LGBT issues in the Caribbean continue to be somewhat of a roller coaster, especially when it comes to Catholic involvement with those issues. Recently, we’ve seen a story with positive and negative sides emerging from this region, giving hope and also reminding us of how far we have to go.
In Trinidad, a Catholic priest has publicly come out in support of civil rights for gay and lesbian people, as the country there debates reforming their constitution. While the draft of the constitution notes the oppression that gay and lesbian people experience, it fell short of addressing that problem by not providing them constitutional protection. Instead, the draft calls for further national discussion and education on these issues. You can read about the political debate by clicking here.
At a forum where citizens were able to express their opinions on the constitution draft, a Catholic priest, Fr. Stephen Geofroy, spoke out in favor of lesbian and gay rights. The Trinidad Express reported:
“Geofroy said the matter should not be debated further and instead Government should be embracing of all its people.
“ ‘Now on the issue of sexual orientation being subject to further national discussion…discussion about what? Aren’t LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), aren’t they not humans still, yes or no?’ said Geofroy.
‘Yes? Then they should have rights as other people have,’ he continued as he received loud applause from the packed hall.
“Geofroy said there was no debate on whether gays are people or not as they have expressed themselves clearly that they are part and parcel of this country’s culture.
“ ‘We’ve come over a long history of slavery and indentureship and now it is time to break the many things that denigrate the person,’ said Geofroy.
“’This is certainly one of the things we have to do and we have to be very decisive of it.”
” ‘Geofroy said there has been discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class in this country.
“ ‘…I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have the right to love who they want irrespective,’ said Geofroy .
“He said to continue discussing the issue at a national level without taking a decision was to go the way of other countries such as Nigeria and Uganda as part of a political agenda.
“ ‘I think we should avoid that like the plague,’ he said.”
Geofroy’s statements were met with thunderous applause. In the same article, Colin Robinson, executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), praised Geofroy’s words, called him a “real Catholic,” and explained that there were a handful of Catholic and Anglican clergy who were ministering to the island nation’s gay community.
Archbishop Joseph Harris, to whose diocese Geofroy belongs, attempted to correct the priest’s comments, but at the same time, spoke out for civil rights for lesbian and gay people by noting that the Church has always “held there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation.” A follow-up article in The Trinidad Express reported:
“Harris said: ‘It is unfortunate; he used an unfortunate turn of phrase when he said people should be free to love whom they want to love. I hope, therefore, when he was speaking about people being free to love, he was talking about love in the platonic (brotherhood). Love is platonic.’ “
Harris mentioned that he was concerned that Geofroy’s comments would be construed to support same-sex marriage.
The archbishop went on to explain his policy on gay priests, as well as his opinion of Geofroy:
“Asked about the Church’s policy on gay priests, Harris said: ‘There are priests whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex. All priests are called to celibacy. But as long as a priest is not acting out his orientation, he is okay’
“Harris said Fr Geofroy was ‘a priest in good standing.’ “
Geofroy’s decision to speak out for human rights makes him not only a priest of good standing, but a priest of courage, integrity, and compassion.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry