The President last Wednesday (June 22) assented to the Data Protection Act, a landmark piece of legislation that establishes an ambitious framework “to ensure that protection is afforded to an individual’s right to privacy and the right to maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal.” The legislation: promulgates rules and standards for all persons who handle, store or process personal information belonging to another person, in either the public or private sector; regulates the authority of public entities to collect personal information, its use, protection, accuracy and access; establishes hefty fines and corporate penalties for breaches; and includes whistleblower protections. It also provides for the development of binding industry-tailored codes of practice in the private sector.
Of great significance to gay, lesbian and bisexual communities in Trinidad & Tobago, the new law provides heightened protections for “sensitive personal information”, which is defined to include one’s “sexual orientation or sexual life”. Ensuring citizens’ autonomy in their consensual sexual affairs requires both protecting their sexual lives from unwarranted intrusion and protecting them from discrimination based on their sexuality.
This is the first piece of legislation recognizing sexual orientation and related rights that we are aware has been enacted in the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s Parliament. Originally drafted and introduced in November 2008 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government, the bill was reintroduced by the People’s Partnership in January of 2011, and shepherded to passage with bipartisan support.
The sexual orientation provision was never hidden from the public, and was reported on in the media both times the bill was debated. It is an important lesson about the ways in which our Parliament should be legislating on sexual orientation: soberly, fairly, and without appeals to politics, division, manufactured hysteria and controversy – or imaginary verses from Leviticus. It also demonstrates how legislators can integrate questions of sexual orientation into a broad approach to rights and protections for everyone, and frame them in relationship to matters of broad public and political consensus, e.g. privacy for one’s sexual life. What is of further significance for legislating on sexual orientation is that the bill was subject to unusually vigorous debate and amendment by the Senate’s Opposition and Independent benches, which left the sexual orientation provisions intact. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister MP Collin Partap, who piloted the bill, was saluted by the PNM for his flexibility and that of his staff in building consensus on the legislation.
We have previously congratulated the Government for its leadership in moving this legislation forward. Today, on behalf of the nation’s tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens, the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation pays tribute to all parties in Parliament and our Senators on the Independent bench for their support and vigorous contributions to strengthening of a forward-thinking piece of legislation that strengthens respect for human rights, and for our inclusion in it. We are proud today of our Parliamentarians, and we thank them.
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