OF 13 COMMONWEALTH MEMBER COUNTRIES IN THE Americas, only Belize, Canada and Guyana lie on the main continental landmass; all the others are islands or archipelagos. Every Commonwealth nation can be found around the middle of the American continent with the exception of Canada which is in the north. Canada also has thirty times more land mass than all the other Commonwealth nations in the region put together. All members have an equal say in the Commonwealth – regardless of size.
LGBTI people throughout the region have differing rights and responsibilities due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex, but many face the same challenges in overcoming draconian anti-LGBTI laws and seeking protections from discrimination. In Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, Central and Southern Americas, LGBTI people face the harshest penalties in the whole region, but they are campaigning hard, forming civil society alliances, and perusing strategic litigation, to ensure new rights and freedoms.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA pop. 89,069
LGBTI people in Antigua and Barbuda are not equal under the law and face harsh penalties for consensual same sex activity. The Sexual Offences Act 1995 prescribes the punishment for buggery from fifteen years (between adults) to five years (for minors).
There are also laws around indecency, which affect both women and men and carry a maximum penalty of five years. MESH, an organisation working for LGBTI human rights (see below), indicate that these laws are not actively implemented.
It is not only in the law that LGBTI people face discrimination on the island nation. For the Antiguan Resilience Collective Inc. (ARC), an organisation working for an Antigua and Barbuda where people do not experience social exclusion or marginalisation based on nationality, HIV status, sexual orientation, gender or class and have equal access to sexual reproductive health and HIV services, the most important issues facing LGBTI people are social stigma and discrimination.
While there are daily violations of the human rights of LGBTI people in Antigua and Barbuda, ARC says things are changing: “Life for LGBTI people has changed in the sense that the issues are now being discussed via media and NGOs have been lobbying for better services as it relates to health care and other social services.”
In 2012 the government in Antigua and Barbuda was criticised by a prominent human rights lawyer, Sir Clare K. Roberts, KCN, QC, for voting against a historic UN resolution committing countries to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Sir Clare said the government should have taken the lead in the local fight to reduce stigma and discrimination against sexual orientation discrimination by signing a recent United Nations statement on LGBT Rights.
This frustration is shared by ARC, who say that LGBTI people and organisations in Antigua and Barbuda are tired that government has signed conventions and treaties which support changes to anti-LGBTI laws, but does not follow through and make changes to the law, while LGBTI human rights are violated on a daily basis and there is no political will to make changes to the constitution.
Another organisation working for LGBTI human rights in Antigua and Barbuda is Meeting Emotional and Social Needs Holistically (MESH). MESH has received support for their work, and in 2011, the organisation was represented at a three-day Safety and Security Training Workshop for Human Rights defenders in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Both MESH and ARC recently took part in United, a two-day workshop organised by the US Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and the Caribbean HIV/AIIDS Alliance (CHAA). The event focused on improving media and communications skills for grassroots LGBT civil society groups.
“Members of the LGBTI community experience rejection and alienation by the society at large based on sexual orientation and or sexual identity. Our cultural norms dictate that homosexuality is a sin and our laws seek to invade the privacy of our homes by dictating with whom and the nature of sexual activity is allowable. Safe spaces for socialising are minimal and as such the LGBTI community is forced to meet in secluded places and to dress in keeping with traditional norms. These societal gender biases are indeed affecting the well-being of the LGBTI community and severely impacts on their mental status.
“Because of my profession I find life for me as a gay man in Antigua and Barbuda very unique from the rest of the population. I am able to go into areas where person would normally have challenges going. However, this does not say I do not faced with some degree stigma and discrimination. The discrimination I faced is from some of my colleagues. For example, my supervisor clearly identify my sexual orientation as an abominable sin and urged me to get into a relationship that is right in the sight of God and man or I will go to ‘Hell’.” Orin Jerrick
THE BAHAMAS pop. 371,960
The Bahamas decriminalised homosexuality in 1991 however it still maintains an unequal age of consent, 16 for mixed-sex acts and 18 for same-sex acts.
There is no legislation that provides protection from human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Constitutional Review Commission set up in 2006 “found that sexual orientation did not deserve protection against discrimination.”
