SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Gay rights activists blasted the United Nations on Tuesday for organizing a book launch in Trinidad to talk about HIV and human rights in the Caribbean, noting the island bars entry to homosexuals.
The book launch is being sponsored in part by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS, and numerous activists were invited to attend. Among those was Maurice Tomlinson, a legal adviser with New York-based AIDS-Free World, who filed a lawsuit against Trinidad’s government seeking to strike down the law.
“Literally, we are considered a ‘prohibited class,'” he said, citing the law. “It’s straight out of the Stone Age.”
Trinidad is the only Caribbean island with such a law, and Tomlinson questioned why UN officials did not choose another venue to talk about the book, “Legal and Policy Perspectives on HIV and Human Rights in the Caribbean.”
AIDS-Free World said such laws force homosexuals underground, away from testing, prevention and treatment.
UNAIDS officials did not return messages for comment.
It’s the second time Trinidad’s law has come under fire in recent years.
Elton John obtained a waiver to visit the sister island of Tobago in 2007 amid opposition by religious groups, Tomlinson said, adding that he would not consider that option.
“It’s an affront to my dignity to say I know (the law) exists and I’m going to ignore it,” he said.
In December 2012, Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ordered government officials to prepare a national gender policy to help end discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, but it is unclear if that policy has been created. The office of Gender, Youth and Child Development did not return messages for comment.
Caribbean officials involved in HIV/AIDS programs called on the United Nations to help reject such laws.
“Why is the UN not urging the Caribbean countries more strongly to ban these clearly outdated laws and regulations which are indisputably violating the human rights of so many?” said Margje Troost, acting managing director of the HIV/AIDS project at the St. Maarten Ministry of Public Health, noting she was not speaking on behalf of her government.
Several Caribbean nations ban sex between men. The penalty in most islands, including Grenada, is up to 10 years in prison, although Barbados and Guyana allow life imprisonment, according to a 2010 United Nations report.