as I stood outside the Hall of Justice wrapped in a rainbow flag, I had finally been clothed in dignity.

Tis judgment was the culmination of my 30 years of human rights’ activism. I was born in the 1960s, the decade that Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Britain. Like other former colonies, we inherited Britain’s anti-gay laws. But our Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking neighbours do not criminalize homosexuality, and never did.

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As a teenager, it was obvious to others that I was gay. The bullying was incessant and cruel. In the 1980s, I left Trinidad for London, unable to cope with the daily homophobia. In 1992 I returned home but the persecution had not changed. In 1996 I was forced away again. I came back between 2011 and 2014 to try to progress this issue through engagement and advocacy but the homophobia remained intolerable. In the end, this saga of suffering won me my case. My having to leave – effectively forced into exile – was submitted as evidence to the court of how vile these laws are.

Litigation was a last resort for me, so that I could return home. That is all I have ever wanted to do. It has been the most humbling of experiences, with challenges that I could not have imagined. The religious groups who supported the retention of the laws were polite opponents, as much as we disagreed. The shock to me was that those who should most support decriminalization most disrupted my challenge. My only support from any NGO – in Trinidad, the UK or internationally – was some funding from an HIV-prevention charity.

In December 2015 I approached the Human Dignity Trust, a London-based charity whose sole purpose is to bring about the decriminalization of homosexuality. It said it would help. I was overjoyed, but then it dropped me without explanation, blocking my remaining routes to funding in the process. Just as upsetting was how my country’s Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) reacted to my challenge. It submitted a document to court supporting the retention of the criminal laws. At that stage, I almost gave up.

At the EOC, it turned out that a junior member of staff submitted the document without authority. The day before the trial, thankfully, it was withdrawn.

After the many bumps in the road, it was the rule of law that prevailed. For that, all Trinbagonians can rejoice. My dignity is their dignity is our dignity. The words of my country’s national anthem say that its citizens of every kind “find an equal place”. Now, finally, I have.

With the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in London from Monday, I am hopeful that our victory offers pause to the 36 of 53 Commonwealth countries that still criminalize homosexuality. Nine are in the Caribbean.

The right to dignity that Trinidad and Tobago’s court recognized in me is universal – in lesbians criminalised in Uganda and Tanzania, and in gay men criminalized in India and Singapore.

It is imperative that LGBTQ+ is on the agenda in London. The event offers both a safe space for this discussion and an opportunity for the capital of the former empire that bequeathed us these heinous laws to help rid us of them.

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JASON JONES, SECOND FROM RIGHT, AFTER THE COURT JUDGMENT IN TRINIDAD

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