Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in Trinidad and Tobago and the Southern Caribbean

Alana D. D. Griffith and Peter W. Wickham


This article provides an analysis of the public’s attitude towards homosexuals in the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago through a survey conducted in 2013. It explores the drivers of acceptance and rejection of homosexuals as well as negative and positive attitudes. Reference is also made to two other country studies of the populations of Barbados and Guyana.  The paper offers an analysis of the public’s attitude toward homosexuals in the three islands and its attitude towards key legislative issues related to homosexuals and same-sex relations. It is found that there is a dissonance between the attitudes towards homosexuals expressed by Trinbagonians and their support of discrimination against gays, their hatred of gays, and support for anti-gay laws. While 36% of the population surveyed expressed outright hatred of homosexuals, 60% supported the maintenance of laws that criminalised same sex intercourse.

Keywords: homosexuality, public opinion, discrimination, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana


Este artículo provee un análisis de las actitudes del público hacia homosexuales en la República de Trinidad y Tobago a través de una encuesta realizada en el 2013. Explora los impulsores de la aceptación y el rechazo de los homosexuales, así como las actitudes negativas y positivas hacia este grupo. También se hace referencia a otros dos estudios nacionales de las poblaciones de Barbados y Guyana. El ensayo ofrece un análisis de la actitud del público hacia los homosexuales en las tres islas, su actitud hacia las cuestiones legislativas fundamentales relacionadas con los homosexuales y las relaciones entre personas del mismo sexo. Se encuentra que existe una incongruencia entre las actitudes expresadas por los Trinidenses en su apoyo a la discriminación contra los homosexuales, su odio de los gays y su apoyo a las leyes anti-gay.  Mientras el 36% de la poblaciǿn encuestada expresó odio hacia los homosexuales, el 60% aportó el mantener a las leyes que criminalizan las relaciones sexuales entre el mismo género.

Palabras clave: homosexualidad, opinion pública, discriminación, Trinidad y Tobago, Barbados, Guyana


Societal laws serve as a guide for moral behaviour; they purportedly serve to protect people from harm and ensure freedom. As a result of its functions, the criminal justice system serves as a social institution through which new and existing members of society are socialised to accept its position as authoritative. Like many of its Anglophone neighbours, Trinidad and Tobago (TT) has legitimised the government’s position on homosexuality through its laws. However, whilst laws and the criminal justice system do exist, laws are broken, changed, and in some instances made redundant by the actions of the members of society. Their outmodedness is evident in the lack of prosecutions made for infractions of the said law(s) and the disregard of such laws can also be evident in the actions and attitudes of those supposedly guided by these laws. This article explores such possible disconnection as well as the factors that impact on these incongruities where they do exist. Although the analysis in this article focuses on TT, an overview of the policy context of TT, Guyana and Barbados is respectively provided.

This article contributes to existing research surrounding the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Questioning and Intersex (LGBTQI) community in the Caribbean. More significantly, this research provides the first national cross-country comparative work on attitudes to homosexuality and its decriminalization in these countries. Although these studies were motivated by both curiosity and the interest of the sponsors, the wider purpose goes beyond a Human/Minority Rights issue which is bound up in the public’s attitude towards homosexuals.  Certainly if the public has a generally negative opinion of homosexuals or attitude towards such persons then there is good cause to document such attitudes in order that a case can be made for special protection.

The Main Context: Trinidad and Tobago

There has been no better an example of an incongruous message in the lives of the LGBTQI community in TT than in the expressions of the former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and that government’s Norms and Values Report. The Norms and Values Report of Trinidad (Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the People and Social Development, 2011) stated that in the context of Trinidad, dissonance towards this community existed in the population, and was attributed to a contradiction between anti-homosexual religious beliefs and the politically correct acceptance of homosexuality. Further, it was stated by Baboolal in the Trinidad Guardian of December 18, 2012 that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was planning to introduce measures in a national gender policy that would “put an end to all discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.”[2] By September 26, 2014, the Trinidad Guardian was reporting that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was saying that gay rights were not legally possible given a lack of consensus on the issue. Such a statement gives one the impression that all government decisions are made by consensus. The irony is that withstanding the imprudence of the pursuit of decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fact that these issues were not central to the United National Congress (UNC) party’s platform in 2015, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s government was nonetheless not re-elected.

