Bahamas: Situation of sexual minorities, including treatment by society and authorities; state protection and support services available (2009-November 2013)
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Publication Date||4 December 2013|
|Citation / Document Symbol||BHS104686.E|
|Related Document(s)||Bahamas : information sur la situation des minorités sexuelles, y compris le traitement que leur réservent la société et les autorités; la protection de l'État et les services de soutien offerts (2009-novembre 2013)|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bahamas: Situation of sexual minorities, including treatment by society and authorities; state protection and support services available (2009-November 2013), 4 December 2013, BHS104686.E , available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/52eb9b3c4.html [accessed 21 January 2018]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
1. Legal Situation
Sources indicate that homosexuality was decriminalized in the Bahamas in 1991 (AI July 2012, 5; UN 22 Mar. 2013, para. 30). Some sources report that the Bahamas is the only English-speaking Caribbean country where same-sex acts are legal (AI July 2012, 5; IPS 22 Nov. 2011).
Several sources note that the Constitution does not include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation (AI July 2012, 6; UN 22 Mar. 2013, para. 29; Freedom House 2013). In addition, protection against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation is not addressed in the Employment Act of 2001 (AI July 2012, 6; BLEA n.d.b).
The age of consent is reportedly 18 years for sexual acts between same-sex partners, while it is 16 years of age for heterosexual partners (AI July 2012, 6; BLEA n.d.a; US 19 Apr. 2013, 22).
Amnesty International (AI) notes that Article 2 of the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act defines the term "partner" as "a party to a common relationship between a man and a woman," and does not allow for protection orders for same-sex couples (AI July 2012, 6).
2. Treatment by Society
2.1 Societal Attitudes
In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Coordinator of the Western Sub-Region of the Caribbean Forum for the Liberation of All Genders and Sexualities (Cari-FLAGS), an NGO promoting LGBT rights that has been a member of the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) since 2010 (ILGA n.d.), said that the Bahamas "shares the same strong anti-gay attitudes as the rest of the British Caribbean" and that "homophobia is permeated throughout cultural attitudes and is expressed in religion, music and other expressions" (Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013). Sources indicate that sexual minorities face "stigmatization" (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Pink News 24 Nov. 2011). The Prime Minister of the Bahamas conceded that "significant stigma" against homosexuality persists in the Bahamas (qtd. in IPS 22 Nov. 2011).
The Cari-FLAGS coordinator provided the following Caribbean context to explain homophobia in the Bahamas:
In the British Caribbean, hyper-masculinity is valued and black men especially are expected to perform their masculinity in compliance with the hegemonic norm. Openly gay men, effeminate men or transgender people are seen as betraying manhood. These values are rigidly policed and it is culturally acceptable to exert physical violence against men who betray these gender norms. (Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013)
According to the Cari-FLAGS coordinator, the British Caribbean culture is also "hostile" to lesbian women, although it is not "as extreme" as it is toward gay men (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
Sources indicate that LGBT people are generally afraid to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in the Bahamas (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013; GlobalGayz n.d.). According to the Cari-FLAGS coordinator, LGBT people fear that if they are open about their sexual orientation, they will "be subject to ostracism, exclusion, ridicule and possibly violence" (Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013). Similarly, in a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Society Against STIs and HIV (SASH) Bahamas, a Nassau-based NGO that advocates for the LGBT community (SASH n.d.), said that LGBT people fear that if their sexual orientation is revealed "their lives will be destroyed" (25 Nov. 2013).
In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a Human Rights Advocate and Activist involved in several LGBT initiatives, including SASH Bahamas, Cari-FLAGs and who was also the former spokesperson for the former LGBT rights group Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas (RAB) provided her perspective, as follows:
The majority of LGBT people are not 'out' in the traditional sense, they balance degrees of visibility and invisibility in their personal and professional circles. Physical and psychological violence is typically directed towards 'out' LGBT people like activists, and others who declare publicly their orientation or gender identity. (Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013)
She noted that activists and openly LGBT people are often perceived as having a "nefarious international agenda" to spread and "'normalize'" homosexuality and are "often marginalized from mainstream employment and other social and civic spaces" (ibid.). She explained that young people who are LGBT "are in many instances subjected to psychological, spiritual and physical violence at the hands of their parents, guardians, teachers and peers" (ibid.).
