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Thursday 22 March 2018

Definition of gender worries religious groups

Serious concerns have been raised by more than a dozen religious groups about the definition of gender as stated in the 2012 version of the draft National Gender Policy.

The Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) and the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches were among those who shared their views during a symposium held specifically to allow them to share their concerns about the wording of, and definitions contained in, the latest version of the draft policy.

A total of 12 men and women spoke out against it, paying particular attention to the final line of the two-paragraph definition, which stated gender “is socially constructed and learned through socialisation processes.”

Leading the charge against this definition was CCSJ Chairperson, Leela Ramdeen, who warned TT was headed “down a slippery slope...if we accept that definition.”

Ramdeen supported her argument by referring to a statement made by the Catholic Church during a United Nations meeting in 2011.

“The Catholic Church said...once you change, or enlarge gender, the consequences of such a new definition would be monumental, as it could change the meaning of thousands of UN documents and all our laws. Activists could then use this expanded definition in their respective countries to strike down laws governing such things as heterosexual marriage and anything that would seem to discriminate against them,” Ramdeen argued.

As several evangelical church representatives nodded their heads in agreement, the CCSJ chairperson said “what we’ve found from speakers around the world (is) that homosexual rights trump our rights. So I ask us please, just to be careful as we move forward. We want to build our nation strong.”

Ramdeen was applauded for this last statement, a clear indication of how most people at the symposium felt about the issue.

The one-day event was hosted by the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development on Wednesday at Capital Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.

Although national consultations held in 2011 and 2012 formed the basis of the current draft, Gender Minister Marlene Coudray said religious groups, many of them belonging to the Christian faith, have been seeking an opportunity to “state their case” about why certain aspects of the document should be amended.

Hence the minister’s declaration to symposium attendees that “my role here today is to convey your opinions to Cabinet, not to make any decisions at this point in time.”

Those opinions also included objections to vague or non-existent definitions of “full human rights”, public education about alternative lifestyles and the phrase “family in all its forms.”

During his turn at the podium, President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), Brother Harrypersad Maharaj, advocated TT being the leader in gender policy rather than simply following the example of “larger” western nations such as France, which on Tuesday approved a bill legalising gay marriage and adoption for same-sex couples.

Head of the Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behaviour (CURB), Adrian Alexander chose to focus on the term “sexual orientation”, which he said had not been defined in the draft policy’s glossary.

Claiming that “heterosexual attraction between males and females” was the only natural and normal sexual orientation and that it has never been called into question in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM), Alexander warned that if “sexual orientation” was left undefined in the policy, it would pave the way for legal and societal acceptance of a range of abnormal sexual desires.


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