It is pellucid that the postcolonial state in Trinidad has imposed “a veiled sexual order on the chaotic legacy of colonialism” (Alexander 8).  Rather than use the opportunity provided by the repeal of its laws relating to sexual crimes in 1986 to eliminate archaic legislation, Trinidad and Tobago introduced legislation to further criminalise sexual activity between persons of the same sex. Ironically, TT’s former coloniser, England, had decriminalised such activity by 1967, some nineteen years prior. Trinidad and Tobago’s Sexual Offences Act 2000 (Chapter 11:28) Section 13 criminalises anal sex between both men and women, while Section 16, in addressing serious indecency, naturalises heterosexual sexual intercourse and introduces the illegality of sex between women. It therefore represents a solidification and consolidation of the State’s attitude toward homosexuality. When this is considered along with the country’s Immigration Act (1995 A.8) that prohibits homosexuals from entering the country, it is evident that the laws of Trinidad and Tobago support homophobia by criminalising same sex relations. The conflation of sexual intimacy in same-sex relations with violent sexual offences like rape in this anti-homosexual legislation possesses a symbolism that underlies homophobic attitudes in the Caribbean (Gaskins 436). These “[a]nti-homosexual laws stigmatise non-heterosexual subjects and this stigmatisation is used to rationalise sexual prejudice” (Gaskins 436).

The dynamics of homophobia in the twin island republic depict a nation where residence in either Tobago or Trinidad can impact the level of support for homosexuality. When Trinbagonians’ perceptions of homosexuality were ascertained in 2009 in response to the questions “[t]o what extent do you support equal rights for gays/lesbians/homosexuals,” 69% of Trinidadians and 86% of Tobagonians indicated that they were unsupportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians (Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the People and Social Development). Ironically, Tobago hosted the openly gay singer Elton John at its jazz festival in 2007, though his entrance into the Republic violated its Immigration Act (1974). Withstanding the outcry from a small group of clergy, then Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Orville London, indicated that the THA would not support any discrimination against the singer (Cupid 2007). The economic benefits of hosting such a show would not have gone unnoticed, not to mention the publicity for the tourist destination of Tobago. It is therefore interesting to see how quickly the State can separate its “morality” and human rights when finances are part of the equation. Research by Puar suggests that Trinidad’s Carnival similarly circumvents this moral argument as it has been growing as a gay and lesbian tourist event. Carnival in Trinidad can create a covert lesbian space as women may openly gyrate on each other without being deemed lesbian (Puar, 1043).

Findings from other research in TT indicate that several factors appear to influence attitudes towards homosexuality. In the Trinidad Norms and Values Report, while the sex of the respondents made little difference in the level of support for homosexuality, other factors such as the level of education, age, and income did. More specifically, the higher the level of education, the higher the income, and the younger the age group, the more likely the respondents were to be supportive of equal rights for gays/lesbians/homosexuals (Section 9: 158-160). When this support was extended to willingness to associate with homosexuals in the form of liming (hanging out), approximately half (48%) of the respondents were unwilling to do so, although females were more likely to be willing to socialise with homosexuals (Section 9: 161). The impact of religiosity on attitudes towards homosexuality in Trinidad has also been documented (Genrich and Brathwaite 2005; Chadee et al 2013). Chadee et al describe their findings of intrinsic religious orientation being related to greater exclusion of and more negative attitudes towards homosexuals as ironic (1). This irony is further compounded when one considers that Chadee et al’s research was conducted at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus (a tertiary education institution) with 55% of the respondents being in the age group of 18-22 years (younger respondents), given that these two factors were found to be associated with less homophobic attitudes.

Offending Against Morality: The Guyana Context

Whereas in TT and Barbados, legislation regulating sexual behaviour is contained in Sexual Offences Acts, in Guyana the criminalisation and “unnaturalisation” of same sex intercourse is explicit. Under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap. 8.01, Title 25 Offences Against Morality, homosexual relations are illegal in Guyana and are captured under Sections 352 (Committing Acts of Gross Indecency with Male Person), 353 (Attempt to Commit Unnatural Offence) and 354  (Buggery). These offences can result in punishments of imprisonment for two years, ten years, and life imprisonment respectively. Efforts at a constitutional amendment to ban discrimination against lesbians and gays in Guyana lapsed in 2002, although the Bill had the support of all 55 legislators in Parliament and only required the President’s support (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada). Even more recently, a special select committee was to be established and a motion to review homosexual laws was to be moved by then Prime Minister Samuel Hinds based on an appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council (Kaiteur News). A 2006 Report of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board refers to correspondence from a co-chair of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) which suggested that homophobia in Guyana is widespread. The Guyana Human Rights Association further suggested that there was physical danger in publicly declaring one’s sexual orientation as gay or lesbian.

