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AHF Donates SARS COV-2 viral sequencing machine to the Caribbean

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful”

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The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus (Photo Credit: UWI)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago to provide a gene sequencing analyzer and reagents to expand the capacity of the university to test for new and emerging variants of the coronavirus.

This will improve the region’s sequencing capacity and contribute to reducing testing turnaround times. Jamaica and many of the countries in the Region are now experiencing severe upsurges of Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant, with many hospitals exceeding capacity and others running out of oxygen. More recently five cases of the Mu variant were also identified in St. Vincent.

Dr. Kevin Harvey, the Caribbean Regional Director at AHF, in welcoming the agreement, noted that the machine is already on order and should be in place within the next two to three weeks. “The Mu variant has since been isolated in samples from Jamaica as well, making the timeliness of AHF’s donation of the gene sequencing analyzer and reagents all the more critical,” noted Dr. Harvey.  

“Our COVID-19 IMPACT project, a UWI-led collaboration with CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency) and the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health, established local capacity for virus whole genome sequencing in December 2020, and our laboratory at UWI has been carrying out genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 variants for Trinidad and Tobago and 16 other CARPHA member states,” said Dr. Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the UWI.

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful for the AHF’s support. The device they are providing is faster and can also do five times as many samples as the device we started off with, so it will help to increase our throughput.”

Dr. Jorge Saavedra the executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami, highlighted the project as part of a larger initiative by AHF to improve the early detection of new variants to enable proper planning, and in some cases, expansion of existing genomic sequencing initiatives and implementation of mitigation measures in several of the countries served by AHF that can inform public policy. “AHF is also now in final negotiations to provide support to establishing genomic sequencing capacity in Jamaica to reduce the need for all samples to be sent to Trinidad and Tobago.”

AHF has also previously provided similar support to Brazil, Uganda, Mexico, India, Argentina, and before the end of the year, will undertake other similar initiatives in Nigeria, Peru, Ukraine and Pakistan.

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Caribbean

Black transgender woman from Chicago disappears in the Bahamas

Taylor Casey last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island

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Taylor Casey (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A Black transgender woman from Chicago disappeared last month while attending a yoga retreat in the Bahamas.

flyer the Royal Bahamas Police Force has distributed says Taylor Casey, 42, was last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island, which is adjacent to Nassau, the country’s capital.

Casey’s family in a press release said employees at the Sivanandra Ashram Yoga Retreat she was attending reported her missing on June 20 “when she failed to attend that day’s classes.” 

Casey’s mother, Colette Seymore, traveled to Paradise Island after her daughter disappeared.

The press release, which advocates in Chicago released ahead of a press conference on Thursday, notes “a search of the area and conversations with the Bahamian authorities left Ms. Colette Seymore with more questions than answers.”

Thursday is Casey’s 42nd birthday.

Seymore is among those who spoke at Thursday’s press conference.

“My child has been missing for almost three weeks,” said Seymore in the press release. “My family, friends, and I are distraught! I am pleading with everyone to call your elected officials and demand the FBI lead this investigation and bring her home safe and sound.”

The Windy City Times described Casey as “a fixture of Chicago’s transgender community and a beloved youth advocate.” Casey has also practiced yoga for 15 years, and went to the retreat “as part of a long-term goal to deepen her yoga practice.”

“She was excited to be participating in the yoga teacher training program and looking forward to sharing her experience with others when she returned,” noted a second press advisory her family released this week.

The Nassau Guardian, a Bahamian newspaper, on June 27 reported authorities found Casey’s cell phone in the ocean, but her other belongings were still in her room at the retreat. 

A spokesperson for Taylor’s family told the Washington Blade they have reached out to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas for assistance. Eyewitness News Bahamas, a Bahamian newscast, on June 28 reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with Bahamian authorities to investigate Taylor’s disappearance.

The Bahamas Organization of LGBTI Affairs has also offered its support to Taylor’s family and assistance to authorities.

“There is still hope,” Alexus D’Marco, the group’s executive director, told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “They’re just looking for that piece of hope and to have some closure to finding their loved one.” 

D’Marco also called for Bahamian authorities to do more to investigate missing persons’ cases in the country.

“A human being is missing, and that is the whole thing about this,” she told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “Regardless of her gender identity, being identified as a trans person, she’s still a human being and she’s still a visitor to our shores.” 

