AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a complex issue which cannot be covered in a few pages. It has been written with the purpose of providing a snapshot of these issues to encourage the reader’s own research should they wish to explore certain topics further. It is by no means a comprehensive guide.
WHAT RIGHTS DO LGBTQI+ PEOPLE IN MAURITIUS HAVE?
Mauritius is one of the few African Nations to protect citizens from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation under the Equal Opportunities Act, 2008. They are also protected under the Worker’s Right Act. This does not include gender identity or gender expression, however.
The HIV/ AIDS Act came into effect in 2006, guaranteeing those living with HIV/ AIDS equal rights to dignity, employment and health care. This has resulted in increased mapping of different LGBTIQ+ communities, particularly ‘hidden’ populations, allowing for better planning of essential services.
Since 2006, the country has held an annual pride march, gaining more support and creating greater visibility each year. The march is mainly peaceful, except for in 2018 when it had to be cancelled to due a violent anti-LGBTQ protest, compromising the safety of the march.
In 2011 Mauritius supported South Africa’s historic resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN Human Rights Council
In 2019, Mauritius was the backdrop for The Commonwealth Equality Network’s (TCEN) global conference, where 53 LGBT+ organisations from across the Commonwealth, almost all of which are former territories of the British Empire, work to challenge LGBTQI+ inequality and discrimination.
WHAT NEEDS WORK?
Section 250 of Mauritius’ Criminal Code (imposed by the British under colonial rule) criminalises sodomy with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. While the law is applicable irrespective of sexual orientation, it is broadly perceived as criminalising gay men. Several activists have tried to challenge this law in court, on the basis that Section 250 “violates their fundamental rights and freedom”.
Same-sex relationships are not illegal, but Mauritius does not officially recognise them. This creates social ambiguity for people, as although it’s not against the law, identifying as LGBTQI+ can result in discrimination, prejudice, and abuse.
As they are not officially recognised, non-heterosexual couples have limited legal status and cannot benefit from the rights or advantages granted to heterosexual couples, such as marriage, adoption, inheritance, or custody or visitation rights, in the case of couples with children.
Transgender people are not legally allowed to change their gender on official documents.
LGBTQI+ ORGANISATIONS FOR THE MAURITIAN COMMUNITY
Collectif Arc en Ciel (CAEC) – Mauritius’ primary organisation who advocate for LGBTQ+ rights to facilitate a “culture shift” in attitudes. They work to improve research on Mauritius’ LGBTQ+ population to better understand how they are affected on various issues, and engage with law reform and schools. They provide both physical and mental support, and coordinate Mauritius’ annual Pride event.
Young Queer Alliance (YQA)- A youth led organisation offering support and empowerment to the under 30 LGBTQ+ community. Their aim is to provide safe spaces where people can meet and share experiences. They have delivered training to the media and police force on sexual orientation and gender identity, and created several videos on issues LGBTQ+ Mauritians face, in Kreol.
Association VISA G- works to support transgender people especially with employment, as they not necessarily protected under the relevant legislation, forcing many transgender people out of work due to discrimination. There is little data from Mauritius on the size of the transgender population.
Pink Mauritius International- an online global community for the Mauritian diaspora, to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues Mauritians face, offering a safe space to share ideas, information and stories of their sexuality or gender identity.
ATTITUDES ON LGBTQ+ ISSUES IN MAURITIUS
The most recent Afrobarometer data (2020) shows that 56% of Mauritians surveyed are accepting of those with different sexual identities or orientation, up from 45% in 2014.
Despite this, many LGBTQ+ individuals live in tight-knit ethnic and/or religious communities, with complex and sometimes multiple, cultural identities which generally have conservative and traditional views around sexual orientation and gender identity. Misinformed myths and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ+ people mean common community responses may be discriminatory and derogatory, pushing LGBTQI+ people to a life of secrecy and exclusion. There is also a fear of being ostracised due to bringing ‘shame’ to the family or community, safety concerns and fear of abuse and harassment.
Pauline Verner, Consultant, Collectif Arc-En-Ciel: “The law is silent on LGBT rights. LGBT persons are not getting arrested, but they are exposed to harassment. Many people who come to us didn’t go to psychologists because they were scared. There is free healthcare in Mauritius, but there is a lot of discrimination. In public hospitals, they don’t want to hear about it. It’s regarded as a choice. You chose, so you must deal with it. It’s the same in schools – a girl will be bullied for being butch. If she complains to the teachers, she will be told that she brought this on herself.”
Canaries Mauritius PDF: “Despite several significant legislative and policy shifts in Mauritius in recent years, organisations advocating for LGBTI human rights continue to face significant challenges in their attempts to exercise their fundamental rights to assemble, associate and express themselves.”
During the colonial period, Britain enforced “decency” and “morality” laws across the Commonwealth that prohibited, among other things, same-sex sex acts. Prior to British colonisation (in these countries), liberal attitudes towards sex were widely held … which are now characterised by Western media as the worst places in the world to be gay. Many of these countries, including Mauritius, still criminalise homosexuality under the exact laws that were imposed by Britain during the colonial era.- Louis Staples, The Independent
UNAIDS, Country Progress Report 2015, Republic of Mauritius
‘All in this together’: Africans tolerant on ethnic, religious, national, but not sexual differences Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 362 | Brian Howard
The Other Foundation, Canaries in the Coal Mine, An analysis of spaces for LGBTI activism in Mauritius, 2017
Rambaree, K. 2011. “Young People and Cybersex in a Sexually Conservative Society: A Case Study from Mauritius Youth Culture and Net Culture: Online Social Practices. New York.