In pari materia

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Photo: Abraham Diaz, Guardian

Is the Orlando news cycle over? Do I still get to talk about it? Or are we back to our small lives? Where violence and bigotry are normal, expected, a backdrop to the fete, the kiss, the ripe mango, the meaninglessness of work. Daily killings here, US mass shootings, terror attacks in Europe and Africa, have become so commonplace. When the media contacted me urgently about Omar Mateen opening machine-gunfire on 100 patrons at Pulse nightclub, even I didn’t grasp the largeness of it.

I’ve spent decades getting used to gay men dying chirrip-chirrip, in numbers that add up to many more than Mateen slew. From neglect, from stupidity, from disgust. From innocence. And—as it now seems in Mateen’s case—from each other.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 20.09I went out on a date with a gentleman from Laventille. Driving him home into an enormous full moon hanging over Park St., he talked about living in the belly of the beast, the lovers and ex-lovers who’d died from a different kind of stupidity and violence than those I know. A stupidity and violence and unending death, not because of who he loves, but where he lives.

I was deeply hurt that Dr. Rowley’s condolences over the “unspeakable” killings at the club could not name the bloodsoaked fleshiness of who was shot, who was targeted. That erasure took on greater meaning coming after Ambassador Eden Charles spoke at the United Nations last month, responding to 15 different states urging T&T: Protect LGBTI people’s human rights. Charles, too, found people like me unspeakable. You could see him struggling. First “certain groups” came out. Then he mustered up “those affected”. Eventually, he managed “the LGBT and so on”. AfroTrinbagonian men of their generation don’t know what to do with men like me.

Orlando could offer them the opportunity to legitimate the humanity of LGBTI people in policy and law, the way the Attorney General has seized on the IRO president’s self-immolation to leap forward towards outlawing child marriage.

A day before the Florida assassinations, I read the puzzling Caribbean Court of Justice judgement about homosexuals as prohibited immigrants. The CCJ pronounced that T&T’s obligation to admit every CARICOM national, regardless to sexual orientation, is now part of our domestic law. But homosexuals could still remain prohibited immigrants on the books. I noted that’s exactly what our politicians do—they withhold formal inclusion, while giving a bligh on not really banning us or hauling us from our bedrooms. Even on being killed, biennially diplomats like Amb. Charles abstain when the UN resolves to condemn extrajudicial executions like last week Sunday’s, unsure we can take a position on sexual orientation.

A young journalist reporting Orlando told me the PM couldn’t say it was a gay club, well, because of the Constitution. Which nowhere mentions homo- or heterosexuality. If anything—as the CCJ itself pointed out—it seems to give LGBTI people the same rights as others. But that’s the power even unenforced laws have to shape who we think can be afforded humanity.

For years I’ve worked to turn conversation away from marriage and the buggery law, and instead highlight politically harmless things Government can do to extend the Constitution’s promises of equality and dignity to LGBTI people: Allow the Equal Opportunity Act to protect us—how could an anti-discrimination law treat some citizens inconsistently to others? Decriminalise un-coerced sex between youngsters consistently—not, as we cynically do, only when pregnancy can result. In the wake of Orlando, Government could move swiftly to legislate either, without spending any political capital it would admittedly require to repeal sodomy laws.

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But the Attorney General is a smart man. And he has taught me a new Latin phrase. In pari materia. Launching PNM’s 2015 manifesto, Colm Imbert said the party had no position on LGBTI issues. Keith Rowley scoffed he wasn’t going to make fashion statements because an issue was in vogue. I guess 49 lost lives doesn’t make it fashionable, though another LGBTI activist said Rowley’s condolences were bandwagoning. Mr AlRawi has a newer logic for PNM inaction: he can’t pull just one thread, but the whole cloth, all 24 anti-gay laws at once.

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It was only when I saw the brown faces and the notes about who they were that I mourned. And I remembered my date. The Pulse massacre could offer us a way to take heed of the daily violence seething through the alleys east of the city, the bodies pooling in the central plain, the arms snaking up the hills of the Diego Martin valley. Violence we cannot gate or migrate or fete into a corner. Violence about whose roots we have no political position either. Violence we will not solve with security budgets, but social development, early education. Human rights. In pari materia.

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