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Referendum on new Cuba family code to take place Sept. 25

Same-sex couples poised to receive marriage, adoption rights

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Havana, Cuba. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Cuban government has announced a referendum on the final draft of a new family code that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples will take place on Sept. 25.

“It will benefit everyone; which shows its inclusive, protective and equal character,” said Justice Minister Oscar Silvera Martínez, as quoted in Granma, the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper, on Friday.   

The National Assembly late last year approved the draft family code. 

A “popular consultation” ended on April 30. Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the last of the family code’s 25 drafts was presented to President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other officials on June 6.

Díaz-Canel and Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, are among those who publicly support marriage equality. Cuban voters in 2019 overwhelmingly approved the draft of their country’s new constitution, but the government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment before the referendum on it sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ and intersex activists.

Efforts to implement the new family code are taking place against the backdrop of the continued persecution of LGBTQ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the country’s government.

Tremenda Nota Editor Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, 2021.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first 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 told the Blade earlier this month it is “very concerned” about Díaz’s health and well-being and urged the Cuban government to release her.

“We strongly encourage the government of Cuba to release Ms. Diaz or at minimum transfer her to a facility consistent with her gender identity, and to provide her with appropriate medical treatment,” a State Department spokesperson told the Blade.

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Caribbean

St. Vincent and the Grenadines judge dismisses challenges to country’s sodomy laws

‘Freedom and equality are worth fighting for’

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Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Photo by byvalet/Bigstock)

A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ top court on Friday dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

Two gay men from St. Vincent, the country’s main island, in 2019 challenged laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. High Court Justice Esco Lorene Henry on Friday dismissed the two cases.

Sean Macleish, one of the two plaintiffs who lives in the U.S., expressed disappointment in the decision.

“I am disappointed with the judge’s ruling and will be discussing our options with my legal team because freedom and equality are worth fighting for,” Macleish told the Washington Blade on Friday in an email.

Jeshua Bardoo, a lawyer who founded Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG, a Vincentian advocacy group, said Friday is a “sad day for LGBTQ+ rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.” 

“Internationally and regionally, laws similar to those challenged in these cases have been declared unconstitutional and in violation of the rights of LGBTQ+ persons,” said Bardoo in a press release the Eastern Caribbean Alliance, a regional LGBTQ rights group, issued. “These archaic and draconian colonial laws, though not strictly enforced, symbolically denigrate LGBTQ+ persons as second-class citizens in their own country and perpetuate prejudice and stigma against them.”

Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin also criticized the ruling.

“The rejection of the bid to decriminalize same-sex conduct in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a huge disappointment and significant setback for LGBTQ rights in the country,” said Sjödin. “We urge the government to reconsider its position and take meaningful steps towards ensuring the full protection and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 ruled Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

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Caribbean

Gilead Sciences awards grants to HIV/AIDS groups in Latin America, Caribbean

Stigma, criminalization laws among barriers to fighting pandemic in region

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Free condoms in a São Paulo Metro station. Gilead Sciences has announced it has given grants to 35 organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The groups will use the funds to fight HIV/AIDS in the region. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Gilead Sciences this week announced it has given $4 million in grants to 35 organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean that fight HIV/AIDS.

A press release notes Asociación Panamericana de Mercadeo Social (Pan-American Association of Social Marketing) in Nicaragua, Fundación Genesis (Genesis Foundation) in Panama, Fundación por una Sociedad Empoderada (Foundation for an Empowered Society) in Argentina, Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in Brazil and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities are among the groups that received grants. Gilead notes this funding through its Zeroing In: Ending the HIV Epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean will “improve access to care, increase health equity and reduce HIV-related stigma for populations most affected by HIV.”

“The HIV prevention and care needs of people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are incredibly diverse, and each of these programs addresses a unique community challenge,” said Gilead Vice President of Corporate Giving Carmen Villar. “Our grantees are deeply embedded in their communities and best positioned to provide needed HIV care and support services.” 

“Their expertise will be essential to achieve the Zeroing In program’s goals of improving access to comprehensive care among priority populations, decreasing HIV-related stigma and reducing HIV and broader health inequities,” she added.

The pandemic disproportionately affects transgender people and sex workers, among other groups, in the region. Activists and HIV/AIDS service providers in the region with whom the Washington Blade has previously spoken say discrimination, stigma, poverty, a lack of access to health care and criminalization laws are among the myriad challenges they face.

First Lady Jill Biden in 2022 during a trip to Panama announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. 

Cuba in 2015 became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Cuban government until 1993 forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria.

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 ruled Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it.  

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Caribbean

Jamaican Supreme Court upholds colonial-era sodomy law

Maurice Tomlinson challenged statute in 2015

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(Bigstock photo)

The Jamaican Supreme Court on Friday ruled against a gay man who challenged the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

Maurice Tomlinson, an activist from Montego Bay who now lives in Canada with his husband, in the lawsuit he filed in November 2015 notes the statute violates the right to privacy and other provisions of the Jamaican constitution. He also argues the sodomy law violates “the right to protection from inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.”

The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, Hear the Children’s Cry and a group to which the ruling refers as “The Churches” defended the law. Tomlinson on Friday told the Washington Blade that all four of these entities “have American affiliates.”

“Thankful for the privilege of living in a country where my love isn’t illegal,” wrote Tomlinson on his Facebook page.

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Singapore last year decriminalized homosexuality. 

The Mauritius Supreme Court earlier this month issued a ruling that struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. Courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have also struck down criminalization statutes in their respective countries.

The Caribbean Court of Justice in 2018 struck down a Guyana law that criminalized cross-dressing.

Tomlinson told the Blade that he can appeal the ruling to the Jamaican Court of Appeal and then to the Privy Council in London.

Jamaica gained independence from the U.K. in 1962, and a referendum on whether the country should remove the British monarch as head of state is expected to take place next year. The Privy Council is an appellate court for British territories, but it can hear appeals of Jamaican Court of Appeal rulings.  

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