My Barbados petition: ‘the difference between life and death’

Alexa Hoffmann, a heterosexual trans woman in Barbados, explains the importance of her petition to overturn the country’s anti-sodomy law. It is the strictest anti-LGBT law in the Western Hemisphere, calling for life in prison for people convicted of violating it.

Hoffman is the only publicly identified petitioner among three LGBTQ Barbadians who are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to rule against the law.

She paints an intense portrait of how she is affected by having the law on the books:

  • Alexa Hoffman (Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Times)

    Alexa Hoffman (Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Times)

    “Simply put, my life depends on ending this law.”

  • “What was intended to be a tender moment turned into a disgusting crime committed by deviant, twisted criminals.”
  • “An enjoyable and beautiful aspect of life was often curdled by interventions which were critical of our freedom.”
  • “Society seeks for the law to punish me at every turn for my innate feelings, simply because I do not fit within society’s view of ‘normal and natural’.”
  • “These laws …  are seen as a means of keeping us under control, because we are seen as a threat to society.”
  • “This petition is, for me, the difference between life and death, because unless we can successfully advocate across the board to protect and preserve the LGBT community from violence, we can be picked off with impunity, one by one,”

This is her full essay:

One week ago (June 6) I stood at a podium in Barbados to announce the first legal challenge to the worst anti-sodomy law in the Western Hemisphere, life imprisonment.

As a trans woman, this law contributes to my victimization, violent attacks and vulgar name calling, some of which police participate in. Two other Barbadians, a lesbian and a gay man, also joined me in filing this case but for safety’s sake they opted to remain anonymous.

I cannot blame them. Malicious anti-LGBT forces, supported by American right-wing religious extremists, have recently been on the rise in Barbados and their actions have increased the threat level for people like us.

‘Simply put, my life depends on ending this law’

But, after a particularly savage attack in February that nearly killed me and which the police treated lightly because, as one officer told me, “they don’t want to deal with people like you” I felt that I had no choice but to take a stand. Simply put, my life depends on ending this law.

Yvonne Chisholm, pro bono counsel, and Maurice Tomlinson, Legal Network senior policy analyst, listen as petitioner Alexa Hoffman speaks at the press conference, June 6, 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network)

Yvonne Chisholm (left), pro bono counsel, and Maurice Tomlinson (center), Legal Network senior policy analyst, listen as petitioner Alexa Hoffman (right) speaks at the press conference, June 6, 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network)

So, with the help of our pro-bono counsel from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, we filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) challenging Sections 9 and 12 of Barbados’ Sexual Offences Act. These laws criminalise any form of sex that does not have the possibility of creating children.

‘The Barbadian government has stubbornly refused’

For a tiny overpopulated island this should be the least of our worries. On their face the laws look gender-neutral however, they were initially drafted to sanction gay sex. That is why after repeated calls from local, regional and international bodies to scrap these useless, invasive and dangerous statutes, (not least of which because they help drive the HIV epidemic) the Barbadian government has stubbornly refused to do so, claiming that it does not have a mandate to legalize same-sex intimacy. These statutes initially made no distinction between non-procreative sex between consenting adults and sexually abusing an animal. While they now distinguish between the two, social perception of LGBT persons, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM) and some trans women, sees us in the same perverse light.

As a trans woman, the law, coupled with society’s belief of who I am, has many implications. I have never hidden the fact that I was assigned male at birth, that I have transitioned to live my life as a woman, and that I am sexually active with men. I have exclusively sought and enjoyed intimacy with men, and those men have also sought and enjoyed my company as a woman, whether they gave regard to the fact that I once grew up as the opposite gender or they simply saw me as a woman through and through in spite of my body.

And I don’t expect or intend for any of it to change in my lifetime, as I would not want to live my life any other way than as a woman, free in my own self and comfortable in my natural instincts.

‘An enjoyable and beautiful aspect of life was often curdled’

Alexa Hoffman and rainbow flag (Photo courtesy of GayTourism.travel)

Alexa Hoffman and rainbow flag (Photo courtesy of GayTourism.travel)

However, every time I was in the arms of a man and we enjoyed our moments of passion, the law was ever present in the back of our minds – we could not allow anyone to know we were together, we could not allow anyone to see or hear us. An enjoyable and beautiful aspect of life was often curdled by interventions which were critical of our freedom.

