February 10, 2010 – GBM Magazines
Jamaican "Native Son" Challenges Notions of Race and Sexuality
by D. Kevin McNeir
The first time I met Thomas Glave was during the inaugural Fire and Ink Conference in Chicago around six years ago. Since then, this writer has followed the scholar’s career and his published works with great interest and delight. In record time, Dr. Glave has become known for his erudite expressions concerning the intersection of race and sexuality. In one word, Glave is – brilliant.
While born in the United States in the Bronx, Glave comes from Jamaican parents and spent a considerable amount of his formative years on the tiny island. From his Rasta-like appearance to his sing-song patterns of speech, it is clear that Jamaica – its history and its people – remain imbedded in his spirit. But being a same gender loving man who loves the home of his ancestors has not been easy, given the negative attitudes and sometimes deadly and aggressive actions aimed at homosexuals.
Not to be deterred, Glave helped found the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag) while in Jamaica to pursue post graduate education opportunities and continues to speak justice to a situation of injustice. His skill for writing has been acknowledged with numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Nonfiction (2005) for his collection of essays, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Descent for which he also garnered the O. Henry Prize, becoming only the second gay African-American writer, after James Baldwin, to win the award.
We caught up with our friend and colleague recently in Atlanta where he was on a national book tour promoting his latest project, a collection of challenging and insightful short stories entitled, The Torturer’s Wife (City Lights Publishing, 2008). "Each of the stories is stylistically distinct but each has its own particular issues and questions that I want to focus on and present to the reader," Glave said. "In the first story in the book, "Between," I wanted to explore what it would be like for two men from different races to experience a sexual relationship.
Class of 2009: Award-winning author Thomas Glave (seated below) contemplates with fellow author Vestal McIntyre, who with other leaders from the LGBT community like Adam Lambert, Cyndi Lauper, Wanda Sykes and Lee Daniels, were selected as the "Top 100" most inspiring and outstanding men and women of the year by OUT Magazine. Are the taste, the look and the smell quite different and does it even matter? And what kinds of thoughts does one have while making love?" [For our old school readers, such reflections are the kind that would make former talk show host Arsenio Hall say, "Hmmm."]
Glave next read excerpts from "Out There," which is an account of an exorcism held in a small Jamaican village where the natives burn down the home of an admitted homosexual while he is still inside and refuse to allow him to exit, unless he wishes to accept mutilation and death at the hands of machete-wielding men.
"The story isn’t based on an historical account but it well could be," he added. "I was interested in how easy it is for some to participate in such atrocities when we do not know the person. In such cases our fellow humans view their victims not as people but as a thing – an object. And somehow that make it easier. "In the second part of the story I deal with one of the characters, Solomon, and purposely remove all racial markers like Toni Morrison does in Paradise. I was interested in the assumptions that we make about people once we know their race and what more, if anything, is really known about someone when we are told that they are a "black woman" as opposed to just a "woman."
"Analyzing race in America is very different from how it impacts people in Jamaica. In Jamaica, the racial markers have more to do with the color of one’s skin – the shades of brown. So, those who are brown, red or black are viewed differently and have different degrees of access – that is to say, skin color makes a difference vis-à-vis social class.
March 01, 2010 – The Jamacia Star
Police Hide Male Lovers At Station
by Rasbert Turner, Star Writer
A police station in St Catherine was the scene of hostility yesterday after residents demanded their own brand of justice for four men who they believe are lovers. Police reports are that about 5 p.m. the men were at home when one went to a nearby shop and persons started to call him ‘fish’. The man went and reported this to his friends who drove to the shop. They were attacked and their car damaged. They went to report the matter to the police, when a mob converged and demanded that they come out.
"We want them fi let out di bwoy dem mek wi deal wid dem business, in a cold cold time yah dem a wrap up in a de place," an irate woman screamed. "A long time mi a notice sey dem a fish and we want them bad fi gi dem a proper beating," another woman said. The men told The Star they were homosexuals. "Yes, you can let the world know that although we a fish, we a pay mortgage for the house for two years and want to live in peace," one who gave his name as Barbee said.
The men danced up a storm and declared that they would live their lives as they want. Persons climbed trees and roof tops to get a glimpse of the men. Up to late last night, the men could not be released as the angry residents remained resolute that they wanted to administer their own form of justice. Yes, you can let the world know that although we a fish, we a pay mortgage for the house for two years and want to live in peace
March 18, 2010 – The Huffington Post
Jamaica’s Gay Underground Christians
by Irene Monroe
Sometime in the late hours of Saturday night the call will come in. Philbert (not his real name), like many of his Christian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) buddies, wait anxiously for the call in order to know the time and place of the van pickup, and where it’ll drop them off to a safe and secluded place for Sunday worship. Last week’s worship service was in Montego Bay, just 50 miles from Negril’s Grand Lido, one of the flagship resorts in Jamaica, where Philbert works the night shift at the bar. This week Philbert hopes for a closer worship space, perhaps a safe space in Gales Valley, just 40 miles from work.
Every Sunday Philbert and his friends have to worship in a different space. The risk is too high if it’s found out they’re queer.
"My experience as a gay man living in Jamaica is one which is marked by periodic incidences of abuse, both verbal and physical. I have lost count of the number of times I have been verbally abused, called ‘battyman,’ ‘chi-chi,’ ‘sodomite,’ ‘dirty battybwoy,’" an unnamed gay man shares on the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag) in 2003.
When Jamaica’s leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was murdered in his home in June 2004, multiple knife wounds savagely mutilated his body. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the crime, reporting a crowd gathered after the killing, rejoicing and saying, "Battyman [Jamaican slang for homosexual], he get killed!" Others celebrated Williamson’s murder, laughing and calling out, "Let’s get them one at a time," "That’s what you get for sin," and "Let’s kill all of them." Some sang, "Boom bye bye," a line from renowned Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton’s then popular anti-gay song about killing and burning gay men. (Banton has a long history of advocating the killing of LGBTQ people in his lyrics, yet he was nominated for a Grammy this past year for his album "Rasta Got Soul").
Read Entire Article
2010 April – PubMed
Mental Health Needs of Sexual Minorities in Jamaica.
by White YR, Barnaby L, Swaby A, Sandfort T.- Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
This study examined the prevalence of Axis I disorders and associated risk factors in a sample of sexual minority men and women in Jamaica, a country that is widely known for its high societal rejection of homosexuality. Poor relationships with family, negative or abusive experiences related to one’s sexual orientation, and greater openness about one’s sexual orientation were independent risk factors for Axis I disorders. Prevention of mental disorders in sexual minorities in Jamaica should focus on rebuilding family support and promoting social acceptance of sexual minorities.
April 8, 2010 – AIDS-Free World
"Walk for Tolerance" Calls for End to Bigotry in Jamaica
New York, USA – Yesterday in Montego Bay, over a hundred people carrying signs with messages from “My Bedroom My Business” to “Sex Work is My Choice” called for tolerance. Sexual minorities, sex workers and people with AIDS in Jamaica held a public event together for the first time. AIDS-Free World applauds the bravery of those who participated in the Walk for Tolerance.
We are delighted at this important statement of solidarity from Jamaica AIDS Support For Life (JASL), the Sex Workers Association of Jamaica (SWAJ), and other local and international groups who walked proudly on the streets of Montego Bay. We endorse their demands, which include repealing the country’s repressive sodomy laws.
“Today marked a change in Jamaica and the country will never be the same,” said Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World’s consultant in Jamaica. “Lesbian, gay, transgendered people and sex workers boldly declared their right to be treated as equal citizens and the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. There will be no turning back. Despite initial fears about security, once the walk started, even the timid were caught up in the event. When we were greeted with the very few derogatory comments, we answered boldly and proudly. And the people quickly backed down.”
The event highlighted the effects of intolerance on people who are particularly vulnerable to HIV. In Jamaica, HIV prevalence is 1.3% in the general adult population, 9% among sex workers and between 25% and 30% among men who have sex with men (MSM). People who belong to these groups tend to be at the receiving end of many human rights violations. Fear and stigma keep them from reaching suitable HIV prevention, treatment and care. MSM are not to blame for their high prevalence rate; the bigots and homophobes who drive them underground are. Those who walked yesterday know this and were calling for it to stop.
If anyone is in doubt about the significance of this event, we would like to point out that it is the first of its kind in Jamaica, a country internationally notorious for its vicious homophobia. If anyone is in doubt about the courage of the people who participated, we would like to point to Jamaica’s abysmal human rights record with sexual minorities. Five years ago, Steve Harvey, a senior JASL employee, was murdered for being gay. Jamaica is one of the 79 countries with homophobic laws, and public figures spew hateful anti-gay diatribes with impunity. Just last year the Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, made disparaging remarks about gay people and announced that he has no intention of repealing the country’s sodomy laws.
“As long as Jamaican society and law continues to drive sexual minorities underground, and focuses on the victims rather than the perpetrators of the injustices that help spread both human rights abuses and HIV, no prevention programs will stop the disease,” said Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World.
