Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gay Jamaican activist to sue Trinidad & Tobago entry ban on gays sans consulting local LGBT groups there .............

As per usual Mr. Maurice Tomlinson has landed himself in the hot water (yet again) with LGBT activists in carrying out an action without consulting the relevant persons or at least getting their knowledge of the intended actions known. This is a typical problem for us here locally for years by not only him but also local rights group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays, JFLAG and others. The last time he irked many locals and community influentials was that infamous comment he made on CVM TV's Live @ 7 in September after the eviction of the homeless men from Cargill Avenue where he used an old programmatic addage that gay men do not have access to condoms while professing knowledge of the plight of the men when in fact in the very newsclip in August had the movers holding the very condoms the men received from the NON LGBT agencies of all places who saw the men more frequently than the responsible ones should via street based interventions. Narcissism? he has been accused before of infusing himself in things while benefiting from the silence from a gullible LGBT community. 

To effect change I think you must be able to seek common ground and honest, frank and thoughtful dialogue with those on the ground not a high horse mentality. 

Mr Tomlinson has repeatedly taken on issues that he is not familiar with and "ran with them" as a self appointed spokesperson without the full facts at hand, the homeless msm issue is one such matter despite his claim of not residing here as he says he had to controversially leave Jamaica via asylum (at first) due to death threats against his life yet he has been here since live on television granting interviews, a marriage to a Canadian man and other matters which has had several questions beings asked about his actual motives. He has been getting a lot of "friendly" coverage from an online publication named GayStarNews who have repeatedly used unconventional tactics to sensationalise and embellish stories on Jamaican LGBT matters. The series of meetings for example of local stakeholders that led up to the involvement of the police with homeless msms in New Kingston was reported by the GayStarNews as - 

Anti-gay hate forces closure of Jamaica gay homeless center

when in fact that was NOT the case as the comments below the article shows as persons involved in the defunct Safe House Pilot project spoke out but the article remains the same as the publications administrators/editors see it fit to continue their intellectual deception and Mr Tomlinson was a board member of the agency responsible at the time Jamaica AIDS Support for Life(JASL). Yet when he was challenged by myself, other readers and the very founder of the previous Jamaica AIDS Support safe house pilot shelter he did not find it fit and or ethically responsible to have the article edited or pulled as he was quoted in it instead he referred us to the editor whom we have contacted but yet no change in the piece which clearly suggests an agenda to all concerned that is less than ethically sound. He brushed off our concerns as cynicism and that he knows all that is best for LGBT advocacy, this self absorbed way of doing business is problematic for all involved. There have been other instances of this "pressing ahead no matter what others think" by Mr Tomlinson without clear the proper consultation with the relevant constituents.

Now the local group in Trinidad THE Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, CAISO has come out expressing some concerns post Mr Tomlinson's action with support from AIDSFREEWORLD of which he is the Legal Advisor, an official of the group expressed the following (READ CAREFULLY):


After we learned by e-mail, along with others, about AIDS Free World's plans to challenge our immigration law, when they invited us to join in a media announcement, CAISO's board issued the following communiqué on 1 November. We learned of their media release today elsewhere.

Further to initial engagements by our Executive Director, Colin Robinson, which took place in light of the sudden urgency imposed by AIDS Free World's notification, there has been an opportunity for the Board of CAISO to consult more broadly and come to some agreement on this matter.

CAISO wishes to communicate the following in response to the indication by AIDS Free World that Maurice Tomlinson intends to challenge the immigration law before the Caribbean Court of Justice, CCJ and to launch an attendant media campaign.

At 4pm on October 30, AIDS Free World (AFW) Legal Adviser, Maurice Tomlinson, emailed our Executive Director and a number of Caribbean stakeholders a similar letter from the co-directors of his employer, Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan. The letter indicated that the North American organization would be supporting a legal challenge by its employee Tomlinson, a Jamaican citizen and gay man, who had already written to the Jamaican Government with a view to initiating a challenge under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas of the provision in Trinidad and Tobago's Immigration law that allows, amongst other people, the exclusion of homosexuals. Further, it indicated that he intended to pursue the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice. CAISO like others, was invited to join AFW in a public statement on the action to be released to the media two days later.

