Godfrey Sealy

Sealy, Godfrey 2017 (2)

Godfrey Sealy was born on July 3, 1959 (to April 26, 2006). He was an important Trinidadian playwright, director, actor, singer, producer, and a crucial HIV/AIDS and same-gender loving activist regarded as a trailblazing visionary in the Caribbean.

Godfrey Sealy was born in Port of Spain, the capital city of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He grew up in the cultural hub of St. James, and attended Fatima College, a Catholic boys secondary school where two teachers encouraged his blossoming talent for writing. He cited the influence of his grandmother and his time in St. James, where he was exposed to diverse cross-cultural influences from both African and Indian traditions.

In the early 1980s, Godfrey tutored for the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition, an initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Community Development to build cultural, environmental and sporting skills of people within the context of indigenous traditions in Trinidad and Tobago. His early work in theater was as an actor, first in various Fatima productions, and then he appeared with Helen Camps’ Tent Theatre in the early 80s. Sealy went on to work as an actor associated with All Theatre Productions. His first staged play was the co-authored review “Yes We Can” in 1983. The following year, he founded the Playhouse Company to stage the cult musical “The Rocky Horror Show,” which was followed in 1985 with his own musical, “Limin.’”

“One of Our Sons is Missing” was Sealy’s first publicly produced play in 1988. It was groundbreaking and quickly became part of a Caribbean-wide program of workshops on AIDS. It was the first play in Trinidad to deal openly with HIV/AIDS. When Sealy tested positive for HIV a year later, he refused to surrender. His work continued to include the theatre community, the arts, work with sex workers, female impersonators and the poor.

Sealy’s second play, “Roll Call,” won the best original play Cacique Award. Two years later, he staged a revival of his play “Home Sweet Home” at the Central Bank Auditorium in Port of Spain. The play made headlines when Sealy, lead actor Heathcliff West, Mavis John and the late John Isaac were arrested for using obscene language on stage. It became a test case when the police arrested the trio mid-performance, insisting on upholding an archaic colonial-era law. They were found guilty, but discharged in 1996. The National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago president Davlin Thomas later described the arrests as a “defining moment” in Sealy’s career.

Sealy became friends with Father Clyde Harvey, who was actively counseling at-risk gay youth. Father Harvey likened Sealy to a true prophet, saying Sealy’s message challenged and upset the status quo.

Sealy was widely respected as an artist and a man of great integrity. He served as President of the National Drama Association, and was involved in promoting the arts in Trinidad and Tobago. He became a voice for the poor and the gay community, fighting tirelessly for a better way of life for gays and lesbians by giving motivational speeches, lessons in etiquette and discipline, and calling for recognition of their rights. It was said that Sealy’s home in Woodbrook, affectionately known as “Bohemia,” was open to all who needed a friend. He requested assistance from the National Achievers Fund, administered through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, to help support his artistic and cultural efforts.

Sealy’s activism and openness came at a price. He left Trinidad in 2001, citing discrimination on the part of the government. His request for assistance from the National Achievers Fund had been turned down, he said, because of his medical condition. Social Development Minister Manohar Ramsaran said at the time, “A 36-year-old man dying of AIDS? How do I explain to the nation that this is someone who qualifies for the National Achievers Fund? He added that applicants had to be “above moral and other standards.”

Sealy first moved to Miami and said he would not return to home country. “Well, there’s nothing really for me to come back to,” he said in an interview at the time. “Right now, it’s a matter of life and death, and I’m choosing life.”

Opportunities opened up for him and he moved to London, where he produced theater, including a staging of “Jean and Dinah” and “Angel,” his play for two actors about a man’s encounter with a transvestite. It was later performed as a staged reading at Trinidad’s Little Carib Theatre in 2004. Sealy would later work in New York and return to London, where he lived for three years. He went back to Trinidad over his doctor’s objections. “Now I am paying the price for my patriotism,” he said.

Godfrey Sealy organized the first gay/lesbian chat room sessions where Trinidadians could come together in a “safe” environment to discuss their concerns and the way forward. Sealy attended AIDS conferences around the world and was well respected from Antigua to Amsterdam. He worked with the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) to promote healthy sexual choices within the gay community, and was a co-founder with Catherine Williams in setting up Community Action Resource (CARe), to assist the HIV positive, especially the homeless. Sealy also worked with Friends for Life, who assisted mainly gay men and lesbian women in their daily struggles with the disease.

Just before his death, Sealy received an honor from CARICOM for his courage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But he was not well enough to go, so Father Harvey traveled to Guyana to accept the award on his behalf.

Godfrey Sealy lost his battle with AIDS on April 26, 2006, at Mercy Home Hospice in Woodbrook. Sealy was only 46, and died of complications from pneumonia. His sister, Ann Marie, said that he had been speaking up to the day before, and went very peacefully. A very moving tribute was created by Godfrey’s partner, Cyrus Sylvester, and can be viewed on YouTube.

At the time of his death, Sealy was working on a musical called “Paradise Garage,” geared toward youth with HIV. It was posthumously staged with the assistance of his sister, Ann Marie.

Father Harvey would remember Godfrey for his courage and his strong spirit. “He was both HIV positive and homosexual, and in living out the tensions of what that meant in our society, he became a figure both of tremendous admiration and also discrimination and stigma.”

We remember Godfrey Sealy for his immeasurable contributions to the arts and his advocacy for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV/AIDS.

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