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Let's do more to protect gay rights for Jamaica 50

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Corbin Gordon & Tyler Thomas, Contributors

What an end to 2011 for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Jamaica! For the first time in Jamaica's history, on the occasion of our 50th year of Independence, there is a prime minister who has publicly stated that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is evidence of the strides we have made as a people in promoting respect and tolerance for the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans. We all deserve applause.

Today, approximately seven per cent of HIV/AIDS organisations in Jamaica are working with men who have sex with men (MSM); more and more research is being done on homosexuality and homophobia in Jamaica; there are social and entertainment spaces that are friendly and for LGBT people; and there are more than five LGBT-focused organisations and many support groups islandwide.

Notwithstanding all of that, the concerns about the continued discrimination and of acts of violence being perpetrated against the LGBT community are still legitimate. In 2011, 84 incidents of human-rights abuses on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity were reported to J-FLAG. This included murder, home evictions, mob attacks, sexual violence, extortion, blackmail and other forms of harassment meted out mainly to young males. Family members, friends, landlords, mobs and even the police perpetrated these.

Recently, in November 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended that Jamaica "send a clear message that it does not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination or violence against persons [because of] their sexual orientation, and should ensure that individuals who incite violence against homosexuals are investigated, prosecuted and properly sanctioned".

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's bold historic statement did just that. It should be seen as a step in the right direction, at the right time, as we celebrate our Jubilee year of Independence. Her statement will go down in history and there is much hope for the future of LGBT persons living in Jamaica.


LGBT persons, their families, friends and allies have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. Many positive things happened last year. Here is a rundown of the top seven positive statements and actions, progress, and achievements in 2011.

1. In August, Police Commissioner Owen Ellington, in the Jamaica Constabulary's Force Orders 3,351, instructed police personnel to respect the human rights of persons, inter alia, their sexual orientation. There were also clear instructions on how to proceed with investigations and arrests to bring perpetrators to justice. And in July, the commissioner withdrew Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey's controversial claims suggesting links between homosexual men and organised crime.

2. Throughout the year 2011, there were many objective media outputs, both print and electronic, about the human rights of LGBT persons, the buggery law, and having gays in the Cabinet.

3. There were a number of incident-free gay-rights public stands in front of Devon House, Emancipation Park, and The Little Theatre, as well as near the Office of the Prime Minister.

4. In April, former president of the Senate, Professor Oswald Harding, spoke out against the Parliament's continued stance of ignoring discourse around the issues of repealing the buggery law and protection based on sexual orientation.

5. In June, the National Youth Survey, conducted by then Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, found that street youth are far more tolerant and accepting of gays. Earlier in May, the first National Survey on Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans towards same-sex relationship highlighted that 20 per cent of Jamaicans are tolerant.

6. Coca-Cola apologised to Jamaica for sponsoring a music event with anti-gay lyrics sung by Sizzla.

7. In October, the first legal challenge to the buggery law was launched by Jamaican gay-rights activist Maurice Tomlinson through AIDS-Free World.

These achievements were possible because more and more of us are realising that human rights belong to every one of us, without exception. More of us are promoting human rights. However, much more needs to be done to make Jamaica a cohesive and just society where everyone can live, work and raise his or her family.

Therefore, unless we know them, unless we demand that they be respected, and unless we defend our rights to love and care for each other, without distinction, these rights will be just words in decades-old documents.

As then Health Minister Rudyard Spencer declared on December 1, 2011 at the Leaders' Breakfast on HIV and AIDS, "We should not ignore the cries of those who continue to suffer because we fail to do what is right. It is time to be courageous and to be strong. It is time to usher our country into a new day where justice, liberty, and freedom prevail for all."

It is important that we begin recognising and respecting the rights and beliefs of others.

This jubilee year, more of us must demonstrate our respect for the rights of our friends and loved ones, as well as others we come in contact with. We must be ready to support the Government in demonstrating its commitments to protect and promote the human rights of all Jamaicans, regardless of their socio-economic status, sexual orientation, health status, disability, work, and political and religious persuasions.

Corbin Gordon is the programme and advocacy coordinator at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG). Tyler Thomas is a young gay university student.