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Opposition to LGBTQ Liberation in the Caribbean
Most people picture the Caribbean as paradise on earth, with its pristine beaches, vibrant cultures, and year-round warm weather. However, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer—or LGBTQ—individuals and allies, the region can be a nightmare for health, rights, and equality.
While the Caribbean is close to the U.S. and Latin America in proximity, it’s far behind both regions when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Today 11 countries in the Caribbean have anti-sodomy laws in place targeting men who have sex with men, with punishments ranging from a few years to life in prison. Almost half of these countries also have laws that prohibit women from having same-sex relations. Additionally, at least two Caribbean countries have laws that ban gay people from entering the country. Although the punishments for these “crimes” aren’t always enacted, these antiquated laws foster a culture of discrimination and marginalization of LGBTQ people.
The opposition to LGBTQ liberation in the Caribbean is deeply rooted and dates back to colonial times. Similar to other areas of the Americas, conservative religious ideas were a foundation in establishing many English-speaking Caribbean societies. As a result, buggery statues – or laws that ban “unnatural connections,” including bestiality and same-sex relations among men – were implemented, and in many countries, still remain on the books. LGBTQ advocates have been fighting against Jamaica’s buggery statute for years, and while it hasn’t been repealed yet, the country’s Supreme Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard cases against the statute within the past few years.
In countries like Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, the opposition to LGBTQ rights has recently been fueled by foreign sources. According to Javier Corrales and Cameron Combs from The Atlantic, “For conservative religious organizations, mostly in the United States, foreign countries represent not just a fresh opportunity to influence the debate over homosexuality, but also a source of fundraising and followers. Even before the June 26 Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in the United States, these groups recognized that they were losing the gay-rights debate at home, but they figure that their chances are better abroad.”
The anti-LGBTQ advocates have incorporated similar language into their movement in Guyana and across the Caribbean, including correlating LGBTQ people, rights, and equality with offensive terms like bestiality and child abuse. Much like in the U.S., they also try to appeal to people’s fears of the break down of marriage and traditional family values.
Although the opposition is strong, local LGBTQ liberation advocates remain committed in the struggle to achieve equality. “Home grown [change] is best,” said Charlene Smith, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, told the International Business Times, referencing the Stonewall Riots of 1969 as the beginning of the U.S.-based LGBTQ liberation movement. “One of the best ways to get change is for it to come from the inside. Slowly but surely the same will happen in the Caribbean.”
Advocates are working tirelessly, and often at risk of their own wellbeing, to ensure that this envisioned change – the Caribbean as paradise for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression – becomes a reality.