Anyone with information about Casey’s disappearance can call the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Criminal Investigation Department at (242) 502-9991, (242) 502-9975, or (202) 502-9976.

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Dominica High Court of Justice decriminalizes homosexuality

Gay man challenged statute in 2019

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Dominica flag (Public domain photo)

ROSEAU, Dominica — Dominica’s High Court of Justice on Monday struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A gay man who remains anonymous in 2019 challenged sections of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized anal sex and “gross indecency” with up to 10 years and 12 years in prison respectively. The plaintiff argued the provisions violated his constitutional rights. 

The Dominica Equality and Sexual Expression Association and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a group that advocates for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the region, in a press release noted the court in its ruling affirmed “the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between adults is unconstitutional.” The groups added Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence “declared that the laws commonly known as buggery and gross indecency laws, contravenes the constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression, and protection of personal privacy.”

“It is long past time that the dignity and dreams of all Dominicans were recognized,” said DESEA Executive Director Sylvester Jno Baptiste in the press release. “We are all God’s children, and he loves us all equally. Laws that treat some Dominicans as less than others, have no place in a just society.” 

Dominica is a former British colony that is located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Lesser Antilles.  

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 issued a decision that said Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s top court in February dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

“Decriminalization helps create an environment where LGBTQ individuals can live openly without fear of persecution, enabling them to access health care, education, and employment without facing discrimination,” said Outright Executive Director Maria Sjödin on Monday in response to the Dominica ruling. “The repeal of these discriminatory laws is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists, advocates, and allies who have long fought for justice and equality. It is a victory for human rights and a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean.”

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Gay couple seeks recognition of Fla. marriage in Turks and Caicos

Tim Haymon denied spousal exemption under territory’s immigration law

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From left: Richard Sankar and Tim Haymon. (Photo courtesy of Tim Haymon)

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos — A same-sex couple has filed a lawsuit against the Turks and Caicos Islands’ government after it refused to legally recognize their marriage.

Richard Sankar, a realtor who has lived in the British territory for 27 years and is a Turks and Caicos citizen, married Tim Haymon in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2020.

Haymon, who is American, in August 2021 applied for a spousal exemption under the Turks and Caicos’ immigration law on the basis of his status as a spouse that would have allowed him to legally live and work in the territory. The Turks and Caicos’ Director of Immigration denied the application because its definition of marriage used does not include same-sex couples. Haymon and Sankar filed their lawsuit in October 2021.

Stanbrook Prudhoe, a law firm in the Turks and Caicos, represents Haymon and Sankar.

The trial court, which is also known as the Supreme Court, heard the case in November 2022. 

The court on March 1 said the work permit exemption refusal violates the Turks and Caicos’ constitution that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. It has yet to release the ruling itself.

“I am suing for the right to recognize our marriage,” Haymon told the Washington Blade on March 2 during a Zoom interview from Sydney where he and Sankar were on vacation. “Just like any other spouse coming to the Turks and Caicos Islands and marrying a Turks and Caicos islander, we’re just wanting the same rights.”

The Turks and Caicos are a group of islands that are located roughly 650 miles southeast of Miami.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in the British territory since 2001. The constitution states “every unmarried man and woman of marriageable age (as determined by or under any law) has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex and found a family.”

Then-Cayman Islands Grand Court Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2019 ruled same-sex couples can legally marry in the Cayman Islands. The Caymanian Court of Appeal later overturned the decision, and the British territory’s Civil Partnership Law took effect in 2020. 

Then-Bermuda Supreme Court Justice Charles-Etta Simmons in 2017 issued a ruling that paved the way for gays and lesbians to legally marry in the British territory. The Domestic Partnership Act — a law then-Gov. John Rankin signed that allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships as opposed to get married — took effect in 2018.

Bermuda’s top court later found the Domestic Partnership Act unconstitutional. The Privy Council, a British territories appellate court in London, upheld the law. It also ruled same-sex couples do not have the constitutional right to marry in the Cayman Islands.

Haymon and Sankar told the Blade they expect the Privy Council will eventually hear their case. 

“We are prepared for that,” said Sankar. “Our attorneys are prepared for that.”

Haymon added he hopes their lawsuit will inspire other same-sex couples in the Turks and Caicos to fight for legal recognition of their relationships.

