Americas

Caribbean nations inch their way toward LGBTI rights

Map of the Caribbean shows Belize at center left and Trinidad at lower right. (Map courtesy of CDC.gov)

Map of the Caribbean shows Belize at center left and Trinidad and Guyana at lower right. (Map courtesy of CDC.gov)

Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in Jamaican sewer -- before they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

Homeless LGBT youths in Jamaica slept in a drainage culvert before police forced them out in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

Several Caribbean countries with laws against same-sex intimacy are at least discussing the possibility of repealing them. In Belize and Jamaica, those laws are being challenged in court. In Guyana, the prime minister talks about repealing them. In Dominica, the prime minister says they’re not enforced.

But sexual minorities suffer from intense social stigma in those and other nearby countries. Homelessness among LGBTI youths plagues Jamaica and Barbados, because parents evict their LGBTI offspring.

LGBTI rights in the 11 Caribbean countries that are still hanging onto their anti-gay laws are the focus of the following excerpts  from the 2015 edition of the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The complete reports cover a variety of human-rights issues beyond those excerpted here, including workers’ rights; discrimination against women, children, minorities, indigenous people and others; torture; and civil liberties.

The reports are all written from the perspective of the United States, although the U.S. is far from blameless with regard to human rights. Among many current examples, at least 14 U.S. states keep unenforceable anti-gay laws on the books;  the United Kingdom has just issued a travel advisory warning about the discriminatory new laws imposed in North Carolina and Mississippi; and the U.S. still struggles to end its historic mistreatment of indigenous people and of racial, ethnic and other minorities.

This blog is reprinting LGBTI-focused excerpts about human rights in:

 

Excerpts from the recently published U.S. State Department reports from 2015 begin here:

Antigua and Barbuda

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, language or national origin, political opinion, citizenship, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or HIV or other communicable disease status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Going further, the constitution explicitly states “No person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner.”

Consensual same-sex sexual activity for males is illegal under indecency statutes; however, the law was not strictly enforced. The law also prohibits anal intercourse. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men carries a maximum penalty of 15 years. No antidiscrimination laws exist that specifically protect LGBTI persons.

Societal attitudes somewhat impeded operation and free association of LGBTI organizations, but there were a few organized groups. There were limited reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a variety of settings.

There was one report of police brutality against a well-known transgender individual. On September 12, police apprehended this individual for following another car. While in custody, the individual stated that the police severely beat him, and as a result he lost sight in his right eye. The police are still investigating the incident, but one organized LGBTI group claimed that they believe the police will cover up the incident.

Barbados

One group of participants in the LGBTI-police sensitization session in Barbados discuss issues and ask questions of Maurice Tomlinson (top left) and his husband, Tom Decker (center, in front of the class). (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Participants in an LGBTI-police sensitization session in Barbados in 2015 discuss issues of tolerance and discrimination. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

The constitution provides for equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion, political opinion, and national or social origin, and the government effectively enforced these provisions. The constitution permits the deprivation of personal liberty for preventing the spread of communicable diseases.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, with penalties up to life imprisonment, but there were no reports of the law being enforced during the year. The law does not prohibit discrimination against a person based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care. Activists reported that stigma against LGBTI persons persisted.

Activists reported few violent incidents based on sexual orientation or gender identity but suggested that social stigma and fear of retribution or reprisal led LGBTI persons to underreport the problem. Anecdotal evidence suggested that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. Activists claimed that while many individuals lived open LGBTI lifestyles, disapprobation by police officers and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred. Anecdotal evidence indicated that LGBTI persons were vulnerable to crime, specifically destruction of property, and that LGBTI persons received threats.

Activists reported that many LGBTI persons were homeless, as families often were not accepting of LGBTI children, some of whom became involved in the commercial sex trade.

Belize

Caleb Orozco of United Belize Advocacy Movement (Photo courtesy of CTagOnline)

Caleb Orozco of Unibam is challenging the constitutionality of the Belize law against homosexual activity.(Photo courtesy of CTagOnline)

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, and age, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions.

The criminal code states that “carnal intercourse” with any person “against the order of nature” shall receive a punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment. The government interpreted this law as including sex only between men. Additionally, the Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The legal challenge by a member of the local NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) against the “carnal intercourse” law continued during the year. As of November the Supreme Court had not issued a decision.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to lack of official reporting. As of November UniBAM had registered 12 cases of violence as a result of sexual orientation and gender identity, including nine cases involving homicide, violent attacks, (political) hate speech, medical service discrimination during pregnancy, denial of education to a minor due to his sexual orientation and gender identity, and family-based violence.