More complex still and not addressed in this article is the discrimination faced by transgender Guyanese. Even the recent ruling that challenged the very archaic and colonial 1893 Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Cap. 8:02 of Guyana Section 153 (xlvii) that criminalises cross-dressing has not completely eliminated the challenges faced by its trans community. It was ruled that cross-dressing is a criminal offence only if it is done for “improper purposes,” with the improper purpose being left to interpretation by the criminal justice system (Davidson and McFadden, 2013). It is clear that in the context of Guyana, legislation like that in TT may reinforce negative attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Trotz has argued that legislation such as those under discussion here can be manipulated in their application to the detriment of those from less affluent and powerful backgrounds as they reinforce the status quo. There is generally a dearth of research on homosexuality in Guyana, a situation that makes clear the contribution of this article to the literature in offering some insight into the attitudes of Guyanese to homosexuality.

Barbados: The Tolerant Context

Research dating back to 1987 revealed that Barbadians exhibited a “double standard” of morality where homosexuality was concerned as sexual relations between males was less acceptable than sex between females (Dann 64). This double standard is upheld by its legislation that metes out more severe punishment to men under buggery offences than women under serious indecency (Laws of Barbados Sexual Offences Act Chapter 154 Section 9, 1993). While the legislation does not make a distinction between male-male and male-female anal sex, sex between two females still receives a lesser punishment. Furthermore, it has been found that the meaning of homosexuality varied in the island as it was found that 31% of the population thought it applied to male-male relationships and only 2% thought it applied to female-female relationships (Caribbean Development Research Services, CADRES). When compared with the findings of Trinidad’s Norms and Values Report (157), the CADRES research indicates that in Barbados, unlike its southern neighbour TT, there are clear differences in the attitudes to homosexuals based on sex, as men are twice as likely than women to express attitudes of hatred towards homosexuals. However, as in Trinidad, persons in lower income groups were more likely to express hatred for homosexuals (CADRES).

Barbados has also not escaped the residue of colonial morality as early efforts to engage a national debate on the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003 by then Attorney General Mia Mottley were largely uneventful. One outcome was the Report on the Legal, Ethical, and Socio-economic Issues Relevant to HIV/AIDS in Barbados (Waldron). The Report noted that legislative props encourage the marginalisation of some minority groups that are already at high risk for transmission of this disease among themselves and by extension the wider community (Waldron).  It specifically mentioned changes that were needed to remove the ambiguities in relation to sexual conduct by minors and also the criminalisation of same-sex activity.  The implication of Waldron’s perspective is that legislative change might be necessary and therefore it is important that the political environment be considered to determine whether this would encourage any politician to pursue such changes.

Whilst there has been no dramatic shift in the legislation criminalising same sex relations in Barbados, there has been a shift in the attitudes of its population with regards to homosexuality and its criminalisation. Comparative data available for Barbados for the years 2004 and 2013 (Figure 1) demonstrate that over the 9 years since the first study was conducted, there has indeed been some movement in public opinion on this issue with 11% more Barbadians being accepting of homosexuals than was the case in 2004, and 1% more hating gays (Griffith and Wickham).

Figure 1: Comparison of Attitudes of Barbadians to Homosexuality 2004 & 2013

The increase in acceptance is directly related to a decrease in tolerance, suggesting that Barbadians have progressed from tolerance of gays to acceptance of gays; this implies a consolidation in national attitudes (Griffith and Wickham). Support for the buggery law has also changed. Figure 2 demonstrates that between 2004 and 2013 there has been a dramatic fall in the support for the buggery/sodomy laws to the extent of 33%, with a slight rise in the cohort that opposes the laws by some 18% (Griffith and Wickham).