“We hope that one of the locals will now take up the flag and say I want to marry my partner,” he said.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Bonaire. 

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba in 2022 ruled Aruba and Curaçao, which are constituent countries within the Netherlands, must allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Aruban lawmakers are currently considering a marriage equality bill. The Dutch Supreme Court in the coming months is expected to rule on the Aruba and Curaçao case.

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Challenges to St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ sodomy laws dismissed

‘Freedom and equality is worth fighting for’

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Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Photo by byvalet/Bigstock)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines — A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ top court on Friday dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

Two gay men from St. Vincent, the country’s main island, in 2019 challenged laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. High Court Justice Esco Lorene Henry on Friday dismissed the two cases.

Sean Macleish, one of the two plaintiffs who lives in the U.S., expressed disappointment in the decision.

“I am disappointed with the judge’s ruling and will be discussing our options with my legal team because freedom and equality is worth fighting for,” Macleish told the Washington Blade on Friday in an email.

Jeshua Bardoo, a lawyer who founded Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG, a Vincentian advocacy group, said Friday is a “sad day for LGBTQ+ rights in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” 

“Internationally and regionally, laws similar to those challenged in these cases have been declared unconstitutional and in violation of the rights of LGBTQ+ persons,” said Bardoo in a press release the Eastern Caribbean Alliance, a regional LGBTQ+ rights group, issued. “These archaic and draconian colonial laws, though not strictly enforced, symbolically denigrate LGBTQ+ persons as second-class citizens in their own country and perpetuate prejudice and stigma against them.”

Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin also criticized the ruling.

“The rejection of the bid to decriminalize same-sex conduct in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a huge disappointment and significant setback for LGBTQ rights in the country,” said Sjödin. “We urge the government to reconsider its position and take meaningful steps towards ensuring the full protection and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 ruled Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

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Jamaican Supreme Court upholds sodomy law

Maurice Tomlinson challenged statute in 2015

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(Bigstock photo)

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Jamaican Supreme Court on Friday ruled against a gay man who challenged the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

Maurice Tomlinson, an activist from Montego Bay who now lives in Canada with his husband, in the lawsuit he filed in November 2015 notes the statute violates the right to privacy and other provisions of the Jamaican constitution. He also argues the sodomy law violates “the right to protection from inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.”

The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, Hear the Children’s Cry and a group to which the ruling refers as “The Churches” defended the law. Tomlinson on Friday told the Washington Blade that all four of these entities “have American affiliates.”

“Thankful for the privilege of living in a country where my love isn’t illegal,” wrote Tomlinson on his Facebook page.

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Singapore last year decriminalized homosexuality. 

The Mauritius Supreme Court earlier this month issued a ruling that struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. Courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have also struck down criminalization statutes in their respective countries.

The Caribbean Court of Justice in 2018 struck down a Guyana law that criminalized cross-dressing.

Tomlinson told the Blade that he can appeal the ruling to the Jamaican Court of Appeal and then to the Privy Council in London.

Jamaica gained independence from the U.K. in 1962, and a referendum on whether the country should remove the British monarch as head of state is expected to take place next year. The Privy Council is an appellate court for British territories, but it can hear appeals of Jamaican Court of Appeal rulings.  

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Trans woman remains in prison two years after protesting against Cuban government

Brenda Díaz among hundreds arrested on July 11, 2021

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Brenda Díaz García (Photo courtesy of Ana María García Calderín/Tremenda Nota)

A Transgender woman with HIV who participated in an anti-government protest in Cuba on July 11, 2021, remains in prison two years later.

Authorities arrested Brenda Díaz in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province.

The Güira de Melena protest was one of dozens against the Cuban government that took place across the country July 11, 2021. Díaz is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during the demonstrations.

A Havana court last year sentenced García to 14 years in prison. She appealed her sentence, but Cuba’s People’s Supreme Court upheld it.

Yoan de la Cruz, who is gay, used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. The same Havana court that sentenced Díaz condemned De La Cruz to six years in prison, but he was released in May 2022 and placed under house arrest for five years.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, earlier this year during an interview with Agencia EFE dismissed reports that Díaz continues to suffer mistreatment in prison. The U.S. State Department has repeatedly urged Cuban authorities to release Díaz and others who participated in the July 11 protests.