Sex work is also illegal in Jamaica, leaving sex workers with no recourse when they are exploited. Princess Brown of SWAJ said, “This was an important step in confronting the bigotry that has for a long while been meted out to sex workers.” Society, including the church, is not known for its tolerance of sex work, although clearly if nobody bought sex, nobody would sell it. SWAJ believes that sex workers can play a lead role in preventing the further spread of the virus on the island if given the skills and power to encourage condom use and sexual health in their community.
We agree with those who walked peacefully and bravely on Montego Beach that until all people can be sure of their basic freedoms to live unmolested and unafraid, the pandemic will continue, and we will all be poorer for it. To quote a flyer being handed out on the beaches of Montego Bay today, as a rainbow flag flew overhead, “To Tolerate is Great!”
For further information, please contact:
Executive Assistant to Stephen Lewis
TEL: +1 416-657-4458 – email
In Jamaica, please contact:
TEL: +1 876-784-0908 – email
April 14.2009 – 365 Gay
Jamaican gays warn against US boycott
By 365gay Newscenter Staff
(Kingston) Jamaica’s largest LGBT civil rights group is asking American gays to reject a boycott of Jamaica and Jamaican products. US rights group TruthWinsOut, founded by 365gay columnist Wayne Besen, has called for a boycott of the island and some of its most famous products, to protest several violent homophobic incidents and Jamaica’s refusal to repeal laws against sodomy.
Wednesday, the group will launch a national boycott of Jamaica in New York City at the famed Stonewall Bar – birthplace of the gay rights movement. TruthWinsOut leader Besen said that the bar’s owners and boycott supporters will dump Jamaican liquor – Red Stripe beer and Myers’ Rum – down the sewer. “We, as the owners of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the Gay rights movement, refuse to support, in any way, shape or form, the oppression of any people especially our gay brothers and sisters in Jamaica,” the Stonewall Inn said in its statement. “We ask all people of all walks of life to send a clear message to the Jamaican people and their government, that as long as they continue to allow and condone violence and hatred toward the Gay community, we will neither buy their products nor support their tourist trade.”
“If you love your gay friends and family members, you won’t visit Jamaica,” said boycott co-organizer Wayne Besen. “If you care about the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, you won’t buy Jamaican products. We hope that all gay and gay friendly bar owners and restaurateurs across the nation will participate in ‘rum dumps.’ We can no longer subsidize our own slaughter.” But in Kingston, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays, said the boycott could backfire and result in more violence.
“Because of the possible repercussions of increased homophobic violence against our already besieged community, we feel that a tourist boycott is not the most appropriate response at this time,” J-FLAG said in a statement. “In our battle to win hearts and minds, we do not wish to be perceived as taking food off the plate of those who are already impoverished. In fact, members of our own community could be disproportionately affected by a worsened economic situation brought about by a tourist ban.”
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has told Parliament his government will not yield to “perhaps the most organized lobby in the world” and will not abolish prison sentences for sodomy. Golding made the comment during debate on a new sexual offenses law primarily aimed at combating rape and child abuse. Jamaican LGBT rights groups and international human rights organizations had urged the government to include a repeal of the sodomy law in the new act. Gay sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison under a law which dates back to British colonial rule. Britain has long since abolished the law and has urged its former colonies to do the same.
Jamaica has been described by human rights groups as having the worst record of any country in the New World in its treatment of gays and lesbians. In January 2008, a group of men approached a house where four males lived in the central Jamaican town of Mandeville, and demanded that they leave the community because they were gay, according to Jamaican human rights activists who spoke with the victims. Later that evening, a mob returned and surrounded the house. The four men inside called the police when they saw the crowd gathering. The mob started to attack the house, shouting and throwing bottles.
Those in the house called police again and were told that the police were on the way. Approximately half an hour later, 15-20 men broke down the door and began beating and slashing the inhabitants. Human Rights Watch, quoting local activists said that police did not arrive until a half hour after the mob had broken into the house – 90 minutes after the men first called for help. One of the victims managed to flee with the mob pursuing. A Jamaican newspaper reported that blood was found at the mouth of a nearby pit, suggesting he had fallen inside or may have been killed nearby.
The police escorted the three other victims away from the scene; two of them were taken to the hospital. One of the men had his left ear severed, his arm broken in two places, and his spine reportedly damaged. There have been no arrests. The attack echoes another incident in the same town on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007 when approximately 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man.
According to mourners, the crowd broke the windows with bottles and shouted, “We want no battyman [gay] funeral here. Leave or else we’re going to kill you. We don’t want no battyman buried here in Mandeville.” Several mourners inside the church called the police to request protection. After half an hour, three police officers arrived. Human Rights Watch said that instead of protecting the mourners, police socialized with the mob, laughing along at the situation. A highway patrol car subsequently arrived, and one of the highway patrol officers reportedly told the churchgoers, “It’s full time this needs to happen. Enough of you guys.”
The highway patrol officers then drove off. The remaining officers at the scene refused to intervene when the mob threatened the mourners with sticks, stones, and batons as they tried to leave the service. Only when several gay men among the mourners took knives from their cars for self-defense did police reportedly take action by firing their guns into the air. Officers stopped gay men from leaving and searched their vehicles, but did not restrain or detain members of the mob, Human Rights Watch said.
More than 30 gay men are believed to have been murdered since 1997 J-FLAG says. In most of the cases the killers have never been brought to trial. Arrests, however, have been made in several cases which received international attention. In 2004, Brian Williamson, Jamaica’s leading LGBT civil rights advocate, was brutally murdered. He had been stabbed at least 70 times in the neck. A 25-year-old man is currently serving a life sentence for the murder. In December 2005, Lenford “Steve” Harvey who ran Jamaica AIDS Support for Life was killed.
Harvey was shot to death on the eve of World AIDS Day. His organization provided support to gay men and sex workers. Four men were arrested almost a year later. In 2006, the bodies of two women believed to have been in a lesbian relationship were found dumped in a septic pit behind a home they shared. The killers of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie have not been caught. Students at University of the West Indies in Kingston rioted last year as police attempted to protect a gay student and escort him from the campus. The incident began when the student was chased across the campus by another student who claimed the gay man had attempted to proposition him in a washroom.
The same year, a young man plunged to his death off a pier in Kingston after reportedly being chased through the streets by a mob yelling homophobic epithets. In February 2007, three men in “tight jeans” and wearing what some witnesses described as makeup were cornered by a mob of 2000 in a drugstore. There were yells of “kill them” along with gay slurs and demands the three be sent out “to face justice.” Police had to fire tear gas into the crowd to rescue the three. Reggae, or Jamaican dancehall music, is blamed for fueling homophobia. Reggae star BujuBanton’s hit song Boom Boom Bye Bye which threatens gay men with a “gunshot in ah head.”
April 26, 2010 – Jamaica Observer
Living a lie – MSMs use women to cover up their sexuality
He is a 42-year-old bisexual man. He lives at home with his wife, the mother of his two children. She does not know he is also having sex with men. During his 14-year-old relationship with his wife, he has had two different ‘steady’ relationships with males that lasted three and five years respectively. In the latter case, he went to his partner’s house. In the other they would have to find other places … car, brothel, and gay friends’ houses. He has never used condoms with his wife — that is the way they have negotiated their relationship over the years. "I would feel a bit cute to introduce condoms at this stage in our relationship," he said.
In the early days with men he said he periodically used condoms, but with the advent of HIV, he has started to use condoms with his male partners. "It is not always easy. Sometimes I do not have condoms because I cannot carry condoms home in my pocket or wallet or bag. My children always search my bag for sweets and money. I recall one time my male partner and I started to have sex without a condom but stopped. After that, I went to do a test. I tested negative and have not gone to another man without a condom," he said.
He said he has no fear about his wife having sex with another man and giving HIV to him. Fatalistic as it is, if he is to get HIV, he would prefer to get it from her than from a man. He said he wished he could tell his wife about the other side of his life but is fearful that she will be devastated. He loves her. He does not want others to know. He loves his children and does not want to lose them. All his male partners know about his wife and have had to respect that. He would also like to live with a man but cannot decide how he could live with both a man and woman.
"Sometimes my mind is overloaded and weighed down hard, but I take it one day at a time. I never made myself this way. If I did, I would change it. It’s not easy," he said.
John Ward, a successful business owner, said he knew he was attracted to men from his early preteens, but got married for legal sex as he grew up in the Pentecostal church. "As a teenager, I tried to conform, but it was very confusing and painful, not only for me but for the girls I dated. I wasn’t seen as macho enough — it was fine being friends with them but not anything else," he explained.
Ward, who is now divorced, explained that he was attracted to and still finds his ex-wife very attractive, but the marriage didn’t work as he found he still wanted to have sex with men. Their sexual relationship was very good and she knew before they got married that he had interest in men. "When I discussed it with her, she said I should choose. I found that I was even attracted to men who were her friends and spoke to her about it, but she kept saying I needed to choose," he said. "I remember at one point she told me to make sure I used condoms when I am with my male partners. I think at that point she had started to accept. We still maintain a relationship. We are still friends," he explained.
