What Trinidad and Tobago's historic gay sex ruling means for LGBT+ rights worldwide

World

In a landmark ruling, Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court has ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex intimacy is unconstitutional.

Judge Devindra Rampersad ruled that the colonial-era “buggery” law, as well as laws banning “serious indecency”, infringed on the constitutional rights of Trinidad and Tobago’s LGBT+ citizens.

Judge Rampersad said:

The court declares that 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.

Under these laws, men convicted of sodomy could potentially be imprisoned for 25 years. Other offences, such as same-sex acts between women, could result in a five-year prison term.

The ruling is a result of LGBT+ activist Jason Jones’s legal challenge against the government of Trinidad and Tobago, which was filed in March 2017

Jones’s victory follows similar legal challenges in the Seychelles and Belize, which resulted in the overturning of buggery laws. A similar case is also underway in Kenya, with a result expected in the coming months.

The ruling could serve as a precedent for other Caribbean islands, including, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, to decriminalise homosexuality. The Caribbean is among the most challenging regions in the world to be LGBT+, with eight islands criminalising either male or female homosexuality.

Even in countries that do not criminalise homosexuality, anti-gay discrimination and violence are common, and legal protections are rare.

Although this ruling is a step forward, there are still no protections for LGBT+ Trinidadians in housing, employment and public institutions.

[embedded content]

Welcoming the ruling, which should become law later this year, Trinidadian LGBT+ activist Zeleca Julian states that fighting these remaining inequalities will now be her main focus.

This is a big win for Jason Jones, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean. Now that the buggery laws and the sexual indecency laws have been deemed unconstitutional, it opens the door for conversations and actions surrounding policy and change. 

We feel motivated to continue our activism, having already begun planning Pride Arts Festival 2018, which we anticipate will be the biggest yet.

Zeleca is the co-director of I Am One, a community-based organisation in Trinidad and Tobago that addresses the needs of gender and sexual minorities. I Am One organise The King Show, the first pageant in the Caribbean that showcases stud culture and trans masculinity. She is also collecting information about the lived experiences of LGBT+ people in the Caribbean to be used for research.

While the ruling in Trinidad and Tobago is undoubtedly good news, the global fight for LGBT+ equality is far from over.

72 nations criminalise same-sex acts between men, with 45 also criminalising intimacy between women.

37 of the nations that criminalise homosexuality are members of the Commonwealth, with the majority criminalising homosexuality based on laws that were originally introduced by the British.

In 2017, the Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) became the first LGBT+ network to receive Commonwealth accreditation, putting the human rights of LGBT+ people on the agenda. The network comprises 46 member organisations representing 44 countries drawn from all five Commonwealth regions.

[embedded content]

Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is the director of EQUAL GROUND, an LGBT+ rights organisation in Sri Lanka, where both male and female homosexuality are criminalised. As current chair and co-founder of TCEN, Flamer-Caldera welcomed the ruling in Trinidad and Tobago.

As the largest contingent of LGBT+ activists, arrives for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, the Commonwealth Equality Network welcomes the news that the sodomy ban in Trinidad and Tobago has been deemed unlawful.

But while the number of countries that criminalise consensual same-sex intimacy is slowly decreasing, deep stigmatisation and persecution persist in many places, with similar discriminatory laws in place in 36 other Commonwealth nations. 

Our progress is slow, but steady and our ultimate goal obviously, is to see decriminalisation take place in all other countries that continue to criminalise LGBT+ persons worldwide.

[embedded content]

Paul Dillane, Executive Director of LGBT+ human rights organisation Kaleidoscope Trust, a co-founding member and Secretariat of TCEN, said:

TCEN provides an important platform for activists around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, to organise and collaborate in the struggle for equality and freedom.

As strong supporters of joint advocacy, we look forward to continuing to work towards a world free of discrimination with our friends across the Caribbean and beyond.

This week, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell delivered a petition that called for an end to homophobic laws in the Commonwealth. Delivering the petition, which contained over 100,000 signatures, he said:

Commonwealth leaders have refused to even discuss LGBT+ human rights for six decades. Time’s up on blocking debate. Time’s up on legal discrimination. Time’s up on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Next week, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will see the largest ever group of LGBT+ activists participate, hailing from all corners of the Commonwealth, with the most ambitious plan yet for global change.


More: Forced anal exams for suspected gay people have been ruled unlawful in Kenya

Leave a Reply