In January an openly gay man was stabbed several times, shot in the face, and thrown into a nearby river, where he drowned. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community classified the killing as a hate crime, but the police did not declare it as such. As of November police had made no arrest.

Local LGBTI rights advocates noted that LGBTI persons feared police and were harassed while reporting crimes. They also noted that police at times refused to accept reports of crime from LGBTI persons. UniBAM reported that continuing harassment and insults by the public affected its activities and that its members were reluctant to file complaints.

A private hotel and resort announced a gay pride event to be held in September and advertised it as a tourism activity. The announcement drew criticism from certain churches, after which the organizer cancelled the event.

Dominica

Bishop Gabriel Malzaire

Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Dominica, has called for the elimination of criminal penalties for homosexuality. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in 2014 that Dominica does not enforce its law against homosexual activity, at least in private homes, and has no plans to do so.

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, place of origin, color, creed, and political opinion, and the government generally enforced it.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity for both sexes is illegal under indecency statutes. The law also prohibits anal intercourse between male partners. The government reported rare enforcement of both statutes, and there were no instances of the law being enforced through October. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care.

There were no official reports during the year of violence against LGBTI persons, but anecdotal evidence suggested societal and employment discrimination against persons due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was common in the socially conservative society. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported that LGBTI victims of violence or harassment avoided notifying police of abuse because of social stigma. There were very few openly gay men or lesbians.

Grenada

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, or gender, and the government generally upheld these prohibitions.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activities between men and provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law makes no provision for same-sex sexual activities between women. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care.

Society generally was intolerant of same-sex sexual conduct, and many churches condemned it. Most LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Grenada Caribbean HIV/AIDS program (GrenCHAP) participated on the national AIDS council, served as an advocate for LGBTI persons and at-risk populations, and experienced no impediments to its operations. There were no gay pride events.

Guyana

Guyana President David Granger (Photo courtesy of merrill.umd.edu)

Guyana President David Granger has spoken about repealing the country’s anti-gay law, but has not taken action on the issue. (Photo courtesy of merrill.umd.edu)

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, political opinion, disability, language, social status, religion, or national origin or citizenship, and the government effectively enforced these provisions. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on HIV status or other communicable disease. There is no constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Consensual same-sex activity between adult men is illegal under the law and is punishable by up to two years in prison. Anal intercourse is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, regardless of whether the intercourse is between persons of the same sex. Activists reported that it was more common for police to use the law to intimidate men who were gay or perceived to be gay than to make arrests. There are no laws concerning same-sex sexual activity between women. The law also criminalizes cross-dressing. In October a male domestic worker was convicted for cross-dressing.

No antidiscrimination legislation exists to protect persons from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported widespread discrimination of persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Reports noted discrimination in employment, access to education and medical care, and in other public settings. A 2012 report noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons were fearful of reporting crimes committed against them because they believed or were told charges would also be brought against them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jamaica

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, place of origin, political opinion, color, or creed. The government generally enforced these prohibitions, although there continued to be discrimination based on political affiliation in the distribution of scarce governmental benefits, including employment, particularly in poor inner city communities.

The law prohibits “acts of gross indecency” (generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy) between persons of the same sex, in public or in private, and provides a penalty of two years in prison for the offense. There is also an “antibuggery” law that criminalizes consensual as well as nonconsensual anal intercourse, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. During the year, it was only enforced in cases of sexual assault and child molestation and was not used to prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. Homophobia was widespread in the country.

Logo of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG)

Logo of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG)

The NGO J-FLAG reported that during the year approximately 100 LGBTI persons were subjected to discrimination, harassment, violence and other forms of abuse, including 19 cases of physical assault, 34 of verbal assault, 22 involving threat and intimidation, and four mob attacks. According to J-FLAG, an estimated 100 LGBTI persons reported being forced to flee their homes and rendered homeless over the past six years; another group of approximately 30 individuals remained homeless in Kingston. Through J-FLAG and other local NGOs, LGBTI persons were able to address these issues in the media and public forums and advocate for their human rights. Several high-ranking political leaders expressed support for safeguarding human rights of LGBTI persons.

The Ministry of Health and J-FLAG trained more than 200 healthcare workers in 2014 and 2015 to sensitize them to LGBTI patients. Although the country has universal health care, members of the LGBTI community relied mainly on the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life clinic, claiming that the staff in the government’s health system did not understand their needs and was unwelcoming. Training programs such as those conducted by J-FLAG, public advocacy by other NGOs and international donors, and increased focus by the government on the public health issue of HIV/AIDS increased the number of LGBTI persons accessing public-sector health care facilities.