In June 2011, despite not having a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, The Bahamas supported a resolution which affirmed equal rights for LGBTI people. “Our record is clear, we continue to support freedom of expression and the right for people to express their opinions”, said then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette.
There is a growing debate about LGBTI issues in the Bahamas. In June 2013 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Michael Barnett told lawyers that “Bahamian courts will soon have to address the issue of samesex marriages” and in 2014 after a number of comments and speeches in support of the rights of LGBTI people, the current Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell said that he felt his career had suffered because of his support for LGBTI equality, “Do we as a society, for example, condone violence against people simply because of their sexual orientation”, he asked.
Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates are a non-profit LGBT support and advocacy organisation based in Nassau. They stand against homophobia, agitate for the removal of laws that discriminate against LGBT people, and fight stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status. Established in July 2011, they are members of the Bahamas Human Rights Network and Civil Society Bahamas, an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations.
“I am a victim of both crime and discrimination. I am a victim of stalking, for more than four years. I am unable to convince the Royal Bahamas Police Force [RBPF] that it is their duty to fully investigate these matters. I have reported both the crimes and the instances of discrimination to the RBPF, to the Commissioner of Police and directly and to the Prime Minister.
“We [members of the LGBTI community] have been unable to convince the Royal Bahamas Police Force that it is their duty to record this information… when processing a crime. The fact that our government does not have the capacity to record instances of crime, violence and discrimination against the LGBT community does not mean that members of the LGBT community have not attempted to have these instances recorded by official mechanisms.” Erin Greene
BARBADOS pop. 277,821
The country’s Sexual Offences Act (2002) includes the heaviest penalties for same-sex activity in the Western hemisphere. Section 9 of the Act imposes a sentence of up to life imprisonment for ‘buggery’.
Section 12 includes a provision against “serious indecency” – which can be taken to apply to both male and female same-sex activity. Like many anti-LGBTI laws in the Commonwealth these laws were originally imposed during the period of British colonial rule and appear to be constitutionally entrenched and difficult to challenge. In February 2013, the Universal Periodic Review again recommended that Barbados repeal antigay laws; this was rejected by the Government, although they did accept recommendations to “implement measures to protect the LGBT population from harassment, discrimination and violence.”
It is important to note that Barbados is the only Commonwealth Caribbean country that recognises the binding jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In a landmark case by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2010, the Court ruled in that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. As Barbados recognises the jurisdiction of the IACHR, the retention of anti-LGBT laws, which can be argued to disproportionately affect LGBT people, means it is effectively in violation of its obligations under the American Convention.
In August 2013, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, at the opening of the Anglican Church Province of the West Indies Provincial Congress, said “whether homosexual behaviour derived from nature or from nurture, it does not lie within our competence to sit in seats of judgement and to condemn those who pursue that practice.”
Despite harsh laws, LGBTI people are active in pursuing rights. United Gays and Lesbians against AIDS Barbados (UGLAAB) are an organisation in Barbados formed for the gay and lesbian community to help support those who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, and to educate and build the self-esteem of LGBTI people in Barbados.
“As a Transgender woman living in Barbados, I always have this to say for myself: It’s interesting, being me. But it’s not always fun. Many of my friends and acquaintances don’t always understand what I mean by what I’m saying, until they observe or hear about what I go through from day to day.
“In recent weeks, I have faced situations where my photo was taken (under the assumption that I was unaware of it) and posted on the internet, with captions and descriptions intending to ‘expose’ me as a biological male. On some of these posts, threats are made by persons, expressing intentions to shoot, burn, or run me over with a vehicle if I were ever seen again (sure enough, if a moving vehicle is near me, some persons do urge the driver to attempt to hit me with the vehicle. Fortunately to date, no such incident has taken place).
“As an activist for LGBT equality, with special focus on that of the Trans community, many would say that I’m facing a losing battle here in Barbados. But it is my determination to be seen and treated just as any other ‘ordinary’ member of society which keeps me going.” Alex D V Hoffman
BELIZE pop. 324,060
Belize is the only Central American nation that outright prohibits male homosexual activity. The criminal code outlaws same-sex conduct with a punishment of 10 years imprisonment.
The country even denies entry into the country for “Any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or who may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour”.
While there isn’t much reporting of incidents of discrimination and violence, LGBTI people continue to be affected by sexuality based discrimination in this self-identifi ed Christian country where many leaders are socially and politically aligned to the Church.
