Government remains silent on its next move in the face of recent legal challenges against our buggery laws by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community.
Over three months have passed since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent official correspondence to Bridgetown about the community’s petition which challenges sections 9 and 12 of the Sexual Offences Act.
Section 9, often referred to as the “buggery law”, outlaws anal sex between males but also between a man and a woman. The maximum penalty is life in prison. Section 12 describes “serious indecency” as “an act, whether natural or unnatural by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire”.
The commission can issue a recommendation to the Government of Barbados to repeal the laws and if the State refuses, it can refer the matter to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which then can issue a binding decision on Barbados to repeal the legislation.
The decision would bind Barbados which recognises the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as a signatory to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
It has been difficult if not impossible to gauge the tone and tenor of this administration towards the increasingly vocal and visible LGBTQI community.
While it has seen the need to include LGBTQI people in the Social Justice Committee, for example, the Mottley administration has been vague on the legal challenge brought by activist Alexa Hoffman and others.
Last July, Minister of People Empowerment Cynthia Forde said: “We have no fear of legal challenge to any of our legislation. That is how new law is made and how jurisprudence is enhanced and kept relevant”, thereby showing neither public support nor rejection of the petition.
Attorney General Dale Marshall would say no more than to acknowledge receipt of the petition, once again, providing no clear voice on Government’s intended policy.
And even though the BLP manifesto states: “The Barbados Labour Party believes that Every Bajan Matters. Our policies as a Government will reflect that belief. The BLP will ensure that every Barbadian has a life of dignity, the opportunity to realise their potential and excel, irrespective of their birth, class, race, gender, or if differently-abled,” it seems as though silence is the policy prescription for sexual and gender minorities in the island.
But the Mia Mottley administration appears hesitant to make any sweeping changes regarding anti-buggery legislation.
After all, Barbados still remains a mostly Christian society, with a strong anti-LGBTQI streak among fundamentalists Christians in particular.
Government is well aware of the ‘pulse of the people’ and has most likely anticipated a strong push back from society, especially evangelicals should it adhere to the requests of international agencies and some industrialised nations to remove any laws that discriminate against LGBTQI people.
Only a few days ago, the chairman of the Family, Faith and Freedom Barbados group, Pastor Paul Leacock, led a mass meeting at Bay Street where he urged Government not to repeal the anti-buggery laws.
Admitting these laws were hardly enforced, nonetheless, Leacock argued the removal would open the floodgates for proponents of same-sex marriage to bring their cases before the courts.
Leacock urged: “We are at risk if we foolishly go along with this. Therefore we want to say to this Government which has been given this mandate from God of an overwhelming majority… that it should use its power for good.”
And there remains the side-stepping of the issue of a transgender student seeking to be recognised as having a gender other than that assigned at birth in a private school. The education minister chose not to address the issue because the school was not a state institution.
All these incidents and the deafening silence of a Government on an important cultural issue of our time are troubling. We are particularly concerned that the opportunity to debate, inform, educate – the nation is dwindling.
And we remind the Government that no matter the political sensibilities and sensitivities, LGBTQI people, like Pentecostal pastors, Rastafarians, school children, and rich and poor people alike rely on the fundamental rights and freedoms afforded them under the Constitution of Barbados, and the protections under the rule of law in a member of an international community of civilised nations.
We await with growing anxiety what stance Government chooses to take on this sensitive yet important issue.