[For much more information about LGBTI issues in Jamaica, see this blog’s archive of articles about Jamaica.]

Saint Kitts and Nevis

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, or sex, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men, which carries a penalty up to 10 years in prison, but there were no reports of the law being enforced. The law does not prohibit sexual activity between women. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Negative societal attitudes towards the LGBTI community impeded the operation of LGBTI organizations and the free association of LGBTI persons. The government asserted it received no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation; however, unofficial reports indicated that violence and discrimination was a problem. Anecdotal evidence suggested that LGBTI persons were reluctant to report incidents of violence or abuse for fear of retribution or reprisal due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Saint Lucia

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, political opinions, or color.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under indecency statutes, and some same-sex sexual activity between men is also illegal under anal intercourse laws. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, and anal intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. No legislation protects persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the indecency statutes and anal intercourse laws were rarely enforced, there was widespread social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons in the deeply conservative society. There were few openly LGBTI persons in the country. Openly LGBTI persons faced daily verbal harassment. Civil society received reports of LGBTI persons denied access to rental homes or forced to leave rental homes as well as being denied jobs or leaving jobs due to a hostile work environment.

Suspected hate-crime victim Marvin Anthony Augustin (Photo courtesy of TheVoiceSLU.com)

Suspected hate-crime victim Marvin Anthony Augustin (Photo courtesy of TheVoiceSLU.com)

There were few reported incidents of violence or abuse during the year. Civil society representatives noted that LGBTI persons were reluctant to report incidents of violence or abuse out of fear of retribution or reprisal. Media sources and the LGBTI community linked the killing during the year of 18-year-old Marvin Anthony Augustin of Grand Riviere, Gros-Islet, to the victim’s sexual orientation, contending that the circumstances of Augustin’s death suggested a hate crime against a gay male and that the police investigation has been very slow.

The country’s sole LGBTI organization, United and Strong, conducted human rights training for selected police, customs, and correctional officers on both general and LGBTI-specific content.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The law provides for equal treatment regardless of race, sex, national origin, political opinion, and religion. The government generally enforced this provision. Persons who are not citizens may not receive full protections under the constitution.

Consensual same-sex conduct is illegal under indecency statutes, and some sexual activity between men is also illegal under anal intercourse laws. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years, and anal intercourse acts carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, although these laws were rarely enforced. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Anecdotal evidence suggested there was social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, although local observers believed such attitudes of intolerance were slowly improving. Members of professional and business classes were more inclined to conceal their sexual orientation.

Trinidad and Tobago

The government generally respected the constitutional provisions for fundamental human rights and freedoms without discrimination based on race, sex, national and social origin, political views, or religion, and it effectively enforced these prohibitions.

Although the law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, providing penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, the government generally did not enforce such legislation, except in conjunction with more serious offenses such as rape. Immigration laws also bar the entry of “homosexuals” into the country, but the legislation was not enforced during the year.

The law identifies classes of persons protected from discrimination but does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The 2012 Children Act decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors. Other laws exclude same-sex partners from their protections. LGBTI rights groups reported that a stigma related to sexual orientation or gender identity in the country remained and likely inhibited reporting incidents. LGBTI rights groups also reported individual cases of violence against LGBTI persons, as well as a reluctance to report crimes to police due to fear of harassment by police and court officials. For example, during the year an LGBTI individual went to report a crime to police but was made to wait hours in the police station for processing while police officers “made fun” of him.

In general victims of gay-related hate crimes avoided media attention.

Keith Rowley, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago (Photo courtesy of TechNewsTT.com)

Keith Rowley, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago (Photo courtesy of TechNewsTT.com)

In August incoming prime minister [Keith] Rowley stated the country was not ready to address the social issue of decriminalizing homosexuality, remarking, “We need to talk about these things before we jump to a conclusion…they are very sensitive issues and the population has to be prepared to take part in these discussions.” Rowley subsequently expressed his view that all citizens should be protected by the laws that govern the country.

In October during a budget debate in parliament, the minister of sport and youth affairs twice indirectly referred to an opposition member of parliament as a “princess,” and subsequently the minister of finance made the same minister the butt of an antigay joke on his Facebook page. The opposition member of parliament, who is not openly gay, demanded an apology and received strong popular support in social media.

15 thoughts on “Caribbean nations inch their way toward LGBTI rights

  1. Appalling that places with such small populations fail to protect the human rights of hundreds of millions of people, who are then expected to uphold the laws that preserve the existence of such dreadful places. Seems unsustainable.

    Like

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