Hope in a time of choler: From Antigua and Barbuda to St. Kitts and Nevis and beyond

The news these days is daunting.  This weekend, Italy followed Sweden’s example, earlier in September, and elected a “hard right” candidate as Prime Minister. The far right is “having a moment” in Europe and beyond. These are grim times, but they are not without hope. There is light, and it is real, serious, promising, joyful and momentous. Consider the news this past month, beginning with St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court was established in 1967. It has unlimited jurisdiction in six independent countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Additionally, it has unlimited jurisdiction over three British Overseas Territories: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat. This is a juridical, social, political, economic map designed and engraved by colonialism, a map that many thought was immutable. Well, the immutable is mutating.

St. Kitts and Nevis was one of the first of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by the British. The British started planting tobacco, but switched to sugar in 1630. Growing sugar proved to be labor intensive, and so, `naturally’, the British brought in enslaved peoples from the African continent. By 1776, St. Kitts was the richest British colony in the Caribbean. The British didn’t only bring tobacco, sugar and slaves to St. Kitts. They also brought a system of laws, at the center of which were laws `regulating’ and `normalizing’ intimate relations, laws that criminalized any and all forms of gay sexual activity, under the guise of protection of the person. Colonial and imperial protection has always stigmatized and criminalized all minority populations. Last month, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court decided that it’s time for the colonial rule to end.

In early July, in Antigua and Barbuda, the High Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex acts between consulting adults. At the end of August, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court issued a similar judgement, this time concerning St. Kitts and Nevis. The Court heard a case brought by Jamal Jeffers, an openly gay man living in St. Kitts and Nevis, and the St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality, with the support of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality. The St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality was founded by Tynetta  McKoyis, who  “identifies as a gender non-conforming queer woman.”

In his decision, High Court Judge Trevor M. Ward argued that the sections that criminalize “buggery” and any attempt thereof were violations of the Constitutional right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression, and so were declared null and void, effective immediately. Constitutional protections subsume colonial `protections’. As Judge noted, “Due to our colonial legacy, the Offenses Against the Person Act was introduced as part of the laws of Saint Christopher and Nevis by Act 7 of 1873.  Section 56  has  retained  its  original  form  while section 57 was amended in 2012 to increase the maximum penalty for indecent assault from four years to ten years.” 1873 to 2022. It’s time, way past time, to conclude the “colonial legacy”.

In 2015, eastern Caribbean LGBTQI+ activists, many of whom had been deeply involved in HIV and AIDS organizing, met and formed the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, ECADE, under the leadership of Kenita Placide. In 2020, ECADE launched a five-country challenge to anti-gay laws, all of which had been products of colonial legislation. Antigua and Barbuda was the first decision, St. Kitts and Nevis is the second. Barbados and St. Lucia cases should be decided before the end of this year. As Kenita Placide explains, “Our strategy has been multilayered; working with activists on the ground, our colleagues, friends, allies and family. This win is part of the transformative journey to full recognition of LGBTQ persons across the 11-nation Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.”

This win is part of the transformative journey … across the Caribbean and beyond. The struggle and the journey continue.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: ECADE / Twitter)

Hope in a time of choler: Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda

Mothers and children in Sierra Leone, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world

In streets and legislatures as well as in representations in news and social media, from Hungary to India to Brazil to Zimbabwe to the United States and beyond and between, these are trying times in which a threat of totalitarianism looms around us. Welcome to July 2022, where, on one hand, the Thunderdome continues to dominate our attention, but it’s not all gloom and doom. These are grim times. But they are not without hope. There is light, there is real and serious opposition in the Thunderdome. Consider the news this past week from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda.

In Sierra Leone this week, President Julius Maada Bio and his cabinet announced their unanimous support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act which would decriminalize abortion, expand access to contraceptives, post-abortion care and other reproductive health services. On one hand, the support is important in and of itself for women and girls in Sierra Leone and beyond. At the same time, support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act is seen as part of the process of decolonization. The current law dates from 1861, during the English occupation of what became Sierra Leone. As President Bio pointedly noted, “At a time when sexual and reproductive health rights for women are either being overturned or threatened, we are proud that Sierra Leone can once again lead with progressive reforms. My government has unanimously approved a safe motherhood bill that will include a range of critical provisions to ensure the health and dignity of all girls and women of reproductive age in this country.” Sierra Leone joins Benin, which legalized abortion last year.

In March 2022 a High Court in Malindi, in Kenya, found abortion related arrests to be illegal. “The court noted that abortion care is a fundamental right under the Constitution of Kenya and that protecting access to abortion impacts vital Constitutional values, including dignity, autonomy, equality, and bodily integrity. It also ruled that criminalizing abortion under Penal Code without Constitutional statutory framework is an impairment to the enjoyment of women’s reproductive right”

This week, still in Kenya, Justice Okong’o Samson Odhiambo, appearing before the Judicial Service Commission during the Court of Appeal judges interviews, when asked about his views on abortion, responded, “My personal view is that people have the freedom to decide on what to do with their lives.”

Meanwhile, in Antigua and Barbuda this week, the High Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex acts between consulting adults. The case was brought before the court by Orden David, an openly gay man; and Women Against Rape. High Court Judge Marissa Robertson ruled, “The right to privacy extends beyond the right to be left alone and includes the concept of dignity of the individual, aspects of physical and social identity, and the right to develop and establish relationships with other human beings.” Alexandrina Wong, President of Women Against Rape, agreed, noting “We are very much hoping the Antigua ruling will prompt other legal systems in the Caribbean to review their laws and policies, and how they impact on vulnerable populations.” Lucien Govaard, Co-Chair of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, added, “We reiterate that it is time governments in the region let go of these colonial structures as they have no place in a modern, diverse, and developing the Caribbean.” According to the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, ECADE, three more Caribbean national courts will decide on similar cases by the end of 2022: St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Barbados.

The struggle for expansion of rights, decolonization, respect for human dignity is regional, transnational, and global. This week, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Antigua and Barbuda shine the light. It is time, way past time, governments, nation-State, societies, people let go of colonial structures.

A rainbow in Antigua


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: AfricaNews) (Photo Credit 2: LGBTQ Nation)