Out in the World: Barbados high court decriminalizes homosexuality

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday December 15, 2022
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The High Court of Barbados on December 12 struck down the Caribbean island country's anti-sodomy laws, decriminalizing homosexuality. Photo: Courtesy Barbados Judicial System
The High Court of Barbados on December 12 struck down the Caribbean island country's anti-sodomy laws, decriminalizing homosexuality. Photo: Courtesy Barbados Judicial System

Barbados this week became the third Caribbean island country to strike down colonial-era anti-sodomy laws used to criminalize homosexuality this year.

The High Court of Barbados called the country's Sexual Offenses Act's Sections 9 and 12 unconstitutional in an oral decision issued December 12. A written judgment is expected by late January, according to media reports. The Associated Press reported that it was not immediately clear if the government would appeal the ruling.

LGBTQ Barbadians consider Prime Minister Mia Mottley an ally. Mottley called for the laws to be abolished when she was the country's attorney general, reported the AP.

Gay men charged with "buggery," anal or oral sex, that is consensual faced life imprisonment under Section 9. Men and women faced up to 10 years for "severe indecency," a sexual act "whether natural or unnatural" for the "purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire" under Section 12.

The British colonial-era laws were rarely enforced, reported the AP.

The case was brought against Barbados, a country of 288,000, by Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity, the umbrella regional LGBTQ organization and joined by Equality Inc., better known as Equals Barbados. Butterfly Trans Barbados also was a plaintiff in the case.

London-based human rights organization Human Dignity Trust provided technical assistance in the case.

Trust Chief Executive Téa Braun called the ruling "a resounding victory for LGBT people in Barbados" in a December 13 statement from the trust and "the first major step."

"The dismantling of these laws is the first major step, but not the last step," Braun told AP. She noted that even with the court striking down the law, LGBTQ Barbadians still face discrimination and violence.

Nonetheless, the decision was applauded as major progress in the region.

"This decision shows that we are moving away from the colonial mindset that has been embedded into Barbadian society," stated Michael Rapley, chair of equals at the trust, in a separate release. "We are pleased to see that combined advocacy efforts throughout the years have made a real difference."

Raven Gill, founder of Butterfly Barbados, called the decision "a pivotal moment for equality for all Barbadians and one more step in the journey toward more inclusivity for LGBT citizens."

"This will definitely mean that I and my community can navigate life with just a little more ease and comfort, in the knowledge that Barbados has taken a step to understand us and respect us," Gill continued.

Global organizations and Barbadian business leaders also praised the decision.

Luisa Cabal, UNAIDS regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, called the ruling "historic."

"This historic decision is a significant step toward protecting the human rights and dignity of LGBT people in Barbados," stated Cabal in a December 13 release from the agency, noting its positive effect on the country's response to HIV/AIDS "by helping to reduce stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT people and increasing the uptake of HIV testing, treatment and prevention services."

UNAIDS reported in the statement that laws criminalizing LGBTQ relationships and oppressing queer and nonbinary human rights "act as a barrier to improving health outcomes, including in the HIV response. LGBTQ people living in places where there's discrimination and stigma stop queer people from "seeking and receiving healthcare for fear of being punished or detained. Decriminalization saves and changes lives and builds stronger societies," it stated.

Barbados LGBTQ activist Zi Donnya Piggott, who's co-founder of Pink Coconuts, a platform for LGBTQI travelers, called the ruling "a long time coming."

Piggott praised the advocates who campaigned to decriminalize homosexuality in Barbados.

"It's beautiful to see Barbados' step toward inclusion," Piggott, who is also Open for Business' Caribbean campaign lead, continued in a statement, reported the Washington Blade .

"We hope it signals to other Caribbean islands that our people only stand to benefit from decriminalization as well as other inclusive laws, and economic opportunities it brings for the entire region," Piggott added.

Caribbean LGBTQ organizations have pushed back against conservative and religious leaders who opposed abolishing the laws during the past decade.

Barbados joins courts in Antigua and Barbuda (July) and Saint Kitts and Nevis (August) that struck down laws criminalizing homosexuality in 2022.

These Caribbean victories follow several others in recent years. In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made a landmark decision ordering Jamaica to repeal its sodomy law. The decision was made public in 2021, according to the trust. In 2019, Belize's Court of Appeal upheld the country's Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 53 of the country's Criminal Code that criminalized homosexuality.

In 2018, former British Prime Minister Theresa May apologized for and "deeply" regretted the United Kingdom's instituting colonial-era laws that criminalized homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Only six countries in the Americas — all of them former British colonies — remain that criminalize homosexuality: Guyana, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica.

Jamaica has yet to implement IAHCR's decision. A 2014 report issued by Human Rights Watch noted that "[t]he laws have been used by police to extort money from adults engaged in consensual homosexual sex; by public television stations to justify refusal to air public service announcements making positive statements about LGBT persons; and by landlords to justify refusal to rent apartments to them."

A case in St. Lucia is pending, according to the trust.

Braun told the AP that globally, 67 jurisdictions criminalize private, consensual same-sex activities, down from more than 80 a decade ago.

In 2021, Barbados broke from the U.K.'s Commonwealth and became an independent republic.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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