Caribbean plans regional approach to abolish gay laws

Published: February 19, 2012

Caribbean countries, faced with potential political and religious fall-out, plan to take a regional approach in scrapping laws against buggery and prostitution by 2015, according to a senior United Nations (UN) official.

Most of the former British colonies that are Caricom member-nations have been coming under increasing international pressure to abolish those laws that also include prohibiting cross-dressing.

Politicians remain wary of losing votes from, among others, the religious communities and other people who argue against erasing those laws for moral and ethical reasons.

UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to the Caribbean, Dr. Edward Greene, however, notes that at least 20 percent of some Caribbean countries are gays, a cultural shift that must be considered.

Experts like Greene say those laws force vulnerable communities like commercial sex workers and Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) to go underground and so being unable to access HIV education, diagnosis care and treatment. Human rights advocates also believe that pursuing those lifestyles is a basic human right.

Acknowledging that moral, religious and political reasons have forestalled the revision, revamping and rejection of the century-old laws, he said the Caribbean plans to take a two-pronged approach. That strategy, he explained, would include rallying support from Champions for Change such as vulnerable groups, Faith Based Organisations and women’s groups as well as capitalizing on the convention that regional laws are more easily acceptable. Experts also intend to produce research on the impact of decriminalization in other countries. In that way, he explained, politicians in each jurisdiction would be better insulated from criticisms.

“I think what we have to do is to project a regional position on revamping the laws which would be in tune with international trends and enunciate them in such a way that we save national politicians from having to put forward these views as if they were theirs,” said Greene, a former Caricom Assistant Secretary General for Human and Social Development (COHSOD).

The UN official expects that Caribbean countries will gradually overhaul their laws in time for 2015 when the world is expected to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in keeping with the principles of universal access and equity. “I believe we can incrementally move towards the position of revamping the laws.”

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