(New York) – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines face bias-motivated violence and discrimination in their daily life, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The authorities should repeal the country’s colonial-era laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct and pass comprehensive civil legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The 58-page report, “‘They Can Harass Us Because of the Laws’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,” exposes the physical and verbal assaults, family violence, homelessness, workplace harassment, bullying, and sexual violence that sexual and gender minorities face under the shadow of discriminatory laws. Those responsible for mistreatment include people close to LGBT people – family members, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and teachers – as well as strangers and police officers.
“The criminalization of gay sex gives tacit state sanction to the discrimination and violence that LGBT people experience in their daily lives and compels many to look abroad to live freely and fulfill their dreams,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of public policies in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines acknowledging the needs and capacities of LGBT people has furthered their social and economic marginalization, barring them from contributing fully to society.”
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is one of six countries in the Western Hemisphere that still criminalizes gay sex. It punishes “buggery,” or anal sex, with up to 10 years in prison and “gross indecency with another person of the same sex,” with up to 5 years. These laws single out consensual gay sex in the “sexual offences” section of the criminal code that is otherwise reserved for crimes like rape, incest, and sexual assault. While there have been no recent reported convictions on the basis of these criminal provisions for consensual gay sex, the laws stigmatize LGBT people and create an obstacle to full equality.
The other countries in the region that still criminalize gay sex are Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia.
Human Rights Watch conducted most of the 30 interviews for this report during a research trip to Saint Vincent in October 2022. Human Rights Watch conducted additional remote interviews, reviewed documentary evidence and a range of secondary sources, and carried out legal analyses in early 2023.
Archaic laws outlawing consensual same-sex conduct, although dormant, contribute to a climate in which discrimination and violence take place with impunity. As a 25-year-old gay man from Saint Vincent told Human Rights Watch, “People feel they can harass us because of the laws. If people are having an argument, that’s [their] justification for homophobia. They say it’s the laws, that it’s illegal.”
Nearly all LGBT people interviewed reported at least one recent incident of physical or verbal abuse, threats, sexual violence, or harassment. Some had sought police assistance, but in most instances, the authorities were not helpful, and in some cases they were openly discriminatory towards them, those interviewed said.
Most of the LGBT people interviewed said their family members had physically and verbally abused them. For many, family violence deprived them of a social safety net, sometimes leading to a precarious life, including homelessness. Some said that family rejection was often couched in moralistic terms, echoing the homophobic rhetoric preached in some churches, which are a cornerstone of social life and shape social attitudes in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
For LGBT job seekers, employment discrimination is common. While unemployment is generally high in the country, LGBT people face additional barriers. Many people interviewed said they were not hired, or they had been fired explicitly because of their sexual orientation. Some lesbian and bisexual women interviewed said they faced sexual harassment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation, gender, or both.
At school, most of those interviewed had experienced stigma and discrimination from teachers and fellow students. Most also endured physical and verbal bullying, which led some to leave school early, setting them on a path to economic and social marginalization. For some, bullying was often accompanied by sexual harassment and violence.
Every LGBT person interviewed said they wished to leave the country and envisioned their future abroad due, in part, to the homophobic or transphobic violence and discrimination in the country.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has ratified international human rights treaties that obligate the government to protect the rights of everyone, including LGBT people, to life and security, freedom from ill-treatment, non-discrimination, housing, work, and education. Consensual sexual relations are protected under multiple rights, including the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to privacy, and the right to protection of the law against arbitrary and unlawful interference with, or attacks on, one’s private and family life and honor.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should repeal the buggery and gross indecency provisions in the criminal code and pass comprehensive civil anti-discrimination legislation that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The National Prosecution Service and the National Security Ministry should develop policies to ensure prompt, thorough, and independent investigations into crimes and discrimination against LGBT people and hold those responsible accountable, including law enforcement officers. Ministries responsible for labor and education should initiate public campaigns to educate employers, educators, and the general public on the basic human rights of LGBT people.
“Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should move closer to equality by recognizing and protecting sexual and gender diversity, thereby strengthening the rule of law for everyone,” González said. “It should also shake off relics of its colonial history and contribute to making the Western Hemisphere free of laws that punish people for whom they choose to love.”