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Grenada Going Places on LGBTI Human Rights

November 9, 2015

:: by Maurice Tomlinson ::

The island of Grenada is probably best known for the 1983 US-led invasion.  However this beautiful tropical paradise also called the “Spice Isle” for the abundant nutmeg trees, as well as the exotic feel of the country, may soon achieve a much more enviable reputation as one of the Anglo-phone Caribbean nations that is working assiduously to achieve full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and intersex (LGBTI) citizens. 

Although gay cruises have visited Grenada, the country is one of 11 former British colonies in the region that still retains a colonially-imposed ban on same-gender intimacy.  Section 431 of the island’s criminal code deems even consensual anal intercourse as “unnatural connexion” punishable with up to 10 years in prison.  This law is rarely enforced and the last reported prosecution in 2011 of a 41 year-old man for consensual sex with a 17 year-old male was terminated before the matter went to trial.  The accused eventually withdrew a constitutional challenge to the anti-sodomy law and so prevented a much needed court determination of the statute’s validity. Despite minimal enforcement, there is evidence that the existence of the law contributes to and provides licence for a climate of hostility towards LGBTI Grenadians.

In May 2013, the president of the country’s Senate called for the island to reconsider its ban on same-gender sexual relationships and said that “the day is fast approaching” for Grenada and other Caribbean countries to repeal their anti-sodomy laws. At a town hall meeting in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday September 27, 2015 Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell also invoked Pope Francis’ “who am I to judge” statement to call for tolerance towards the LGBTI community in Grenada.

Civil society organizations on the island have also been taking concrete steps to end homophobic discrimination.  Groups such as GrenCHAP and Groundation Grenada have prepared and presented multiple international and regional reports on the level of homophobia, and have repeatedly used national dialogues to call for full inclusion of LGBTI citizens.  For example, during a public consultation on the proposed constitution held on October 15, 2014 Groundation and GrenCHAP called for sexual orientation to be listed as a ground for non-discrimination in the bill of rights.  The proposal was met with jeers from the audience, but the group was able to complete their submission with the full support of the moderator.  A skilful appeal by the presenters to the shared history of marginalization and discrimination faced by many Grenadians was also effective at blunting the homophobic rhetoric that some audience members started to spew. 

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Photographs from recent LGBTI Training for Grenadian Police Officers (Nov 2th-5th 2015)

On November 24, 2013 a few members of GrenCHAP also bravely carried out a guerilla counter-protest of an anti-gay march led by the influential Seventh Day Adventist Church. Chanting: “man to man is so unjust; woman to woman is even worse” the fundamentalists sought to demean same-gender relations and then claimed on national television that this was not their intent.  However, in what can only be described as a stroke of genius, the small GrenCHAP contingent not only recorded the march, they also joined in with rainbow flags. 

On October 19, 2015 petitioners from GrenCHAP and Groundation Grenada argued before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the anti-sodomy law continues to be used as grounds for blatant discrimination against homosexual individuals. According to the petitioners, section 431 of the criminal code conflicts with human rights guaranteed by international law, including rights enshrined in the American Convention, namely, the rights to: dignity and privacy; equal protection under the law and non-discrimination; health; and freedom of expression. 

Further, the petitioners contended that the law creates social stigma, condones family and community violence, and prevents homosexuals from accessing counseling and testing for services for HIV and AIDS. The petitioners referenced a United Nations poll data from 2014 which showed that 38% of participants in Grenada reported being homophobic, 52% indicated that they would not “hang out” with someone who is gay, and 57% were not in favor of equal rights for gay, lesbian and bi-sexual populations.

It is accepted by most regional activists that although Caribbean politicians may personally support repealing the outdated anti-sodomy laws, elected officials are stymied by fear of the vocal churches that wield significant political clout in the very religious and close-knit societies.  Therefore regional and international lawyers joined activists representing the rights of Caribbean LGBTI people for a meeting in Grenada from September 21–23, 2015.  The aim of this assembly was to assess whether litigation around the criminalisation and lack of recognition of the human rights of queer people was possible in the countries of the Eastern Caribbean. 

At the end of the litigation workshop a group of attendees mounted the first-ever Stand for Equality in the capital parish of St. George.  There was also dialogue with the police high command about the possibility of a LGBTI awareness training for police and other community stakeholders and this training was successfully delivered on Nov. 2-5.

