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St. Vincent upholds laws criminalizing gay sex in Caribbean island nation in setback for activists

  • February 17, 2024

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A top court in St. Vincent and the Grenadines upheld laws on Friday that criminalize gay sex, a blow to activists who have long decried the violence the LGBTQ+ community has faced on the conservative Caribbean archipelago.

The ruling by St. Vincent’s High Court stems from a 2019 case filed by two gay men from St. Vincent who live in the U.K. and U.S. They sought to strike down colonial-era laws that call for 10 years in prison for anal intercourse and five years for “gross indecency” with another person of the same sex.

Cristian González Cabrera, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the ruling “a travesty of justice” and said it represents “tacit state endorsement” of the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

“It is a sad day for human rights in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the ruling will weaken the rule of law for everyone in the country,” he said.

It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone planned to appeal the ruling.

Téa Braun, chief executive of the London-based human rights organization Human Dignity Trust, criticized that the decision was based in part on how the two men challenging the laws don’t live in St. Vincent.

“This is a huge disappointment,” she said. “The judgment stands in stark contrast to decisions striking out these outdated laws by neighboring courts in Barbados, Antigua and St. Kitts just last year, as well as other courts around the world.”

While the laws in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are rarely invoked, activists say they help legitimize physical and verbal abuse against the gay community on the small island of some 100,000 people.

Last year, a Human Rights Watch report noted multiple instances of abuse and discrimination against gay people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, from the case of a teenage student having his arm broken to a man being hit in the head with a bottle, causing permanent brain damage.

The archipelago nation’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has previously decried discrimination against gay people.

Along with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there are five other English-speaking Caribbean nations with laws criminalizing gay sex. They are St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana and Grenada.

Four other Caribbean nations in recent years have repealed such laws: Trinidad and Tobago; Barbados; St. Kitts and Nevis; and Antigua and Barbuda.

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