LGBTI people from the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) have started a legal challenge to the country’s colonial era anti-buggery laws on constitutional grounds. In May 2013, the Belizean judiciary started hearing a case where it will be asked to weigh up whether or not laws that penalise homosexuality in the country are constitutional. However the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches, along with the Belizean Government, argue that the elimination of Section 53, which outlaws “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal”, would spur further laws advocating gay rights. No major political parties have supported the decriminalisation. The last hearing in the case was in May 2013 and a decision on the matter is expected later in 2014.
Also in 2013, the Belizean government launched a National Gender Policy to promote the empowerment of all people, particularly women and girls. However, religious denominations have begun campaigning that the language is “ambiguous and may be interpreted as giving rights to homosexuals” and organised an ‘Orange walk’ tour of the country to promote the message that persons who are LGBT should not enjoy the same rights as heterosexual men and women.
“I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two mask men… I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gun shots, insults and physical harm on public transportation, threats that speak to, ‘Caleb You have no right to breathe!’” Caleb Orozco
CANADA pop. 35,158,300
LGBTI people in Canada enjoy some of the most progressive laws in the Americas and the world.
Because of this, Canada is currently one of the main countries that LGBTI people from around the world go to when seeking asylum because of the discrimination they face in their own countries.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Canada in 1969, when remaining British colonial antigay laws were repealed. Eight years later in 1977, Québec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to amend the province’s Charter of Human Rights to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination. Today, sexual orientation is explicitly mentioned as a ground of prohibited discrimination in the human rights acts of all jurisdictions in Canada. In July 2005, Canada became the fi rst Country in the Commonwealth, and fourth country in the world, to legalise same-sex marriages nationwide.
Internationally, Canada is one of the most prominent and credible voices advocating for the fair treatment of, and an end to stigma and discrimination faced by, LGBTI people across the world. Foreign Minister John Baird has consistently denounced the callous treatment of LGBTI people and has contended that “The rights of gays and lesbians are tremendously important. It is completely unacceptable that homosexuality continues to be criminalised in a majority of Commonwealth countries.”
Trans people and allies are currently campaigning for Bill C-279, which has seen a number of setbacks in four attempts and eight years of trying to pass the law. The bill would explicitly add gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Additional provisions were added in 2009 to include gender identity and expression in the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code. The bill has currently stalled in the Canadian senate; civil society organisations across Canada are lobbying hard for its successful passing.
One of the organisations fighting for Bill C-279 is Egale Canada Human Rights Trust (ECHRT). They are Canada’s only national charity promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) human rights through research, education and community engagement. Egale’s vision is of a Canada free of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other forms of discrimination so that every person can achieve their full potential, unencumbered by hatred and bias.
The Lambda Literary and Scholarship Foundation is a Canadian non-profit organisation with charitable status that is devoted to education about the human rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in all their diversities. Their awards are open to all eligible recipients regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, racial or ethnic background, etc. So far, they have annual awards at nine universities across Canada from New Brunswick to British Columbia.
In June 2014 Toronto held the first World Pride event in North America. Over 2 million people took part in 10 days of events which included a Human Rights Conference, the first World Pride Trans Rights March, as well as a huge parade.
DOMINICA pop. 71,684
Dominica made world-wide headlines in May 2012 when two passengers were arrested aboard an international cruise liner for having gay sex on the balcony of a ship docked in a Dominican port.
The pair, from the United States, were charged under ‘buggery’ laws. The law in Dominica criminalises all forms of same sex conduct under the Sexual Offences Act 1998. The Act imposes criminal sanctions for ‘gross indecency’ with sentences up to five years and for ‘buggery’ with sentences ranging from five to twenty-five years.
CHAP Dominica, an HIV organisation, has found that negative statements by key opinion leaders such as politicians have contributed to reinforcing negative attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are several allegations of harassment, bullying, home invasions and other types of abuse perpetrated against LGBTI people in Dominica. There are no laws to protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
In May 2013, Bishop Michael Daniel, President of the Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches called upon Dominica’s political leaders “to take a unifi ed stand and oppose the LGBTI agenda to legislate their sinful behavior.” The Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit had previously said the laws criminalising same-sex intimacy will not be repealed because no “compelling” argument has been posited in that regard.