Figure 2: Comparative Support for the Decriminalisation of Homosexual Acts in Barbados 2004 and 2013


Three national surveys were conducted in Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). In each instance the national sample size was approximately 1,000. Keeping in line with national polling methods, the surveys in each country had a margin of error of -/+5% as it was understood that a 95% confidence interval could be achieved with this sample size. In all instances, the surveys employed a stratified random sample, which identified as primary strata age and gender in geographical areas associated with polling divisions in each constituency in each country. One in every three households in the polling division was selected for a total of 12, 24, 36, or 48 households and one respondent in each of these households became the interviewee. In addition, other demographic information was solicited and collated. However, the survey was not designed to replicate these characteristics in a manner that was proportionate to the population. Interviewers were each assigned areas based on a random selection normally associated with Polling Divisions (PDs) in each country, and the survey was largely interviewer administered.

A regional team that included representatives from the Coalition for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), SASOD, University of the West Indies and the United Gays and Lesbian Association of Barbados (UGLAAB) developed the questionnaire used in the survey.  This process was deliberately made regionally inclusive “regionalised” since the partners were all regional organisations researching and advocating for LGBTQI issues and therefore had similar concerns. The preceding literature review demonstrated the extent to which the legislative environment is similar and cultural environment is also roughly similar in the islands.  It was therefore prudent to take a similar approach that would ultimately also allow for regional comparisons.  The regional team agreed on broad guidelines for the conduct of the exercise and one critical agreement was that the survey should be executed by interviewers who would be perceived as heterosexual or at least not exclusively confined to members of the LGBTQI association in any of the countries involved.  It was agreed that this arrangement would enhance the credibility of the research exercise and reduce any bias in the respondents.

This research analyzes the consistency in the relationship between support for discrimination against gays, the expression of attitudes of hatred for gays, and support for anti gay laws. The chi square (Χ2) measure was used to assess the impact of sex, age, place of origin, and education level on the attitude towards homosexuals in TT using a confidence interval of 95%. This article does not specifically address issues related to religious beliefs or income and their impact on homophobia.

Another comparative exercise sought to determine the impact that sexual orientation and gay associations had on the respondent’s attitude.  In this instance, respondents were asked to state their sexual orientation and also whether or not they knew homosexuals who were friends, family, business associates, and political or religious leaders.  The methodology in the first instance varied from that of the broader survey since the question was deemed to be sensitive.  As such, respondents were provided with a response sheet (which was discretely coded to the remaining interviewer-administered document) and asked to self-administer this question along with one about their political persuasion. The interviewer was not privy to the respondent’s declaration as the completed questionnaire was thereafter deposited into a bag that was provided to assure confidentiality.

The legal issues explored in this study as they relate to TT were all relatively simple and in all instances the language used was tailored towards an audience that was neither legally nor academically trained.  The questions sought to discover:

  • The extent to which there is public support for the laws “as is”;
  • The extent to which people actually understand what the laws “regulate”;
  • The extent to which people are familiar with and support the perceived objectives of the laws; and
  • The extent to which people are comfortable with the unintended consequences of these laws.

Apart from soliciting opinions on the retention of the buggery/sodomy laws, the study also sought to establish whether people thought the laws “made sense” since debates over national dissonance emerged and moreover because it is generally accepted that the laws are not enforced.  The questionnaire provided a series of responses that appeared to reflect the most frequently cited reasons for the preservation of the buggery/sodomy laws and respondents were asked to say in each instance if they thought the rationale was “valid.” A link to the complete survey is located at the end of this article.


 The demographic characteristics of those who “hate,” “tolerate,” and “accept” homosexuals in TT are presented in Figure 3. It graphically depicts a comparison of the demographic factors and their impact on the respondent’s attitude towards homosexuals. It was found that sex, age, place of origin, and education are the variables, which had a significant impact (p<0.05) on homophobic attitudes in TT. That is, these are the variables that recorded a chi square (Χ2) statistic in the 95% confidence region.  Specifically, women, young people, those with more education and non-native born Trinbagonians were found to be generally more tolerant and accepting of gays. With the exception of the impact of the respondent’s sex, the findings here are fairly consistent with those in the Trinidad Norms and Values Report.

Figure 3: General Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in TT

The Impact of Gay Association on Attitudes to Homosexuals in TT

In investigating the impact that sexual orientation and gay associations had on the respondent’s attitude, it was found that persons with some gay association on a personal level were less inclined to be homophobic. This speaks to the impact of familiarity (Figure 4).  It is also interesting here to note the analysis with respect to the sexual orientation question, which revealed that 13% of self-identified gays and lesbians hate gays, which may indicate self-hate. Given that these self-declared gays also declared hatred of gays it presents an area for further research to delve into the homophobic attitudes expressed by self-identified homosexuals. Research has found homophobia to be more pronounced in people whose homosexual desires were suppressed as a result of authoritarian parenting (Weinstein et al, 2012).

