A journey towards equal rights in the Caribbean

December 17, 2018

In 2009, four transgender persons in Guyana were arrested and fined for cross-dressing. In court the judge told them that they were confused about their sexuality. “Go and find Jesus”, was the advice. Now, after nine years of challenging the law and fighting the case, justice has finally been served: Guyana’s law that criminalizes cross-dressing has been struck down.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of organizations supported by Right Here Right Now – a consortium of which Hivos is a member – and other local LGBTI organizations, the case was appealed on a number of grounds, including discrimination and violation of the rights to equality, freedom of expression and bodily autonomy.

Right Here Right Now

With Right Here Right Now we fight discrimination against young (LGBTI) people. We aim to improve their access to comprehensive sex education and youth-friendly, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services.

By bringing together different local organizations and uniting them in their goals, we create a strong regional platform for equal rights. Through training we strengthen their lobbying efforts. And it’s paying off: the Caribbean advocacy has contributed to the recent Guyana victory, as well as to a court judgement earlier this year in Trinidad and Tobago, which stated that same-sex activity should no longer be illegal.

Education is key

Brandon Antoine is the coordinator of Right Here Right Now in the Caribbean. He is a law student and a passionate advocate for equal rights for all people. “I believe this is my calling in life. I will continue to support sexual and reproductive rights for the people of the Caribbean and the world by extension.”

But making a change is not always easy in the predominantly Christian Caribbean region. “We’re experiencing resistance from the conservative and religious community”, Brandon says. “They still have a lot of influence. There are policy makers that share our views, but they don’t want to take the risk to publicly show their support because they’re afraid of losing votes from the religious community. They need backing from civil society organizations to improve the political and legal environment for Caribbean youth and the LGBTI community in particular.”

Change won’t happen if we don’t move.

“What we notice is that a lot of people are often not well informed on the subject and on what we do. They think we promote pedophilia! That’s why education is so important. LGTBI persons are no different than any other.” Since the start of the program, Right Here Right Now has been lobbying for getting sex and gender education on the agenda of policy makers. As a result, parents, key decision makers such as officials of the Ministry of Education, and civil society organizations have shown their support and believe that the importance of comprehensive sex education must be recognized.

Young people are taking the lead

It’s mostly young people in the region who have the strength and courage to pursue change. “After the victory in Trinidad and Tobago we realized that young people are leading the way”, Brandon tells us. “They’re progressive, less dependent on the church and more informed on what is happening in the world. They realize change won’t happen if we don’t move. We have to empower them!”

With the recent victories on LGBTI rights in the region, Brandon is hopeful: “step by step we are making a change in the Caribbean. With our support and training in lobbying and advocacy, hopefully more laws will be passed in the future. We’re on