Ward noted that the challenge was that his ex-wife couldn’t understand why she was not enough and "that was unhelpful". As it relates to condoms, he explained that he never planned to be unfaithful to his wife and so was not prepared for the times he did. "I did use condoms a few times, but never really found them enjoyable with my wife and definitely with the outside partners I never planned these encounters. I just yielded to temptation and then swore it would never happen again," Ward said. Currently, Ward is not in a steady relationship and so far he continues to test negative for HIV.
May 17, 2010 – GLBTQ Jamaica
Time to Break the Silence on rights for GLBT Jamaicans
Kingston – The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) is observed annually on May 17th and celebrates the removal of homosexuality by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from its list of mental illnesses in 2006 which put an end to over a century of homophobia in the medical field. It also marked a major milestone in the recognition of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. In Jamaica, the day was observed with a half an hour ‘Stand Against Silence’ outside the Emancipation Park. Approximately 30 persons converged on the location, some with their mouths covered, depicting the theme ‘Break the Silence! End the Fear.’
According to Jason MacFarlane Programme Manager of Jamaica Forum of Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), ‘As Jamaicans we remain un-emancipated as long as there are laws which criminalize the private intimate acts of consenting adults. J-FLAG organized today’s event to increase awareness about the reality of homophobia that is faced by members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in Jamaica as a result of these laws. It is time for the silence to be broken and for the change makers to have some frank conversations. The simple and clear message that we are sending is that homophobia is damaging the lives of many of us Jamaican citizens and there is no rational basis for this homophobia.’
Yvonne Sobers of Families Against State Terrorism (FAST) was outspoken in her support. "Gays and lesbians have rights as human beings and as Jamaicans. An African proverb says, ‘If the fire of the law dies here and burns there, it is not operating properly.’ If we remain silent while some have their rights infringed, we cannot expect equal rights when we need systems to work for us. We benefit most if we ensure that the fire burns brightly for everyone, and that the state operates properly by respecting the rights we all (without exception) have as human beings."
In keeping with the bold words on his placard “Stop the Hate Before Too Late”, Maurice Tomlinson of AIDS Free World reiterated his organization’s stance on the position “The irrational hatred and fear of gays drives this vulnerable population underground away from effective HIV prevention interventions. The result is that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has become entrenched in Jamaica, representing a direct threat to the health of the entire Jamaican community. This is one of the reasons why we have willingly cosponsored this event.”
Another co sponsor of the event was UNAIDS which was represented at the Stand by Jamaica’s Country Coordinator, Pierre Somse. Dr. Somse proudly displayed his placard ‘Privacy is Everyone’s Right’ echoing the call made internationally by his boss Michel Sibide , “UNAIDS believes in the fundamental rights of the human beings and sees how catastrophic a situation is created when those rights are taken away. We are committed to working with Governments to ensure that the rights of all, inclusive of the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender persons are protected….” See UNAIDS Press Release attached.
Maria Carla Gullotta, Coordinator of the Jamaican group of Amnesty International, said “Amnesty International Jamaica is in full support of human rights for LGBT people because each one of us is 100% entitled to have the same rights and same dignity. We urge Jamaica to re-think what has become such an acceptable discriminating choice. There will not be any possibility to have a better world until all citizens have the same rights.
President of the European Union Missions, Ambassador Jesus Silva, offered support to J-FLAG in its demands for a policy of human rights that includes the non-discrimination for reasons of gender or sexual orientation. Speaking on behalf of Belgium, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Spain, Silva reiterated such a position as being “one of the priorities that inspire the policies and relations of the European Union.”
Andrea Chin See, Board Member of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) revealed “Homophobia is fueling the HIV pandemic and complicating our efforts to stop the spread of HIV. If it does not stop, HIV will be here with us for an even longer time.” Others supporting the call to end homophobia included journalists, representatives from Jamaicans For Justice, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Women for Women, The Jamaica Network of Seropositives, Eve for Life, Sex Work Association of Jamaica, Jamaica Red Cross, Sunshine Cathedral/Metropolitan Community Churches, Independent Jamaica Council on Human Rights and the Civil Society Forum of Jamaica.
December 5, 2010 – JFLAG
J-FLAG Saddened By Untimely Passing Of Community Member
J-FLAG is saddened by the murder of a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community whose body was found with stab wounds behind the National Solid Life and General Insurance Branch Limited on Half-Way-Tree Road in St Andrew on Friday, November 3, 2010.
This unfortunate event highlights the serious safety and security challenge that confronts the LGBT community in Jamaica, as well as those who engage in sex work. While the reason behind his death is not yet known, allegations are that his life had been under threat for some time. J-FLAG condemns the rampant breach of rights meted out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans, who are often denied their human rights to life, privacy, respect and dignity because of stigma, discrimination and violence.
We urge the security forces to thoroughly investigate this case so that justice is served. We encourage the Jamaican parliament to demonstrate leadership and publicly condemn violence against all people regardless of their sexual orientation. J-FLAG also encourages Parliamentarians to promote the respect of gay Jamaicans as we work towards making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
December 19, 2010 – Jamaica Observer
Jamaica and the Universal Periodic Review
by Dr Carloyn Gomes
It’s an interesting feeling to be in Geneva, Switzerland, and talk to a representative from a foreign country about Jamaica’s human rights. Many of these representatives have never been here, and only know about our country through tourism advertisements and the classic reggae song One Love. It was my duty to explain that Jamaica’s international reputation as the home of "no problem, man" belies its abysmal record of human rights abuses which includes extrajudicial police killings, inhuman prison conditions, and cruel treatment of homosexuals. Malahoo Forte… told the Universal Periodic Review that Jamaica is moving in the right direction in terms of human rights
The diplomats I met were surprised to hear about the extent of Jamaica’s human rights infractions. And indeed, that’s the main reason why I went to Switzerland. Along with two of my colleagues, I met with foreign representatives who were attending the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This is a process where the human rights records of all 192 UN member states are examined. The UPR, started in 2008, requires each country to account for its human rights record every four years. The UPR provides each UN member state — including countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK — with the chance to explain the actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and fulfil their human rights obligations in accordance with international laws.
The 2010 UPR that took place last month marked the first time that Jamaica’s human rights record was examined. I’m deeply honoured that the organisation I’m part of — Jamaicans For Justice — was able to brief several dignitaries beforehand about our concerns with Jamaica’s record. At the UPR, the Government of Jamaica was represented by Mrs Marlene Malahoo Forte, minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. When she took the podium, she told the assembled diplomats that "We are moving in the right direction." To emphasise her point, Mrs Malahoo Forte repeated her statement at least nine times within 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, repeating a phrase doesn’t make it true.
The painful truth is that Jamaica is speeding in the wrong direction. Mrs Malahoo Forte’s statement ignores two recent statistics: Firstly, the number of police shootings in Jamaica has increased and will likely top 400 this year. Secondly, the number of children being held in places of adult detention — in itself a direct violation of Jamaican law — has increased from the 68 reported to Parliament by Prime Minister Golding in February this year to more than 100 in October 2010.
More than 40 countries made 119 recommendations to strengthen and improve Jamaica’s record. I doubt that the countries evaluating Jamaica’s human rights inaction were satisfied with the Government’s official excuse. I know I certainly wasn’t. And neither should you be. Human rights aren’t a privilege that the Government hands out to the upper classes or the people with "good hair". They apply to all of us, regardless of whether we vote JLP or PNP, drink Red Stripe or Heineken, or prefer Gaza to Gully side.
The UPR is a reminder of how far we have to go to improve our human rights. A great Jamaican gave the world the song One Love, and it’s become a global anthem from Azerbaijan to Zaire. It’s time we start practising it in our own yard.
— Dr Carolyn Gomes is executive director of Jamaicans For Justice
January 1, 2011 – JFLAG
Happy New Year
Kingston — Fellow Jamaicans, respect and tolerance is fundamental to enabling individuals, regardless of religion, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation, to claim and enjoy their human rights.
J-FLAG continues to observe and articulate the implications of the absence of a specific legal instrument to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. While the enactment of laws alone will not change the engrained discrimination within our society, the presence of discriminatory laws coupled with the lack of specific protections continue to contribute to the high incidences of stigma, discrimination, harassment and other forms of abuse as well as death of Jamaicans who are, and in some cases perceived to be gay or lesbian.
This year, we have received and documented over forty incidences of human rights abuses meted out to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Jamaica. For example, there were two mob invasions of the homes of men suspected to be gay in February. On separate occasions, two females were raped by men who attempted to sexually cleanse them and make them heterosexual women. Additionally, two gay men were violently murdered including a cross-dresser known as “Charm” in December, because they identify as gay.
