Xtra asked Barbados’ prime minister, Freundel Stuart, about his country’s buggery law when he spoke at an open town hall meeting at the University of Toronto on Sept 25, 2016. Some of this interview was used in a recent Xtra feature on LGBT Bajans and their experiences of discrimination on the island, where fundamentalist forms of Christianity are spreading homophobic rhetoric.
Xtra: Prime minister, thank you for being here and for giving us this opportunity. Despite progress on acceptance of LGBT people and on fighting HIV, Barbados still has the harshest buggery law in the Western hemisphere. Now I know that the laws around buggery and serious indecency are rarely enforced, but over the past decade, over 300 LGBT Barbadians have left the country and applied for asylum abroad, including over 100 in Canada.
Will your government commit to decriminalizing buggery, and if not, why not?
PM Stuart: Thank you very much for telling me about life in Barbados, I didn’t know much about it.
I have been a lawyer for the last 34 years now. And I am not aware that we have what you call harsh buggery laws. If the offence of buggery, it is an offence on the statute books of Barbados.
But if the offence of buggery is committed, the prosecutor needs to have somebody push the case. If the prosecutor doesn’t have somebody to push the case [inaudible] he has no buggery charge. If the patient, the language of the law uses the agent and the patient, if the person buggered does not go and complain to the police, or if he’s a consenting person, there’s no issue. The law of buggery has to do with abuse, where A abuses B without his consent.
Which is the equivalent of the law of rape, where A has sexual intercourse with B female without her consent. But in terms of Barbados being a place where if two men or two women are seen together, any presumption can be made that they’re involved in any improper relationship and we try them before the courts, none of that exists in Barbados.
I want you to just equate in your own mind, buggery with rape. Rape is the offence committed against in a heterosexual relationship and buggery is the offence committed in a same-sex relationship. At the kernel of both is the absence of consent and therefore a protesting party who wants to ensure that he or she gets justice through the courts.
There is a lobby that is trying to get the government, trying to get successive governments in Barbados to decriminalize as they say homosexuality. But you can only decriminalize something that is already a criminal offence. As I say, if buggery is an offence, then buggery takes place if A has anal intercourse with B without B’s consent. But as far as I’m aware, homosexuality is not criminalized in Barbados. So there is nothing to decriminalize.
Those people who feel that we should create an environment where they can practice their lifestyles in public on high noon on a sunny day, or whatever, want even the very limited controls we have, removed. We have not reached a stage yet where we think that we want to do that. But we allow people to conduct their lives in accordance with their orientation or practices. Those people who have decided, I don’t know, went abroad and said, and made untrue representations of Barbados in this regard, about people being in prison and being persecuted, that has not happened in the country over which I preside and it didn’t happen in the country over which any of my predecessors presided. Barbados is a safe place for that, we don’t believe the state should be any policeman in anybody’s bedrooms. I want to make that very clear.
But having said all of that, Barbados is still a predominately Christian society. They are values that have helped to make Barbados the strong country that it has been over its entire history, but certainly over the last 50 years as an independent nation.
And we are reluctant to discard things that have worked for us over the last 50 years, for the better part of our history. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? And therefore, we will continue to monitor the situation and if further intervention is required, we will do it.
As far as I know, and I think I know a little about Barbados, in practically every family, not in all but in practically every family, there is likely to be somebody challenged by that kind of orientation. And I don’t know that Barbadian fathers or mothers or uncles or aunts disown nieces and nephews and children because they have those orientations.
We respect that as long as you don’t become too evangelical about it and want to convert all of us to it. But just enjoy your own orientation.