The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Access to Human Rights, Health and Social Services for Sexual/Gender Minorities From the Caribbean

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 5:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Charmaine C. Williams, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean Academic, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose:

Sexual and gender minorities living in the Caribbean withstand intense discrimination and violence due to culturally and legally sanctioned bigotry. Some seek asylum in refugee-receiving countries like Canada and others stay under conditions of high risk and marginalization. This international collaborative study explores the access and human rights consequences faced by sexual minorities who live under criminalization of LGBT identity in the Caribbean and/or seek refuge in the Canada.


This collaborative community-based project gathered qualitative data based on semi-structured audio and video interviews (individual and focus groups), and document analysis. LGBT service and advocacy organizations located in the Caribbean (Belize, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia) and Canada (Toronto) assisted with recruitment and collaborate in a data-gathering process that is documenting advocacy work in the Caribbean and Canada, creating video and audio accounts of lived experiences, and creating an archive of LGBT-centered knowledge to support current and future activism. Audio- and video-recorded interviews have been transcribed, coded based on a jointly-constructed coding manual, and reviewed with key informants at the collaborating organizations.


This presentation reports on findings from interview data from 24 participants in St. Lucia, Guyana and Canada. Data analysis reveals that although anti-sodomy laws from British colonization continue to exist throughout the Caribbean, the ways in which they are enforced vary from use as a tool for intimidation away from seeking basic rights and services, to grounds for arrest and incarceration. Caribbeans of all genders report facing discrimination and barriers to social support, employment, education and healthcare, but men face more risks for assault and even murder. Seeking asylum in Canada removes many threats, but with high costs. Asylum seekers describe facing more subtle but still significant barriers to accessing health and social services, now with additional discrimination experiences based on intersecting racism. Moreover, seeking asylum excises them from previously supportive social support networks at home and isolates them from potential supports in their country of refuge.

Conclusions and Implications:

The remote possibility of seeking asylum is an inadequate solution to systemic discrimination and culturally-sanctioned violence against LGBT people in the Caribbean. Although asylum seeking and settlement processes can be made more effective and empowering for Caribbean LGBT refugees, social work’s engagement in international advocacy and collaboration has an important role to play in addressing human rights and systemic discrimination that is ongoing in the region.