“Today, we mark two years since tens of thousands of Cubans across the entire island raised their voices for their fundamental freedoms,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday in a statement. “The United States stands in solidarity with those in Cuba who continue to desire a free democracy where their voices are heard, their businesses prosper and their children can achieve a brighter future.” 

“The world will not forget those who bravely made their voices heard in the face of extreme repression, including the more than 700 individuals who remain in Cuban jails, condemned to prison sentences ranging up to 25 years for exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” added Blinken.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among the American lawmakers who also acknowledged the second anniversary of the July 11 protests.

“Two years ago today Cubans marched to demand their freedom,” said the Florida Democrat in a tweet. “Those calls cannot go unanswered. We must stand strong against the regime until they free political prisoners and respect human rights.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican presidential candidate who is of Cuban descent, in a tweet noted the “largest protest for freedom in Cuba began two years ago today.” Suarez also said the Biden administration “ignored their pleas for help.”

“As president, I would have a message to the oppressors of Cuba — freedom is coming,” tweeted Suarez.

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Mariela Castro dismisses reports of Transgender prisoner’s treatment

Brenda Díaz in prison after participating in anti-government protest

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Brenda Díaz (Photo courtesy of Ana María García Calderín/Tremenda Nota)

HAVANA — The daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro this week described the case of a Transgender woman who is serving a 14-year prison sentence after she participated in an anti-government protest in 2021 as “an oversized story full of fantasies.”

Mariela Castro, who directs Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, spoke about Brenda Díaz during an interview that Agencia EFE published on May 3.

Authorities arrested Díaz in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province on July 11, 2021.

The Güira de Melena protest was one of dozens against the Cuban government that took place across the country on that day.

A Havana court last year sentenced Díaz to 14 years in prison. Cuba’s highest court later upheld the sentence.

The State Department in a previous statement to the Washington Blade that called for Díaz’s release expressed concern over her “well-being” amid “reports that she is being held in a men’s prison and is not receiving appropriate medical treatment.” 

Díaz’s mother has previously said her daughter, who lives with HIV, has access to antiretroviral drugs, but other medications are not always available. Díaz’s mother has also complained about the “very bad quality” of food in prison.

“Brenda is very well there,” Mariela Castro told Agencia EFE. “She does not know that she is a media figure that has been invented against Cuba.”

Mariela Castro said Díaz receives “very good food, better than her family has” in prison, and she is able to participate in sport activities and a library. Mariela Castro further described reports about Díaz and her case as “little gossips” and “a media show by the press and corporate agencies.”

“It is sad that the same lie to attack Cuba with this story continues to be reproduced,” said Mariela Castro. 

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Barbados High Court strikes down country’s sodomy law

Ruling ‘a pivotal moment for equality’ for all Barbadians

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The Barbadian flag (Bigstock photo)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — The Barbados High Court on Monday struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The ruling specifically struck down Sections 9 and 12 of the Barbados Sexual Offenses Act.

Men who were found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations under Section 9 could have faced up to life in prison. Men and women who were convicted of violating Section 12 could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

The London-based Human Rights Trust in a press release noted Equals, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in Barbados, and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality challenged the law on behalf of two local activists.

“Today’s ruling is one step, one action of many impacting the LGBTQ+ community of Barbados,” said one of the plaintiffs in the Human Rights Trust press release. “As it resonates with me, I already know there is more work to be done. We will continue on together.”

The other plaintiff in the press release said the ruling is “a pivotal moment for equality for all Barbadians and one more step in the journey towards more inclusivity for LGBT citizens.” 

“This will definitely mean that I and my community can navigate life with just a little more ease and comfort, in the knowledge that Barbados has taken a step to understand us and respect us,” they said.

Judges earlier this year struck down colonial-era sodomy laws in St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda.

The Belizean Court of Appeal in 2019 upheld a ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. A judge on the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in 2018 struck down its statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its sodomy law. Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. 

Donnya Piggott, an activist from Barbados, is the co-founder of Pink Coconuts, an online platform for LGBTQ+ and intersex travelers. Piggott is also Open for Business’ Caribbean Campaign lead.

Piggott in a statement said the Barbados ruling is “a long time coming, and the advocacy journey has been arduous.”

“We’re thankful to all the advocates who worked hard on this,” said Piggott. “It’s beautiful to see Barbados’ step towards inclusion and we hope it signals to other Caribbean islands that our people only stand to benefit from decriminalization as well as other inclusive laws, and the economic opportunities it brings for the entire region.”