Minority Rights Dominica (MiRiDom), an LGBT rights advocacy group, has been lobbying the government to protect and promote the rights of LGBT people. MiRiDom has launched a campaign to decriminalise same-sex intimacy. Their campaign has been bolstered by a number of high-profile political figures coming out in support of decriminalisation. In 2011, Sir Brian Alleyne, Former Attorney General and former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, calling for changes to the law said “What a person does in the privacy of his home with another person is his business.” In July 2013, Willie Fevrier, outgoing head of the Dominica Planned Parenthood Association (DPPA) said that discrimination against LGBT people is “a major concern” and that people should be more tolerant.
“Being a lesbian in Dominica embodies one word – Invisible. To the average eye being a lesbian in the Commonwealth of Dominica is just as easy as being a straight man. No real pressure from society. This is false.
“As a lesbian in one of the most rapidly growing homophobic countries in the Caribbean, I have learnt that I have no real rights as a member of the LGBTQI community, and barely that of a straight woman. I have been the victim of sexual harassment, discrimination and often the butt of a threatened man’s joke; with no law enforced for my protection. My sexuality and preference are not accepted in Dominica, but instead simply tolerated.” Anonymous
GRENADA pop. 105,483
Grenada has a relatively vibrant LGBTI community despite the discrimination faced in Grenadian society. This is evidenced by a number of civil society groups that advocate on behalf of the community.
GrenCHAP is the Grenada chapter of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Partnership (CHAP), a network of groups in small Caribbean countries working to promote human rights and health, with a focus on marginalised populations such as LGBT, sex workers, and persons living with and affected by HIV. Their objectives are to promote the health of key populations through education for prevention and the building of skills; to build support networks of key populations; to engage in public education to sensitise and humanise issues; and to advocate for policy and legal reform and to promote equality and universal access to health.
Male same-sex conduct is not legal in Grenada according to the Criminal Code, which views anal sex as an ‘unnatural act’ punishable with of up to ten years in prison. Female same-sex conduct is not specifi cally mentioned in the law. Even though the anti-gay laws are rarely enforced, there have been incidents such as the May 2011 arrest of two adult men for engaging in consensual sexual activity.
“Marginalized populations start off at a stage of questioning and paranoia. Then there’s this long journey where you go along until you eventually are comfortable with yourself and you can function as a ‘normal’ person. And I think if we can speed up that process (in Grenada) as much as possible so that people can start living their lives and be comfortable sooner than later, then that would have a big impact on peoples’ lives. Ultimately, we want people to have a better life.” Nigel Mathlin
GUYANA pop. 795,369
Guyana is the only country on the mainland South American continent where male same-sex conduct is illegal. The Criminal Law (Offences) Act of Guyana prescribes punishment of imprisonment of 10 years or more.
Female same-sex conduct is not explicitly criminalised. In Guyana, LGBTI people are at risk of discrimination and violence. In April 2012, the government established a select committee to facilitate a national consultation around repealing the law. The Guyana Equality Forum, a collective of justice related organisations, has prepared a submission to the parliamentary committee in this regard. In 2000, a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was unanimously approved by the National Assembly of Guyana. However, some religious communities fiercely opposed the provision and successfully convinced then President Bharrat Jagdeo not to give his assent to the bill.
In 2012 three human rights organisations: Guyana RainBow Foundation (GuyBow), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), came together to publish an LBT-specific shadow report for submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The report ‘Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LBT) People in Guyana’ said that despite the right to protection from discriminatory laws, stereotypes, and cultural attitudes for all women, “the Government of Guyana has taken no steps to repeal laws that impact LBT persons or to modify cultural attitudes that lead to climates of fear, harassment, and discrimination. Many LBT people experience discrimination by the police and law enforcement officials. Discriminatory laws against cross-dressing have led to detentions and fines for transgender women. Because of cultural attitudes against LBT people, there have been documented incidences of police intimidation, detention, and the failure to investigate homophobic assaults.”
