Skip to main content


Accelerating Progress: Realizing the Vision of Equal Citizenship for LBTQ Women in the Caribbean






Tenesha Myrie
Published Date

The fight for equal citizenship remains at the forefront of lesbian, bisexual, trans, and queer (LBTQ) women’s activism in the Caribbean. Notwithstanding the progress made over the years, the promise of equality for women has not been realized. LBTQ women in the Caribbean are still not treated as equal citizens with the full protection of the law and equal access to services. This article adopts an understanding of equal citizenship as that which guarantees to each individual the “right to be treated by an organized society as a respected, responsible, and participating member,” accorded the “dignity of full membership,” and treated as a person who is “worthy of respect, one who belongs” (Karst, 1977).

The Positioning of LBTQ Women in the Caribbean

Against the backdrop of Caribbean people’s emancipation from slavery, decolonization, and the enactment of independence constitutions guaranteeing fundamental rights, Caribbean women’s experience with citizenship was very different from that of men. Progress for women was restrained by laws embedded with “notions of feminine propriety and masculine authority” (Robinson, 2008). For people engaging in non-procreative sex, the criminal laws signaled that their kind of sexuality did not promote citizenship (Alexander, 1994). 

For LBTQ women, this positioning is exacerbated by: 

  • Harmful gender stereotypes and prejudice that fuel exclusion, discrimination, and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The disturbing level of gender-based violence is compounded by: 
  • Discriminatory laws that limit meaningful and effective remedies. Some of the most striking examples are: 
    • Citizenship laws that do not allow women to pass their nationality to their spouses and children in the same way as men. 
    • Inheritance laws that do not recognize same-sex partnerships, thereby preventing persons in same-sex relationships from benefiting from their partner’s estate upon death. 
    • The criminalization of abortion with no guarantee of post-abortion care. 
    • Laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy, particularly the offenses described as “gross indecency” and “serious indecency.” 
  • The absence of comprehensive laws and policies dealing with discrimination, sexual harassment, hate speech, equal pay for work of equal value, legal gender recognition, migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women, and women living with disabilities. 
  • The inequitable access to essential health, police, justice and social services, and barriers inhibiting women’s political participation at the highest levels of government.


The Promise of Equality

Laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LBTQ women go against the “constitutional promise of equality,” a promise which, according to the Caribbean Court of Justice in McEwan v The Attorney General of Guyana, 2018, para. 66, “prohibits the State from prescribing legislative distinctions or other measures that treat a group of persons as second-class citizens or in any way that otherwise offends their dignity as human beings.”

One of the problematic narratives that Caribbean human rights activists have had to contend with from religious and conservative opposition is the claim that the principle of equality and non-discrimination and its applicability to all people is a foreign imposition by the Global North, thereby undermining the sovereignty of Caribbean States. This misleading narrative has made it more difficult for activists to secure changes to laws, policies, and practices that do not align with the equality and non-discrimination principle. Powerful conservative religious groups used this narrative to thwart constitutional reform efforts to secure gender equality in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Grenada.

Caribbean States have, however, consistently ratified key international human rights treaties, which all have at their core the principle of equality and non-discrimination - a principle premised on the inherent dignity of all human beings. Ratification places a legal obligation and a moral imperative on Caribbean States to adhere to the equality and non-discrimination principle and, in so doing, accelerate progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Moreover, Jamaica has been singled out as “the main broker of progress in UN human rights diplomacy from 1962 – 1968 – a period that witnessed its breakthrough as human rights were transformed into international law with binding obligations” (Jensen, 2016, p. 70). Groundbreaking research by Dr. Steven Jensen reveals that upon joining the 1962 United Nations (UN) General Assembly as a newly independent State, Jamaica “immediately initiated a process that provided a new and longer-term framework for human rights to evolve and expand.” Of significance were Jamaica’s proposals for the designation of 1968 as “International Human Rights Year” with specific targets to be met by the UN and the convening of a World conference on human rights. Jamaica secured support for these proposals, assumed the Chairmanship of the Commission on Human Rights in 1964, and led the five-year preparation process for the 1968 International Year for Human Rights and the First International Conference on Human Rights in 1968 (Jensen, 2016, p. 5, 79 - 82).


Focus of the Movement

Recognizing the magnitude of work to be done in getting Caribbean States to address harmful gender stereotypes, repeal discriminatory laws, enact comprehensive rights-based laws, ensure the non-discriminatory provision of essential services, and provide effective remedies, Caribbean LBTQ activists and allies are focused on:

  • Movement building by increasing awareness of issues affecting LBTQ women, building community, strengthening capacity, and improving livelihood.
  • Advocacy in international, regional, and local spaces, drawing attention to the plight of LBTQ women and the urgency of reform.
  • Sensitization of essential health, police, justice, and social services providers on how best to meet the needs of LBTQ women and the standards that should guide service provision.
  • Connecting community members to appropriate service providers or directly providing services.

There is also a recognition that activists must strategically cater to the movement’s embryonic stage and consequent vulnerability in some jurisdictions, particularly as a movement constrained by insecure financing. 

Across the region, gains that ultimately benefit LBTQ women are gradually being made:

In addition, the judiciary has been strengthened by:


Going Forward

Much work is needed to accelerate progress toward equal citizenship for LBTQ women in the Caribbean. Going forward, the support of international, regional, and local partners is critical to build upon recent gains and ensure the removal of barriers that threaten the promise of equality for LBTQ women in the Caribbean.


Take Action

When you support our research, you support a growing global movement and celebrate LGBTIQ lives everywhere.

Donate Now