Sadly, in the majority of cases, there have been little or no thorough investigation and/or prosecutions for such inhumane acts unless the case has been labeled ‘high profile’. Jamaica’s adoption of the OAS Resolutions 2435 and 2504 on ‘Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ in 2008 and 2009 is in keeping with the United Nations Resolution on Extrajudicial Killings which binds our government “to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation”. These resolutions symbolize a commitment by the Government of Jamaica to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity from human rights abuses.
However, despite these unfortunate occurrences, we have seen some encouraging demonstrations that there are possibilities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans to be accorded their human rights and dignity. This has been demonstrated by the numerous public activities that have been held without incident since April to raise the awareness of the issues being faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and our allies.
In addition, police men and women have been more professional in their attempts to serve and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. The media has begun to feature more constructive conversations, articles and letters with regards to the rights of lesbian and gay Jamaicans. Key leaders in our society have accepted our invitation and extended a helping hand to have conversation with us and support our advocacy and programmes. We salute the Jamaican foreign ministry who communicated with J-FLAG about their December 22 vote at the United Nations to “recognize that…people [of different sexual orientation] continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many…other groups”. This demonstrated a welcome measure of accountability and transparency in our foreign policy.
Nonetheless, there are still many important steps that must be taken to make Jamaica the country for people to live, raise families and do business. We must appreciate the crucial role lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans play in societal development, inter alia, through cultural expressions, educational development, economic activities, such as job creation and entrepreneurship and as productive members of the workforce within public and private sector entities. However, this national vision will never be truly materialised if there exist distinctions in our constitution about the protection of one set of people over another. As such we encourage Jamaicans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, to urge their member of parliament to support the inclusion of sexual orientation as a basis for non-discrimination in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
J-FLAG applauds and encourages the police force and societal leaders to continue to support efforts to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. We thank our allies and supporters both locally and internationally who have dedicated themselves and resources in the relentless pursuit of human rights for the communities we serve. We encourage the Senate and Parliament to be more open to having dialogue with us. To the communities we serve, we urge you to be strong and steadfast despite the daily struggle for respect, tolerance and acceptance. Your pursuit shall not be in vain if we stand together to claim our rights as human beings, as equals in this diverse society shaped by a motto “Out of Many, One People.”
We encourage all Jamaicans to appreciate that the realisation of the universal human rights of all Jamaicans, whether gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender “is no unsolvable problem if we [act] wisely and courageously” (Roosevelt, 1933). As the Prime Minister highlighted in his Emancipation Address to the nation (borrowing from the words of Haile Selasse), that until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill […] the world will not know peace.
As we celebrate the end of another year, let us remind ourselves that Jamaica does not have to be known as one of the most homophobic and violent countries worldwide. There is too much talent and diversity for us to allow ourselves to be labelled as such. For 2011, let us articulate the inscription of equal rights without distinction in our constitution and show respect for each other with the dignity with which we treat each other (Golding, 2010).
Happy New Year.
February 11, 2011 – The Washington Post
Jamaica’s gays finding refuge by applying for U.S. asylum
by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post Staff Writer
From the time he was in grade school in his native Jamaica, Andrae Bent was the target of taunts and attacks. A classmate once stabbed him near his eye with a pencil for being effeminate. Another time, a man pulled a knife on him and asked if he was "one of them," Bent said, meaning homosexual. Fearing for his life, Bent denied his homosexuality. "I was called faggot, gay, batty man, chichi man," he said. "This would be from classmates, from people on the streets when I was walking home. Wherever I went in Jamaica, it was a nightmare."
Five months ago, Bent, now 24, won asylum in the United States on the grounds that he had credible fear of persecution as a gay man if he were to go back to Jamaica. He joined what has become a small wave of gay Jamaicans fleeing homophobia in the Caribbean nation. Despite its image as a laid-back island paradise for American tourists, Jamaica still criminalizes sodomy and has long been regarded by human rights activists as virulently anti-gay.
The federal government doesn’t track how many people are granted asylum on the basis of homophobia or what countries they are from. But of the 92 gays and lesbians who won asylum in 2010 with the help of Immigration Equality, an immigrant gay-rights group, 28 were from Jamaica – meaning that nearly a third were from a single country ranked 138th in world population.
Advocacy groups say they also regularly see asylum seekers from other English-speaking Caribbean countries, such as Barbados and St. Lucia. "The Caribbean is the part of the world where we see the highest number of cases," said Victoria Neilson, legal director at Immigration Equality, which estimates that it handles about half of all successful asylum cases brought on behalf of gay and lesbian foreigners. Part of the reason, she said, is that those seeking asylum have to be in the United States when they apply, a formidable hurdle for people from more distant countries such as Uganda. Homophobia in Uganda is so virulent that the parliament is considering a bill to execute gays and a prominent gay activist was slain two weeks ago.
But while many Americans are aware of homophobia in Africa, fewer are aware of the issue in the Caribbean, Neilsen said. "There is a great deal of violence, and in many Caribbean countries there are laws on the books that criminalize consensual sodomy, which makes it difficult for people to report violence to the police."
‘Hated to death’ Jamaica in particular, she said, "is one of the most violently homophobic countries that exist in the western hemisphere."
That Jamaican government sharply disputes that characterization. "I don’t believe we are more homophobic than anywhere else," said Cheryl Gordon, deputy chief of mission at the Jamaican embassy in Washington. "I believe we are more tolerant than anywhere else."
"We go after crimes committed against people irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political leaning, as long as people report there has been some crime against them," she said. But Jamaica’s most prominent national gay-rights group, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays, has a Kingston office that is unmarked – for fear of attack. Gays find their way to the group by word of mouth, said Dane Lewis, its executive director.
In 2004, Human Rights Watch issued a seminal report, "Hated to Death," about homophobia in Jamaica, where many people blame gay men for the country’s AIDS epidemic. The report detailed numerous examples of assault and violence against gays, and widespread discrimination in the medical and criminal justice systems. After the country’s most prominent gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was stabbed to death in 1994, the report said, a delighted crowd gathered outside the victim’s home and people called out, "Batty man [homosexual] he get killed!" "Let’s get them one at a time," and "boom bye bye!" a line from a popular song that celebrated the killing of gays.
February 24, 2011 – GoPetition
Include Sexual Orientation based anti-Discrimination in the Charter of Fundamental Rights & Freedoms
Published by Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays
Target: Jamaican Parliament
Background (Preamble): Respect and tolerance is fundamental to enabling individuals, regardless of religion, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation, to claim and enjoy their human rights.
J-FLAG continues to observe and articulate the implications of the absence of a specific legal instrument to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. While the enactment of laws alone will not change the engrained discrimination within our society, the presence of discriminatory laws coupled with the lack of specific protections continue to contribute to the high incidences of stigma, discrimination, harassment and other forms of abuse as well as death of Jamaicans who are, and in some cases perceived to be gay or lesbian.
In 2010, J-FLAG received and documented over forty incidences of human rights abuses meted out to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Jamaica. For example, there were two mob invasions of the homes of men suspected to be gay in February. On separate occasions, two females were raped by men who attempted to sexually cleanse them and make them heterosexual women. Additionally, two gay men were violently murdered including a cross-dresser known as “Charm” in December 2010, because they identify as gay.
In the majority of cases, there have been little or no thorough investigation and/or prosecutions for such inhumane acts unless the case has been labeled ‘high profile’. Jamaica’s adoption of the OAS Resolutions 2435 and 2504 on ‘Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ in 2008 and 2009 is in keeping with the United Nations Resolution on Extrajudicial Killings which binds Jamaica “to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation”. These resolutions symbolize a commitment by the Government of Jamaica to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity from human rights abuses.
Since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain in 1962, parliamentarians have continued to ignore the rampant breach of rights meted out to all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans. Sexuality-based oppression in Jamaica is also enforced by many entertainers, religious leaders, educators, police officers, doctors and nurses. Since January 2007, J-FLAG recorded the homophobic murder of eight men and more than one-hundred persons who have been victim of incidents ranging from bribery to serious bodily harm. Countless others have been stigmatized and discriminated against, beaten or forced to leave their communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The discriminatory laws in Sections 76 and 77 referring to “Unnatural Crime” and 79 – “Outrages on Decency” of the Offences Against the Person Act that remain on the books as relics of our British colonial past are often used by persons to silence, suppress and intimidate gay Jamaicans or those offering much needed services and support. Despite the acknowledgement that gay Jamaicans are vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and violence, this has had no effect on Jamaica.
We urge parliamentarians to recognise the effect these discriminatory laws have on our society. We urge them to remove these laws which can hinder our goal to become the place to live, work, raise families and do business. We the undersigned believe that an important step to begin this process in the proposed Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms which in its current state does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation.
February 25, 2011 – The Gleaner
Brutality against MoBay gays
The Editor, Sir:
Just after midnight on Sunday, February 20, 2011, four police pickups and a van normally used to transport prisoners descended on the only gay club along the Hip Strip in Montego Bay. About 20 heavily armed policemen jumped from the vehicles, aggressively accosting patrons, kicking in doors, beating and pistol-whipping indiscriminately, and chasing everyone from the venue. All the while, the officers hurled homophobic slurs which encouraged patrons of other clubs nearby to join in the melee by throwing bottles, stones and other missiles as individuals fled for their lives.
