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Antigua and Barbuda sodomy law struck down

Unclear whether government will repeal decision

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Antigua and Barbuda (Image by Allexxandar via Bigstock)

A judge on Tuesday ruled provisions of a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations in Antigua and Barbuda are unconstitutional.

High Court Judge Marissa Robertson, who sits on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, a regional judicial authority, in her ruling said sections 12 and 15 of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act 1995 “are unconstitutional as they contravene” Antigua and Barbuda’s constitution.

“Section 12 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 offends the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex, in so far as section 12 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is inconsistent with the rights of persons sixteen (16) years and older to engage in consensual sexual intercourse per anum in private, and to the extent of that inconsistency section 12 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is void,” said Robertson.

Robertson in her decision said section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 “offends the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex, in so far as section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is inconsistent with the rights of persons sixteen (16) years and older to engage consensually and in private in the sexual acts described in section 15(3), and to the extent of that inconsistency section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is void.”

Orden David, a gay man who works for the Antigua and Barbuda Health Ministry and is the executive director of Meeting Emotional and Social Needs Historically (MESH) Antigua and Barbuda, a support group for LGBTQ and intersex people in the country, and Women Against Rape, an NGO that works with those who are impacted by gender-based violence, formally challenged the law.

“This judgment is a significant milestone in the history of Antigua and Barbuda,” said Women Against Rape President Alexandrina Wong on Wednesday during a virtual press conference the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), a regional LGBTQ and intersex rights group, organized. 

“Members of the LGBT community and consenting adults who choose to engage in intimacy can now breath a sigh of relief, because at least there is safety under the law,” added Wong.

ECADE Executive Director Kenita Placide, who is based in St. Lucia, during the press conference described the ruling as a “landmark decision.”

“The process of litigation is important, as it underscores how these laws contribute to the stigmatization of LGBTQI people, how they legitimize hate speech, discrimination and violence and tears at the fabric of our society,” said Placide in a statement. “Our governments have sworn to protect and uphold the rights of all and act in a manner that promotes the prosperity and well-being of all. This judgment is in keeping with this commitment.”

Antigua and Barbuda Sen. Aziza Lake also welcomed Tuesday’s ruling.

“It is a long overdue development,” Lake told the Washington Blade. “The government has no business in the bedrooms of consenting adults.”

Colonial-era laws that criminalize homosexuality remain in place in St. Lucia and other former English colonies in the Caribbean.

The Belizean Court of Appeal in late 2019 upheld a ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. A judge on the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in 2018 struck down its statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its sodomy law. ECADE noted similar cases have been filed in St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who currently advises embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ and intersex issues, last December told the Blade during an interview in D.C. that his country has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“Great news from Antigua and Barbuda as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court strikes down laws criminalizing consensual same-sex activity,” tweeted Herbert on Wednesday. “[It is a] historic achievement for the people of Antigua and Barbuda and another welcome step forward for LGBT+ rights globally.”

The Associated Press reported the Antigua and Barbuda government has yet to announce whether it will appeal Robertson’s ruling. 

Glenroy Murray, executive director of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ and intersex rights group, on Wednesday told the Blade he remains hopeful the decision will resonate throughout the region. 

“I am excited to see Antigua and Barbuda have this ruling and I am hopeful for what this will mean for the rest of the eastern Caribbean, given the similarities of their constitutional framework,” said Murray. “The ruling demonstrated how the strategic litigation in other parts of the Caribbean have led to positive impacts and that trend bodes well for LGBTQ+ rights in the region overall.”

Murray further noted the ruling “will not directly impact the current challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws, which has lingered far too long in our courts.” Murray added “it definitely sends a positive signal to our legislators that times are changing in the Caribbean.”

Donnya Piggott, an activist from Barbados, is the co-founder of Pink Coconuts, an online platform for LGBTQ and intersex travelers. Piggott is also Open for Business’ Caribbean Campaign lead.

Piggott echoed Murray’s thoughts about the ruling’s impact in the region.

“It comes at critical time for Caribbean people. It certainly sends the right message for the society and Antiguans have a lot to be proud of right now,” Piggott told the Blade.

“I hope it has a ripple effect, across the region,” added Piggott. “We need more inclusive Caribbean countries, talented LGBTQ people are leaving the Caribbean and seeking opportunities in larger countries. Growing economies can’t afford that and if we are to grow and develop as a people and as a region — we need to begin to really build more inclusive societies.”

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Caribbean

Cubans approve marriage equality-inclusive family code

Referendum took place amid continued government persecution

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Cubans on Sunday approved a new family code that extends marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Gramna, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on Monday reported 66.9 percent of Cubans who participated in the referendum voted in favor of the new family code.

“Sept. 25, 2022, is already a historic day,” said Gramna. “The island has once again demonstrated that the revolution will never stop in its quest for more justice, independent of its adversaries. The road has never been easy, but it is very worthy.”