To have our tryst brought to the attention of law enforcement meant a number of things – we would be hauled before the courts and charged, my body would be used as evidence against us, and the public would be witnesses to the aftermath of what was intended to be a tender moment turned into a disgusting crime committed by deviant, twisted criminals. Worse yet, the courts had the ability to end our lives as we knew them by sentencing us to up to a lifetime in prison, and that was if we went all the way. Had we settled for something less physically involving, yet still sexual in nature, we faced ten years on a charge of Serious Indecency.

‘A confession that could have been used against us’

Every time I and a sexual partner enjoyed each other’s intimate company and appreciated each other’s sexual attributes, we knew that we were committing a crime, and that each time we ended our romantic encounters and continued about our lives little different from before, we were basically criminals at large. Even confiding in close friends or even health care professionals about what we did was essentially a confession that could have been used against us, as we were carelessly or recklessly admitting to an odious offence under the law.

For society to know that this is the private side of my life makes me persona non grata as I walk the streets. Even for society to not know, but assume that it’s more likely than not what I will do behind closed doors, it doesn’t matter.

To them, I am not worthy of the right to live my life as I see fit. Society and religion must dictate my every personal moment in life. I am not to pursue a relationship with a man, I am not to seek intimacy with him, I am not even to admire him as he walks past.

‘Society seeks for the law to punish me at every turn for my innate feelings’

Yet, society looks upon those women who are not trans like me as they pursue the same things I long to enjoy with men, they look at those men who are not attracted to other men as they seek intimacy and happy lives together with women, and they are told to go for it, to pursue their potential partner’s affections, to enjoy every lasting moment of intimacy, to build their lives together. They are even encouraged to enjoy the same levels of intimacy which the law has clearly stated that they shouldn’t, but they rest assured that the law will not touch them because what they are doing is “normal” and “natural”. Society seeks for the law to punish me at every turn for my innate feelings, simply because I do not fit within society’s view of “normal and natural”.

A Barbados Pride logo

A Barbados Pride logo

As a result, whenever malice befalls one of us in the LGBT community, it is often dismissed as being our just desserts for living lives of perversion and immorality. That our aggressors were justified because somehow, living our lives as we saw fit is inflammatory to society, so it’s no wonder that people may become abusive and violent. It is our fault for being who we are, and every time we come together to advocate for change – to try to reform society’s mind as it relates to how we are perceived and treated – these laws stand in our way as an almost immovable roadblock. These laws have been seen as justification for how we are treated. They are seen as a means of keeping us under control, because we are seen as a threat to society. Even in cases where the law is clear in condemning abuse and violence against others, we are treated as less worthy of having our matters investigated and brought to justice, because the law was not on our side from the beginning because of who we are. I learned that for myself in February of this year.

I am ‘made to feel as though I am some vile creature’

That’s why this petition was so necessary, not just for me as a trans woman, but for the wider LGBT community. For decades, the anti-sodomy law stood in our way and blocked our every attempt to effect change to be accepted as full citizens and members of society. This petition, to me, is about being able to get the Royal Barbados Police Force to understand that a crime committed against me is just as serious as a crime committed against a non-trans woman. It is about me being able to go from Monday to Monday without anxiety or risk of a depressive bout because of how I am treated by society, and being made to feel as though I am some vile creature who doesn’t deserve to live.

This petition is, for me, the difference between life and death, because unless we can successfully advocate across the board to protect and preserve the LGBT community from violence, we can be picked off with impunity, one by one, whether through the direct actions of society, or indirectly by the psychological damage that society inflicts on us every day.

I am happy to say that, after having suffered through this type of fear, anxiety, abuse and mistreatment for much of my nearly 25 years on this earth, that I was able to take a stand on June 6, 2018. And with the help of friends and colleagues, our petition was sent to the IACHR as the first step in putting a stop to the stigma and discrimination against the local LGBT community, and help us to survive and thrive in this country we have always called home.

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Source: 76crimes

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