Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial: It’s a question of human rights

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 5:00 AM

We are often taken aback by the dichotomy between the title of the group that calls itself the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) and the causes it advances, which, essentially, are the continued diminution of the human rights of one set of Jamaican citizens: the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The latest manifestations of the JCHS's agenda were its press ads last weekend and the letter to this newspaper by its chairman, Wayne West, against last week's visit to the island by Randy Berry, the US State Department's special envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons, and his colleague, Todd Larson, who oversees related issues for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Dr West portrayed their visit as an attempt by the Americans to strong-arm Jamaicans into accepting "buggery and sexual confusion", in contempt of this country's sovereignty. A "new form of imperialism", he called it.

This newspaper believes that there is much to criticise and/or to be wary of in America's foreign policy, but its stance on the rights of LGBT persons is not among them. On this matter, the Americans, particularly the Obama administration, are on the right side of both humanity and the individual's place in a liberal democratic society.

As we have insisted in the past, the Jamaican State, except for the protection of children and vulnerable persons, has no place peeking into people's bedrooms, and certainly not the sexual relationships of consenting adults - whatever their gender. In that regard, we reiterate our support for the repeal of the section of the Offences Against the Person Act that makes buggery - a primary area of gay sexual relationship, but which is also practised by some heterosexual adults - illegal. At the same time, we invite Jamaicans, Dr West and his organisation included, to engage in a conversation towards a healthier society, rooted in love, justice and human rights.

Jamaica's Constitution guarantees a number of inviolable rights to its citizens.Yet, though the situation has improved over the past decade or so, Jamaica allows many of those rights to be denied to, or not fully enjoyed by, some of its citizens, because of their sexual orientation. So, gay or lesbian persons may suffer physical abuse because of who they are, with little certainty of recourse to the law. Or, normal access to health care is constrained by stigma and discrimination, which, although unauthorised, do exist.

 

CALLOUS ACCEPTANCE

 

We will, of course, be reminded that acts of impunity do not affect any single segment of Jamaican society, where crime is a significant problem. But it is also the case, we insist, that there is far more likely to be a callous acceptance of such behaviour when the victims are gay. The larger point is that the rights of no individual are secure in the absence of the protection of the rights of all persons. And the great test of a democracy is how it protects the rights of its minorities, its LGBT community included.

Or put another way, discrimination against persons because of who they are, or for the fact they love someone of the same sex, is a breach of fundamental human rights. So, too, is the absence of a right to express that love via recognised institutions and arrangements available to heterosexual couples.

The conversation to redressing these imbalances, we believe, will be part of the healing and the creation of a gentler and more broadly tolerant Jamaica.