Figure 4: Impact of Gay Association on Attitudes to Homosexuals in TT

In addition to the more straightforward question about the respondent’s gay associates, they were also asked about the extent to which they accept or reject such homosexuals. More specifically, respondents were asked “[i]f you became aware that any of these friends/relatives/associations of yours was a homosexual, would you,” and then given the options: accept them, publicly reject them, quietly withdraw, or whether they were uncertain. The details of this response are presented in Table 1 below.  This table ranks the responses from “1” to “8” with “1” being the most acceptable to the respondent and “8” being the least acceptable.  Trinbagonians are most willing to accept gay friends and least willing to accept gay religious leaders.  It is interesting that respondents were as willing to accept a gay child as they would a public official and moreover that a gay religious leader with whom they were not necessarily affiliated was more “offensive” to them than a gay child.  Similarly, the gay friend or family member is apparently viewed differently to the gay child when it comes to the scale of acceptability.

Table 1
: Scale of Acceptability (TT)

Legal Issues in TT, Guyana, and Barbados

Respondents were told, “Presently the laws of Trinidad and Tobago outlaw the act of Buggery/Sodomy, whether between two men or a man and a woman and regardless of whether this act is in public or private, consensual or forced.”  Thereafter they were asked if they support or oppose this law. The responses with respect to TT, Guyana, and Barbados are presented comparatively in this instance.

Figure 5: Support for Buggery/Sodomy Laws in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, and Barbados

It can be seen that in all instances, a clear majority of people in each of these countries supports the buggery/sodomy laws (Figure 5). Moreover, the support for these laws is highest in TT, while Barbados and Guyana have similar levels of support reflecting the fact that half of those populations support the buggery/sodomy laws.  In all instances, about 20% of persons were not sure of their views on this question and almost a similar quantity opposed the laws. However, it is significant here that the level of uncertainty is quite low and the level of support for the laws does not dip below 50%, suggesting that this is an issue people have a clear opinion about and that they have come to clear conclusions on this matter as the level of those expressing indecision (unsure/won’t say) are less than half of those indicating support in all three countries.

In response to the general question about whether or not the laws make sense, the single largest quantity of Trinbagonians (59%) said they thought the laws made “perfect sense” while 15% said the laws were illogical and 26% opted not to answer the question.  It is noteworthy here that the quantity of persons who thought the laws made sense was similar to the quantity of persons who supported the law.

Figure 6: Rationale for “Buggery Laws” in TT

Figure 6 demonstrates several of the reasons Trinbagonians identify with the preservation of the buggery/sodomy laws. When advised that the laws were not enforced in Trinidad and Tobago, respondents were asked what they thought was the rationale for the maintenance of these laws in that light. The most popular reasons were the suggestion that the laws were “a fair and reasonable expression of moral and religious standards” (42% and 41% respectively) and the suggestion that the laws served an important public health purpose (43%).  It is noteworthy that respondents were not convinced in any large number that the laws helped stop the spread of homosexuality, as only 22% of them held such an opinion. When it is considered that 23% of the respondents also indicated that homosexuality is an illness, implied in the responses of the 22% is the perspective that homosexuality is “contagious” and that the laws help to stop the “spread” of homosexuality. It also reflects some of the sentiments expressed in the media for denying Elton John entry into TT by Archdeacon Philip Isaac and other clergy as it was felt that he might entice others towards his lifestyle (Roberts 2007).

Attitudes Towards Sexual Intercourse

When this issue was further pursued with respect to what respondents thought the laws should be targeting in terms of sexual activity, Trinbagonians generally thought that the laws should penalise anal sex in all regards (gay or straight). This is reflected in responses to the questions of whether the laws of TT should penalise two men for having sexual intercourse in public or two men having sexual intercourse in private, which were all above 85%. Here the options were explicit statements of gay and straight sexual intercourse in both private and public. There was little interest in penalising straight sex in private (4%); however, 39% felt the laws should penalise two men for having sex in private, with 35% wishing to see two women having sex in private penalised and 34% wanting to see private group sex penalised in TT. These data are significant since there is a clear indication here that Trinbagonians wish to see private sexual activity prosecuted even though this should theoretically not be of concern to respondents.  The debate centres on the extent to which the private sexual behaviour between consenting adults should be penalised. This effectively rejects the concept of private morality, which is one of the fundamentals of UK Common Law, which is the foundation of legal principles in Trinidad and Tobago.

