“Latin America is actually way ahead of us in terms of progress they have made in terms of laws that they’ve been able to change, in terms of the openness of the gay community, in terms of political leadership,” Carl Greams, a Guyanese LGBT advocate, told the Washington Blade during a Sept. 6 interview at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood where the meeting took place. “There’s a lot to take away there for us.”
Mark Clifford, co-chair of PRIDE in Action, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, agreed.
“Where as Latin America is at the point of discussing marriage and those kinds of rights, we know we’re far from that in the Caribbean,” he told the Blade.
Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in Jamaica and Guyana alongside Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
United Belize Advocacy Movement, a Belizean HIV/AIDS advocacy group, in 2010 challenged the Central American country’s anti-sodomy law. Javed Jaghai, a Jamaican gay rights advocate, last month withdrew his lawsuit that sought to decriminalize homosexuality on the island because of concerns over his personal safety and that of his family.
Erin Greene, director of advocacy for SASH Bahamas, a Bahamian LGBT advocacy group, noted Spanish-speaking Latin American countries are “significantly older in terms of independence” than many Caribbean nations.
The Bahamas became a country within the British Commonwealth in 1973. Peru, where last week’s meeting took place, declared its independence from Spain in 1821.
“When we’re looking at the Caribbean context, we have to understand that some of these states are light years ahead of us in terms of their political, social development concerning the LGBT community,” Greene told the Blade.
Clifford added the small size of many Caribbean countries poses another challenge.
“It’s very difficult within that space to carve out an LGBT space,” he said. “In a bigger space, particularly in the United States — it’s such a vast country — if you’re not happy in one community, you can move to another very easily and you can be anonymous. We don’t have that luxury in the Caribbean where everyone knows everyone else.”
Anti-LGBT U.S. Evangelicals ‘akin to terrorists’
LGBT rights advocates throughout the English-speaking Caribbean maintain discrimination and violence based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression remain pervasive throughout the region.
A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, notes at least 30 men were murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004.
A man stabbed J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson to death inside his home in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, in 2004. A group of partygoers outside Montego Bay in July 2013 killed Dwayne Jones after they discovered the 16-year-old was cross-dressing.
A man in Dominica was stabbed to death in 2010 because he was reportedly “watching” his killer in a public place.
Advocates maintain homophobic lyrics in reggae and dancehall music insights anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica and other English-speaking Caribbean countries. They have also criticized local religious officials who oppose efforts to repeal anti-sodomy laws.
Greene noted to the Blade post-slavery societies throughout the English-speaking Caribbean continue to provide the “foundation” upon which conservative religious beliefs influence politics.
“Our relationship to and the embodiment of religion in the Caribbean states versus Latin American states has manifested a major difference in the way we engage issues about the body politics with respect to politics and sexuality,” she said.
Bahamian LGBT rights advocates earlier this month cancelled a Pride event on the island of Grand Bahama because of what Greene described as a “fervent and vitriolic response” from local religious leaders that prompted people not to attend.
“We’re still dealing with the issue of simple visibility,” she said. “A lot of Bahamians are just not prepared to assume that level of visibility in attending the event.”
A 2013 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center notes the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute have sent lawyers to Belize to advise the group defending the country’s anti-sodomy law.
Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom is among those who spoke at a 2011 symposium in the Jamaican capital that focused on ways to keep homosexuality criminalized on the island. Brian Camenker of MassResistance and Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, have also traveled to Jamaica to support these efforts.
Scott Lively, a Massachusetts-based Evangelical Christian against whom the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses him of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve an anti-gay measure, has also spoken out in support of Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law.
“They’re akin to terrorists,” Greene told the Blade as she criticized Lively and other anti-LGBT American Evangelicals. “They’re spiritual terrorists and its unfortunate that our respective states don’t regard them as such.”
’If we put the work in then things will change’
In spite of rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, advocates in the English-speaking Caribbean have seen some progress in recent years.
Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Judi Buckley, a senator in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in May introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the American territory.
Jowelle Taylor de Souza, a trans Trinidadian woman, late last month announced she will run in the country’s parliamentary elections next year.
Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow last year spoke out against anti-gay discrimination and violence in a video that commemorated the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller pledged during her 2011 election campaign that her government would review her country’s anti-sodomy law. She also said she would call for a so-called conscience vote that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.
Such a vote has yet to take place.
“Politicians can’t be neutral to tolerance and hatred,” Tracy Robinson, a Jamaican lawyer who chairs the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, told the Blade after she spoke at the Lima meeting. “They actually have to create an enabling and a supportive environment in which persons can undertake rights work on behalf of LGBTI persons.”
Two Trinidadian government officials were among those who attended an April reception in the country’s capital of Port of Spain with Dennis and Judy Shepard. Rihanna, who is from Barbados, two months earlier publicly backed the campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.
“There’s a lot of work that we have to do for ourselves,” said Afifa, a Jamaican LGBT rights advocate who did not provide the Blade with her last name, during the Lima meeting. “If we put the work in then things will change. If we don’t it then will stay the same.”
Caribbean ‘lumped into Latin America’
Nearly 300 advocates from throughout the Western Hemisphere attended the Lima meeting the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-organized alongside LGBT advocacy groups from Peru and Colombia. The gathering is the latest event to take place as part of the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private initiative the U.S. Agency for International Development launched last year that is designed to bolster advocacy efforts in developing countries.
The Caribbean advocates with whom the Blade spoke in Lima expressed frustration over what they described as the lack of representation of LGBT activists from their region during the meeting.
“The Caribbean usually gets marginalized,” said Clifford. “We get lumped into Latin America because nobody knows what to do with the Caribbean, so we kind of get tagged on anyway. We’re kind of used to it.”
Kenita Placide, co-executive director of United and Strong, a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, agreed.
“It’s a bit unfortunate that Caribbean participation seems to be so little,” she said. “Compared to the number of persons from Latin America, the Caribbean is pretty small.”
Placide and other advocates from the English-speaking Caribbean who attended the Lima meeting nevertheless said their Latin American counterparts can learn from them and their efforts, particularly those that seek to engage people of African descent.
“Most Caribbean countries are majority black,” noted Greene. “We can engage issues from a position that can increase awareness for Afro-Latin communities.”
“[The meeting] gives me personally an understanding of how Latin America is able to push through certain issues and how it’s also a fact that they’re more advanced than the Caribbean in terms of activism,” added Placide. “There’s a lot to learn from that and a lot to take home.”