Sources note that there are no gay pride events in the Bahamas (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; GlobalGayz n.d.).
Sources indicate that LGBT people in the Bahamas have been subject to violence, including killings (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013) and physical attacks (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013; Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013).
However, sources note that a lot of the violence directed at LGBT people is unreported (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013). According to the human rights advocate:
There have been a number of killings of and physical attacks against LGBT people since 2009. There is no official documentation of the vast majority of these incidents. In many cases of homicide the families and/or friends of the victim do not know the victim is LGBT or refuse to tell investigators. Many LGBT [people] do not report acts of violence to the police or even to LGBT organizations, which only adds to the complexity of documenting. (Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013)
The same source explains that it is difficult to ascertain whether acts of violence towards LGBT people are "hate crimes," or "the result of complex and multi-layered social and interpersonal relationship dynamics," particularly due to a lack of mechanisms to make such determinations (ibid.).
The representative of SASH Bahamas provided the following example of a recent murder of a gay man:
Within the last six months, there was a case in which one gay man was stabbed and another was murdered, after they brought the perpetrator back to their home late at night. The charge was reduced from murder to homicide because the perpetrator claims he acted in self defence against a homosexual advance, even though the surviving witness claims the attack was unprovoked. (25 Nov. 2013)
Further information about this incident could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 reports that, in July 2011, a photographer named Shavado Simmons was murdered; some members of the LGBT community claim the motive was retribution for deceiving someone while dressed "'in drag'" (19 Apr. 2013, 22). The Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA), a non-profit LGBT advocacy organization (BLEA n.d.a), also reported on this case and said that he was killed "execution-style" and that his friends believe it was a "hate crime" (BLEA n.d.b). The Nassau-based newspaper The Tribune also indicates that the killing may have been a "hate crime, related to his alleged alternative lifestyle" (The Tribune 19 July 2011). Country Reports 2012 notes that the case remained unsolved at the end of 2012 (US 19 Apr. 2013, 22).
Sources report that people perceived to be LGBT face discrimination (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013; AI 2013). Discrimination is reported regarding employment (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013; Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013; US 19 Apr. 2013, 21) and housing (ibid.; Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013).
The Cari-FLAGS coordinator explained:
LGBT people in the Bahamas report experiencing discrimination in employment, education and housing, particularly if they are openly gay, effeminate or transgender. It is very difficult for openly gay people to hold regular 9-5 jobs in certain industries. Many report the looming fear of losing their jobs if their sexual orientation is revealed. (ibid.).
The SASH Bahamas representative was aware of cases in which people have lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation, although he noted that employers typically "give a different excuse" (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013).
Regarding discrimination in the fields of education and housing, the Cari-FLAGs coordinator said:
LGBT people experience bullying in schools from a young age once their sexual orientation or gender identity begin to emerge and some landlords won't rent homes to LGBT people because for many, especially those who are religious, gay people are not considered respectable or moral citizens. (Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013)
The Cari-FLAGs coordinator said that sexual minorities from the "lower socio-economic class" are "particularly vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment" (ibid.).
The SASH Bahamas representative explained that there is no organization to which LGBT people can report discrimination so "it is difficult to know the extent of the problem" (25 Nov. 2013). Similarly, the human rights advocate said that there is no "explicit recourse available" for LGBT people who experience discrimination and there is no official mechanism to document and monitor human rights violations in the Bahamas (27 Nov. 2013). Other sources corroborate that there is no legal framework to protect LGBT people from discrimination (AI 2013; Gaystarnews.com 31 Dec. 2012).
3. State Protection
AI reports that Bahamian authorities have not developed policies and programs to counteract homophobia (AI July 2012, 7). The Cari-FLAGS coordinator said that while the Bahamas may appear "progressive" in comparison to some other Caribbean countries, "in practice there are significant reports of unequal access [to recourse to the law] for sexual minorities" (Cari-FLAGS 26 Nov. 2013).