We have always been concerned with and done advocacy around the Immigration Act, as with all discriminatory laws, policies and attitudes. The archaic provisions of the Act that have caught AFW's attention regarding people with disabilities, gays and lesbians and others are reprehensible and ought to have no place in modern law. We wish to make it clear that we do not intend to oppose Maurice taking advantage of the legal recourse to which he is entitled as a CARICOM citizen.

Presuming, based on Caribbean Governments' track records on these issues and Maurice's intimations, that this does end up being a legal challenge, we would like to have a very clear idea of what the role of AFW will be both in the challenge and any proposed press campaign. We are concerned about the negative effects we have already experienced in the region as a result of international organizations publicly and deliberately or otherwise appearing to be leading challenges to domestic legislation.

Furthermore, a letter from AIDS Free World dated October 30th informing us that a course of action has been chosen and that a press release is intended to be issued 2 days later is unsatisfactory, appears high handed and stands in stark contrast to notions of Caribbean collegiality which Maurice has drawn on in further communication by him to suggest that this plan of action should enjoy our wholehearted support . Expressions of an interest in "building consensus" do not ring true in the face of that timeframe and those conditions.

The social and political effects (particularly the negative ones) of this challenge will be felt most strongly in Trinidad and Tobago and it would seem that as such, local stakeholders should have been consulted in a meaningful way.

Consultation would have allowed us to consider the strategy with other legal minds and make suggestions; consider how this can fit into the strategy we have been implementing domestically over the past few years; consider with local groups how we manage and move forward; participate in the mobilization of regional stakeholders; and mobilize the local community so that they can understand the implications of Maurice's actions and strategize around how we can support.

We also have difficulty understanding the necessity for a press campaign at such an early stage and are concerned that it may do more harm than good. The mere prospect of this challenge can suddenly and significantly change the context in which Trinbagonian GLBT persons find themselves living.

In all the circumstances we are suggesting that the strategy with respect to a number of matters, but particularly around media, be discussed if it is planned to move forward. We trust that while claiming his own rights, Maurice is ultimately concerned with improving the lives of LGBT citizens in the region and that that objective will not be sacrificed at the altar of personal or institutional imperatives with respect to publicity. Indeed, some of Maurice's own experiences demonstrate both the unpredictability and potential force of media backlash.

Along those lines, we also wish to encourage Maurice and his employers to be very mindful that while Maurice may be the litigant, the outcomes, foreseeable and unforeseeable, do not only affect him but rather affect an entire community and to be guided accordingly.

We do hope that moving forward, engagements can be more in a spirit of collaboration.

ENDS

The CAISO official also expressed the following:

AFW's respectful and flexible engagement beforehand with local stakeholders would have been the right way to address mitigation and to be true to their words in GayStarNews about "uniting, indigenous groups and international groups". 
CAISO hasn't seen Maurice's letter, nor has AFW included us and our lawyers in strategy. And they've ignored our request to re-examine the value of going to the media. It's what I was referencing earlier about one-man, know-what's-best activism. It's a profound lesson for us about how groups like AFW operate in the region and about our own work at regional collaboration and movement building. There's no winning on the principles at this point. But it does call for a hard examination of our geopolitics in the region.

To be fair, though, it is an immigration law, so it affects non-nationals, and probably only they have standing to sue. So Maurice is suing for his own rights. We'd have preferred that domestic folks have a critical role in decisions about the best strategy for litigating LGBT issues here since this suit will affect other political and legal opportunities for T&T citizens that AFW hasn't considered. The lawsuit doesn't offend us so much as the process, in particular the rush to media, and none of the questions we raised on Nov. 1 AFW has taken care to respond to. The sovereignty of T&T as a state isn't the issue; respect for and collaboration with local LGBT communities is. Citing the "well established best practice of 'nothing for us without us'", AFW wrote us and other local groups to tell us that Maurice had already initiated the challenge.

