Friday, 4 March 2011

Is US asylum for gay Barbadians damaging the country's image?

Source: The Nation

By Tony Best

Barbados is on the list of countries whose nationals are seeking asylum in the United States, claiming they are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

And while Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States, John Beale, said the State Department had not raised the issue with him officially, he is concerned about it because of the damage which the claims can cause to the country’s image.

“We certainly haven’t had any discussion on this with the State Department,” Beale told the Saturday Sun. “We haven’t been approached by any Barbadian on this matter.”
Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Dominica, the Bahamas and St Lucia are among the countries whose nationals consider the atmosphere at home so hostile to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-gender (LGBT) people that they are seeking asylum in the United States.
“The atmosphere in many English-speaking Caribbean nations is absolutely oppressive,” said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Washington-based gay rights organization Immigration Equality.

“Especially in the case of Jamaica, the hatred of gay people is beyond comprehension to me.”
Of the 101 asylum cases handled successfully by Immigration Equality last year, 39 involved Caribbean nationals.

Twenty-nine gays and lesbians who were from Jamaica won the right to stay in the United States.

Other success cases were: Grenada, four; Trinidad and Tobago, two; and one each from Dominica, Guyana, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadians.

In addition, there were seven from Russia; four each from Peru and Uzbekistan; and three each from Venezuela, Ghana, Mexico and El Salvador.
“The Caribbean is part of the world where we see the highest number of cases,” Nelson said.

“. . . In many Caribbean countries there are laws on the books that criminalize consensual sodomy, which makes it difficult for people to report violence to the police.
“[Jamaica] is one of the most violent, homophobic countries that exist in the Western hemisphere,” she added.
Barbados is among the island-nations with anti-sodomy laws on its statute books.

Neilson warned that the existence of anti-sodomy laws could create a climate of fear and anger that would adversely affect gays and lesbians.
“Even if it’s not common in countries with sodomy laws to bring criminal prosecutions based on those, the fact that the laws exist helps to reinforce a climate of violence or intolerance towards gays and lesbians,” she asserted.

“It makes it much more difficult for LGBT people to seek protection from the state if they are experiencing private violence or private threats because there is always a fear that they could be arrested, or what happens more often is that the police simply laugh at them or say it’s your own fault.”
The issue of an anti-gay atmosphere in Barbados was used by a few Barbadians to seek asylum in Canada, according to a story reported by the Sunday Sun.

Beale told the Saturday Sun that “from an image point of view” the reports of problems faced by gays and lesbians in Barbados could present some problems for the country.
“The issue of whether gays and lesbians have rights in Barbados or they are being threatened, that doesn’t put us in a good position,” Beale admitted.

“I haven’t myself come across any of that in Barbados. We have gays, just like any other country, but in this day and age I haven’t heard about gays being persecuted.

“They don’t have that animosity in Barbados. I wouldn’t want to see this publicity going out there in a negative sense.

”The Ambassador questioned the legitimacy of some of the claims of abuse in the case of Barbados.

“This seems to be something that some people are trying to use and it does not seem to be a bona fide case,” he declared.
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