Meet the LGBTQ activist who challenged his Caribbean country’s anti-sodomy law and won

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) — For years, Orden David faced persecution in his native Antigua and Barbuda — a frequent complaint from many LGBTQ people who fear for their safety in the conservative, predominantly Christian Caribbean, where anti- -gay is prevalent.

David was bullied and ridiculed. Once a man got out of a car, made a comment about how a gay man was walking down the street late at night, then punched him in the head. More recently, another stranger punched him in the face in broad daylight, knocking him out. That’s when he had had enough.

Facing ostracism and risking his life as the public face of the LGBTQ movement, David took his government to court in 2022 to demand an end to his country’s anti-sodomy law.

“I realized that with our community, we’ve been through a lot and there’s no justice for us,” Orden told The Associated Press. “We all have rights. And we all deserve the same treatment.”

Last year, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional. LGBTQ rights activists say David’s efforts, with the help of local and regional advocacy groups, have set a precedent for a growing number of Caribbean islands. Since the ruling, St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados have repealed similar laws that often provide for lengthy prison terms.

“This was a legal and historic moment for Antigua and Barbuda,” said Alexandrina Wong, director of local nongovernmental organization Women Against Rape, which joined the litigation coordinated by the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for diversity and equality.

“Our Caribbean governments have a good idea of ​​what the world looks like and how we can reshape our history and…the future of the people of the Caribbean,” Wong said.

The ruling said Antigua’s Sexual Offenses Act 1995 “offends the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of privacy and freedom from discrimination based on sex”.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the AP that his government decided not to challenge the decision: “We have respected the fact that there should be no discrimination within society,” he said. “As a government, we have a constitutional responsibility to respect the rights of all and not discriminate.”

The law stated that two consenting adults convicted of having anal sex would face 15 years in prison. If found guilty of gross indecency, they face up to five years in prison.

Such laws were common in former European colonies in the Caribbean, but have been challenged in recent years. Courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have ruled these laws unconstitutional; other cases in the region are ongoing.

According to Human Rights Watch and the London-based organization Human Dignity Trust, consensual same-sex intimacy is still criminalized in six Caribbean countries. The countries include Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica, which some LGBTQ rights groups consider to be the most anti-gay Caribbean nation.

“Governments in these jurisdictions should be proactive and repeal these laws now, instead of waiting for members of the LGBT community to impose legal change,” said Téa Braun, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust. “With three successful judgments last year and other ongoing legal challenges in the Caribbean, it is only a matter of time before these laws fall in the region.

The Jamaican government has argued that it is not enforcing its 1864 anti-sodomy laws, but activists say keeping these laws on the books is fueling homophobia and violence against the LGBTQ community in several Caribbean countries. .

LGBT people in these countries face “a constitution that criminalizes them on the one hand and a religion that says they are an abomination,” said Kenita Placide, executive director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Diversity. legality.

“It created a culture of stigma and discrimination, which has now led to violence,” she said. “And in each of those countries, including Antigua, we have seen LGBT people who have fled because of certain levels of violence.”

Growing up, Orden David faced bullying at school and discrimination outside of its walls. People took pictures of him and posted them on social media, called him insults and physically attacked him.

“What drove me to move forward with this litigation, to challenge the government, was this experience that I had in life,” David said, adding that in 2019 he was knocked out by a stranger who punched him in the face. while working in a hospital.

Discrimination against LGBTQ people persists in the Caribbean. Some conservative lawmakers and religious leaders oppose the repeal of anti-gay laws by invoking God in their arguments and calling same-sex relationships a sin.

“I don’t think God created man and woman to engage in this way,” said Bishop Charlesworth Browne, a Christian pastor who serves as president of the Council of Church Leaders of Antigua-et -Barbuda. For years, he campaigned against the relaxation of the country’s anti-gay laws.

“It’s not just a religious issue. It’s a health issue,” Browne said. “It is for the good of our children, the health of nations, the preservation of our people.”

Some major Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, say that any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is a sin. Other places of worship, including many mainline Protestant churches and synagogues, have LGBTQ-inclusive policies.

When LGBTQ activist Rickenson Ettienne was also brutally attacked in Antigua for being gay, his religious community sang and prayed for him outside the hospital as he recovered from a fractured skull. “It was traumatic,” he said of the assault. “But even with this experience, I discovered that there is humanity, there is the human side of people.”

Although David did not face outright intolerance at the Christian church where he grew up singing in the choir, he was disenchanted with some parishioners who attempted to introduce him to the scientifically discredited practice of the so-called gay conversion therapy. He eventually stopped attending, but believes in God and prays at home.

“Christians need to realize that ultimately everyone is human. And if you’re going to push Christianity and then think that being gay is a sin… then you should put yourself in that same category, as a sinner,” he said.

“Christians are supposed to love, accept and encourage people, not push them away…that’s one of the things I really don’t believe: when Christians use the word ‘hate,’” David said. He has the Chinese word for “love” tattooed on his neck and says loving people is his “number one goal”.

Working for the Antigua AIDS Secretariat, he tests people for sexually transmitted diseases, distributes condoms and advises them on prevention, treatment and care. He is also president of Meeting Emotional and Social Needs Holistically, a group that serves the LGBTQ community. And he is a volunteer. One recent night, he walked through dark alleys in downtown St. John’s to distribute condoms to sex workers.

“It’s important to offer the services to the LGBTQ community, and especially sex workers,” he said. “Because this population is more at risk.”

Associated Press reporters Jessie Wardarski in St. John’s, Antigua, and Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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