The awareness building exercise was supported by the Royal Grenada Police Force, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, GrenCHAP, United & Strong INC., and CariFLAGS.  Forty-two uniformed officers drawn from the police, immigration, fire, customs, prisons, and ports services were joined by 8 civil society representatives from the Grenada Family Planning Association, the Grenada Human Rights Organization, GrenCHAP and their sister group United and Strong of St. Lucia.  This innovative programme was first brought to the Caribbean by AIDS-Free World and has so far been delivered in Suriname, Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts. Modules on community policing, human rights, professionalism, ethics, an introduction to LGBTI issues, and how to police hate crimes were delivered in two sessions of two days each.  The small size of each group (no more than 25 persons) allowed for frank discussions on the very challenging but critical issues. 

The course curriculum was written by Tom Decker who served as the LGBTI liaison officer for the Toronto Police Service (TPS).  While at the TPS, Tom created the award-winning Report Homophobic Violence Period (RVHP) programme.  Tom’s partner, Maurice, who is a Jamaican lawyer, long time LGBTI and HIV activist, and senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, also contributed to the human rights and Caribbean specific sections of the training manual.  Tom and Maurice serve as training facilitators for the course.

As usual, day two of the training in Grenada was difficult for most participants because that was when they were introduced (some for the first time) to specific LGBTI issues.  A few very vocal participants wanted to focus exclusively on religious (Christian) interpretations that condemn homosexuality and there were some vigorous exchanges on the extent to which professional policing accommodated religious ideology. 

At the end of the sessions most participants expressed that there was need for more than two days for these exercises.  Many felt that the religious discussions were not fully entertained.  However the facilitators surmised that there was the real risk that more time would simply allow for “Bible ping-pong” or trading of interpretations on biblical passages on homosexuality.  This would detract from the central focus of the training which is to create an understanding about the human rights of LGBTI people and how combatting homophobia is central to reducing the Caribbean’s HIV burden.

While some participants expressed stereotypically conservative views against the human rights of homosexuals, there were also several moments of growth and personal learning.  For example, there was the realization by the left-handed attendees that they too were once stigmatized and abused for who they are because of religious doctrine.  Participants with LGBTI family members also shared their fears for the security of their family in Grenada. While Grenada is not known for a high number of anti-gay attacks, members of GrenCHAP who were in attendance revealed that they had received reports of homophobic discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare as well as verbal and physical assaults.  However, the level of homophobia and unfamiliarity with the system of reporting abuse discouraged persons who had experienced victimization from coming forward to the police. 

The sessions ended with participants undertaking to provide professional police service to all citizens of Grenada, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or other status.

The local broadcast media also reported on the trainings and it is hoped that this coverage will provide LGBTI Grenadians with evidence that officers are being provided with diversity training.  This assurance should hopefully encourage those who have suffered homophobic assaults to come forward with confidence to make reports to the police.  Such reporting is vital to ensure that effective interventions can be developed to address these hate crimes, and also guarantee LGBTI people a sense of security so that they can access critical HIV interventions.

Copies of the course manuals were delivered to the commander in charge of the police training school in order to ensure sustainable and ongoing instruction in the areas that were covered.  The two Canada-based facilitators will also act as resource personnel and provide ongoing support for local trainers.

Maurice_HG11-700x336Maurice Tomlinson is a Jamaican lawyer, LGBTI activist, and educator. For nearly twenty years, he has been working with a variety of local and international agencies to combat homophobia and HIV across the Caribbean. As part of the Legal Network’s Research and Policy team, Maurice continues his deep and fruitful partnerships with various national and regional stakeholders to promote and protect the human rights of Caribbean LGBTI people.

In 2012, Maurice received the inaugural David Kato Vision and Voice Award, which recognizes individuals who defend human rights and the dignity of LGBTI people around the world.

Maurice holds a B.A. in History (honours) from the University of the West Indies, an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Calgary, an LL.B. (honours) from the University of the West Indies, an LL.M. in Intellectual Property Law from the University of Turin (cum laude), and a Certificate of Legal Education form the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica. Maurice was called to the Jamaican Bar in 2006.

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