One patron described it as a mob scene, and another who asked a policeman, "If this is how you, as a law-enforcement officer, treat us, how do you expect other people to behave?" was rewarded with several kicks for his effrontery. He later took refuge for several hours in an abandoned building. At least 10 persons were reported to have been treated at hospital for injuries sustained during the raid, while others decided to nurse their wounds at home.
This latest attack follows a similar one in Kingston in early February when police, not wearing badges, raided a gay club, pointing guns at patrons and shining powerful flashlights in their faces. On neither occasion did police disclose the purpose of the raids, but they clearly have one intent, namely, to intimidate and remind lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex individuals that their kind is not welcome in Jamaica, and they certainly don’t have the right to assemble and socialise peacefully.
I am, etc.,
Maurice Tomlinson email
Montego Bay, St James
March 14, 2011 – The Jamaica Star
Mob Attacks ‘Loving Men’
Police had to rescue two men from an angry mob in Mandeville, Manchester, on Saturday, after they were seen in a section of the town, walking, holding hands and hugging. Information reaching The Star is that the incident took place about 7 p.m. after both men were seen caressing each other in a popular fast-food restaurant. Their public show of affection reportedly garnered the attention of a mob. "Dem get some lick," an alleged witness remarked as he spoke to The Star about the incident. "Dem come inna di food place and a hug up. After them leave out some people see wha a gwaan and rush dem and dem start beg fi dem life," another alleged witness explained.
The Star understands that after the men left a fast-food outlet, and were walking down a road they were observed acting effeminately and showing affection which disgusted a crowd which had gathered to verbally assault them. "Dem walk like woman and talk like woman, inna some tight clothes," another alleged witness emphasised. It is understood that the men reportedly stopped and began arguing with the crowd, which then became hostile and began running towards them while hurling obstacles. The men reportedly ran towards another food outlet in the area where they sought refuge from the crowd which had grown in numbers. The employees of the bakery had to act swiftly to close the doors of the establishment as the crowd converged and surrounded the building demanding the release of the men.
The Mandeville police were alerted and came to the assistance of the men, who were later taken to the police station for protection. However, the crowd, apparently not satisfied, followed the police to the station and urged them to release the men in their custody for ‘punishment’. The police, it is understood, relocated the men to the back of the station where they remained until the crowd had dispersed. The Area Three police confirmed the incident and explained that no one was charged following the attack on the men.
March 21, 2011 – Jamaica Observer
Jamaican gays want anti-discrimination rights – Vote on Charter of Rights Bill tomorrow
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, all Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) is urging Parliament to make provisions to protect the human rights of all Jamaicans, and provide a framework to reduce discrimination against all persons, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. The group, in a news release today, said they also wanted provisions made for persons with disabilities and persons affected by health conditions like HIV in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
Parliamentarians are expected to cast their vote on the Charter of Rights Bill this week, Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced. Golding, who had piloted the Bill in the Lower House of Parliament and closed the debate last December, said the vote will be taken in the Lower House tomorrow, and then the provision will be sent to the Senate for further debate. "J-FLAG wishes to advise that this Charter should serve as the basis of human rights recognition for all in a society, where its basic laws are based on the concepts of inclusivity and dignity, and on an appreciation of contemporary science on human sexuality, not on prejudice, fear, habit and misinformation," said J-Flag.
The group maintained that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons continue to be victimised by members of the public and the state and therefore wants them covered under the non-discrimination clause. "Passing the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms without clear recognition that disability, health status and sexual orientation are the grounds for non-discrimination in Section 13 (3)(i) would be to undermine the strides that have been made globally to guarantee human rights for all persons in a society," J-FLAG said.
At a minimum, the group wants Section 13 (3)(i) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms to read "the right to freedom from discrimination".
April 07, 2011 – The Jamaican Observer
Jamaicans making it difficult for gays to stay with one partner?
One of the world’s leading bioethics publications, Developing World Bioethics Journal, says Jamaicans are making it difficult for men who have sex with men (MSM) to be monogamous. The publication also suggested that Health Minister Rudyard Spencer is unhappy with the fact that his government "continues to support legislation that contributes significantly to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among MSM". Following are excerpts from the recently published article: "It is tempting to feel sorry for Jamaica’s Health Minister, the Hon Rudyard Spencer. There he is, trying his best to do his job, and, among other urgent health matters, reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS in his nation.
Unfortunately, on his own account, this is proving to be next to impossible unless Jamaicans change their cultural attitudes to — you guessed it — sex. The Jamaican Ministry of Health’s website quotes him with these eminently sensible concerns about specific attitudes: "These include a widely held belief that sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS, the high level of sexual relations between older men and young girls and a persistently hostile anti-gay environment which all contribute to the stigmatisation and discrimination of infected and affected persons. A strong religious culture also inhibits open discussion on matters of sexuality… We too need to begin the process of unlearning those beliefs that endanger the health lives of others and rethinking the tendency to be obscene and degrading in rejecting values that conflict with our own…"
Public health experts are very familiar with the long-standing conflict between a utilitarian approach to harm minimisation and harm reduction and a cultural context that prizes firmness in the ‘fight against drugs’ over demonstrably positive health outcomes for individual drug users. It seems as if this same culture war is being played out in the Caribbean where centuries old religious teachings on sex take precedent over the insights of 20th and 21st century sex research.
"A bit of pertinent background on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica: a 2008 study commissioned by the Ministry of Health concluded that about 31.8 per cent of men who have sex with other men (MSM) are HIV infected in the island state. There is a strong correlation between men being HIV infected and them belonging to lower socio-economic groups, and them having been victims of anti-gay violence. The number of AIDS deaths per year is decreasing because the country has begun the rollout of anti-retroviral medicines. "Jamaica reports the second-highest HIV-prevalence rate among MSM in the world, right after another notorious violator of the human rights of gay people, Kenya.
Homosexual men in Jamaica rarely ever live in monogamous relationships because of the security risks involved in living with a member of the same sex over longer periods in the same household. This is partly a result of colonial legislation prohibiting same sexual activities among men… The flowery prose under the heading ‘Unnatural Offences’ is sufficiently antiquated:
"Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding 10 years… Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour. Up to 10 years at hard labour for a mature-age man who has voluntary sex with another consenting adult male is a fairly draconian penalty for a self-regarding act.
One justification for this law is hidden under that well-known Christian natural law moniker of ‘unnatural’. There is no such a thing as unnatural conduct. If something is physically possible it is very much within the laws of nature, and therefore by necessity it is natural. The phraseology of the ‘unnatural’ explains or justifies nothing. However, normatively nothing follows from this trivial insight.
"Many natural things are not desirable, natural conduct can be unethical, even criminal. Furthermore, as is well known among legal philosophers, even if such behaviour were ‘unnatural’, and even if we declared it unethical, nothing would follow with regard to the question of whether or not it should be illegal. The Jamaican law is not making a case for why same sex sexual conduct between consenting male adults is problematic, and why it is legislated against.
"Declaring homosexual conduct unnatural is arguably unintelligible and it begs the question of why the law exists to begin with. For good measure ‘abominable’ has been added to this ‘crime’. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary enlightens us that the 14th century originated adjective ‘abominable’ means that something is variously disagreeable or unpleasant or worthy of causing disgust or hatred. All of these are terrible foundations on which to build sound moral judgments. Finding something disagreeable or unpleasant is insufficient to make it illegal…
"No doubt, plenty of Jamaicans hate gay people, but how does that provide a justification in terms of outlawing same sex sexual conduct among consenting adults? One does not have to be an old-fashioned liberal in the tradition of John Stuart Mill to realise that the criminal law has no right to interfere with important self-regarding actions of consenting adults. Surely, by any stretch of imagination, our sexuality determines, to a significant extent, who we are.
May 4, 2011 – Caribbean360
Concern about inequality in Jamaican society
Kingston, Jamaica – Minister of Health Rudyard Spencer, has challenged the country’s leaders to craft policies and develop programmes to end stigma, discrimination and gender inequality in the society. “Many of our people are marginalised because of a disability, a health condition, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS or their sexual preference. We must remove the impediments of access to social services to encourage participation of our citizens in national dialogue,” he said at a meeting to discuss stigma, discrimination and gender inequality affecting Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS response.
The Health Minister said Jamaica’s the achievement of developed country status is at risk if it cannot bring all peoples to the centre of planning and policy making. “Leaders from the different spectrum of society must take up the mantle and move progressively forward. It will be a difficult road because Jamaicans have deeply entrenched positions but love can conquer all things,” he said.
