By Randy Bennett
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community in Barbados has recorded its biggest victory to date following the decision by a High Court judge to strike down laws which criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations.
In the historic judgement handed down in the Supreme Court by Justice Michelle Weekes on Monday, in the case brought by Rene Holder-McClean Ramirez and Raven Gill, Justice Weekes struck down sections of the Sexual Offences Act, including those related to buggery and serious indecency by declaring void Sections 9 and 12, Chapter 154, of the Sexual Offences Act.
“This is a huge win for the community and for Barbados,” said Ramirez in a short statement. “This has been years of work and that work still continues.”
In a response on Tuesday, Attorney General Dale Marshall told Barbados TODAY Government would consider all options after Justice Weekes’ written judgement is made available in January 2023.
He admitted though, that he was not surprised by the ruling.
“I am aware of a decision given yesterday by Madame Justice Weekes in the claim of Rene Holder-McClean Ramirez and others, which struck down sections of the Sexual Offences Act. The sections which the judge found to be at odds with the protections that are enshrined by our Constitution relate to Section 9, which creates the offence of buggery and Section 12 which deals with serious indecency.
“The effect of this is that charges for these offences cannot be maintained against any person. In short, we can no longer prosecute persons under these two sections,” Marshall explained.
“I am not surprised at the ruling in relation to Section 9, since there is now a vast amount of jurisprudence within the Caribbean and beyond, which has struck down the offence of buggery for being unconstitutional. I do have some immediate concerns in relation to the striking down of the offences created in Section 12, since that section concerns indecent sexual conduct with minors. I am awaiting the perfected Order and also the written decision, which will not be available for a few weeks so that we can consider our options.”
Appearing on behalf of the claimants were Westmin James who was recently elevated to High Court judge and Kashka Hemans, along with Senior Counsel Douglas L. Mendes.
Barbados becomes the third Caribbean country this year to repeal such legislation, following in the footsteps of Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis.
Under Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act, men convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity could be sentenced to life imprisonment, while under Section 12, both men and women faced up to 10 years imprisonment.
In a statement issued after the victory, Gill said her focus would now turn to issues of gender identity.
“This is the continuation of visible, monumental, and transformative work, to remove misleading ideas about the LGBTQ community in Barbados and across the Caribbean. As an activist who works at many intersections; women, LGBTQ, health, and social justice, working relentlessly towards total equality is my motivation,” said Gill, who is also the founder of Butterfly Barbados.
“Some of the next steps have to be focused on gender identity recognition. This simply means that transgender individuals are extremely vulnerable and are at higher risk of discrimination due to a lack of legislation to protect and provide safety and resources for navigating life daily for areas like but not limited to school, transportation, bank accounts, housing security, employment, and health. This outcome creates opportunities to address other issues our community faces and a chance to rectify those challenges.”
Several local and international organisations also lauded the decision.
Among them was UNAIDS, Open for Business, the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), Butterfly Barbados and Equals Barbados.
“This historic decision is a significant step towards protecting the human rights and dignity of LGBT people in Barbados,” said Luisa Cabal, UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Donnya Piggott, the Caribbean Campaign Lead for Open for Business, said members of that community could now “breathe a sigh of relief”.
She said as a result of the decision, Barbados stood to benefit from an improved international reputation and an increase in foreign direct investment by extension.
Additionally, she said the island’s tourism product would also become more attractive.
In a joint statement issued by ECADE, Equals and Butterfly, the ruling was lauded as a step in the right direction. It acknowledged that the privacy and security of the LGBTQ+ community were “no longer compromised by outdated laws”.