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President Obama Should Raise Concerns about Human Rights of LGBT People During Jamaica Visit

Published:Monday | April 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM
United States President Barack Obama

The following is an open letter to United States President Barack Obama from various Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in the US, first published online on April 3.

President Barack Obama,

1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

The undersigned United States organisations work in various capacities to address violence and discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community around the world and are part of a global movement working for equality and human rights. We are writing to ask that you underscore your long-standing commitment to the rights of LGBT people by raising concerns regarding the violation of the human rights of the LGBT community when you travel to Jamaica for meetings with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders. In your discussions with leaders from Jamaica and from across the Caribbean, you should highlight the importance of supporting and recognising the meaningful contributions from members of civil society in combating this and other human-rights challenges. During your stay in Jamaica, we also urge you to meet with members of civil society, including representatives of the LGBT community.

Jamaica's prominent role in the Caribbean is evidenced by its leadership in CARICOM initiatives, such as the April convening of heads of state. As you recognise Jamaica's regional leadership role, you should also discuss with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and other Jamaican officials the country's current human-rights challenges, engaging on these issues in a spirit of partnership while recognising the United States' own challenges in the ongoing push for equality at home.

climate of fear

Across the Caribbean, activists and civil-society groups are working to combat and respond to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community. These activists perform tireless work in challenging climates. In many Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, consensual adult sexual acts are criminalised, and these laws often serve to justify and legitimise discrimination and violence against LGBT persons. Last year in Jamaica, a plaintiff contesting the "buggery" law withdrew his court challenge after he and his family were targeted with threats. Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people are often additionally impacted by gender-based violence.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican human-rights organisation advocating for the rights of LGBT people, reported 231 instances of violence or discrimination against the LGBT community between 2009 and 2012. LGBT people in Jamaica often live in a climate of fear of violence, including threats, sexual attacks and other physical violence. Activists also report widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in access to services, including housing, employment, and health care. Access to health care is of particular concern, and activists report that members of the LGBT community are fearful of seeking treatment, including for HIV, given experiences of mistreatment or discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Jamaican civil-society leaders and activists have responded boldly to these challenges, launching media campaigns to counter homophobia in the country, providing direct services to homeless LGBT people, training security forces on the proper treatment of the LGBT community and sensitising health-care workers to the treatment of LGBT people.

A meeting with activists working for the rights of the LGBT community, as well as others advocating for human rights in Jamaica, would underscore your administration's commitment to full equality and human rights and highlight the leading role that these organisations play in bettering their societies.

As you stated in 2013, "The strength and success of all countries and all regions depends, in part, on protecting and supporting civil society." In your bilateral meetings with Jamaican leaders, you should underscore the importance of support for civil society, including organisations working on behalf of the LGBT population.

Your upcoming trip to Jamaica represents a concrete opportunity to highlight the US commitment to strengthening and supporting civil society and to demonstrate the United States' prioritisation of human rights as part of its bilateral and multilateral relationships.


Advocates for Youth

American Jewish World Service

Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

Council for Global Equality

The Fellowship Global

Freedom House

Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)


Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF)

Global Justice Institute

Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Los Angeles LGBT Center

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)

National LGBTQ Task Force

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates

PFLAG National

cc: The Honorable John F. Kerry, secretary of state

The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson, assistant secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

The Honorable Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Honorable Luis G. Moreno, US ambassador to Jamaica

Mr Stephen Pomper, special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights

Ms Aditi Hardikar, associate director, Office of Public Engagement

Ms Regina Waugh, director for human rights and gender, White House National Security Council