Those here in Jamaica who are used to Mr Tomlinson's style are not surprised by this latest saga but what is troubling to me is that the very folks who defended him from criticisms before of this ongoing concern are now the ones feeling the pinch of his actions, hope they learn from all this.

The subsequent interview on November 28th on RJR's Beyond The Headlines with host Dionne Jackson Miller revealed to me that something was off as Mr. Tomlinson seemed to struggle at points to answer the questions asked of him, he used UNAIDS regional location in Trinidad and his access to the regional AIDS response activities there but at carnival time year in year out several LGBT Jamaicans make the trip without problems, makes one wonder what it really going on here? As for the suit against the very sister station (TVJ) to RJR 94FM where he was being interviewed and whether he has an agenda to challenge every law that seem hostile to homosexuals? he said "The fact is these challenges coincidentally occurred within short order of each other the objective is clear on the part of AIDSFREEWORLD we exist as an organization to remove any structural barriers which impede the response to HIV and AIDS within the region, the TV challenge happened because the television stations would not allow us to air a tolerance ad which we had submitted to them some time in March (an action by the way the local LGBT community was not aware of until the news of the suit came via a press release and GSN story, evidence yet again of the "run with it" attitude) this challenge arose because I got the invitation to attend meetings in December, so the timing is coincidental we certainly wish to remove not only laws but any policies which will restrict the HIV response within the region........" ironically he continued with the driving underground bit and persons not getting HIV treatment this is despite the recent report suggesting more persons are getting such ARVs and the infections rates nationally are going down with the free meds now available, then came this " ...... there are many countries in the region that have had discriminatory laws and policies and working with groups on the ground we will identify which ones we should challenge either legislatively .........." but this very expression by CAISO of the lack of consultation by himself and AFW indicates otherwise, so the interview was a dress up or damage control method then we can conclude.

Let us be mindful and we also here need to follow CAISO's lead, pity it took a foreign ally to show our lack of vigilance up on those who ought to be vigilant for rights and fairness and to reign in these seeming out of control and drunk with power advocates we MUST demand that no action be taken supposedly on our behalf before full consultation as are the two buggery law challenges that now lay before us and word has it that both parties did not consult each other and that the previous litigant (AFW et al) through IACHR found out about the second challenge by Gareth Henry (former JFLAG head) in the media. Everyone's doing there own thing it seems in a first past the post race. 

The debate continues as Mr Tomlinson had responded by saying that "This is a blatant and deliberate misrepresentation and that CAISO has been aware of the filing of this matter for at least 2 weeks before we went to press. We have also received indication that other LGBT groups in Trinidad support this action, even though CAISO does not. Finally, this is properly an AIDS-Free World matter that I suggested to the organization. This does not only concern my access to Trinidad, but also the location of a UN agency in a country where its major constituents have no legal right to enter. AFW did not know about this law until I researched and brought it to their attention. As an international NGO they were concerned about seeming to be interfering in a regional issue, and only agreed that this was necessary after a phone call with UNAIDS. I would have preferred local support (and that was the nature of the first press release which CAISO rejected in early November). However, I decided to proceed with the challenge in this form because of the international implications of the Immigration Law. I will close by pointing out that only an aggrieved party can bring a legal action of this sort. I became such a party after UNFPA issued the invitation to me. I therefore initiated the action (as I had expressed to Colin earlier this year that I was planning to do) but did not issue a press release before seeking local support. When I received another invitation (this time from CARICOM) I again advised regional partners of the action and then issued my press release. I would hope that those regional partners who have privately expressed support for this action will now be bold enough to issue their own supportive press statements."

You decide readers.

Peace and tolerance

H

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