Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | The gay agenda must be pro-poor

Published:Saturday | February 10, 2018 | 12:10 AM

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) (rights) movement in Jamaica has myopically focused a whole lot of its attention and resources on the buggery law and the impact this archaic piece of legislation has had on discrimination and violence experienced by individuals, largely cisgender men, who are or perceived to be gay.

I think it is clear that for LGBT people in Jamaica to be fully liberated, their economic, social and cultural rights must not be ignored. A focus on the buggery law alone is, therefore, terribly inadequate.

I have ventilated such concerns about this narrow-minded framework for advocacy and activism on several occasions, including in this paper. Note, I do not deny that the buggery law and other archaic legislation should be repealed. Perhaps Parliament can do this through a comprehensive project to improve our laws, but buggery cannot be the 'only' thing advocates and activists focus on.

I keep raising the issue because in the same way, greater protection in laws and policies and respect for the rights of women and girls have not ended patriarchy and resulted in a wholesale improvement of their social and economic situation, simply removing the buggery law will not address all the myriad challenges faced by the LGBT community, particularly those who are poor and/or reside in low-income communities.

In fact, one could argue that, in Jamaica, much of the progress for women's rights, for example, has largely benefited those who are more affluent and not women and girls en masse. Domestic workers, for example, most of whom are women, barely have protections in law. Women are more likely to be unemployed, and those who are employed often tend to earn less than their male counterparts.

J-FLAG, the main organisation advocating for the rights of the LGBT community, is flooded with requests to help scores of LGBT people in desperate in situations get back on their feet and live their fullest potential but it is unable to do so. Sadly, most of the investment for LGBT issues are around HIV and donors typically have a limited range of activities/initiatives they think are critical to improving the situation and will fund. I am aware other organisations have similar challenges.

However, despite the obvious needs, not much has been done to address the socio-economic realities and vulnerabilities of LGBT Jamaicans. The advocacy agenda of organisations speaking on the community's behalf seldom look at how homophobia and transphobia cause or exacerbate such circumstances among the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community.


Human rights and development


The local LGBT movement must develop an appreciation for the symbiotic relationship between human rights and development. To do so would mean advocates and activists not only focus on rights related to same-sex intimacy but policies and laws related to equal pay, decent work, minimum wage, shelter, access to education and training, and others as well.

These are likely to create more opportunities for collaboration and have a positive impact on the health, livelihood and well-being of those who are poor and vulnerable- women and girls, people with disabilities, LGBT people, the elderly and retired, deportees, former inmates, et al.

Thankfully, there have been some commendable actions but this is not enough. Last year, J-FLAG did a review of the National Policy on Poverty Green Paper and the Social Protection Strategy was done to analyse whether LGBT and other human-rights issues are considered vulnerabilities and make recommendations in this regard. WE-Change, the lesbian and bisexual women's organisation, did work around increasing the minimum wage that was presented before the commission.

I strongly believe there should be greater focus on the economic, social and cultural rights of LGBT Jamaicans, especially those related to poverty and worker rights. The lived realities of LGBT people - not simply those related to same-sex intimacy - must be guide what is done to improve the situation for the community. An advocacy agenda that is pro-poor, a movement where advocates and activists fiercely stand up and speak out about the needs of those who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the community is critical and will benefit the whole.

Perhaps advocates and activists could adopt a (more?) feminist agenda; decentre the issues men face, redress the patriarchy in the LGBT movement, and focus broadly on the health, livelihood and well-being of LGBT Jamaicans.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to and or tweet @jaevionn.