Homophobic laws in Caribbean could roll back in landmark case

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Verdict due on LGBT activist Jason Jones’s attempt to strike down colonial-era law. Joshua Surtees (The Guardian) reports from Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Trinidad and Tobago could make legal history in the Caribbean this week by rolling back long-standing homophobic laws.

On Thursday, a high court judge, Devindra Rampersad, will deliver his verdict in a landmark case brought by a private citizen which, if successful, would set a legal precedent for removing similar laws in countries across the region.

In March 2017, Jason Jones, an LGBT activist, took the government of Trinidad and Tobago to court, filing a lawsuit to strike down the so-called “buggery law”, which dates from British rule. Jones argues that section 13 of the island’s Sexual Offences Act, which criminalises anal sex, is unconstitutional because it violates his right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression.

Trinidad and Tobago’s constitution was written in 1976 when the country became a republic, severing ties with Britain. In 1986, its parliament rewrote the act, increasing the maximum penalty for sodomy between adults to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Though rarely enforced, that amendment to the law created a loophole that allowed Jones to bring his action, because it nullifies the “savings clause” written into the constitutions of former British colonies. Savings clauses, introduced to ease transition at the end of the colonial era, decreed that British laws could not be changed after independence. But because the Trinidadian government altered the act so drastically, in effect replacing the pre-independence act of parliament, the law is now open to reform.

Media coverage of Jones’s case has thrown him into the public eye and he has received death threats and abuse. The case has also caused a rift between him and LGBT activists in the country who fear the political consequences and social reprisals.

Despite having more tolerant attitudes than some Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago has no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination and it is still rare for people to be openly gay. A transgender woman was shot dead last year and gay Trinidadians have recently sought asylum in Britain, having faced persecution, harassment and sexual violence. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/caribbean-anti-gay-law-ruling-high-court-trinidad-tobago

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