On Oct. 13, journalist Mark Wilson wrote a scathing report about LGBT rights in Jamaica for The Trinidad Express, referring to the island nation as ”homophobia’s last stand.” Wilson also outlines challenges and changes to laws throughout the entire Caribbean.

Change is in the air. Everywhere, that is, except Jamaica.

On July 5, the courts overturned Antigua’s buggery law, which threatened 15 years in the island’s overcrowded prison. On August 29, they toppled the buggery law in St Kitts-Nevis. Both rulings came from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which also covers St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and Dominica.

In Dominica, the court heard a challenge to the Sexual Offences Act two weeks ago. Will it rule the same way? That seems likely. Challenges are also reported in St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. Two cases are before the courts in Barbados. One has been heard, with a judgment expected within weeks. Both rulings came from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which also covers St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and Dominica.

In Dominica, the court heard a challenge to the Sexual Offences Act two weeks ago. Will it rule the same way? That seems likely. Challenges are also reported in St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. T&T’s homophobic legislation was overturned by the high court in 2018. A similar ruling in Belize came two years earlier, in 2016—and was later upheld by their appeal court. The Bahamas repealed its homophobic laws in 1991. Under pressure from London, the five remaining British overseas territories decriminalised at the start of 2001.

That leaves just two countries with no immediate prospect of decriminalisation, Guyana and Jamaica. They would be a lonely couple, the only places in the Americas, North and South, where gay love can land you behind bars.

Wilson closes by noting that “[c]hanging the law, of course, is at best half the battle. Bullying and discrimination continue—and worse. In Jamaica, two young gay men were shot dead ­execution-style on Emancipation Day, Aug.1. As they say, ‘investigations are continuing.’”

In 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report about the history of anti-gay laws in the eastern Caribbean.

Every day I fear for my safety living in this country because of my sexual orientation. I am alive but if anyone ever find out and wanted to find out, they can kill me …I am an easy target for anything.
—Peter, Dominica, February 21, 2017

The majority believes: “absolutely, kill them before they reproduce.” The average man would think to kill, they probably won’t do it because it is murder.
—Michaela, Grenada, February 21, 2017

The main fear is the fear of disclosure. The fear of being found out. They would lose the favor of their family. They may be displaced in church. People would lose respect for them in their work spaces. They have a whole lot to lose.
—Stella, retired nurse from Antigua, February 9, 2017

The report includes seven Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Populations in these countries range from 54,000 in St. Kitts and Nevis to 285,000 in Barbados.

All seven countries have versions of buggery and gross indecency laws, relics of British colonialism, that prohibit same-sex conduct between consenting persons. The laws have broad latitude, are vaguely worded, and serve to legitimize discrimination and hostility towards LGBT people in the Eastern Caribbean. They are rarely enforced by way of criminal prosecutions but all share one common trait: by singling out, in a discriminatory manner, a vulnerable social group they give social and legal sanction for discrimination, violence, stigma, and prejudice against LGBT individuals.

The English-speaking Caribbean is an outlier in the region. The fact that buggery and gross indecency laws are still on the books there is in stark contrast with recent developments in Latin America where states including Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay have been progressive in enacting non-discrimination policies and anti-bias legislation. Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Chile have taken an international lead advocating for the rights of LGBT people at the United Nations. Several, including Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay, are members of the Core Group of LGBT friendly states at the United Nations and of the Equal Rights Coalition, a group currently composed of 33 states committed to the rights of LGBT people.

In the face of this sobering report, it is important that LBGTQ activists and allies be aware of and support Equality Jamaica, also known as J-FLAG.

J-FLAG is a human rights and social justice organisation which advocates for the rights, livelihood and well- being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Jamaica. The organisation was founded on Thursday, December 10, 1998.

Our work seeks to build a Jamaican society that respects and protects the rights of everyone. Our board and staff are committed to promoting social change, empowering the LGBT community, and building tolerance for and acceptance of LGBT people.

J-FLAG has great Twitter content. Give them a follow!

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J-FLAG posted two great tweets for NCOD, designed to drive folks to hear the rest of the story on the org’s Instagram.

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Watch Trae read more advice, with their own spin, here.

Watch the rest of Glynndevon’s coming out journey here. What’s striking is how both of them faced rejection—Trae cites a childhood spent in “the church,” where being gay was considered a “curse.”

Funded by the European Union, The Equality For All Foundation in Jamaica produces an ongoing series of short video testimonials called #OutLoudJa.

OutLoudJa is an initiative of Equality For All Foundation (EFAF) designed and implemented since 2017 to build the capacity of LGBT Jamaicans and allies to share their lived experiences and speak on diverse social justice issues. Our #OutLoudJA ambassadors are equipped to use their  stories to increasing the critical awareness of the experiences of LGBT Jamaicans.

#OutLoudJA ambassadors are trained using our Speakers’ Bureau training curriculum which gives the capacity to tell authentic stories while centring them in a discussion on human rights. All ambassadors can share their stories and use them to raise awareness among the general public as well as with key decision-makers and stakeholders of how homophobia and transphobia impact their full enjoyment of rights, privileges and services in Jamaica. Ambassadors can also use their stories of human rights abuses to help to raise awareness among legislators, opinion leaders, the media, service providers, political leaders and key decision-makers on the need to strengthen accountability mechanisms. This is to ensure that rights violations are being taken seriously at the level of individual institutions.

