Gay activist challenges homophobic ban in both Trinidad and Tobago and Belize

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A gay rights activist and attorney-at-law in Jamaica has challenged the immigration laws of both the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, because of policies that prohibit gay people from entering.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports Maurice Tomlinson, who previously planned a lawsuit against Trinidad and Tobago last year for the same reason, has sought special leave from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to take up his case.

The CCJ heard Mr Tomlinson’s application on Tuesday but decided to reserve its decision.

He stated that he was gay, and the very existence of those laws prevented him from entering all three countries, as he could not enter without incriminating himself.

He added he had refused invitations to visit those countries in connection with his work as legal adviser for the international non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World.

Previously, he had to lie about his sexuality to authorities in order to attend a United Nations Family planning workshop in Trinidad and Tobago. 

In court documents, he stated that the Jamaican attorney general told him the law had not been applied “in practice,” and was not applied on his previous visits to Trinidad and Tobago.

However, Mr Tomlinson argued that it was no defence for a law-breaker to say that the law was not applied to him or others before.

He added that an immigration officer who knew that an application for entry was in a prohibited class would also be committing an offence under law.

Mr Tomlinson also said it would be “offensive” to him to be subjected to questioning by state officials about the details of his sexual orientation and private life simply to determine whether or not to allow him into a country.

He is also seeking damages for the violation of his right to freedom of movement.

Attorney-at-law Seenath Jairam who represents the government of Trinidad and Tobago, and attorney-at-law Nigel Hawke who represents the government of Belize, have both opposed the application.

The lawyers argued that Mr Tomlinson had travelled to both countries before and did not present any evidence that he suffered harassment during those visits.

According to Article 8 of the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Act, “homosexuals” are banned from entering the country.

It also categorises gay relationships as immoral.

Following Mr Tomlinson’s case in December last year, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago went record to say that she will give “due consideration” to the issue of discrimination raised by LGBT people.

Same-sex activity has been illegal in Belize since 2003 and those found guilty can face up to 10 years in prison. Despite the fact Belize has faced pressure from the United States to change the law the Prime Minister has remained adamant that gay sex should remain a criminal offence. Earlier this year a case that was brought in 2010 made it to the Supreme Court with British former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith among a team who argued for an overturn of the law.