LGBTQ+ persons now more vulnerable after High Court ruling- ECADE
February 23, 2024
LGBTQ+ persons now more vulnerable after High Court ruling- ECADE

An independent umbrella of human rights organisations operating in the small islands of the eastern Caribbean has concluded that LGBTQ Vincentians face greater vulnerability following the High Court ruling on a same sex case last week Friday February, 16,2024.

The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) said in a statement issued from Saint Lucia, that the High Court’s extraordinary ruling undermines the rights of LGBTQ+ people in St Vincent and the Grenadines at a time when the region is moving in a more progressive direction and reinforces negative stereotypes of the country and the region.

ECADE said it is concerned that this judgment demonstrates a lack of respect for civil liberties and personal privacy. This is especially concerning for LGBTQ+ Vincentians who already face discrimination in public and private spaces including the home, schools, religious spaces, and places of employment. It can also be interpreted to legitimise continued acts of violence and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Friday, February 16, 2024, the High Court dismissed in its entirety, the challenge to sections 146 and 148 of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Criminal Code filed by Sean Macleish and Javin Johnson, two gay Vincentian nationals living abroad.

“It is notable that the Attorney General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was joined by several religious groups as interested parties in defending the consolidated cases,” the organisation said.

“It is a dark day in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for minorities who are LGBT persons. This has now weaponised hate, it has now weaponised discrimination, it has now weaponised homophobia, sanctioned by the highest court,” notes VincyCHAP, a local civil society organisation that joined the claimants as an interested party to the case. “It was very disappointing sitting there listening to the judge’s decision. We believe it is rather unfortunate, that the judge took the stance that the claimants had no locus standi because they do not reside in Saint Vincent. That means in essence their rights as Vincentians anywhere they are, has been infringed. It restricts the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and freedom of association, as a privilege only for some.”

Attorney-at-Law Jeshua Bardoo, who is also the Founder and executive officer of ERAO SVG stated, “This is [a] sad day for LGBTQ+ rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Internationally and regionally, laws similar to those challenged in these cases have been declared unconstitutional and in violation of the rights of LGBTQ+ persons. These archaic and draconian colonial laws, though not strictly enforced, symbolically denigrate LGBTQ+ persons as second-class citizens in their own country and perpetuate prejudice and stigma against them.”

The claimants, represented by Peter Laverick, Shirlan Barnwell, Jomo Thomas, Joseph Middleton, KC, Christopher Hamel-Smith and Grahame Bollers challenged the constitutionality of laws that condemn consensual same-sex intimacy. People can be imprisoned in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines under sections 146 and 148 for buggery and/or Indecent practices between persons of the same sex. According to court filings in 2019, Johnson and MacLeish contend that those provisions are unconstitutional as they violate the fundamental rights to privacy, personal liberty, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and protection from discrimination.

“I am concerned about the message this sends to the people in the country, to the Caribbean and to the world,” says Kenita Placide, ECADE’s executive director. “At a time when the world is taking cognisance of the negative impact of archaic colonial era laws, this judgment is regressive and harmful. It poses a threat to, and further restricts the positive contribution of many Vincentian citizens.”

ECADE said it has helped set a precedent in the sub-region by successfully litigating three of five legal challenges in the eastern Caribbean with decisions in two cases still outstanding. The most recent judgment on December 12, 2022, saw the High Court in Barbados follow Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis, in ruling buggery and gross indecency laws unconstitutional. These cases followed successful challenges in Belize and Guyana to the constitutionality of sodomy laws and cross-dressing laws led by the University of the West Indies Rights Action Project (URAP) and the successful challenge to buggery laws in Trinidad and Tobago.