London 2012 - Olympic Stadium taken by Paul Nuttall http://www.flickr.com/photos/djsosumi

State-sponsored homophobia in Olympic nations (Part 4)

Welcome to the fourth instalment of our series looking at state-sponsored homophobia in Olympic nations.  So far we’ve looked at gay rights in Africa, gay rights in Asia and gay rights in Oceania.  Now it’s time for the Americas.  I’m sad to report that here is a lot of bad news in the Americas.  But, there is also some great news.

Let’s start with a special mention for St Kitts & Nevis Islands: the only country in the Americas to sentence homosexuals to hard labour.  Government officials have said that they do not want homosexuality “to be a part of [their] culture”.

Not to be outdone, Trinidad & Tobago’s Immigration Act also forbids homosexual men from entering the country.  But this law doesn’t seem to be enforced.  What is enforced is 25 years for anal sex and 5 years for other homosexual acts.

Antigua & Barbuda also think there are degrees of gayness – 5 years for general “homosexual activity” and 15 years for anal sex.  In Dominica, which also thinks there are “degrees of gayness” the penalty for homosexuality is 10 years for anal sex, 5 years for all other acts.  Sometimes though prison is deferred and the ‘perpetrator’ is sent to a mental asylum.

In El Salvador armed militias target “undesirables”, which includes homosexuals and transsexuals.  While there may not be armed militias searching for gays to murder in Guatemala – Discrimination and other hate crimes are common (especially towards the transgendered community) and usually aren’t investigated.

In Nicaragua, there is a 3-year prison sentence for being a gay advocate.

If you’ve ever listened to Bob Marley’s music, you might think the Jamaica would be a paradise where love is love and everything was awesome.  It’s not – aside from the 10-year prison sentence for males who commit “homosexuality” beatings, abuse and even murder are common.  Only 26% of Jamaicans think LGBT people deserve the same rights as heterosexual people.  Perhaps most shockingly, most modern “big name” Jamaican musicians have songs that encourage attacking, or even killing LGBT people.  We miss you, Bob.

While homosexuality has been legal in Peru since 1924, laws to protect “public morals” are often used against homosexuals, usually at the urging of the Catholic Church.  In Paraguay, the Catholic Church actively campaigns against homosexuals, labelling them “moral degenerates”.  And while we’re talking about the religious interference – the Catholic Church spent 3 years (and a significant amount of money) fighting the registration of the first LGBT organisation.  Guyana is trying to repeal rarely enforced laws banning homosexuality.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the decriminalisation effort is vehemently opposed by Guyana’s religious leaders.

Although Puerto Rico is a United States Commonwealth, and US federal laws apply, local law is fairly anti-gay.  Which seems like a good point to get into The United States of America.  The USA is a legal minefield for the LGBT community.  In several states it is still legal to fire, evict or refuse to provide essential services to someone, just because they’re gay.  There are several states that have constitutional bans against recognising any same-sex relationship.

Perhaps “the land of the free” should take a good hard look at itself: it’s beaten by several South American countries and absolutely creamed by Canada’s performance.

Like Puerto Rico (and the rest of the United States) the legal situation in the US Virgin Islands is a bit messy – homosexuality is legal and some federal protections apply, but on the whole things aren’t good for our LGBT brethren.

The British Virgin Islands are a deeply homophobic society.  While certain orders by the British government have made homosexuality legal, anal sex remains (technically speaking) a crime and any group sex remains illegal under gross indecency laws.

Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as such the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that it must recognise relationships registered in The Netherlands as valid.  Same-sex couples can also jointly adopt in Aruba.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes things can work out?  A lot of prohibitions on homosexuality are hangovers from imperial days.  And there are many examples where imperialism has been bad, but in these few cases the imperial vestiges have been helpful to the gays.