SASOD has been active in campaigning for a better Guyana for LGBTI people and in February 2010 fi led a lawsuit contesting Guyanese laws against ‘cross dressing’. In September 2013, Chief Justice Ian Chang ruled that men can crossdress as long as it is not for an “improper purpose”. Kemraj Persaud, program coordinator of SASOD, provided advice concerning poverty of LGBT people during the annual gathering of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) which took place in Washington in October 2013. The World Bank took evidence on what it could do to alleviate poverty among millions of LGBT people around the world.
In January 2014, on the first anniversary of the murder of 19-year old Wesley “Tiffany” Holder, LGBTI people came together to organise a ‘March for Justice’ against the slow police investigations of killings of LGBTI people in the country.
“I have reached a point in my life where I could care less of what people think. Today, I am living my best life ever and I owe it to myself as well as society out there to come clean as it were.” Leon Suseran
JAMAICA pop. 2,889,287
Male same-sex conduct is illegal in Jamaica and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Female same-sex conduct is not criminalised.
Sexuality-based discrimination continues to be commonplace and impacts on LGBTI people in a number of ways, including their right to work, education, health, life, and equality before the law, among others. The law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and many LGBTI Jamaicans have been forced to seek asylum abroad as a consequence of the discrimination and violence they face.
In April 2011, the Jamaican government passed the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom but ignored calls to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for non-discrimination. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stated during her 2011 general election campaign that LGBTI people should not be discriminated against and that she intended to facilitate a conscience vote in parliament on the matter, however in recent comments she stated that decriminalisation of LGBTI people ‘was not a priority’ for her government.
J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, is an LGBT rights organisation in Jamaica, founded in 1998, and works for the human rights of LGBT people in Jamaica and the world. To raise awareness within, and increase visibility of, the LGBT community, J-FLAG has developed some social media campaigns that provide LGBT persons and allies with opportunities to share their personal stories with the public. It is part of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS).
According to J-FLAG, “Jamaica is a very classist society, and this is manifested in the way we treat members of the LGBT population. Stigma, discrimination, violence, and crime affect all minority and vulnerable populations disproportionately when compared with the general population. LGBT people experience several layers of homophobia or homonegative attitudes. We experience this in homes, schools, churches, at healthcare facilities, at the workplace, in policy, in law, and in our communities. Crime and violence in particular primarily affect young poor males more than the rest of the LGBT population. This is not unique to the community, as it represents the trend in national crime statistics.”
In January 2013, J-FLAG noted that despite the continued discrimination and violence perpetrated against LGBTI people, there was some progress in Jamaica. A 2012 survey commissioned by J-FLAG found that one in five Jamaicans respect LGBTI people and one in five would support a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that includes sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination. Also, one-third of the population believes the government is not doing enough to protect LGBTI people from violence and discrimination. Among these were what it described as an “unprecedented” move by the University of Technology to address anti-gay attitudes and violence (in response to the savage beating of a male student allegedly found in a compromising position with another male in November 2012); improved relations with the Jamaica Constabulary Force; and calls by the Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson for the buggery law to be amended.
Sadly, anti-LGBTI violence in the country remains high. In July 2013, 16 year-old Dwayne Jones who attended a party as female was murdered by a mob in St James after being identified by another patron as trans. After the murder of a gay activist in Montego Bay, former Prime Minister PJ Patterson called for more tolerance for homosexuals in Jamaica.
Supplementary to J-FLAG, in January 2013 Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) was formed. QCJ came out of the need for an organisation specifically working on issues surrounding lesbian, bisexual and other women who have sex with women. Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is primarily a research and education organisation.
“I am free and happy now, accepted by my family (including my dad who is a Minister of Religion) and friends but it was not always the case. In my earlier years I was verbally assaulted because I was perceived to be a lesbian. I was asked by the then Warden for Taylor Hall, UWI [University of West Indies], to vacate the hall mid- semester because it was reported to him that I was engaging in illegal activities, that is, sexually engaging a woman. I resisted the move but was not awarded a space on Hall for the following academic year.
“Thankfully, I no longer suffer this degree of victimisation but everyday I live with the fear of being harmed on the basis of my sexual orientation. I spend my days advocating for a more rights-based approach to development, one in which Jamaica respects the right of all persons. I am a proud Jamaican lesbian and I applaud the incremental progress being made in Jamaica as I believe it has directly impacted my survival as a lesbian.” Latoya Nugent
ST LUCIA pop. 180,870
The United and Strong (U&S) LGBTI rights organisation was founded in 2001. It has been active at a national and international level, campaigning for human rights, raising consciousness and lobbying the government for law changes.
