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Landmark Ruling Overturns Laws Criminalising LGBT People in Trinidad and Tobago

8 May 2018

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In Trinidad and Tobago, in a landmark judgment in the English-speaking Caribbean, Justice Devindra Rampersad recently ruled in April 2018 that Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act, prohibiting sex between consenting same-sex adults and imposing sentences of up to 25 years in some cases, is unconstitutional and therefore null and void. Homophobic laws like this one drive fearful people away from receiving the HIV prevention information and methods they need to stay healthy as well as from the treatment and medical care they need if they become HIV-positive. Such laws are extremely counterproductive to the effort to end AIDS.  Congratulations and much credit for this ground-breaking step forward in the effort to secure equal rights for LGBT people in the Caribbean are due to Jason Jones, a performer and LGBT activist, who filed the case in February 2017, the legal team of Richard Drabble QC, Rishi Dass, and Antonio Emmanuel who argued the case, and Justice Rampersad who made the ruling.

For Jason Jones, this significant judicial ruling is the first step toward the culmination of his personal fight for equality, which has consumed his adult life.  “Why did I do it? Because I am a product of homophobia. I have lost so much – family, friends, and even my boyfriend could not take being second fiddle to my work. I am a man possessed. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through the difficulties that I faced in Trinidad simply for being myself and loving someone of the same sex.”

“This victory is much more than just the legal challenge and constitutional reforms,” said Jones. “It is a rallying cry for the LGBT community and our allies to stand up and be counted! This represents the first moment in the history of the English-speaking Caribbean that we have become truly visible and in a populist and meaningful manner. Yes, there was pushback but we are pushing forward in ways never seen before. This is the Rosa Parks moment for LGBT people of the Caribbean, and we shall never sit in the back of the bus again.”

The Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF)’s UK organization and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, through the LGBT Rapid Response Fund, provided a grant in 2017 to Jason Jones to support him in the context of this case.  Shaun Mellors, director of knowledge and influence at the Alliance, said, “This is an important landmark decision, which I hope will be the start of a domino effect for the remaining countries in the Commonwealth who still have these discriminatory laws in place. We know that criminalization increases vulnerability and impacts the ability of the LGBT community to access health and HIV services, so this is one step closer to breaking down these barriers. The successful outcome of the case demonstrates the power of personal belief and commitment to justice and fighting for what is right.”

EJAF salutes many other organizations that have worked during the past decade to lay the groundwork and foundation for the recent legal ruling in Trinidad and Tobago. These groups include the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, the Faculty of Law at the University of West Indies, and the regional and country offices of  UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNIFEM.

EJAF has a long history of funding human rights education and advocacy in the English-speaking Caribbean and applauds all current and past grantees who are working to advance the human rights and health of LGBT people and other marginalized communities in the Caribbean.

Specifically, EJAF acknowledges the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) for its work at the forefront of human rights advocacy.  EJAF is proud to have provided core funding to CVC beginning in 2004 through the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) and the Caribbean Treatment Action Group to support education and organizing of vulnerable communities in the Caribbean to address barriers to HIV treatment and services.  Beginning in 2008, EJAF provided core funding through amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, for CVC and lawyers from the University of West Indies to do fact finding and consultations for potential litigation to overturn buggery laws in a number of English-speaking Caribbean countries, including Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. CVC is a current EJAF grantee and an important force in regional work to advance human rights and health in the Caribbean.