On Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 11:45 a.m., a small protest was staged outside the Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown, Barbados.
Organised by local trans* activist Alexa Hoffmann, the demonstration was dubbed a “Flash Stand for Equality and Inclusion.” It lasted for half an hour, and was mounted with the assistance of Jamaican LGBTI human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson. Two days later, on Aug. 21 at 12:05 p.m., the same protest was repeated for approximately 45 minutes and with a greater turnout.
The message of the protest focused on raising of awareness about Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 1992, which criminalizes any form of anal intercourse (buggery) even if between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom.
The common law enforcement and interpretation of this statute principally targets men who have sex with men (MSM), and contributes to the stigma and discrimination meted out to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Barbados. Under that law, persons who are convicted face up to life imprisonment. However, any attempt to effectively enforce the law risks violation of the privacy of consenting adults. The enforcement and interpretation of the law is discriminatory against MSM, as it would appear that any similar sexual act done between a male and a female, or even two females, would not come as a case before the courts.
In the past, organisations have been formed with the intent of advocating on behalf of the LGBT community. These groups made efforts to raise awareness of the existence and realities of LGBT individuals in mainstream society, and sought to combat the stigma and discrimination which these persons face. However, it would appear that the efforts made by these organisations have proven unsuccessful in effecting any notable social change beyond the general awareness of LGBT existence, and some small level of sensitisation.
As it stands, in spite of persons who say that they either tolerate or “accept” LGBT individuals, there are still many elements of social behaviour that continue to place these persons on a separate and lower level compared to the status quo. There is still a “we-against-they” mentality, and in many cases, the attitude is that LGBT persons should remove themselves from society, or otherwise not draw attention to themselves.
Many opponents of the LGBT advocacy movement have argued that laws like Section 9 have not been actively enforced for some time; however this still does not negate the fact that the laws are still on the books and can be enforced at any time at the discretion of law enforcement agencies. Until such time, MSM individuals are considered “un-apprehended criminals,” according to Tomlinson.
The Stand for Equality and Inclusion appears to be the first protest of its kind in Barbados. While showing a meagre turnout of less than five persons the first time, and a turnout of seven persons on the second iteration, both protests still drew the attention of passers-by — locals and tourists alike. It allowed for an opportunity to educate some persons on the mechanisms of the Sexual Offences Act, as well as to lay bare some of the social attitudes and realities which LGBT persons face in Barbados.
It also dispelled myths about the “Gay Agenda,” with placards such as “The real gay agenda is equality and love.” Other notable placards displayed during the protests bore slogans such as “Pride and Industry for All,” “Life Imprisonment for Love?” and “Privacy over Section 9,” all juxtaposed between rainbow flags and iterations of the Barbados flag.
According to Hoffmann, the idea of a peaceful protest or march would certainly be a good step forward for any activist or advocacy group in carrying out their work towards equality for sexual minorities, whether it is on a legislative, professional or societal front. While she admits that some objection to this strategy is to be expected from members of society, especially in the wake of recent events in North America, she is stressing that Barbados is “quite far from ready” to deal with matters such as marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples.
“It is more important to work on the social climate now as it regards the treatment of LGBT persons as included, equal members of society, before moving on to anything else,” she says.
For more photos, see Facebook galleries about:
- The first Stand for Equality and Inclusion (Aug. 19)
- The second Stand for Equality and Inclusion (Aug. 21).
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