News day / One hundred and six secondary school students from 34 local schools, and five schools from St Lucia, Guyana, Barbados and Suriname played the part of UN General Assembly delegates as they participated in the Rotary Club of Central Port-of-Spain’s 20th annual Model United Nations (MUN) to debate LGBT rights and inclusion.

The resolution topic was preventing discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution recommended “in the case where the rights of LGBT people have not been sufficiently protected, foreign aid be withheld, or said nation may face possible expulsion from regional organisations.” It also called for a review or repeal of legislation that criminalises homosexuality, called for an independent committee to be established to combat discrimination against LGBT persons and more. The students were assigned countries, and added to the atmosphere by wearing costumes of said country.

They were then asked to research and defend their country’s position, despite their personal opinions.

After all the countries stated their position on the resolution, the debate began.

During the morning session, Italy seemed to hit a nerve with some of the other nations that did not support the resolution.

Italy stated that discrimination and violent acts were perpetrated mostly because of religion and culture.

Its delegate quoted scripture stating that while some religious texts state that homosexuality was a sin, other parts promote love and so that, even if it was a sin, discrimination still should not occur.

Another Italy delegate said although the country was approximately 80 per cent Christian, its society was against LGBT discrimination and pushed the laws forward.

He said the laws of any country should reflect society and not its religious beliefs.

Several countries took umbrage to Italy’s statement with Nigeria saying that Italy used the scriptures incorrectly, Malaysia asked where the line would be drawn if they agreed to the resolution, and Egypt stated that it was a conservative country and could not simply “wash religion and culture away.” Myanmar said it was offended that Italy would suggest that it advocated violence, while Uganda asked why everyone was getting worked up about LGBT rights when there was still racism, religions and other forms of discrimination to be considered. Even France, which decriminalised homosexuality and legalised same-sex marriage, came under attack, with one delegate saying France should not talk about discrimination while it still had a ban on the burqa __ a full-body covering worn by some Muslim women.

India however, tried to get the debate back on track, saying they were at the meeting to adopt a plan and not insult each other.

Several times the moderators had to ask delegates to maintain decorum and to refrain from making personal comments. The event chairman, Lara Quentrall- Thomas, noted that the Rotary Club chose the topic this year because she believed the rights of all marginalised people need to be something young people need to discuss.

“We are so consumed with what we want as individuals, young people are so focussed on how they look or who’s looking at them, rather than thinking about the bigger picture. For us it was an opportunity to put this topic on the table…

“If Trinidad and Tobago wants to be a modern country, an inclusive country, be at the UN and be taken seriously, we have to address these issues,” she said.

Quentrall-Thomas pointed out that many persons were not comfortable with the topic and that created some challenges for the Rotary Club. She said when the sponsors learned about the topic, some asked that the companies’ names not be mentioned.

Also, one school pulled out of the event, and two wanted their students to be assigned to countries more aligned to the school’s views.

“We said no because the whole point of this exercise is to have an experience where you have to look at something from a different point of view to your own.

It may not change your view… What we want is every child who goes through this process to come away feeling a little more empowered to make decisions that maybe go against the norm, or against what they are told to think, to think for themselves.” She stressed that the exercise was not about whether or not the students agree, but it was about respecting other people and their views, and understanding that everyone has the right to make their own choices.


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