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Eleven Caribbean states maintain laws which criminalise consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex in private (PDF): Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. While many of the laws originate from the colonial era, they have yet to be repealed.

Legal frameworks and change

In many cases strong societal pulls against repealing such legislation are linked to religious beliefs. Challenging such traditional social views is not easy, but attempts to reform legislation have increased in recent years.

For example, Barbados has begun to talk more openly about the need for change, although it has placed limits on how far it is prepared to do so. In 2020 the Government said it would recognise a form of civil union for same sex couples, but would not go as far as to permit same sex marriage.

And in a landmark ruling in 2018, Trinidad and Tobago (not included in this paper) determined that sections of its Sexual Offences Act which criminalised consensual same-sex activity between adults were unconstitutional.

In 2019 in Dominica, a legal challenge against laws which ban same sex sexual activity and punish same sex relations was launched. The case is still ongoing.

Social discrimination

While some progress has been made, there are still significant barriers to full LGBT+ equality. Even in places where these laws are not consistently enforced, they contribute to an acceptance of societal discrimination.

In March 2018, Human Rights Watch published a report, titled I had to leave to be me (PDF), highlighting the extent of discrimination against LGBT+ people living in the Eastern Caribbean. Interviewees described harassment by family members and fears of isolation, violence and homelessness.

In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has cited concerns that participation in advocacy against discriminatory legislation has exposed activists to death threats, intimidation and violent attacks.

A 2014 report on LGBT+ experiences in the Commonwealth also stated negative statements by church and political leaders reinforced negative attitudes towards LGBT+ persons (PDF).

As a result, many LGBT+ people remain wary of being open about their LGBT+ status.

What can the UK Government do?

All of the Caribbean states in this paper are middle income countries and are not eligible to receive Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the UK. ODA is aid intended to promote the economic welfare and development of mostly low-income countries. However, as Commonwealth member states and former British colonies, the UK is in a position to engage constructively with them on LGBT+ inclusion.

Successive governments have said that the promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT+ people internationally is a priority.

The UK Government had planned to host the international conference, Safe to Be Me, in June 2022 to bring together countries, businesses and international civil society organisations to address global LGBT+ inclusion.

However, following the Government’s decision to introduce a ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people but not for transgender people in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, many UK charities withdrew from attending. The Government subsequently announced it would cancel the June 2022 conference.

This briefing describes the status of LGBT+ rights in seven Caribbean states. It also looks at societal forms of discrimination. These include in employment practice, access to healthcare and involvement in civic life.

Where relevant, each country profile sets out UK Government actions to promote LGBT+ rights. Further reading is also included for some countries depending on availability of material.


We have used the acronym LGBT+ in this briefing paper (except where we are quoting someone else’s words). This refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The ‘+’ symbol is used to include people whose identities do not fit typical binary notions of male and female, or who decide to identify themselves using other categories to describe their gender identity or their sexuality. In the countries we focus on, the legislation is largely around same sex sexual activity rather than gender identity.

This paper should be read as correct at the time of publication.

Further reading

Human Rights Watch, Discriminatory laws against LGBT people in the Eastern Caribbean, 2019

Human Rights Watch, Paradise Lost: The Plight of LGBT People in the Eastern Caribbean, 21 March 2018

J-Flag et al, Human rights violations against LGBT people in Jamaica: A shadow report, 2016

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