The Struggle for Gay Rights Vs. Jamaican TV: The Court Case Begins

Unprecedented case deals with constitutional right to freedom of expression, addresses systemic homophobia

Kingston, Jamaica — Freedom of expression is at the core of a major constitutional challenge using Jamaica’s new Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. From May 27-31, AIDS-Free World’s Maurice Tomlinson will put those rights to the test against three of Jamaica’s main television stations—TVJ, CVM and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ)—over their refusal to air an ad promoting dignity and respect for LGBT people.

“I appeared in the ad, but I stand in for all citizens whose rights are being violated,” says claimant Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican and AIDS-Free World’s legal advisor, whose work focuses on marginalized groups. Tomlinson stars in the 30-second spot, “Love and Respect,” in which an aunt tells her nephew that she doesn’t know why he is gay, but that she loves and respects him nonetheless.

“The ad was created to promote tolerance for LGBT people in Jamaica. We want to see an end to the negative and debilitating stereotypes that drive gay Jamaicans underground,” says Tomlinson, who has spearheaded AIDS-Free World’s efforts in the Caribbean to end homophobia over the last five years.

“Love and Respect” was one of a series of spots that AIDS-Free World produced in collaboration with local LGBT organizations, with the aim of encouraging respect for the rights of all Jamaicans, regardless of sexual orientation. The ad was sent to TVJ and CVM in March 2012, and to PBCJ in October. Despite repeated inquiries, none of the stations agreed to air the ad, even though the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica deemed in May 2012 that the content does not breach any rules.

Tomlinson is seeking a declaration from the court that the TV stations’ refusal to state whether they will air the ad constitutes constructive rejection, and a violation of his Charter rights. The case, which is being heard before a full panel of three Supreme Court judges, has important implications for citizens’ Charter rights to freedom of expression and access to media, and is the first constitutional challenge to address systemic homophobia in Jamaica.

“Homophobia drives LGBT people away from HIV prevention, care, and services,” says Tomlinson. “It is one of the key reasons why nearly one-third of all Jamaican men who have sex with men are now infected with HIV, compared with only 1.8% of the general population.”

“The result of this intolerance,” Tomlinson says, “is that gay men, lesbians and trans people are subjected to violence, especially sexual violence, are forced to engage in risky behaviour, and are often compelled to take part in heterosexual relationships to cover or mask their homosexuality. By getting rid of stigma and discrimination, LGBT people will be able to protect themselves, their partners and the wider society.”

Source – aids-free world