This review looks at the extent to which LGBT rights are provided for under law in a range of SIDS, and the record on implementation/enforcement, as well as approaches to promote LGBT rights and inclusion. SIDS covered are those in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Atlantic-Indian Ocean-South China Sea (AIS) regions. The review draws on a mixture of grey literature (largely from international development agencies/NGOs), academic literature and media reports. While information on the legal situation of LGBT people in SIDS was readily available, there was far less evidence on approaches/programmes to promote LGBT rights/inclusion in these countries. However, the review did find a number of reports with recommendations for international development cooperation generally on LGBT issues.
Key findings of the review are as follows:
- Importance of LGBT rights – Denial of LGBT rights and discrimination against LGBT people is found to varying extents in all parts of the world. It is important that LGBT people have protection in law, in particular the right to have same-sex sexual relations; protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; and the right to gender identity/expression. Such rights are also provided for under international human rights conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while the Sustainable Development Goals are based on the principle of ‘leave no one behind’.
- Caribbean SIDS – LGBT people in the Caribbean face widespread discrimination and maltreatment. Many Caribbean countries criminalize same-sex sexual activities with punishments ranging from two years’ to life imprisonment. None permit same-sex civil unions/marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, and only Cuba allows LGBT people to serve openly in the military and legal change of gender identity. While laws criminalizing homosexual sex are rarely enforced, they legitimize discrimination and hostility towards LGBT people; they also contribute to a lack of trust in the police by LGBT people. Some progress has been made in recent years on
- Pacific SIDS – as in the Caribbean, LGBT people in Pacific SIDS face challenges. Only Fiji, Nauru and Vanuatu have decriminalized same-sex sexual conduct; in the rest, the law stipulates punishments of up to 5-14 years’ imprisonment. None allow same-sex civil unions/marriage, adoption by same-sex couples, or LGBT people to openly serve in the military. Only Fiji has a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, though a number of Pacific SIDS have provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in
employment. Despite a culture of ‘third gender’ in many SIDS, e.g. Samoa, none have laws on gender recognition. In SIDS criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct, no prosecutions are reported, but LGBT people are also targeted using other laws, e.g. relating to public order and indecency.
- Atlantic-Indian Ocean-South China Sea (AIC) SIDS – Many countries in this group have decriminalized same-sex sexual conduct, but those that haven’t include Singapore. Like the Caribbean and Pacific SIDS, these countries do not recognize same-sex civil unions/marriages, nor allow adoption by same-sex couples. Laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct are not enforced (unless in the context of sexual assault), but their existence intimidates LGBT people and prevents them reporting abuse or violence. Moreover, in Singapore, the government restricts LGBT rights in other ways, e.g. banning positive depictions of LGBT people on television/radio.
- International development cooperation to promote LGBT rights – approaches used by international actors/development agencies to promote LGBT rights include: advocacy, HIV/AIDS and SRHC programmes, mainstreaming LGBT into development programmes, engagement with civil society/LGBT groups, and research to provide an evidence base for policy-making. All such programming can be challenging because of, for example, partner country sensitivities about LGBT issues, the fact that these affect only a minority of the population, and that social acceptance of LGBT is a relatively recent phenomenon even in Western countries.
- Need to support LGBT rights in development cooperation and challenges – Promoting LGBT
rights should be a policy priority in development cooperation for ethical (all people should enjoy human rights), economic (exclusion of LGBT people impedes economic development) and social (LGBT rights are strongly correlated with gender equality) reasons. However, there are significant challenges: LGBT issues are often controversial in developing partner countries, they affect only a minority of the population, and even in donor countries there can be intolerance of LGBT people/social acceptance can be a recent phenomenon.
- Approaches to promote LGBT rights and inclusion through development assistance – include: advocacy, programmes to address HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health care, mainstreaming LGBT issues in development programmes, engagement with civil society/LGBT groups to build their capacity, and research on LGBT issues to enable evidence-based support. It is also important to make LGBT people visible in national statistics and to enforce anti-discrimination and equality legislation
Findings on efforts to promote LGBT rights in SIDS are as follows:
- Advocacy through regional bodies can be more effective in the Caribbean
- Addressing research gaps through programmes in the Asia-Pacific and Caribbean
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) engagement in the Pacific
- Successful approaches in the Asia-Pacific region
As well as in relation to LGBT rights’ promotion in SIDS, the literature makes ‘generic’ recommendations for international development actors, key among which are:
- Support LGBT rights as fundamental human rights, and raise these in dialogues with partner countries.
- Frame LGBT rights in terms that are relevant to local discourse, and connect with traditional and religious leaders to foster change agents.
- Consult with local LGBT groups in countries of operation and let local actors have the lead voice in advocacy, with international partners providing capacity building/other support.
- Sensitise staff and delivery partners to ensure inclusion of LGBT groups, e.g. making LGBT a diversity criterion in recruitment – ‘practise what you preach’.