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Human Rights Watch: Anti-gay laws promote violence, discrimination in St. Vincent

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaks with the press after the EU-CELAC Summit of Heads of State and Government meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday. A Human Rights Watch report calls for the Caribbean nation to pass comprehensive civil legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Photo by Olivier Matthys/EPA-EFE
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaks with the press after the EU-CELAC Summit of Heads of State and Government meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday. A Human Rights Watch report calls for the Caribbean nation to pass comprehensive civil legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Photo by Olivier Matthys/EPA-EFE

July 20 (UPI) -- A report from Human Rights Watch calls on the government of St. Vincent to overturn anti-gay laws from the colonial era that have led to a recent wave of violence and gender discrimination on the small Caribbean island.

The LGBTQ community continues to face a daily barrage of bias-motivated attacks and public discrimination under the country's archaic statutes inherited from centuries of repressive European rule, according to the 58-page report titled "'They Can Harass Us Because of the Laws': Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines."

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Homosexuality continues to be criminalized in the former British colony after many hundreds of years, leaving LGBTQ individuals with little if any legal protections while violent crimes were being committed with impunity, the report said.

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Standing criminal codes on the island put consensual gay sex in the same category as crimes like rape, incest, and sexual assault, although there have been no recent convictions under the law.

The HRW report, published Thursday, also calls for St. Vincent to pass comprehensive civil legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The document comes amid a recent surge in physical and verbal assaults, domestic violence, homelessness, workplace harassment, bullying, and sexual violence against minority populations across the island.

Gay people have been targeted by family members, neighbors, co-workers, classmates and teachers -- as well as police officers, the report said.

Nearly all the witnesses interviewed for the report indicated at least one recent incident of physical or verbal abuse, threats, sexual violence, or other forms of harassment.

In many of these episodes, police allegedly refused to offer assistance, and in some cases became openly discriminatory toward gay victims.

Gay workers were also facing job discrimination in a nation already beset by high unemployment.

Many of the interviewees said job hirings and firings were becoming largely determined by sexual orientation, while other gay people lucky to have jobs faced sexual harassment in the workplace.

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"The criminalization of gay sex gives tacit state sanction to the discrimination and violence that LGBT people experience in their daily lives and compels many to look abroad to live freely and fulfill their dreams," said Cristian González Cabrera, gay rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The lack of public policies in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines acknowledging the needs and capacities of LGBT people has furthered their social and economic marginalization, barring them from contributing fully to society."

Six other Western nations -- including Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia -- continue to criminalize gay sex, with penalties as weighty as a decade in prison for "gross indecency with another person of the same sex."

Human Rights Watch drew its conclusions from documentary evidence as well as dozens of interviews with people on the island in October 2022.

Additional legal analyses were completed earlier this year.

"Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should move closer to equality by recognizing and protecting sexual and gender diversity, thereby strengthening the rule of law for everyone," González said. "It should also shake off relics of its colonial history and contribute to making the Western Hemisphere free of laws that punish people for whom they choose to love."

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