Attitudes Towards Discrimination

The issue of discrimination is explored from a regional perspective separately here with an emphasis on whether it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and whether violence against sexual minorities is discrimination.  In this instance, the data presented are national and provide a comparative perspective of the three countries investigated using the same variable.  It is evident that respondents in all three countries have a very low tolerance for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, since between 15% and 22% of respondents in each country stated that they believed that persons SHOULD be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation (Figure 7).  The other aspect of this issue spoke specifically to violence and asked respondents if they believed that violence against sexual minorities WAS discrimination. Here also there was an overwhelming response in all three countries, which demonstrated that people properly understood that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation included violence (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Attitude Towards Discrimination in TT, Barbados, and Guyana.

Against this background, respondents were asked what they thought the state ought to do regarding discrimination and specifically which types of discrimination they thought the state should target as a priority.  In this regard, respondents were most concerned about discrimination against children (76%), persons with disabilities (76%) and persons living with HIV/AIDS (55%).  In all other instances, a minority of respondents thought that the state should prioritise discrimination with respect to minority racial groups (38%), persons who identify themselves as gay (28%) and those who appear to be gay (23%).  These data and the fact that there is also minority support for the prioritisation of discrimination on the basis of race, which is a sensitive issue in Trinidad and Tobago, is suggestive that Trinbagonians generally do not believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a priority that warrants special attention by the state. More explicitly, in Figure 8 below it is seen that the majority of respondents in all three countries expressed the view that recognising the rights of gay people is not a priority. While a greater percentage of Trinbagonians (73%) expressed this sentiment when compared with Barbadians (66%) and Guyanese (64%), the difference between the countries was not significant.

Figure 8: Gay Rights Priorities

Attitudinal Issues: The Incongruous Truth in TT

Figure 9 below speaks to the crucial point being made in this article, which is based on data from the Trinidad and Tobago survey. It diagrammatically presents the critical responses to three different questions presented to respondents at different times in the survey. Further, it can be said to provide greater depth on the country’s contradictory position (national dissonance) or confusion.  The support for buggery laws stands at 60% of the population of Trinidad and Tobago and implies that these respondents are comfortable with the criminal pursuit of persons who engage in “gay sex” in private. While the buggery laws penalize anal sex between males and females and two males, buggery is often conflated with gay sex in the context of TT. It is important to note that is it was explained to respondents that buggery involved anal sex between two males or a male and female before an answer was solicited so there could be no confusion regarding their misunderstanding the implication of the law.  It is therefore ironic that only 15% of this same population does NOT support discrimination against gays and only 36% admitted to “hating” gays.

Figure 9: An Apparent Contradiction in TT

The implication here is clear since there is no relationship whatsoever between support for the buggery laws and support for discrimination.  This means that either Trinbagonians do not see the buggery laws as discriminatory or they think the laws have some greater purpose that outweighs their discriminatory effect. It is possible that this greater purpose may be linked to respondents understandings of how the laws are an expression of TT moral standards, religious standards, and are important from a public health perspective, to protect young people from abuse and to help stop the “spread” of homosexuality. Due to the nature of survey, further exploration of respondents’ reactions to the term buggery and what it meant lie beyond the scope of this paper. The inclusion of the “hate” question here also reflects a contradiction born of the assumption that one would want to criminalise a group that one hates, which would justify the support for anti-gay laws.  In this instance it can be seen that although twice as many persons “hate” gays as do persons who support discrimination, still only half the quantity of persons that support the buggery laws hate gays.  In this instance respondents were given the opportunity to indicate they “hate,” “accept,” or “tolerate” gays, and it is entirely possible that the 64% of persons who do not hate gays could fall into either of these categories (accept or tolerate), or may not have answered the question at all.  One presumes that support for the criminalisation of “gay-sex” approximates most closely with an attitude of “hatred.”