The Cari-FLAGS coordinator shared his perspective on police treatment of sexual minorities in the Caribbean region in general, as follows:
It's hard to generalize--some officers may be professional while others may treat LGBT people with disrespect. Cultural attitudes don't place gay people in high esteem and this may also be reflected in the police treatment. However, across the Caribbean, more LGBT people are turning to the police and reporting incidents of violence as governance systems improve. However, generally across the region there is a major problem of crimes going unsolved. Therefore many LGBT people are hesitant to engage with the formal system for fear that they will never get justice, especially if their issue concerns their sexual orientation or gender identity, concepts that often elicit disdain from the public. (26 Nov. 2013)
The SASH Bahamas representative said that LGBT people experience difficulties if they turn to the police for protection, noting that the police "smirk, ridicule and insult LGBT people if they are open about their sexual orientation" (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013). He said that "there is a mindset that LGBT people do not have any rights" and that nobody "acts as a watchdog" to enforce the human rights of sexual minorities (ibid.). Because of this, the SASH Bahamas representative noted, "the police can treat [sexual minorities] however they like" (ibid.).
Similarly, the human rights advocate said that "[w]hile the Royal Bahamas Police Force does not have any specific anti-LGBT policies, individual officers often deride, ridicule and abuse LGBT people who attempt to report violence against themselves and community members" (Human Rights Advocate 27 Nov. 2013). However, the same source noted that "this does not happen in every instance and there are members of the police force that do display sensitivity to the LGBT community" (ibid.).
The human rights advocate, who is open about her sexual orientation, said that she reported that she was being stalked to the police more than four years ago and that the matter has still not been resolved (ibid.). However, she also clarified that she is "unable to determine with certainty whether the lack of resolution is due to discrimination or incompetence within the police force" (ibid.). However, she also noted that, in general, it is "difficult to determine whether acts of violence against the LGBT community are not resolved because the police force does not care about the LGBT community or whether the community itself and the friends or family of victims do not give the police sufficient information to resolve these matters" (ibid.).
As an example of police treatment of LGBT people, the SASH Bahamas representative said that there was a case in which a person experiencing domestic violence in a same-sex relationship went to the police for help and they told the person that they did not have paper at the station and could not write a police report (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013).
The SASH Bahamas representative expressed the opinion that "the police and judiciary always believe the person claiming to be straight over the person perceived to be LGBT" (ibid.).In terms of police discrimination towards LGBT people, he said:
There has never been a case of a crime against an LGBT person that was resolved fairly or in the same way as other crimes. In cases of murder, the police usually do not find the killers. If an LGBT person reports an incident of violence openly to the police, the police will come down against the victim and will say that the person got what they deserved. (ibid.)
Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
Sources report of cases in which defendants used self-defence against homosexual advances as a defence for killing LGBT people in the Bahamas (AI July 2012, 6; Bahamaslocal.com 11 June 2010; SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013). According to the SASH Bahamas representative, in cases of murders of LGBT persons, "most of the time the killer goes free" and as a defence, "the defendant says the victim was trying to rape him" (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013).
AI notes that "Article 107(4) of the Penal Code justifies the use of force against a person, even killing, in different situations of 'extreme necessity', including 'forcible unnatural crime"(AI July 2012, 6). AI expressed concern that the use of the term "'unnatural'" causes this statute to be used to discriminate against LGBT people and to justify killings in response to alleged "'advances of homosexual nature'" (ibid.).
Sources report that in 2010, the Bahamian Court of Appeals upheld a punishment of three years probation for the 2004 killing of Trevor Wilson by Lathario Jones, who alleged that the killing was in defence of sexual advances made by the victim (AI July 2012, 6; Bahamaslocal.com 11 June 2010; Bahamas 31 May 2010, 3). Sources indicate that the Court of Appeals said the crime was justified as self defence "'because one is entitled to use whatever force is necessary to prevent one's self being the victim of a homosexual act'" (AI July 2012, 6; Bahamas 31 May 2010, 3; BLEA n.d.b) and that the defendant had been "'provoked'" by the sexual advances (BahamasB2B.com 10 June 2010; Bahamaslocal.com 11 June 2010). AI notes that there were no reports that the victim had been violent towards the defendant prior to the killing (AI July 2012, 6).
Sources report of another 2009 case in which a defendant, Frederick Green-Neely, was acquitted of the 2004 murder of Dale Williams, after stabbing him after the victim allegedly made sexual advances towards the defendant (AI July 2012, 6; Pink News 2 Feb. 2009). The defendant reportedly argued that he was "'defending his manhood'" (AI July 2012, 6; Pink News 2 Feb. 2009) and was driven to "'a state of violent temporary insanity'" (AI July 2012, 6).