In his remarks, Director of the National HIV/STI Programme, Dr. Kevin Harvey, said that Jamaica has been a success in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. He said that there has been significant improvement in HIV testing, with 250,000 persons screened each year since 2003. However, he pointed to the need for increased financial and other resources to strengthen the human rights aspect of the national HIV response. He said that the HIV budget is J$1.3 billion (US$15.2 million), which is less than four per cent of the J$30 billion (US$352.3 million) allocated to the general health system. “I must emphasise that fighting stigma, discrimination and gender inequality is central to the provision of an enabling environment for responding to HIV/AIDS. In addition, the national response is one way of demonstrating our commitment to and fulfilling the international human rights conventions to which we are a signatory to,” Dr. Harvey said.
The number of reported cases of Jamaicans living with HIV annually has declined by 18 percent in 2009, when compared to 2006. Also, access to treatment and care has been scaled up significantly, with mother-to-child transmission reduced to less than five percent. The number of persons dying from HIV has also declined by over 40 percent in the last four years. The data shows a high prevalence rate of 32 percent among most-at-risk groups such as men who have sex with men.
June 26, 2011 – The Gleaner
Governments have failed to mitigate risks of homophobia
by Corbin Gordon, Contributor
Successive governments have failed to promote the human rights of our people, including the poor and most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society. Unfortunately, legislative reform has not been short on guaranteeing that, as a secular society (not a theocracy), our laws are designed to "engender a sense of belonging in our citizens [and] ensure equality of opportunity and equal rights for all" (PIOJ, 2009:13-14). Despite our motto, ‘Out of Many One People’, Parliament has neglected to provide any guarantee for non-discrimination based on health status, whether you are HIV-positive or mentally ill, for example, disabled, or of a non-heterosexual orientation. The recently passed Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms provides the perfect lens through which we can determine how biased we are as a people.
Within this context, I wish to respond to a news article titled ‘Lesbianism a concern for educators’ and a letter ‘Gay campaign must be spurned’ that were both published in The Gleaner on May 25. According to the article, "There is the growing challenge of lesbianism in the education system." The article exposes the reality that far too many persons, including our guidance counsellors, are incapable of separating their religious and personal beliefs from their professional roles. Additionally, there seems to be a gap in the training of counsellors to sensitise them about sexuality, including sexual orientation, from a scientific and human rights-based perspective. It is necessary that we all understand that everyone has some kind of sexual orientation, which is the sexual or emotional attraction to others.
According to the American Psychological Association: "Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality." Contextual factors such as homophobia or teachers warning students they will be punished for "unchristian-like" behaviour incapacitate an individual from actively participating in his or her community or utilising services provided by the State. Such an outlook can also ostracise persons and the groups to which they belong, result in antisocial behaviours, poor academic and work performance, force homosexuals into heterosexual marriages, among other things.
The writer of the letter, which was published in The Gleaner, argues that homophobia is not prevalent in Jamaica and that it is a medical term. Homophobia is an irrational hatred, intolerance, and fear, which has religious, legal and medical underpinnings. In our case, antipathy is expected of every Jamaican by an engrained cultural sanction. Furthermore, with more than 200 reggae and dancehall songs promoting social exclusion, hatred, harassment and violence against gays and lesbians, there is no doubt that Jamaicans are homophobic.
In a recently published study on attitudes and perceptions of Jamaicans towards same-sex relationship, Professor Ian Boxill, using two homophobia scales to develop an instrument for Jamaica, found there is a high level of homophobia among Jamaicans. Furthermore, the incidents of violence meted out to homosexual and bisexual men and women are evidence of the pervasive bigotry which exists. Since January 2011, there have been more than 20 reports of abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender expression. Last year, more than 40 were reported.
It is clear that we have far to go in understanding issues of gender and sexuality, particularly within the context of our laws, religiosity and morality. Nonetheless, it is critical that Parliament, with the support of organisations like The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, create a space for dialogue so Jamaicans can recognise that homophobia does exist, is affecting the lives of many, most of whom suffer in silence, and, most important, appreciate the principles of human rights for all.
07 July, 2011 – MSM Global Forum
Homophobic Violence on the Increase in Jamaica
by Dane Lewis
More than fifty men and women who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual have faced various human rights violations between January and June 2011.
Jamaicans continue to experience human rights violations at the hands of their family, friends, neighbours, landlord, police or mobs because of their sexual orientation. Since January 2011, fifty-one incidents, including mob attacks, physical abuse, home evictions, and discrimination were reported with forty-seven of these meted out to males. Similar to national statistics on crime and violence, young people, 18 to 29 years, continue to be the main victims of violence based on sexual orientation. Young people made more than 30 of the 51 reports.
“On average, J-FLAG has documented between 30 and 40 cases annually over the past three years, but we have seen an increase in the number of reports which shows that homophobia based harassment and discrimination continues because of the lack of protection of the human rights of homosexuals living in Jamaica by the state,” says Dane Lewis, Executive Director at J-FLAG.
“There is a Policy Statement on violence against persons based on their sexual orientation, agreed by Cabinet on April 7, 2008, to support this, but there is no hate crime law,” Corbin Gordon, J-FLAG’s Programme & Advocacy Coordinator highlighted. In a communiqué with the organisation, Prime Minister Golding said that the Government’s position has been that violence against gays and lesbians is unequivocal. It should be condemned, discouraged, investigated, persecuted and punished with vigour and determination.
J-FLAG is therefore urging the Government to protect and promote the human rights of persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. “Action needs to be demonstrated beyond that of a policy statement if we are to achieve our national vision to ensure that the ‘Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just,” Lewis said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have and continue to play a crucial role in Jamaica’s development in the areas of arts and culture, sports, education, job creation and entrepreneurship, among others. They are efficient and productive members of both public and private sector entities. Lewis also said “Vision 2030 would never be truly materialised if there are distinctions in our constitution about the protection of one set of people over another.”
View this article here
22 July 2011 – LGBT Asylum News
Jamaica? No problem …
by Philip Dayle
Earlier this year, a Washington Post article reported that in 2010, Jamaica accounted for almost a third of the people who were granted asylum in the US, based on sexual orientation. In real terms, this means that last year, courts in the US determined that 28 gay, lesbian or bisexual Jamaicans were entitled to refuge because they had a well-founded fear of persecution on their home island. Not so, said Cheryl Gordon, deputy chief of mission at the Jamaican embassy in Washington DC: “I don’t believe we are more homophobic than anywhere else.” She went on to explain that as long as crimes were reported, there was action from law enforcement, irrespective of who the victim was.
Ms Gordon’s opinion stands at odds with the facts, even if pitched at a lower decibel than other rhetoric we have heard from Jamaican public officials. Current Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding trenchantly told the BBC’s Hard Talk programme in 2008 that there was no room in his cabinet for gays or lesbians. A former prime minister, P.J. Patterson once felt obliged to declare in a public forum that “his credentials as a lifelong heterosexual are impeccable.” But as homophobic utterances from politicians go, Jamaican officials have not been the most outrageous. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has never backed down on referring to gays and lesbians as “pigs and dogs” and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh promised to “cut off the heads” of his homosexual citizens. While he was still a senator, US Republican aspirant for President, Rick Santorum, likened homosexuality to incest and bigamy.
As with many Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, Jamaica inherited British colonial laws which prohibit homosexuality. Though the UK has long repealed such laws, homosexuality has come to play a massive role as an ethical marker between new, nationalist states and their erstwhile colonial masters. The argument is often made that the anti-homosexuality offences of buggery and gross indecency – derived from the 1861 Offences against the Person Act of Britain – is necessary to preserve native moral and cultural values. In recent changes made to Jamaica’s constitution, the country’s parliament went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that no interpretation of “privacy” could result in a successful challenge to the laws against homosexuality. However, Jamaica’s legislative stitch up pales in comparison with the aborted attempts to enact draconian “defence of marriage” type legislation in Nigeria – supposedly to bar against gay marriage- a few years ago. The Ugandan parliament recently ditched a bill that would have sought the death penalty for so called “homosexuality offences”.
How then did Jamaica become the global standard bearer of the homophobia mantle? The answer is by no means simple. From Bob Marley to Usain Bolt, a brash self-confidence is associated with the Jamaican personality in the international imagination. Jamaica’s contribution to world popular culture – through reggae music, and recently, track and field dominance – has perhaps given the island of 3 million people an outsized global brand. With the Jamaican persona, often come predominantly held cultural attitudes towards sexuality and gender. Opinion leaders on the island accept that hostility towards homosexuality exists almost as a part of the national DNA. There is a common understanding that visible displays of same-gender sexual activity are likely to attract physical abuse and possibly even mob beatings.
Jamaican anthropologist at Harvard University, Dr. E. Akintola Hubbard, says that policing male sexuality and gender roles in Jamaica gets to the point where there is almost a “presumption of homosexuality” until a man can prove otherwise. A pervasive need exists to hype and over-dramatise the rejection of gayness. The obsession of reggae dancehall artistes with the theme of homosexuality – most infamously with Buju Banton’s song “Boom Bye Bye”, in which called for the murder of gay people – demonstrates the extreme national preoccupation with this subject. In a piece of dramatic irony, Buju Banton, who has been the target of a global “Stop Murder Music” campaign by gay rights activists, was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for drugs and gun charges by a Florida court. The outpouring of sympathy for the entertainer – who is seen as a protector of unique Jamaican values – took a bizarre twist, with supporters charging that his entire case had been a “set up” by a foreign, gay rights lobby. Banton’s story is the classic example, of how Jamaican nationalism and homophobia becomes sexed up as one and the same thing.