Their mission is “to provide an enabling environment for the advancement of human rights for the LGBTI community in Saint Lucia.”
In May 2012, United & Strong organised a demonstration at the Office of the Prime Minister and Minister of Education around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). It was the first of its kind undertaken by U&S members and human rights supporters, and highlighted to St. Lucia that the LGBTI community will not remain unseen, nor unheard. U&S have also, in partnership with AIDS Free World and CariFLAGS, produced human rights violation documentation training for human rights defenders in the Eastern Caribbean. In August 2013, United & Strong partnered with AIDS Free World, to host an LGBTI sensitivity training for police officers.
The work of U&S remains so required in St Lucia because of the country’s laws which criminalise LGBTI people. According to the Criminal Code, consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under indecency statues, and some same-sex sexual activity between men is also illegal under anal intercourse laws. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years, and anal intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. LGBTI people in St Lucia enjoy varying levels of tolerance; discrimination remains commonplace.
Christian evangelical groups continue to lead anti-gay movements to block efforts by human rights defenders to advance the rights of LGBTI people in St Lucia. In July 2013, the Caribbean Centre for Family and Human Rights (CARIFAM) published a letter in The Voice, the national newspaper of St Lucia, outlining ten reasons why the government should not decriminalise buggery.
Working against this message is the AIDS Action Foundation (AAD), which works with minority groups such as men who have sex with men to advocate for their basic right to “live and love as they want” without fear of legal or social retribution or incarceration since homosexuality is a criminal offence in the country.
“Coming out as a lesbian in Saint Lucia was definitely an overwhelming experience as I did not know what to expect from my family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and even the everyday man on the street who just randomly says hi as I would walk around the busy streets of Castries. For me it was definitely an emotional roller coaster especially having to break the news to my grandparents who raised me in a Christian home where a lesbian lifestyle was not part of the norms, tradition and culture in Saint Lucia society. However, I managed to break the silence to my friends and family. While some were accepting others were not as supportive. Surprisingly my mom accepted me and like she told me “once you’re happy, I am happy” and I have always kept this with me as my strength.” Jessica St Rose
ST KITTS AND NEVIS pop. 53,584
LGBTI people in St. Kitts & Nevis continue to experience discrimination and acts of violence based on their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity. There are no laws that prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation and the act of buggery remains illegal.
This carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Over the last 5 years there have been a few charges of buggery against men. Female same-sex activity is not explicitly criminalised.
In August 2013, Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, who has lead responsibility for health within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) cabinet, gave his support to a debate in parliament regarding the buggery law. He argued that, “As a country, we have been called upon to look at some of the existing laws that we have on our law books. The buggery law for example, we believe that the time has come for debate to take place in our country with regard to whether these laws, which continue to perpetuate discrimination and stigmatisation against certain people.”
Societal attitudes against LGBTI people impede the operation and free association of LGBTI organisations and the openness of LGBTI people in the country.
“In a word life as a gay man in St.Kitts is complicated. You need to have real strength of character in order to live a happy life here. There are no ‘meeting spots’ such as clubs or bars where you can meet like-minded men. So it’s a constant guessing game if you see someone you’re attracted to. And while the homophobia here isn’t as blatant as other islands, it still exists.
“It’s really hard to summarize so much hate and ignorance in such a small space. The life of a gay Kittitian (male) is one that needs the mental strength of a thousand Vietnam soldiers. Being ambushed verbally and sometimes physically by “Christ following” men and women who are under the impression that somewhere along the line of choosing what shirt we’d wear to work today, we also chose to be aroused by the simple features of a male. Plain and simple, the life of a gay man let alone a young man, who is already struggling to find his identity in the world, is a tough road to walk, but it’s a road we have to take.” Junior
ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES pop. 103,000
Same-sex relationships, either between men or women, are considered illegal. Although rarely enforced, indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, and anal intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in imprisonment.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines rejected the recommendation of the 2008 UN Human Rights Committee to repeal section 146 of the Criminal Code that criminalises sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.
