This month Trinidad and Tobago decriminalized consensual gay sex, which was previously punishable with up to 25 years in prison.
While the news has invigorated LGBT rights advocates, the picture for gay rights in the region is still far from ideal: Same-sex relations are still illegal in nine Caribbean countries, all of which are part of the British Commonwealth. And while laws are not always enforced, they have a chilling effect on the local LGBT community, which can often face harassment, discrimination and even violence. Sodomy laws also inhibit many LGBT Caribbeans from reaching out to police or HIV/AIDS agencies for help.
British Prime Minister Theresa May met with Commonwealth leaders last week and expressed regret for the U.K.’s role in criminalizing same-sex activity in former colonies. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.”
Below we look at the state of affairs in the Caribbean nations where homosexuality is still against the law.
Antigua and BarbudaAlan Copson/Getty Images
In Antigua, “buggery” is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, or up to five years when committed by a minor.
The government has stated it doesn’t intend to decriminalize homosexuality through executive or legislative means. But leaders admit that if a legal challenge was brought in court, it would likely end the same way it did for Belize, which ruled its buggery law unconstitutional in 2016.
Minister of social transformation Samantha Marshall called Antigua’s ban antiquated, saying “I don’t know that it is something that is enforced [or] serves any purpose, so [it] should be removed.”
BarbadosGary John Norman/Getty Images
Barbados punishes same-sex relations with ten years to life in prison, the harshest punishment on this list. As in Antigua, a challenge to the law would almost certainly see it struck down, as Barbados falls under the same legal jurisprudence as Belize.
LGBT rights are gaining a foothold in the country of some 280,000: the first Barbados Pride took place in Bridgetown in November 2017.
DominicaColin McConnell/Toronto Star
On this island republic in the Lesser Antilles, anal sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. “Gross indecency,” or any act besides intercourse, is punishable by up to five years behind bars. And the court can order those convicted be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
In 2012, two American men arrested for having sex on the balcony of a cruise ship docked in Dominica. They were initially charged with buggery but plea-bargained down to indecent exposure.
GrenadaJeff R Clow/Getty Images
Grenada’s sodomy ban punishes anal sex between men with up to ten years in prison. (Female same-sex relations are not illegal on the island of some 107,300.) While the law is rarely enforced, a 41-year-old man was charged with having sex with a 17-year-old in 2011, even though both were considered consenting adults according to Grenadan law.
In 2013, Senator Lawrence Joseph encouraged the legislature to reexamine its ban, saying “the day is fast approaching” when it would be struck down.”
GuyanaDanita Delimont/Getty Images
Guyana’s penal code lists buggery as a felony, punishable by up to life imprisonment. A man who commit an “act of gross indecency,” which is not defined but likely includes sexual activity other than anal sex, can be imprisoned for up to two years.
President David A. Granger has signaled he’d be open to repealing the statute, which is not commonly enforced.
“I am prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice which is not harmful to others,” Granger said back in 2016. However, to date there has still been no change to the law.
JamaicaDoug Pearson/Getty Images
While Jamaica advertises itself as “welcoming to all,” homosexual intercourse is punishable by up to ten years in prison, which can include hard labor. (Any other sexual contact between men is punishable by up to seven years in prison.)
Other Caribbean countries have stricter penalties, but anti-LGBT violence is endemic in Jamaica: Gay men have been beaten, shot and stoned to death. In 2017, LGBT activist Dexter Pottinger, dubbed the “face of Pride,” was murdered in his home. Some young queer Jamaicans are even forced to live in the sewers after being rejected by their families.
There are efforts toward change: In 2005, the European Parliament called on Jamaica, to repeal its sodomy ban and actively combat homophobia.
In a 2011 debate, former Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said “no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.” A year later, LGBT rights campaigner Maurice Tomlinson filed suit at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to get the ban lifted. But he was forced to flee the country after news of his marriage to another man hit local media.
An inaugural Jamaica Pride event was held in Kingston in 2015, though security concerns meant there was no parade.
Saint Kitts and NevisWalter Bibikow/Getty Images
Saint Kitts and Nevis’s Offences Against the Person Act punishes “the abominable crime of buggery” between men with up to 10 years in prison with the possibility of hard labor. (Female same-sex relations, however, are not illegal.)
According to Human Dignity Trust the law hasn’t been enforced in recent history. But in 2005 a gay cruise was barred from docking and the captain was taken to shore for a meeting with port, police, customs and immigration officials. The port’s general manager told reporters that Nevis does not want homosexuality “to be a part of our culture.”
Saint Lucia punishes consensual sex between men with up to ten years in prison. (If the defendant doesn’t contest the charges, the sentence is only five years.)
In 2008, the country was the only U.N. member state in the Americas to formally oppose a declaration that the U.N.’s principles of non-discrimination included sexual orientation and gender identity. Three years later, a group of gay Americans were robbed and beaten in their hotel room.
“They asked if we were gay,” one of the victims, Michael Baker, told The Georgia Voice after the attack. “Why had we showered together? Todd and I both said it was because the water heater was so small. They said if we were faggots they would kill us.”
He added that while they contacted authorities, “the police were almost annoyed with us, almost as if we were the criminals.”
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesChris Parker / Design Pics
Anyone who commits “an act of gross indecency with another person of the same sex” can face up to five years behind bars in Saint Vincent.
Receptive partners, male or female, actually face up to ten years in prison.
In 2011, ARC International encouraged the country to repeal its sodomy laws, but its efforts were rejected.