After colonization, many Caribbean countries were left with laws that were made by the British, and over the years very few of these have changed. One such law has criminalized homosexuality in countries such as Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis, along with Guyana on mainland South America.
On April 12th 2018, Trinidad’s high court ruled the criminalization of homosexuality to be unconstitutional. “The court declares that sections 13 and 16 of the [Sexual Offenses Act] are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalize any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults,” were the words written by Justice Devindra Rampersad in his ruling.
Section 13 was an Act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1533 during the reign of Henry VIII and to date most Caribbean countries still carry this law. At its core this law is an infringement on human rights, if persons are found engaging in anal sex, it is possible for them to face up to 25 years in prison.
LGBTQ activist Jason Jones filed the lawsuit in February 2017 against the country’s attorney general. Jones, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom, claimed Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act violated his right to privacy and freedom of expression. For many years the LGBTQ community has yearned for and fought tirelessly for equality, even though it meant placing themselves in harms way over and over again. There is a great need for protection, access to better healthcare, the right to marriage and basic respect as human beings. This journey has been a long and difficult one and often times it may have even been seen as hopeless.
Only mere moments after the ruling, it was reported that one female activist was badly beaten while going to the parking lot near Woodford Square. NewsDay’s Shane Superville reports that “according to [gay rights activist Rudolph] Hanamji , the assault came after a confrontation between activists and some followers of the Jamaat al-Muslimeen on the steps of the Hall of Justice and said while members were concerned for their safety, they will not be deterred and remain firm in the support of the High Court’s ruling.”
Despite the fear of increased violence towards activists and members of the LGBTQ+ community, they have made it clear that they will not be intimidated and will continue their fight for equality. As we all know, both fear and anger are on the road to change. With change finally on the horizon, they prepare for the next leg of the process. Many LGBTQ+ Trinidadians and their supporters across the world are celebrating this first step to victory and we at MCC Toronto stand proudly with them!