It is difficult, and perhaps pointless to prove whether Jamaica is the most homophobic place in the world. But reports of gays and lesbians fleeing persecution from the country, tell a harrowing story of intolerance and national anxieties about sexuality and gender. Addressing this issue requires strong moral leadership at the very highest levels, and a serious review of what goes into being considered authentically Jamaican.
This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the Runnymede Trust
2011 July 28 – Go Jamaica
New pro-gay campaign launched
by Debbie-Ann Wright, Assistant News Editor
A number of organisations have partnered to launch an advertising campaign urging Jamaicans to love and accept their gay relatives. The campaign dubbed ‘Unconditional Love’ was launched today and features former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Christine Straw, and her brother Matthew Straw. In the ad, Christine declares her unending love for Matthew, who is gay, while calling for Jamaicans to love their family members and friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
UNAIDS Representative in Jamaica, Dr. Pierre Somse, insists Jamaica must keep pace with the rest of the world and get rid of anything that might retard the gains made in reducing the spread of HIV over the years. According to him, homophobia is a major stumbling block to effective HIV interventions. Dr. Somse said the entire population is at risk if it does not guarantee the human rights of homosexuals.
01 August 2011 – Rod 02
Anti-Homophobia PSA Campaign Launched in Jamaica
This is excellent news. A new anti-homophobia video PSA campaign debuts today on Jamaican television and the internet. The campaign is called "Unconditional Love" and features Christine Straw, former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe, and her gay brother Matthew Straw. "As Jamaicans we have to stop this stupidity of alienating our [people] because of their orientation," says the beauty queen. "They are our brothers and our sisters and we must love them, no matter what … because they need support and encouragement."
The campaign was co-sponsored by the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Jamaica AIDS Support For Life and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. It is believed to be the first anti-homophobia television PSA in Jamaica. The campaign debuts at a time of heightened brutality, violence and harassment toward Jamaica’s besieged LGBT community. Two gay bars were raided in February 2011. In December 2010, an activist with JFLAG was found viciously stabbed to death. There have been no arrests. In March 2011, the nude dead body of a male rape victim was discovered. And again, there were no arrests.
UNAIDS, UNICEF and the United States Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater are supporting the campaign. Watch the video clip and a Jamaican news report AFTER THE JUMP …
August 07, 2011 – The Jamaica Observer
Gay TV advert angers clerics – ‘Part of a wider plan by militant homosexuals to desensitise Jamaicans’
by Nadine Wilson Sunday Observer staff reporter
Sunday, August 07, 2011A new public service announcement (PSA) encouraging families to embrace their homosexual members and which is expected to hit local airwaves sometime this month, is causing some church leaders great discomfort. The made-for-television PSA was launched more than a week ago and features former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Christine Straw and her gay brother Matthew Straw encouraging Jamaicans to show love to their family members and friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Straw is also seen declaring her unending love for her brother.
Among the agencies and individuals endorsing the advertisement are Women’s Media Watch’s Hilary Nicholson; first counsselor at the European Union, Helin Jenkinson; UNAIDS representative in Jamaica, Dr Pierre Somse; UNICEF representative, Rob Fuderich; convenor of Families Against State Terrorism (FAST), Yvonne McCalla-Sobers and several other human rights and anti-HIV activists. The PSA has also received the considerable support of the United States Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater, who, during the launch, declared that “homophobia must be eliminated (in Jamaica) immediately”.
The backing of these powerful and varied individuals and groups notwithstanding, the PSA’s message has not found favour with several church leaders who continue to maintain that anything outside of the heterosexual lifestyle is not in keeping with biblical principles and will, therefore, never be endorsed by the religious community. “Inasmuch as you want to be accommodating, homosexuality is not biblical and from it is not biblical, then I have a problem,” said executive secretary of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Milton Gregory.
Asked by the Sunday Observer for his view on the perennially controversial issue, Gregory added: “The ad itself can become repulsive for many people in society, and from a biblical perspective, where homosexuality is concerned, the Bible says that God is against it.” The pastor said that while the church abhorred the lifestyle and practices of homosexuals, it did not advocate the abuse of gays and lesbians. “It is not just homosexuality that the church condemns; the church condemns sex outside of marriage. Immorality is immorality, whether it is between man and man or a woman and a man outside of the sacredness of a marital relationship,” he said.
Commenting on the PSA launch, associate pastor of the Tower Hill Missionary Church in Kingston, Mark Dawes, suggested that the church needed to be more vocal in denouncing the homosexual lifestyle.
August 11, 2011 – keimiller.com
I’ve been reading Cornel West tonight, specifically his essay ‘Prophetic Religion and the future of Capitalist Civilization’. I guess you could call it research. I’ve been trying to complete a book of essays called ‘Writing Down the Vision’ and I see the essays as an engagement in ‘the prophetic’. I’m always writing about prophets – warner women and seers for instance. Sometimes it’s the comic side that intrigues me, like how I want to write something about the Jamaican psychic, Safa (may his soul rest in peace), and the pseudo-Jamaican psychic Miss Cleo (is she out of jail yet?) neither of whom seemed able to see their demise coming.
But sometimes my fascination is quite serious. Cornel West understands the prophetic in much the way I do – not centred on some kind of clairvoyance or peek into the future, but centred on ‘the catastrophic, the suffering of oppressed people, not in any kind of abstract way, not in any kind of condescending way, not in any kind of philanthropic or charitable way; justice being not just in solidarity with dominated peoples but of actually having a genuine love and willingness to celebrate with and work alongside those catching hell…’ That’s what I believe prophets do. They extend genuine love towards those amongst us who catch hell. What Cornel West calls for is a kind of radical and ever-expanding empathy. It’s something I feel called to as well.
A lot of people catch hell, but who more so than the effeminate man? From the soft-spoken, slightly lisp-tongued and well-mannered clerk to the outrageously flamboyant and self-declared diva? Let me make it clear here that for this moment I am not talking about sexuality. The issue is not queerness or gayness, though there are clearly overlaps. I’m talking about the performance of gender rather than sexual orientation or preference. For it must be quite obvious that the effeminate man (whether he is gay or straight) is at times equally discriminated against and taunted by both straight and gay communities, by both religious and irreligious people.
You see, there is a popular idea out there – tautological in its construction, vague in its suggestion, but profound in its insistence. This idea is repeated ad nauseum and said as simply as one might say ‘the sky is blue’. A simple statement of fact. And the idea is this: that ‘a man must act like a man.’ (I am focusing on men here, but of course it goes the other way as well – for I’ve been heart-broken many a time to hear young women being put down severely for not being ‘lady-like’ – whatever the hell that must be, and whoever it is that decides what lady-like behaviour is). So this tautological idea that a man must act like a man is so powerful, so ingrained in most of us, that everyone becomes a gender-police. Society polices men, and men police themselves. If we are inclined otherwise we try desperately to lose our soft-spokenness, to act more aggressive, and to ‘man-up’ in whatever perceived way we feel we are being asked to ‘man-up’.
Sometimes this self-policing is done to comical effect. I remember a girl complimenting one of my friends in Jamaica. She liked his clothes – his fashion sense. But he became defensive. “What yu trying to say!?” he asked her. “That I know how to co-ordinate? No sah! Take it back! I don’t have any style. I don’t understand nothing bout fashion! Because man a man!” It was a joke, but then again it wasn’t. My friend understood that such a compliment, given enough time, could escalate into discrimination. For if someone, diligent in their policing duties, decided suddenly – wait a minute, he does dress rather neatly, and with a bit of flair, and he is rather thin, and he does speak softly – then this police might come to the conclusion, ‘Him act kinda funny fi real!’ and then the next step, ‘Him don’t really act like a man.’
August 14, 2011 – The Gleaner
Storm brewing over gay ad
by Ian Boyne, Contributor
It’s an indication of our backwardness, appalling intolerance and bigotry that an ad calling for "unconditional love" of our homosexual family members and friends is unlikely to be shown on local television because the stations are just too scared to show leadership in this area. The decision-makers there know better, but they also know Jamaica, and they know the backlash and outrage that would overwhelm them if they dare transgress in this area. It’s profit over any principle of pluralism, and concern for ratings over reason. I understand their dilemma. I am taking daredevil risks with my own popularity and ‘ratings’ for writing this column. It takes courage to write any such lead in a Jamaican newspaper, for it is bound to generate rumours that I myself am gay, bisexual or at least uncertain about my own sexuality.