A trained #OutLoudJA ambassador is expected to use the knowledge and platform afforded them to speak out loud and advance the welfare of LGBT Jamaicans.

And they do just that. Here’s one #OutLoudJa ambassador’s “Call for Acceptance.”

As mentioned in Wilson’s report above, anti-LBGTQ laws are being challenged and changed in other parts of the Caribbean. 

In response to the ruling, UNAIDS issued this press release on Aug. 30:

UNAIDS welcomes a St. Kitts and Nevis High Court ruling that laws criminalizing gay sex are unconstitutional, meaning that they are immediately struck from the legal code. The Court upheld the plaintiffs’ claim that Sections 56 and 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act violated the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

“This landmark ruling is an important step forward in ensuring equality and dignity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in St. Kitts and Nevis and the whole Caribbean,” said Luisa Cabal, UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today, St. Kitts and Nevis joins a growing list of Caribbean nations that have overturned these colonial-era laws that deny people’s human rights and hold back the response to the HIV pandemic. Everyone benefits from decriminalisation.”

Laws that punish consensual same sex relations, in addition to contravening the human rights of LGBT people, are a significant obstacle to improving health outcomes, including in the HIV response. Such laws help to sustain stigma and discrimination against LGBT people and are barriers to LGBT people seeking and receiving healthcare for fear of being punished or detained. Decriminalisation saves and changes lives.

Al Jazeera adds more detail, showing just how openly homophobic the government is toward its constituents.

The local government unsuccessfully argued that sexual orientation was not covered by freedom of expression guarantees. They also argued that toleration of gay activity would open “the floodgates to practices that could alter and compromise survival of the culture and personality of the Federation”, which they argued was founded on “belief in Almighty God and the inherent dignity in each individual”.

Evangelical groups had also spearheaded efforts to uphold the law. The chairman of the Evangelical Association of Saint Kitts, comprised of about 30 Christian churches, had filed an affidavit supporting the law arguing that “the moral and religious fibre of the community should influence any interpretation of the Constitution.”

The court rejected those claims, stating that “public morality is not synonymous with religious dogma or public opinion.”

Out Leadership—who bills itself as the first company in history whose only product is equality”offered this response:

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Back in the U.S., where we are no strangers to homophobia, transphobia, and anti-LBGTQ hate crimes, groups and organizations have formed specifically to support and meet the needs of the Caribbean LBGTQ community.

The Caribbean Equality Project (CEP) was founded in 2015, in the New York City borough of Queens.

In the hazy summer of 2013, the south Queens neighborhood of Richmond Hill, New York was rocked by an act of violence that wrought trauma on the lives of the queer+ neighborhood residents and victims and also exposed the virulent dynamics of hatred in the West Indian conclave.  A need was identified to advocate for queer people at the neighborhood level and to educate the community as a whole.  

Founded in 2015 by Mohamed Q. Amin in response to anti-LGBTQ+ hate in Richmond Hill, Queens, NY, the Caribbean Equality Project (CEP) is a community-based organization that empowers, advocates for, and represents Black and Brown, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, and queer Caribbean immigrants in New York City. Through public education, community organizing, civic engagement, storytelling, and cultural and social programming, the organization’s work focuses on advocacy for LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights, gender equity, racial justice, immigration and mental health services, and ending hate violence in the Caribbean diaspora. To date, CEP is the only educational-based agency serving the Caribbean-American LGBTQ+ community in New York City, with a dedicated aim to cultivating supportive and progressive Caribbean neighborhoods free of violence, oppression, and discrimination. CEP’s organizing fosters solidarity, community partnerships, and greater family acceptance.

As a Black and Brown immigrant-led social justice and human rights organization, inclusivity and intersectionality are the foundation of the Caribbean Equality Project’s work. The organization’s liberation movement educates, inspires, uplifts, and celebrates the Black and Brown, queer and trans non-religious, Muslim, Hindu and Christian, documented and undocumented members of the Caribbean diaspora of all generations, all categories of ability, and all HIV statuses.

I follow CEP on Twitter, and just love the video they made for an exhibit produced for the Queens Museum in February. As the YouTube notes explain:

As part of the Queens Museum’s “Year of Uncertainty,” the Caribbean Equality Project’s interdisciplinary exhibition “Live Pridefully: Love and Resilience within Pandemics” reimagines and affirms Afro and Indo-Caribbean LGBTQ+ immigrants and asylum seekers as essential workers, creatives, and contributors to the cultural diversity of New York City.

[…]

The exhibition features the work of acclaimed writer Rajiv Mohabir, Qween Jean, founder of Black Trans Liberation, Rohan Zhou-Lee, founder of the Blasian March, reproductive rights activist Tannuja Rozario of South Queens Women’s March, and LGBTQ rights and environmental justice advocate Darren J. Glenn, HIV and voter rights advocate, Theo Brown, and immigration and asylum seekers rights activist Tiffany Munroe of #CaribbeanEqualityProject.

The video is a short but potent reminder of how equality movements must always be intersectional—after all, oppression is. 

I’m wearing purple today for Spirit Day. How about you? 

Join me in the comments for more Caribbean LGBTQ stories, struggles, and successes, as well as the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.

Denise Oliver Velez

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