July 19, 2019 / 8:34 PM / a month ago

Laws banning gay sex under challenge in tiny Caribbean nation

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A gay man in the tiny Caribbean nation of Dominica filed a legal claim challenging its laws that ban gay sex and punish same-sex relations with prison terms and psychiatric confinement,

a Canada-based rights group said on Friday.

Dominica is one of nine Caribbean countries that outlaw gay sex, and taking down its ban could build momentum to address the anti-gay laws throughout the region, supporters said.

The challenge seeks to prove the law violates Dominica’s constitution that guarantees rights to freedom of expression, privacy and freedom from inhumane or degrading punishment.

The person filing the case was a gay man who has faced frequent violence because of his sexuality, but authorities refused to step in and protect him, said Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“He has suffered extreme abuses ... including being attacked in his own home, and the police did nothing about it,” Tomlinson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Under Dominican law, gay people are considered criminals, “so they refused to help him,” he said.

Gay sex is punishable in Dominica, a nation of about 70,000 residents, under laws enacted 1873.

Punishments include prison terms as long as 12 years, and Dominican courts also can order offenders to be sent to psychiatric institutions.

“The existence of these laws prevents a culture and a legal environment being developed that would support LGBT people,” said Tomlinson.

“Once these laws are gone, we are legitimate members of society.”

Other countries in the region recently decriminalized same sex relations, Trinidad and Tobago last year and Belize in 2016.

Last month, Botswana’s top court voted to decriminalize homosexuality, while Bhutan’s lower house voted to repeal a similar law that needs upper chamber approval.

This would leave 68 nations where same-sex relations are illegal.

The advances in June coincided with Pride month, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City that were widely regarded as the start of the gay rights movement.

“While people are rightfully celebrating, I implore us all to remember that LGBT people are still harshly criminalized in many parts of the world,” said Darryl Philip, founder and head of Minority Rights Dominica, a local rights group, in a statement.  

Working on the lawsuit, filed in Dominica’s High Court of Justice, are the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Minority Rights Dominica, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program and Lawyers Without Borders, a not-for-profit group of lawyers who volunteer on cases around the world.

Reporting by Oscar Lopez, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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