The foregoing presented select results from a CADRES three-country study, with an emphasis on Trinidad and Tobago in support of specific contentions.  It is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the data, but conveys a clear perspective that TT is not largely homophobic. When the expression of explicit hatred, tolerance, and acceptance is examined, the level of homophobia in Trinidad and Tobago is below 40% and is counterbalanced by the fact that close to 20% of the respondents identified with the most positive attitude towards homosexuals (“acceptance”) as distinct from the those who were prepared to “tolerate” homosexuals (39%).  In addition to this, the point was made that Trinbagonians are generally opposed to discrimination against homosexuals and properly understand what such discrimination is, although there is a clear misunderstanding of the extent to which the state itself discriminates by way of the maintenance of the buggery/sodomy laws.

The legal perspective is also fascinating since Trinbagonians clearly support the buggery/sodomy law and properly understand that it speaks to private sexual activity, which a majority believes should not attract the attention of the state, in respect to heterosexual activity.  There is, however, clearly some amount of concern about what Trinbagonians appear to think “sexual deviance” is.  Based on the data presented on TT attitudes towards sexual intercourse, this is any activity which goes beyond two heterosexuals, since there was an expression that the state should penalise gay sex between both men and women, as well as sex among groups in private.  This supports the central contention that there is an intense fear of the implications of the removal of a law that is not enforced and that would indeed be difficult to enforce.  Conversely, it can be argued that there is a general belief that the buggery/sodomy law serves a useful purpose other than to form the basis of criminal prosecution.

In addition to the human rights issues at stake, there are associated gender issues, since it would appear as though much of the public’s attitude towards homosexuals is reflective of skewed gender perspectives. The gender aspect is especially interesting since some would have presumed that women have more to fear from gay men with whom they interact in ignorance of their sexuality.  In this regard, ignorance relates to the possibility that a woman may have sexual intercourse with a man who has not self-identified as gay or bisexual and in so doing, places herself in a vulnerable position. Consequently, in circumstances where the heterosexual man is more intolerant, he is unlikely to experience the same vulnerability as a heterosexual woman given that his heterosexual orientation makes him unlikely to pursue a sexual relationship with a man.  Therefore, if men are more intolerant, it could perhaps be interpreted to mean that straight men feel in some way threatened by gay men. The fear of gay men by straight men could be having a damaging effect on their psyche, and this too presents an area for further research.


The outdated legislation criminalising same-sex intercourse and which seldom prosecutes offences is contributing significantly to national dissonance in TT and quite possibly the other islands of the Caribbean. It is questionable whether these laws can realistically prevent private sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex in the absence of other ‘moralising’ factors in society. What is more important is that the attitudes towards this archaic legislation produce great anxiety amongst decision makers in their efforts to change the laws given international and growing domestic pressure from human rights groups and their desire to maintain power.

The findings of this research make clear the need for continuous and consistent research on the attitudes towards homosexuality in TT and by extension the other two islands used for reference – Barbados and Guyana. This article primarily relates to TT and one of the shortcomings is the fact that there are no comparative studies in that country.  In much the same way that public attitudes towards homosexuals have changed in Barbados between 2004 and 2013, it is at least possible that Trinbagonian public opinion can also change. It is only by conducting future national surveys that any significant shifts in attitudes can be determined.

A sample of the CADRES TT survey can be found at:


[1] This paper is a version of a presentation made by one of the authors to a course in Human Sexuality which was mounted by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) in association with Trinidad’s Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) (August 2013, Trinidad and Tobago).

[2] Then Prime Minister Bissessar wrote a private letter to the Executive Director of Kaleidoscope, a United Kingdom-based NGO that campaigns for gay and LGBT rights globally. The letter was reprinted in the Guardian article “PM Promises Rights for Gays in Gender Policy,” by Yvonne Baboolal.


Works Cited

Alexander, M. Jacqui. “Not Just (Any)Body Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas.” Feminist Review 48 (1994): 5-23. Print.

Baboolal, Yvonne. “PM Promises Rights for Gays in Gender Policy.” Trinidad Guardian 17 December 2012. Print.

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* Essay submitted February 1, 2015; accepted July 14, 2016.

Alana Griffith is Lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. She teaches courses in Caribbean social policy, Caribbean social problems, social planning, and social inequality and marginalization. Her research interests include welfare systems and social protection in developing country contexts and comparative social policy.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and Principal Director of the Caribbean Political Research Company for Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). This organization conducts social and political surveys and research on behalf of governments and political parties, along with NGOs, regional, and international organizations.