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US LGBT groups want Obama to tackle Jamaica on human rights concerns

Published:Monday | April 6, 2015 | 12:07 AM

The Jamaica Coalition for Healthy Lifestyle (JCHL) says it has taken note of an open letter dated April 3 from various organisations in the United States and posted on FreedomHouse.org, urging President Barack Obama to raise concerns about the abuse of rights of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (LGBT) community in Jamaica with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and other Caribbean heads of state when they meet in the island on Thursday.

The letter, signed by organisations such as Advocates for Youth, the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Institute, urged Obama to also meet with civil society leaders and members of the LGBT community during his visit to Jamaica.

The groups pointed to ongoing threats against the LGBT community in Jamaica, citing the withdrawal of a recent challenge to the buggery law after the life of the plaintiff, Javed Jaghai, and his family was threatened.

The letter also references reports by the gay lobby group, the Jamaican Forum for the Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) of about 231 cases of violence or discrimination against homosexuals and transgender people, between 2009 and 2012.

However, in response, the JCHL said the rights of the LGBT community "are not established in international law".

In addition, the organisation chaired by Dr Wayne West, said it took note of the US State Department's recent appointment of a special envoy to advocate globally for the "sexual rights" of LGBT persons. It said Jamaica and other CARICOM nations have been named as countries to be targeted for the repeal of their buggery laws.

Referencing Bill Johnson polls published by The Gleaner last September, the JCHS said LGBT rights are not supported by most Jamaicans. The organisation also pointed to two mass rallies held in Montego Bay and Kingston last year, which the JCHS as evidence of Jamaicans' stance against homosexuality.

"Additionally, 140 organisations from 11 CARICOM territories representing hundreds of thousands of Caribbean nationals rejected attempts to change our laws through the PANCAP Declaration (June 2014). The CARICOM Heads then agreed to defer discussions on this Declaration pending further national consultation," the JCHS stated in a letter.

The group said it denounces violence against anyone, including members of the LGBT community, but that a clear distinction has to be made between discrimination against people and discrimination against behaviours, which it says are high risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

JCHS said it was "horrified at the human rights abuses suffered by countless ordinary Americans," who it claims, "have had their freedoms of conscience, speech, religious liberty and parental rights crushed all in the name of LGBT 'rights'".

Pointing to statistics showing the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS transmission among men who have sex with men, it praised Simpson Miller for her recent response to heckling by gay lobbyists on a trip to New York.

Simpson Miller was rebuked by protesters last week for not doing enough to follow on promises to put the issue concerning the repeal of the buggery law to a conscience vote in Parliament. Simpson Miller had made the promise ahead of the 2011 general elections.