Serious indecency: Talking about LGB issues in a country where being gay is criminalised

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I took my very first research poster to my profession’s international association conference in 2001 (ISRRT). It happened to be in beautiful Barbados and the combination of rum punch, meeting other therapists interested in research and finding out just how much great work is happening in other countries was intoxicating! My wife and I made the poster together – I can’t remember how we decided who presented it but I do remember being proud to see our two names together on the top. It’s still listed on both of our CVs, along with the journal articles we have co-authored since.

We’ve always worked in the same field, our eyes first met across an electron cut out (a romantic location only radiation therapists would appreciate!). Our relationship at work has always been a bit of a balancing act – a kind of double-managing of the usual professional coming-out dilemma. In the 90s we weren’t eligible for joint medical coverage through our health insurance as a same-sex couple. When I took some time off after my father died (and needed dental work), we filed a human rights complaint that led to a swift exit from the workplace closet. As attitudes and legislation changed, we worried less about being fully who we are there, but there’s considerable evidence that even in progressive Canada many people still actively manage their sexual identity at work.

My research interest is LGB issues, specifically how/if radiation therapists deal with this. Is it an issue? How does it affect relationships with patients? What about LGB patients? I’ve done a few talks already in this area, just preliminary and broad findings from the literature along with some recent research about LGB patients and their experiences with healthcare. There is growing interest in doing a better job – we know there are fairly easy things we can improve, and we need better education across the board. This is true for many Western countries, the UK are well ahead of most of Canada and we all know about some of the issues the US LGB population are facing with Trump attempting to roll back many hard-won rights such as freedom from discrimination legislation.

But what about other countries? Mostly not so great. I logged onto Twitter this morning to see posts about the “Chechnya 100” – gay men imprisoned and possibly killed because of who they love. While gay rights progress in many parts of the world, there are still at least 74 countries that punish same-sex relationships with life imprisonment or even death. Many of these countries are in the Caribbean and one is Trinidad, where the next international association conference is being held. In that country “consensual intercourse between men is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, while “serious indecency” between women is punishable by 15 years in prison. In addition, an unenforced law calls for a prohibition on homosexuals entering Trinidad” (1).  Also not great.

While I was happy to see that the law that would prevent me from entering the country is unenforced (and to be honest I wasn’t planning on having any kind of sex – let alone the seriously indecent sort) this has given me significant pause. What would you do? Go anyway? Go and change your topic from “homosexuality” to something else? Not go as a protest? (To whom?) I talked to the ISRRT’s Public Relations Regional Coordinator for the Americas last week at our national conference and asked her about this. She has gay friends, she doesn’t think it is a big deal – and was unaware of the law. I imagine it wasn’t even on the radar when they picked the venue. But I think it is a big deal and I am aware of it. I just don’t know what to do!

Reference:

  1. Stewart, C. “Legal challenge confronts Trinidad’s anti-gay laws”. 76 Crimes

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One thought on “Serious indecency: Talking about LGB issues in a country where being gay is criminalised

  1. I think that this is a really difficult issue to get to grips with as an LGBT+ person and one that I have been grappling with for quite a while.

    A friend has been living in Abu Dhabi for a number of years and has asked on several occasions if I would go over there to visit her. In the end I had to be quite blunt with her and say that I wouldn’t go to that country because of the draconian laws that they have against LGBT people and of course women.

    I’ve been to several countries in South East Asia over the years and the airline that I have consistently used to get there has been Etihad, purely because it has always been the cheapest airline from the UK by at least £100 sometimes. Etihad is one of the national airlines for the UAE and flies out of Abu Dhabi. I have recently made the decision that the next time that I fly to South East Asia I will use another airline, even if this means paying £100+ more for the tickets.

    As an LGBT person I don’t feel comfortable going to countries that have such strict laws against my very being and I don’t want to pay into the economies either.

    Realising this I also decided that it also wasn’t OK for me to fly with any of their airlines just because it would save me £100 so the next time that I fly to South East Asia I will happily pay more to get there.

    As an LGBT+ person I feel that it is not only morally incompatible for me to visit these countries or use their airlines but it is also highly questionable for me to do so because of the LGBT+ health activist work that I am involved in.

    I think the predicament that you are in Amanda is however slightly different as you would be going to Trinidad for educational purposes and to lose out on the opportunity to highlight LGBT+ issues in a country like that would be a shame.

    Unfortunately just like you I don’t know what I would do if I was in the same position.

    Like

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