For in the thinking (I need a better word!) of large numbers of Jamaicans, for me to even dare to suggest that an ad ‘soft’ on homosexuals should come on television in this Christian, God-blessed country must be an indication of a perverted, sin-sick and debased mind. Homosexuality, I have always maintained, is not a subject that can be rationally discussed in Jamaica, for even among well-schooled people, emotions completely drown any semblance of reason.
The one time I could ever interview some gay people on ‘Religious Hardtalk‘, they had to be from overseas, and I had to say several times during the show, "Don’t bother to come down here at TVJ, for this show is taped and the guests are already back home!" For it would be life-threatening for them to stay in the island for the luxury of watching the show here, as I could not guarantee their safety to the airport. (After all, doomsday preacher Michael Lewis had to wear disguises on the streets of Jamaica before he left for the United States (US), and his sin was just proclaiming passionately that Jesus would return on May 21!)
Last Sunday, the Observer, in a page-one story, ‘Gay TV advert angers clerics’, reported the difficulty gays and non-gay civil libertarians had been having in getting a public service announcement carried even after a public launch involving US Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater and others from the international community. It is to our shame that Jamaican gay people cannot come on television, show their faces, debate their homosexuality with heterosexuals, go back home in peace and to their jobs and live normal lives the next day. If we lay claim to being a pluralistic, democratic society and not an autocracy like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, gay people should be free to express their views without fear of violence, harassment or victimisation.
But what about the view that homosexuality is against Jamaican law and, therefore, it would be improper to show such blatant disrespect for Jamaican law by parading gay people on air, or showing an ad effectively calling for a softening of attitudes to these persons engaging in lawbreaking? First, it is not homosexuality that is illegal, but buggery or anal sex. Lesbians cannot be punished under our buggery laws.
August 15, 2011 – The Jamaica Observer
New Kingston gay and HIV homeless need help — HIV activists
by Donna Hussey-Whyte Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamaica Aids Support for Life (JASL) is calling on the Government to make provisions to house homeless gay men in New Kingston whose numbers have been steadily increasing over the years. Chairman of JASL, Ian McKnight, feels that while the issue might not sit well with a number of taxpayers, the situation transcends personal or religious beliefs and, instead, is a matter that should be tackled by the administration.
"Organisations can only bite off a chewable piece of the whole pie," McKnight said, pointing to the fact that non governmental organisations (NGOs) like his can only do so much and no more without significant support from Government. "The ultimate responsibility belongs to Government. Government has the responsibility to ensure that all its citizens, and, in particular, those ostracised from mainstream society are taken care of. In this case, housing is one of those amenities that Government has an obligation to provide," McKnight said in an interview with the Observer.
He argued that because of the level of bigotry among Jamaicans, many stigmatised sections of the population like these men fall through the cracks, with it being socially acceptable not to provide for them. Many of them have taken to strolling the streets as male prostitutes and have been the source of complaints from residents of New Kingston, who say they have become a public nuisance. While some persons may not agree with spending money on shelter for these homeless homosexuals, it is the right thing for the country to do, McKnight insisted.
"The average taxpayer is not going to be happy about such a thing. But providing amenities for citizens is not something that you can decide who is treated well and who is not treated well based on how people feel. That is a human right of citizens — and in this case, we are talking about the MSM (men who have sex with men) population." McKnight also pointed out that there were things Jamaicans were required to do, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.
"One of the most current examples is that many people who use seat belts when they’re driving, they don’t like it, especially if you buy a car and it doesn’t have any seat belt and you have to spend more to put seat belts in there. People don’t like to pay taxes, but they have to do it," McKnight said. "So Government must stop fooling themselves into thinking that people only do things that they like. There are things that the Government will have to do that may not be favourable among the majority of people, but they must be done."
McKnight said that while it would be very costly to house all the homeless living in abandoned buildings and gullies in the New Kingston area, he feels that shelter should be provided for those forced out of their homes and communities and onto the streets as a result of their sexual preference. Many of them, he said, are vulnerable to being beaten by the police, attacked by men riding motorbikes and stoned by those bent on ridding them from society.
20 October 2011 – CCRP
UN Human Rights Committee unsatisfied by the human rights situation in Jamaica
Geneva – The United Nations Human Rights Committee today concluded its review of the third periodic report of Jamaica on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The review allowed the Human Rights Committee to raise questions with the Jamaica delegation on several subjects of concern related to civil and political rights. Unfortunately, the Jamaican delegation did not include any representatives from the capital, which had a very negative impact on the quality of the dialogue. “The absence of a strong representation from the country is extremely rare and is an alarming signal sent to the United Nations on the little attention and priority paid to human rights by Jamaica”, said Patrick Mutzenberg, Director of the Centre of Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), a NGO that monitors the implementation of the ICCPR worldwide.
On this occasion, a civil society coalition led by Jamaican for Justice (JFJ) provided a full report on the implementation of the ICCPR at the national level. “Our report shows that discrimination is at the root of many human rights violations in Jamaica and needs to be urgently addressed by the Government. We contend that the new Charter of Rights, rather than improving protection of human rights actually weakens the protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and discrimination against persons with disabilities or HIV / AIDS, among others”, said Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director of Jamaicans for Justice.
The very high numbers of extra-judicial killings by security forces was another subject of concern for the Human Rights Committee. This issue was discussed at length by the UN experts who were worried that the majority of these killings remain inadequately investigated and that there have only been four convictions of police out of more than 3500 incidences in the past 20 years. In her concluding remarks, the Chair of the Committee, Ms Zonke Majodina, said that “the lack of investigations reinforced the climate of impunity in Jamaica”. On 4th November 2011, the Human Rights Committee will make its recommendations public and the State will be requested to widely disseminate them at the national level. It is hoped that the State will initiate a genuine dialogue with all sectors of the society that will lead to the implementation of the recommendations.
The report can be found on the Centre for Civil and Political RIghts website .
21 October 2011 – BBC
Black pupils ‘failing on purpose’: Your stories
Black schoolboys can choose to perform poorly to avoid undermining their masculinity, the head of the Jamaican Teachers’ Association has said.
Adolph Cameron said that in Jamaica, where homophobia was a big issue, school success was often seen as feminine or "gay".
BBC News website readers share their stories here
October 26, 2011 – RH Reality Check
First-Ever Legal Challenge to Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Laws
by Jodi Jacobson, Editor-in-Chief, RH Reality Check
From a press release by our colleagues at AIDS-Free World.
Kingston, Jamaica, Oct. 26 — At a press conference in Kingston today, Jamaican attorney Maurice Tomlinson announced that his organization, AIDS-Free World, has presented a first-ever legal challenge to the country’s anti-gay laws. AIDS-Free World has filed a petition at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of two gay men whose names are being withheld to protect their safety. A legal team assembled by AIDS-Free World argues that by criminalizing homosexuality under its constitution, Jamaica is in violation of international human rights law. (Details of the legal case and Commission procedure are available in a Q & A at www.aidsfreeworld.org.)
The so-called “anti-sodomy law” in Jamaica has cast a destructive pall over the lives of gay Jamaicans. It has fed a homophobic society in which gays and lesbians are harassed, mocked, vilified, beaten and killed simply because of their sexual orientation. Driven underground, many fear that seeking an HIV test will brand them as homosexual, and therefore criminal. The national prevalence of HIV is over 30 percent among men who have sex with men, compared to a rate of 1.6 percent in the general population. The petition establishes clear ties between the country’s active promotion of discrimination and its AIDS epidemic.
Tragically and unconscionably, the Government of Jamaica is determined to sustain its discriminatory legislation. The petition brought by AIDS-Free World makes clear that this law tramples on the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Jamaica is a party, and violates numerous guarantees contained in other international treaties that the country has signed and ratified. Jamaica’s law legitimizes abuses against homosexuals by state actors, including the police. It also encourages vigilante justice by private citizens, most of whom believe that the “anti-sodomy” law grants them permission to commit acts of violence against sexual minorities. Because the Government and its highest officials support and enable homophobia, the only possible way to end the persistent violation of the human rights of gay Jamaicans is to strike down the law as soon as possible and usher in an era of tolerance.
Because measures to reverse the homophobic legislation are unavailable within Jamaica, AIDS-Free World is bringing its challenge at the regional level, to the Inter-American Commission. If the Commission decides favorably, other countries in the region with similar anti-homosexuality legislation will be forced to take notice. In fact, it is the conviction of AIDS-Free World that a favorable outcome will have a dramatic impact on all countries that persist in the medieval persecution of their citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation.
There is great irony to the fact that the Jamaican legislation derives directly from the days of the British Empire. Despite being an independent country, Jamaica has not rid itself of the discriminatory shackles of colonialism. This is also true of some 40 other members of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of countries once ruled by Great Britain. Hence, the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality is on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that begins in Australia in two days’ time. Mr. Tomlinson is joined in representing the petitioners by Lord Anthony Gifford, noted counsel on a similar and successful case before the European Court of Human Rights, and a formidable legal team assembled by AIDS-Free World Legal Director Betsy Apple that includes pro bono attorneys from the US firm Thompson Hine and the Law Center at Nova Southeastern University.