Although no statistics are available, anecdotal evidence suggests there is social discrimination against LGBTI people in the deeply conservative society. An example occurred recently when the President of the Scouts Association of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Morrison Baisden, said gay and lesbian scout leaders will not be tolerated in the organisation.
Baisden, speaking to reporters on plans by the local scouting association to celebrate its 100th anniversary later this year, said, like the World Scout Movement, the local body has been affected by “the spectre of homosexuality”.
Unlike many other islands in the region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not have an LGBTI organisation that can act as a reference point where advocacy and/or social services are concerned. This is done indirectly and through HIV organisations, such as the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Alliance, which attempt to bridge the gap between HIV prevention and social support services for at risk groups such as MSMs and sex workers.
“As a gay young Caribbean citizen, I have experienced both sides of the coin. I have been bullied especially in high school because of my perceived sexuality as well as been subject to physical attacks. I was beaten in fights and was even once stoned.
“There is also the acceptance which I have received in parts of my society. I have found that the more educated you become and the more you climb the social ladder especially in a small society as St. Vincent and the Grenadines that you become more accepted. After returning from my studies at university, more persons look at you now as an upstanding citizen with something to contribute rather than a deviant. There is still a struggle for total acceptance of my lifestyle and the understanding that LGBT rights are human rights rather than a fi ght for choice especially in a close-minded society as mine.” Anonymous
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO pop. 1,225,225
Neither male nor female same-sex relationships are legal in the country and are punishable by up to 25 years imprisonment. However the laws criminalising LGBTI people are rarely enforced except when paired with more serious offences such as rape. Trinidad and Tobago’s immigration laws also bar the entry of homosexual people into the country; again the legislation is not enforced.
In 2011, the Data Protection Act became the first pro-LGBTI legislation in the country. The Act sought 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 is significant as the law provides heightened protections for “sensitive personal information”, which is defined to include one’s “sexual orientation or sexual life”.
In August 2012, Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar sent a letter to the Kaleidoscope Trust, in which said she wanted to “put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation” in the country. Mrs Persad- Bissessar said the stigmatisation of LGBTI people had to be “addressed on the grounds of human rights and dignity to which every individual is entitled under international law.”
The LGBTI community is centred in the capital city of Port-of-Spain. The main advocacy groups opposing anti-LGBTI prejudice are the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) and the Trinidad & Tobago FreePride Foundation Project (FreePride). CAISO was founded in 2009 as a public forum in order to raise awareness among lay people and elected officials about the needs of LGBT people and the issues they face. In 2013 a survey commissioned by CAISO revealed that a little over half of the population is tolerant towards LGBT people.
Another vital group is the Women’s Caucus. It is not a political organisation; rather, it provides gay women with a forum to chat and express themselves beyond the party scene. It was formed to unify these women throughout Trinidad, and aims to help women of the LGBT community to know that they are not alone in their struggles. The Women’s Caucus also hosts social gatherings, using proceeds to aid the needy within the community.
Maurice Tomlinson, a gay rights activist and lawyer from Jamaica who is active across the Caribbean, is contesting the section of anti-gay laws which prohibit homosexuals from entering Trinidad and Tobago. On 8th May 2014 the Caribbean Court of Justice granted special leave, saying that it was arguable that the mere existence of laws such as these could constitute a violation of a person’s rights under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established the Caribbean Community). The governments of Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize, the only two countries in the Western hemisphere which continue to prohibit the entry of gay people, had argued that the laws were not enforced in practice. The case will now proceed to a full hearing.
In June 2014, LGBT youth leaders from across the Caribbean united in Trinidad to push for lingering anti-gay laws to be repealed. At a ‘Generation Change’ event, representatives from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago came together to discuss the problems they face on a day-to-day basis as a result of homophobic laws, which are often colonial-era remnants.
“It was 1997, she was Ellen, I was eleven, and I realized I was not alone. I had never heard the word lesbian until then and instantly I knew what it meant. I was young but I wasn’t stupid and I knew I was ‘different’, I liked girls the way I perceived that my mom liked boys. It would take seven years for me to tell my mother, and when I did, I came out as bi. I did this as a way to ease her into the idea, while trying to convince myself that there was still a little ‘normal’ in me. Fact is I was as normal as anyone could be, and I was bi.” Candace Moses