Caribbean groups hail sexual rights ruling in T&T, call for leadership and legal services

By CariFLAGS

(PRESS RELEASE VIA SNO) – CariFLAGS (Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities), the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) regional network celebrates with its member organisations and regional partners the Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) High Court decision in Jason Jones vs Attorney General delivered last Thursday, April 12.

CariFLAGS joins voices with T&T groups in calling on the country’s political and religious leaders, including Prime Minister Keith Rowley, to speak out to prevent violence and discrimination in the wake of the ruling. CariFLAGS’ T&T partners have documented an uptick in threats, family violence and housing discrimination experienced by young people whose images were broadcast around the world by media as they stood up for justice outside the parliament and court in the week before the judgment.

“Our neighbours’ call for all to “Share The Nation” which is a powerful Caribbean rallying cry that leaders across the region ought to champion,” said CariFLAGS Regional Programme Manager, Dane Lewis.

Justice Devindra Rampersad’s ruling categorically declared that T&T’s two sodomy laws, “sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalise any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults.” The laws had criminalised “buggery” (all anal intercourse, with a man or a woman, without regard to consent or privacy, with a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment); as well as any genital gratification or arousal between two men or between two women.

“The ruling addresses not just the longstanding criminalisation of buggery, but has also invalidated the insidious expansion in Caribbean countries to sex between women that started 30 years ago,” said Tracy Robinson, Co-coordinator of the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), “The case comes over 25 years after feminist scholar and activist Jacqui Alexander drew attention to Trinidad and Tobago becoming the first Caribbean country to criminalise consensual sex between women as ‘serious indecency’ in section 16 of the Sexual Offences Act.” Robinson said the decision is ground-breaking in honouring the fundamental principle that a generous interpretation must be given to the rights in the Constitution.

CariFLAGS also congratulates the twin-island republic’s Equal Opportunity Commission, which became part of the case and has issued calls for Parliament to allow T&T’s Equal Opportunity Act to protect Trinidadians and Tobagonians from discrimination based on sexual orientation. “It is delightful to see state institutions outside of the Government championing justice, something Offices of the Ombudsman across the Caribbean ought to do more,” Lewis added.

The T&T ruling follows a 2016 ruling in Belize in the Orozco case which invalidated the application of Section 53 of the Criminal Code to consensual conduct. In June 2018, another constitutional case will be argued in Port of Spain, when the Caribbean Court of Justice hears an appeal in McEwan, on the constitutionality of Guyana’s Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, one of the country’s colonial offences that criminalizes cross-dressing that has been used in recent years to penalize transgender persons with fines or jail time.

Ivan Cruickshank, Executive Director of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) hailed this succession of cases as “a positive development in human rights in the Caribbean.” He also pointed to ways CVC is “strengthening access to justice for persons who are often marginalized and left to fend on their own,” and encouraged persons in T&T experiencing abuse or rights violations, especially following the ruling, to contact CVC’s recently recruited community paralegal, Kerwyn Jordan of Friends For Life, at +1 868 386-5312 or [email protected] “CVC is also referring persons with potential cases to CariBono: Caribbean Lawyering for Social Justice, for litigation and other forms of redress,” Cruickshank noted.

CariFLAGS also salutes the work of the T&T community organizers who have helped the national community understand the Jones case, and created an unprecedented showing of public support for taking the government out of people’s bedrooms. Among them was Terry-ann Roy, a law student and activist who completed CariFLAGS’ inaugural LGBTI Leadership Academy in Guyana and Suriname. Roy will work with CariFLAGS to bring the Academy to the UWI St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad in 2018 where activists across the region will share lessons from all three cases.

CariFLAGS articulates an indigenous LGBTI voice and agenda for the Caribbean with governments, civil society, donors, international partners and the global LGBTI movement; works to expand leadership, infrastructure and environments at the community-level whereby Caribbean LGBTI people can enjoy safety and support, be linked to services, community, health, spirituality and empowerment, influence policy and legislation, utilize judicial and human rights institutions, and deepen political participation and alliance-building. We work to ensure justice, social inclusion, access to the fruits of citizenship, and to build Caribbean nations and a regional movement. The CariFLAGS secretariat is based at the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in Georgetown, Guyana.

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