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Same sex couple holding hands
Same sex couple holding hands

The heat is on, and the pressure is building for government to legalise same-sex marriage and dump existing buggery and gross indecency laws.

Human Rights Watch, one of the most influential human rights organisations with close links to the United Nations, has also sought to tighten the screws by calling on the Commonwealth secretariat to "condemn and call for the removal of all remaining British colonial laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity among people of the same sex".

In a report entitled, "I Have to Leave to Be Me - Discriminatory Laws against LGBT People in the Eastern Caribbean", the New York based human rights advocacy group called on the prime minister to "publicly affirm universal human rights and categorically condemn discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity".

The report, published last week, chronicles the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Dominica, as well as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where, it said, buggery and gross indecency laws legitimise discrimination and hostility towards LGBT people.

It quotes a 20-year-old Dominican gay man, which it names as Peter, as expressing fear for his life and regretting that he is unable to introduce his partner to his family.

"Every day I fear for my safety living in this country because of my sexual orientation. I am alive but if anyone ever finds out and wanted to find out, they can kill me . . . I am an easy target for anything," he says in the report.

"It saddens me that I have to sneak out and meet someone and can't bring anyone home. The buggery and gross indecency laws say that we can't be ourselves... These laws allow the negativity towards gay people to exist, the bigotry, [the] law allows people to insult and do anything [to us]."

Buggery is defined here as "anal intercourse by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person", and the courts here have the power to order that "the convicted person be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment".

Human Rights Watch says the gross indecency laws here, as well as in Antigua and St Lucia, are defined as "any act other than sexual intercourse by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire".

It describes the wording as vague and says "the law means that LGBT persons are susceptible to arrest and prosecution for a wide range of sexual acts".

In an audacious recommendation to parliament, which, if accepted would revolutionise the way the LGBT community is treated by the state, the international non-governmental organisation called for Dominica to consider advisory opinion 24 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights "with a view to reforming legislation and policies on sexual orientation and gender identity".

The advisory opinion, issued in January this year, calls for the recognition of all civil rights for same-sex couples, including the right to civil marriage. The court also advised that states should establish fast, inexpensive and straightforward procedures to ensure legal gender recognition, based solely on the self-perceived identity of a person.

While Dominica ratified the American Convention in 1993, it does not recognise the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Several other recommendations to parliament include repealing section 16 and amending section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 1998 "which criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct" and adopting clearly defined hate crimes legislation "to identify and prosecute bias-motivated violence on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity" and to ensure the definition of hate crimes includes rape or sexual assault motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human Rights Watch has also recommended to the ministry of health to "introduce and implement a gender recognition procedure" so people can change their legal gender on all documents through self-declaration "that is free of medical procedures or coercion".

"Such gender recognition procedure should ensure that changes to documents are made in a way that protects privacy and dignity," it says.

There are a number of recommendations in the report to the ministries of education, justice, and social services, as well as the police, which came in for criticism for the way they respond to complaints by LGBT people of physical and verbal abuse.

One person, whom it names as Alanis, says in the report she gave up on expecting the police to properly investigate assaults against her.

"I have been making police reports since 2009 officially, they don't take my reports. [Instead] they make fun of me. I'm not taken serious at all. I never went back," Alanis says.

In this regard, Human Rights Watch wants the force to investigate all allegation of abuse against LGBT people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, introduce training for police officers on human rights and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and "take all appropriate measures to ensure that all police officers respect the rights to non-discrimination, equality, and privacy, and do not discriminate in the exercise of their functions, including on grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation".


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