Punitive Measures and Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Identity in Caribbean Countries

Commissioner Dinah Shelton. Photo Courtesy of the OAS.

Petitioners: Global Rights / Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination / Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) / Coalition Advocating Inclusion of Sexual Orientation / Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee
Countries:
Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, other Caribbean Countries
Commissioners:
Shelton, Mejia, Escobar Gil
Topics: Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation

Update:

On October 26, 2010, petitioners representing multiple Caribbean LGBT organizations convened with the Inter-American Commissions for Human Rights (IACHR) to urge the repeal of anti-homosexual legislation.  Petitioners stressed the need for sexual and gender equality in the region and emphasized the laws’ adverse political and social implications.

Maurice Tomlinson, representing the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), stated that many Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, St. Lucia, and Guyana, have laws explicitly withheld from judicial review within each respective country’s court system. The anti-homosexual laws were enacted during British colonization as a part of the imposition of Christian morality and are protected under the countries’ current constitutions.  Consequently, domestic attempts to contest and repeal the laws have been unsuccessful. Tomlinson explained that the laws range from buggery legislations, which criminalize homosexual behavior between consenting men, to “legislations which criminalize the entry of known homosexuals into the country.”

The petitioners noted that the anti-homosexual legislation has perpetuated an anti-LGBT environment that not only impacts the general public, but also influences how religious leaders, politicians, and law enforcement officials perform their duties. Tomlinson added that J-FLAG reports at least thirty violent attacks on LGBT persons per month in Jamaica alone. “The abuse is all around mentally, physically, psychologically. . . fear of being attacked, ridiculed, or being killed is normal,” said Ashily Dior, a representative of the Coalition Advocating Inclusion of Sexual Orientation.

Due to the criminalization of homosexual behavior, Dior asserts that the governments offers little protection and remedy for their citizens. There is a sense of powerlessness among this population to stand up for their rights, and most LGBT persons are driven underground or lead double lives to avoid revealing their sexual identities to the public. Tomlinson emphasized that “the laws provide the environment for hate speech by both religious and political leaders,” as evidenced by President Mustafa Muhammad of the Islamic Council of Jamaica, who in 2010 was reported in a national newspaper saying that homosexuals deserve to die.

Sherlina Nageer, a representative of the Society Against Sexual Orientation in Guyana, argued that the criminalization of homosexuality in Caribbean countries stigmatizes and discriminates against homosexuals, causing a significant barrier to the delivery of proper health care. The stigma associated with being a homosexual has scared the public from seeking proper treatment for HIV, which is still associated with being a primarily “gay” disease in the Caribbean. Nageer emphasized the internalization of LGBT discrimination by health care professionals who have turned away LGBT persons seeking health care for HIV. The petitioners argued that this overarching discrimination has resulted in an increased HIV rate in Caribbean countries retaining anti-homosexual legislation, where the HIV rate is at least twenty to thirty percent. Petitioners compared these rates to the ten percent infection rate in the Bahamas, which has no anti-homosexual legislation.

The petitioners requested that the Commission urge English-speaking Caribbean countries to sign and ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and encourage the adoption of other regional instruments such as the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women. They also recommended that the Commission support HIV awareness and education and conduct a thematic study of the issue with a focus on sexual discrimination.

The hearing drew almost the entire board of commissioners, indicating the issue’s importance to the IACHR. Commissioner Escobar Gil responded that Europe and Latin America have taken great strides toward gender and sexual equality and noted that there is no longer an excuse to delay progress in the Caribbean. The Commission requested more details about specific cases discussed by the petitioners and a catalogue of the laws’ punitive measures. Commissioner Dinah Shelton asked the petitioners if any LGBT crimes have been tried in their respective courts. Tomlinson replied that none of the anti-homosexual legislation has been tested in court, but there could potentially be room for judicial review of some of the legislation. Some of the countries’ buggery laws have been amended under their constitutions, but the petitioners were unsure whether these minor changes open them up for judicial review. After the brief question period, Commissioner Shelton closed the hearing by reiterating the urgency and importance of this issue to the IACHR.

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