The Associated Press reported the Barbadian government has not said whether it will appeal the ruling.

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Aruba, Curaçao ordered to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples

‘The right to same-sex marriage has been established’

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Curaçao is one of the constituent countries in the Caribbean that are part of the Netherlands. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao — A court on Tuesday ruled Aruba and Curaçao must allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba that has jurisdiction over three constituent countries (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) and three special municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) within the Netherlands issued the ruling in two marriage equality cases that Fundacion Orguyo Aruba and Human Rights Caribbean in Curaçao filed on behalf of two women who want marriage rights in Aruba and Curaçao.

“The court has come to the conclusion that excluding same-sex marriage is in violation of the prohibition of discrimination and incompatible with state regulations,” reads the ruling, according to the Curaçao Chronicle, an English newspaper in Curaçao. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba since 2012.

Same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The countries, however, must recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

The Court of First Instance in Curaçao on Sept. 13, 2021, ruled the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples violated the country’s constitution. Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas’ government appealed the decision in the Human Rights Caribbean case. 

Aruba’s registered partnership law took effect in September 2021. Accion 21, a centrist party that openly gay Sen. Miguel Mansur chairs, in June introduced a marriage equality bill.

Janice Tjon Sien Kie of Human Rights Caribbean on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the ruling could take effect as early as March 7 if the Curaçaoan government does not appeal it to the Dutch Supreme Court in The Hague.

“As of March 7, Curaçao has marriage equality,” she said. “If they (the government) go into appeal, it would only cause a delay of approximately 18 months.”

Mansur and Melissa Gumbs, an openly lesbian member of the Sint Maarten Parliament, attended the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in D.C. this past weekend.

“Essentially the right to same-sex marriage has been established by the appeals court in both Curaçao and Aruba,” Mansur told the Blade on Tuesday.

Mansur noted the ruling does not address adoption rights for same-sex couples. He told the Blade on Wednesday he does not expect the Aruban government to appeal it, and the Advisory Council will receive the marriage equality bill on Dec. 16.

Gumbs, who founded the center left Party for Progress in Sint Maarten in 2019, on Tuesday told the Blade there “is precedent now within the Caribbean part of the kingdom (of the Netherlands) that it’s not right to withhold same-sex marriage rights from people.” Gumbs added her party plans to introduce a marriage equality bill in Parliament.

“That’s something that we will be using,” said Gumbs, referring to the ruling.

Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barthélemy are the other jurisdictions in the Caribbean in which same-sex couples can legally marry. 

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Cuba becomes latest country with marriage equality

Referendum took place amid continued government persecution

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A car drives along Havana's oceanfront in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HAVANA — Cubans on Sunday approved a new family code that extends marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Gramna, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on Monday reported 66.9 percent of Cubans who participated in the referendum voted in favor of the new family code.

“Sept. 25, 2022, is already a historic day,” said Gramna. “The island has once again demonstrated that the revolution will never stop in its quest for more justice, independent of its adversaries. The road has never been easy, but it is very worthy.”

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in Cuba as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, is among those who support the new family code. Mariela Castro on Sunday posted to her Facebook page a picture of her voting for it in Havana, the Cuban capital.

“I voted yes for Cuban families, for a socialist Cuba, for the world’s most revolutionary and humanist family code, for a socialist state built upon rights and social justice that recognizes and protects all families,” said Mariela Castro after she voted.

The Cuban government in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, to power, sent gay men and others to work camps. Cubans with AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Cuba joins Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico City and several Mexican states that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba also have marriage equality.

Cuban government critics face harassment, arrest

Sunday’s referendum took place nearly four years after Cuban voters overwhelmingly approved their country’s new constitution. The government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment that religious groups had publicly criticized sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ+ and intersex activists.

LGBTQ+ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the Cuban government also continue to face harassment, discrimination and arrest.

Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across the country on July 11, 2021. The U.S. in 2019 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. De La Cruz subsequently received a 6-year prison sentence, but he was released on house arrest in May.

Brenda Díaz, a Transgender woman with HIV who participated in a July 11 protest in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. The State Department has said it is “very concerned” about Díaz’s health and well-being and urged the Cuban government to release her.

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