Barbados, the Queen and LGBTQ+ rights


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PROUD: Mia Mottley is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community
BARBADOS IS the world’s newest republic, after swapping out Queen Elizabeth II for its first president, Dame Sandra Mason. This change is an important one for the island nation and Barbados joins a long list of former colonial outposts removing the Queen as their Head of State.

But Barbados must ensure that the Queen isn’t the only colonial relic they do away with: LGBTQ+ Bajans currently do not enjoy the same rights as heterosexual citizens, as Barbados still has colonial-era laws on the books penalising same-sex intimacy. While the maximum penalty for those caught in “homosexual acts” is a life sentence, these laws are currently under review and not widely enforced.

Still, societal stigma remains and these homophobic laws make LGBTQ+ Bajans vulnerable to discrimination, violence and persecution. While Barbados has transitioned to a republic, it will remain part of the Commonwealth of Nations, an important membership organisation that could help further the fight for LGBTQ+ Bajans.

One of the ways anti-LGBTQ+ laws are being challenged, in Barbados and across the Commonwealth, is through the Commonwealth Equality Network, or TCEN, a network of over 60 organisations working to defend the human rights of LGBTQ+ people, and an essential intervention in the collective struggle against homophobic colonial-era laws.

Kaleidoscope Trust, the UK-based charity working with LGBTQ+ activists across the Commonwealth and which serves as TCEN’s Secretariat, recently hosted their tenth anniversary celebration at the Institute of Directors. Speaking to an audience of LGBTQ+ influencers, activists, parliamentarians and change-makers, Kaleidoscope Trust’s president, Lord Fowler, raised an important point: “We will not make progress by simply condemning the past. Remember, yes; but progress will only be made by taking on the issues of today.”

As Bajans continue to reckon with the harms of a colonial past and take decisive action in their own interest, Lord Fowler’s insight speaks to the necessity of tackling the effects and impacts of the past in the present.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley has taken a proud stance in support of LGBTQ+ people everywhere, including the Bajans under her care. In 2017, Barbados held the first of its now-annual pride events (on Rihanna Drive, no less!), and organisations like B-GLAD (Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination) continue to fight on behalf of LGBTQ+ Bajans.

The well-known phrase “None of us is free until all of us are” is apt. The break from the Queen and a colonial past will be in vain if the future Barbados imagines and creates for itself doesn’t include honouring the full human rights of its LGBTQ+ citizens. They must make this moment count for all.

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