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ and intersex issues in Cuba as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, is among those who support the new family code. Mariela Castro on Sunday posted to her Facebook page a picture of her voting for it in Havana, the Cuban capital.

“I voted yes for Cuban families, for a socialist Cuba, for the world’s most revolutionary and humanist family code, for a socialist state built upon rights and social justice that recognizes and protects all families,” said Mariela Castro after she voted.

The Cuban government in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, to power, sent gay men and others to work camps. Cubans with AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Cuba joins Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico City and several Mexican states that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba also have marriage equality.

Cuban government critics face harassment, arrest

Sunday’s referendum took place nearly four years after Cuban voters overwhelmingly approved their country’s new constitution. The government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment that religious groups had publicly criticized sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ and intersex activists.

LGBTQ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the Cuban government also continue to face harassment, discrimination and arrest.

Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across the country on July 11, 2021. The U.S. in 2019 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. De La Cruz subsequently received a 6-year prison sentence, but he was released on house arrest in May.

Brenda Díaz, a transgender woman with HIV who participated in a July 11 protest in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. The State Department has said it is “very concerned” about Díaz’s health and well-being and urged the Cuban government to release her.

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Caribbean

St. Kitts and Nevis sodomy law struck down

Judge ruled colonial-era statute unconstitutional

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(Photo by Bigstock)

A judge on Monday ruled a law that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in St. Kitts and Nevis are unconstitutional.

Justice Trevor M. Ward of the High Court of Justice in St. Kitts and Nevis struck down Sections 56 and 57 of the country’s Offenses Against the Person Act.

“Section 56 of the Offenses Against the Person Act, Cap. 4.21 contravenes Sections 3 and 12 of the Constitution of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, namely, the right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression, and, as such, is null and void and of no force and effect to the extent that it criminalizes any acts of constituting consensual sexual conduct in private between adults,” said Ward in his decision.

Ward further said Section 57 of the law violates “the right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression” in the country’s constitution.

Jamal Jeffers, a gay man, and the St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality, a local LGBTQ and intersex rights group, challenged the law.

“This decision strongly establishes that a person’s sexuality should never be the basis for any discrimination,” said St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality Executive Director Tynetta McKoy in a press release the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a regional LGBTQ and intersex rights group, released on Monday. “We welcome the recognition of this fact, one for which we have long advocated.” 

A judge in July struck down Antigua and Barbuda’s colonial-era sodomy law.

The Belizean Court of Appeal in 2019 upheld a ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. A judge on the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in 2018 struck down its statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its sodomy law. Similar cases have been filed in Barbados and St. Lucia. 

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, last December told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. that his country has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“[Of] the seven Caribbean and 34 Commonwealth countries that criminalized same sex intimacy, this is the second to strike down these discriminatory laws in 2022,” said Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality Executive Director Kenita Placide on Monday in their organization’s press release. “Our strategy has been multilayered; working with activists on the ground, our colleagues, friends, allies and family. This win is part of the transformative journey to full recognition of LGBTQ persons across the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.) It is a definitive yes to change, yes to privacy, yes to freedom of expression, and we are happy to be part of this historic moment.”

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Caribbean

Transgender Cuban woman’s 14-year prison sentence upheld

Brenda Díaz participated in an anti-government protest on July 11, 2021

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Brenda Díaz (Photo courtesy of Ana María García Calderín/Tremenda Nota)

Cuba’s highest court has upheld the 14-year prison sentence that a transgender woman with HIV received after she participated in an anti-government protest in July 2021.

Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, notes Brenda Díaz was arrested in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province on July 11, 2021.

The Güira de Melena protest was one of dozens against the Cuban government that took place across the country on that day.

A Havana court earlier this year sentenced García to 14 years in prison. She appealed her sentence, but Agencia EFE reported the People’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the sentence.

The court, according to Agencia EFE, determined García’s sentence was “legal, just” and rational.” The U.S. Embassy in Cuba on Thursday condemned the decision and its ruling that upheld the 15-year prison sentence that journalist Jorge Bello Domínquez received after he participated in the July 11 protests.

“We condemn the confirmation of the discriminatory and unjust 14- and 15-year prison sentences for Brenda Díaz and journalist Jorge Bello Domínguez for their participation in the July 11 (protests) that were announced yesterday,” tweeted the embassy.

A State Department spokesperson last month told the Washington Blade the U.S. is “very concerned about the well-being of Brenda Díaz, especially given reports that she is being held in a men’s prison and is not receiving appropriate medical treatment.” 

The embassy on Thursday reiterated these concerns.

“We express our deep concern over Brenda’s health and the treatment that she is receiving in prison,” tweeted the embassy. “We call upon the Cuban government to unconditionally release Brenda, Jorge and everyone who has been unjustly detained.”

The tweet ended with the hashtag “Prisoners, why?” 

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