 

Ok, here it is: the good news…

 

In 2009, Bolivia adopted a new constitution that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  In 2010, the Bolivians passed laws against all forms of discrimination in any establishment that serves the public.  In April the Opposition introduced a bill to legalise civil unions and the Parliament will debate the bill soon.  This bill has the Government’s support.  We’re awarding Bolivia a silver medal for its performance to date, but if civil unions are passed, we could easily see this as a gold-medal in 2016

While Columbia has come a long way since the “social cleansing” of the 1990s, it still has work to do.  Columbia too would have earned a silver medal if violence against gays weren’t still common.

Cuba is a complex picture – homophobia is still common, but things seem to be evolving. Fidel Castro has taken personal responsibility for “a great injustice” during his reign (the state’s persecution of homosexuals) has also written against homophobia in his memoirs, and given many long speeches arguing against homophobia.  We therefore (hopefully) award Cuba a bronze.

Uruguay was another shock to me – there are some issues to overcome but they’ve earned a solid silver medal and are teetering on a gold.  Not only is homosexuality legal, there is good anti-discrimination law in place and same-sex marriage is before the Congress.

Amazing things come from Barbados: Rihanna, for instance.  In spite of having a Mountain called “Mount Gay” (which has lent its name to an astonishingly good rum), Barbados has a rarely enforced penalty of life imprisonment for homosexuality (although in fairness this has been “under review” for the past year or so).  The Bajan government freaked out when UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s suggested that the UK would stop providing dollars with anti-gay laws.

Brazil’s legislatures have performed admirably, putting in effort worthy of a gold medal. Its legal framework protecting LBGT citizens it puts many European nations to shame.  However, there is significant homophobia in some parts of the population.  It has been reported by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission that one gay man dies in a hate crime every two days in Brazil, and a significant number of these hate crimes are committed by police officers.  Hopefully in time things will get better, but if you can’t trust the police force whom can you trust? For this reason we are retrospectively disqualifying Brazil and stripping it of it’s gold-medal.

Argentina was the tenth nation on earth to legalise same-sex marriage (and the first in Latin America).  There are still a few areas to go like: anti-discrimination laws, commercial surrogacy for males and letting couples adopt (although individual gay people can adopt).  Unfortunately there is still a fair bit of work to do for the transgendered community, and some cultural attitudes that need to shift.  In spite of this, we’re awarding Argentina our second gold medal in this series (the first went to South Africa – we don’t count the one that Brazil had one for about paragraph), mostly for Argentina’s impressive rate of improvement.

 

But, it has to be said – those Canadians are the true champions of the Americas with an unblemished performance.  Yes, some individual Canadians are homophobic, but this is rare and is becoming more and more socially unacceptable.  Canada was the third country in the world to offer nation-wide gay marriage.  There are only three contentious points left to go – age of consent laws do require a different age for anal sex (but this has been found to be invalid by the courts); Men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate blood (but this is being reviewed in terms of public health risk); and, commercial surrogacy for gay male couples remains illegal. However, it cannot be denied that Canada has put in a truly world-class performance.

In our fifth instalment in this series we will look at those Europeans.  Are they as gay friendly as they like to think?

If all this talk about medals has left you wondering about how your country is really doing in that sporting competition, one of our supporters has created the most interesting page.  He has normalised Olympic results by population – to compare relative Olympic performances of the participating countries.

As has become our practice, here is a really long table summarising our findings:

Americas
Country Legal? Protection? Marriage? Comments
Antigua & Barbuda 5 years for “homosexual acts” and 15 years for anal sex No No
Argentina Yes No Yes Was the tenth nation to legalise same-sex marriage and the first in Latin America. There is still a fair bit of work to do for transgendered community, and some cultural attitudes that need to shift.  It must be said that Argentina has made astonish progress in a very short period of time.
Aruba Legal No Does not register relationships, and only recognises relationships registered in the Netherlands Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as such the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that it must recognise relationships registered in The Netherlands as valid.  Same-sex couples can also jointly adopt in Aruba.
Bahamas Legal – different age of consent No No
Barbados Life imprisonment No No
Belize Male – 10 years, female – legal No No There was a legal challenge to these laws in Belize, however these failed due to legal trickery.
Bermuda Legal No No Significant challenges for citizens with a non-traditional gender identity
Bolivia Legal Constitutional protection sand legal protections Not yet – working on civil unions Making good progress.
Brazil Legal Yes Yes Brazil legislature has performed admirably, however it has been reported that one gay man dies in a hate crime every two days and a significant number of these hate crimes are committed by police officers.
Canada Yes Yes Yes Utterly world-class performance.
Cayman Islands Legal No No
Chile Legal No No Gay soliders are discharged for “offenses to values and morals of the Armed forces”.
Colombia Legal Yes No – De facto only Violence against gays very common.
Costa Rica Legal Legal protections No Societal attitudes are very homophobic, and most gay people live in the closet.
Cuba Legal No No Homophobia is still common, but things seem to be evolving. Fidel Castro has taken personal responsibility has written against homophobia in his memoirs, and given many long speeches arguing against homophobia.
Dominica 10 years for anal sex, 5 years for all other acts No No Sometimes though prison is deferred and the ‘perpetrator’ is sent to a mental asylum.
Dominican Rep. Legal No Constitution bans same-sex marriage, and recognising unregistered cohabitation in any way. Discrimination and homophobia are rife in the Dominican Republic
Ecuador Legal Yes No About 207 known ‘ex-gay’ clinics are in Ecuador posing as ‘drug rehabilitation centres’.  These clinics are known for torturing and starving patients in an attempt to turn them straight.
El Salvador Legal Laws exist, but aren’t enforced No Armed militias target “undesirables”, which includes homosexuals and transsexuals.
Grenada Illegal No No Any form of anal penetration attracts 10 years in prison (unless it’s between two women)
Guatemala Legal No No Discrimination and hate crimes are common (especially towards the transgendered community) and usually aren’t investigated.
Guyana Attempted anal sex (buggery) – 10 years in prison, successful anal sex – life imprisonment, “gross indecency” is 2 years in prison No No Laws are rarely enforced and there is a decriminalisation effort underway, vehemently opposed by religious leaders.
Haiti Legal No No There is bone crushing poverty and massive political instability in Haiti.  There is also significant religious-based homophobia, and widespread discrimination, therefore LGBT Haitians of all classes stay firmly in the closet.
Honduras Legal No Constitution expressly forbids recognising registered or unregistered same-sex couples.
Jamaica Male – 10 years in prison, female – legal No No
Mexico Legal Yes Some cities offer same-sex marriage Hate crimes are common.  The cities of Quintana Roo and Mexico City offer same-sex marriages, while Coahuila offers civil unions.
Nicaragua Legal No No 3 year prison sentence for being a gay advocate.
Panama Legal No No
Paraguay Legal No No – constitutionally banned
Peru Legal No No
Puerto Rico Legal It’s complex No US federal laws apply, but local law is fairly anti-gay.
Saint Lucia Illegal – fine or up to 10  years in prison No No The only country in the Americas to oppose the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity.
St Kitts & Nevis Male – 10 years in prison, with or without hard labour.  Female – legal No No
St Vincent & the Grenadines 5 years for homosexual acts or 10 years for anal sex No No The same laws that ban bestiality also ban anal sex.
Suriname Legal No No First gay-rights march took place on 11 October 2011.
Trinidad & Tobago 25 years for anal sex, 5 years for other homosexual acts No No The Immigration Act also forbids homosexual men from entering the country (doesn’t seem to be enforced).
United States Legal Some states No The USA is a legal minefield for LGBT community. There isn’t enough storage on this server to do the subject justice.
Uruguay Legal Yes Pending a vote in the Congress
Venezuela Legal Anti-discrimination law exists for employment Civil Unions are available in Merida
Virgin Isl, B Anal sex is technically a crime; group gay sex remains illegal under gross indecency laws. Legally required to comply to European Convention on Human Rights No
Virgin Isl, US Legal Some No Really bad local law can be overturned by the US Supreme Court, but things are not good.
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