Leaked screenshots from a Christian, faith-based WhatsApp group have put the islands’ LGBTQ community on alert over the threatening and violent nature of the messages involved.
Advocacy group Colours Cayman is demanding police conduct a thorough investigation into the messages, which suggest gay community members be hanged and their conduct criminalised.
The chat messages, emailed anonymously to Colours Cayman by an apparent member of the Whatsapp group, provide an incomplete snapshot of exchanges about gay rights between members of Cayman Caribbean Cause, a group that includes several prominent leaders from the church community.
Bishop Nicholas Sykes of the Cayman Ministers Association said he is “leadership of the Caribbean Cause”* but denied knowledge of any of the messages described to him by the Cayman Compass. Sykes is also a former member of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission.
In one leaked chat message, a member suggests Cayman “maybe hang one or two [gay people] in a loving way” as a warning to others. In another message, he suggests implementing teachings from the Quran to criminalise homosexuality.
“If this was a Muslim country, they’d be [thrown] out by the thousands,” the man wrote.
A message from another member includes photos taken in secret of MLA Kenneth Bryan meeting on the patio of a café last year with a member of Colours Cayman. Other messages provide suggestions on how to manipulate the Cayman News Service comments section to favour the group’s opinion.
While the Governor’s Office and Colours Cayman have been in contact with police about the messages, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said a criminal complaint on the matter had not been made.
“At this time, we are not in receipt of any complaints of a criminal nature made by any person(s) or group impacted by these posts. We are aware of overt concerns among some members of the community who are challenging the LGBTQ community.
“Our assessment at this stage is that these persons are operating in a space of free speech and right to peaceful protest and that they have ensured not to breach boundaries that would amount to suspected criminal behavior,” Byrne wrote the Cayman Compass.
“While the posts that I have seen are challenging and overtly opposed to the LGBTQ community, they do not reach a criminal threshold to justify alarm, distress, harassment to any individual, i.e., a breach of the penal code. The RCIPS will continue to monitor the matter on an on-going basis to ensure that the criminal law and penal code is not breached.”
The RCIPS later on Thursday issued a statement saying the police commissioner’s original statement had been taken out of context by another media house when it published a story on the issue. That story led to a statement by Colours Caribbean, an extension of Colours Cayman, which rejected Byrne’s characterisation of the messages and highlighted Section 88A of the Cayman Islands Penal Code, which prohibits causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress.
“Firstly, Colours Caribbean finds Commissioner Byrne’s statement to be legally questionable at best. Threats of hanging, however dressed up, or suggestions of how to ‘eradicate’ LGBTQIA+ people by any means go well beyond causing alarm and distress to our vulnerable community – they are exceptionally disturbing and dangerous,” a Colours press statement said on Thursday.
“Secondly, we observe that the statement by Commissioner Byrne has a sinister and compounding impact on LGBTQIA+ people that he should be reprimanded for as it could, itself, be construed as criminal. By his negligence, the Commissioner, hopefully unintentionally, has risked giving the ‘green light’ for people to harass, alarm and distress an already marginalised community without any criminal consequences.”
Colours has also requested an apology from Byrne for his “inexcusable failure of judgment”.
The RCIPS’s later statement said that while the complaints received were “not of a criminal nature”, an investigation will be carried out.
That revised statement read, in part, “While the Commissioner has not received any complaints of a criminal nature made by any person(s) or group impacted by any posts, as a service we take any complaints regarding any content seriously and any such complaints received will be fully and thoroughly investigated to the full extent of the law.
“We encourage any person(s) that have been affected directly by any criminal act to contact the RCIPS to report the matter. While there is no specific reference made to ‘Hate Speech’ contained in our legislation, there are many criminal offences contained in our legislation that provide considerable protection for our community against harassment, alarm, distress, etc., which provide the legal basis for the investigation and prosecution of such crimes. This RCIPS wishes to advise the public that the matter will be kept under constant review and monitored on an on-going basis to ensure that the criminal law and penal code is not breached.”
Noel Cayasso-Smith, head of the LGBTQ Foundation, has been in contact with police in light of the messages, which mention the fundraiser being hosted by the organisation later this month.
Cayasso-Smith said he had not received any direct threats or disparaging remarks about the upcoming fundraiser. He has taken the precautionary step of hiring additional security for the event.
“In light of recent happenings surrounding hate speech circulating around the island, we are not suggesting that anyone should be scared,” a foundation press release said on Friday.
“All we want to say is that we are going forward with the Rainbow Cocktails Fundraiser on September 26th. There will be security at the premises and we have now increased that protection with added police presence.
*Editor’s note: This story has been amended, at the request of Bishop Nicholas Sykes, to reflect his role in the Cayman Caribbean Cause chat group.