Barbados police must take action to protect Trans activist

The following blog post contains images and descriptions of violence against LGBTQI people which may be upsetting.

By Maurice Tomlinson, Senior Policy Analyst

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network joins Barbadian organizations and individuals in calling for immediate police action in the recent savage attack against local transgender activist Alexa Hoffmann.

On the morning of Sunday, February 18, Alexa was brutally slashed across her neck, nose and forehead after demanding that her alleged attacker, Brandon Coward, return items stolen from her. Thankfully, Alexa survived and is recovering; however, at the time of this writing, police have not yet apprehended Alexa’s alleged attacker. According to Alexa, the police advised her that the investigating officer had “taken a few days off.” This delay is unacceptable.

We have heard similar reports of police inaction from Alexa and other LGBTQI people in Barbados. In March 2017, the Legal Network alongside local partners conducted police LGBTQI sensitivity training for members of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF). This was the second such training facilitated by the Legal Network in Barbados. Members of the LGBTQI community who participated in the sessions told numerous stories of police disregarding their complaints of homophobic and transphobic attacks. Worse, several LGBTQI individuals described painful and humiliating instances of being stigmatized and discriminated against when they interacted with local police. When officers graduated from the LGBQTI sensitivity training, the High Commissioner of Canada in Barbados spoke at their ceremony about the need to respect diversity; she also commended the officers and the RBPF for supporting this crucial training. But today it is painfully obvious that the plight of LGBTQI Barbadians remains largely ignored by police.

Barbadian trans activist Alexa Hoffmann was horrifically attacked, sustaining injuries to her neck and face.

We were also proud to stand with the Barbadian LGBTQI community in organizing the country’s Pride celebrations in 2015 and 2017. Barbados Pride 2017 was timed to coincide with the International Transgender Day of Remembrance and the start of the United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Alexa delivered the keynote address at the Pride launch event, which took place at the Canadian High Commission in Barbados. During her speech, Alexa highlighted the ongoing vulnerability of LGBTQI people and transgender individuals in particular, both in Barbados and the wider hemisphere. This vulnerability is partly a result of archaic anti-sodomy laws such as the Barbadian statute that criminalizes same-sex intimacy with life imprisonment. This colonially-imposed statute is the most egregious anti-sodomy law in the western hemisphere, and reinforces that LGBTQI people are “unapprehended criminals” with few, if any. rights. Such laws, and the homophobia and transphobia that they support, also contribute to the Caribbean having the second highest HIV prevalence rate, just after sub-Saharan Africa. LGBTQI people across the region are driven underground away from effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions.

Alexa and other transgender Barbadians have endured multiple instances of transphobic violence, including barbaric attacks by stone-throwing youth. Their cries for action to end this “legalized” hate and social inequality have largely been ignored by the Barbadian government, a government that often uses LGBTQI human rights as a political football in this conservative society.

Alexa’s alleged attacker is well-known to the police as he has other criminal charges against him. His whereabouts are also known. However, to date there has been no attempt to arrest or even bring him in for questioning. While he is at large, Alexa lives in constant fear for her life. This is unacceptable. The police must act to apprehend this dangerous individual who represents an immediate threat to Alexa and all other Barbadians.