4. Support Services
Country Reports 2012 indicates that NGOs that support LGBT issues are able to operate openly in the Bahamas (US 19 Apr. 2013, 22). The coordinator of Cari-FLAGS notes that there are some NGOs that LGBT people can turn to for support (26 Nov. 2013). According to their Facebook page, the Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA) was established in 2011 and advocates against homophobia and for laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination (BLEA n.d.a). According to the SASH Bahamas representative, it is difficult for organizations working with the LGBT community to receive funding (SASH Bahamas 25 Nov. 2013). He said:
In the experience of my organization, which works in the area of STIs and HIV/AIDs, we even have difficulty receiving international funding that is earmarked for our program once it goes through the government. The government does not want to be seen supporting gay health initiatives. (ibid.)
AI notes that local LGBT groups have had difficulty accessing public media sources to report on LGBT issues, such as promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in 2012 (AI July 2012, 7).
The SASH Bahamas representative explained that organizations and individuals are reluctant to get involved in monitoring discrimination and mistreatment of LGBT people, because "[e]veryone is scared that if they are seen helping a gay organization or a gay person, that they'll be stigmatized as well. Even within the LGBT community, it is hard to get people involved, since they don't want to be seen as gay" (25 Nov. 2013).
Information about the availability of legal aid to assist LGBT people in the Bahamas could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Amnesty International (AI). 2013. "Bahamas." The State of the World's Human Rights: Annual Report 2013. [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
_____. July 2012. Bahamas. Legislative Challenges Obstruct Human Rights Progress. Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, January-February 2013. [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Bahamas. 31 May 2010. The Attorney General vs Latherio Jones. [Accessed 3 Dec. 2013]
Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA). N.d.a. "About" [Accessed 22 Nov. 2013]
_____. N.d.b. Local LGBT News from 2011. [Accessed 14 Nov. 2013]
BahamasB2B.com. 10 June 2010. "Bahamas Court Upholds Lenient Sentence in Gay Murder Case." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Bahamaslocal.com. 11 June 2010. "Judge: Killing was Justified to Avoid a Homosexual Act." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Caribbean Forum for the Liberation of All Genders and Sexualities (Cari-FLAGS). 26 November 2013. Telephone interview with the Coordinator of the Western Sub-Region.
Freedom House. 2013. "Bahamas." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Gaystarnews.com. 31 December 2012. Tris Reid-Smith. "Bahamas Bishop Brands Clergy Who Attack Gays as Closet Cases." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
GlobalGayz. N.d. "Bahamas, Caribbean." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Human Rights Advocate. 27 November 2013. Correspondence to the Research Directorate.
Inter Press Service (IPS). 22 November 2011. Peter Richards. "Caribbean: Fresh Challenges Accompany Progress in AIDS Flight." (Factiva)
International Lesbian Gay Transger and Intersex Association (ILGA). N.d. "CARIFLAGS Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2013]
Pink News. 24 November 2011. "High HIV Rates in Bahamas Blamed on Homophobia." [Accessed 2, Dec. 2013]
_____. 2 February 2009. "Nassau Man Freed After Using Gay Panic Defence." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Society Against STIs and HIV (SASH) Bahamas. 25 November 2013. Telephone interview with a representative.
_____. N.d. "SASH Bahamas--Advocacy." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2013]
The Tribune [Nassau]. 19 July 2011. "Murder Victim 'Ran for his Life'." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2013]
United Nations (UN). 22 March 2013. Human Rights Council. Reports of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. Bahamas. (A/HRC/23/8) [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
United States (US). 19 April 2013. Department of State. "Bahamas." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. [Accessed 20 Nov. 2013]
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates; UNAIDs. The following person and organizations were unable to provide information: Associate Professor, York University; AIDS-Free World; Bahamas Human Rights Network; Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition.
Internet sites, including: Bahamas - Laws Online Database; Royal Bahamas Police Force; Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition; ecoi.net; Factiva; Gay Law Net; Human Rights Watch; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association; Nassau Guardian; United Nations - Refworld, UNAIDs.