How far has Jamaica come with human rights?

Published: Tuesday | December 10, 2013 Comments 0
A gay-rights protester advocates for action against homophobia while Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly in September. - FILE
A gay-rights protester advocates for action against homophobia while Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly in September. - FILE

Dwayne Brown, Guest Columnist

This Human Rights Day, more than 50 years after Independence, is a good time to reflect on how far Jamaica has progressed when it comes to honouring and promoting the basic rights of its citizens. The conclusion has to be overwhelmingly negative. While most of the population struggles in soul-crushing poverty, violence plagues our streets and homes, and the Government is mired in corruption and ineptitude.

Although I love so many things about Jamaica, I was forced to leave my home because it could not provide even a modicum of respect for my human rights as a gay Jamaican.

Jamaica is blessed with a balmy climate, natural resources, and much untapped human potential, yet the country is one of the poorest and most violent in the hemisphere. While PM Simpson Miller cannot be expected to solve all of Jamaica's problems with the wave of her hand, she cannot be excused for the gross and utter incompetence that characterises her tenure.

CRIPPLED BY HYPOCRISY

Jamaica is a society crippled by glaring hypocrisies, without any real leadership stepping up to address these problems. The two primary authorities that people look to have failed us miserably. Clergypersons preach hatred and ignorance from the pulpit while themselves engaging in the very 'sins' they rail against. At the same time, political demagogues spout empty platitudes while running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

It is true that PM Simpson Miller lacks a vision to bring economic prosperity and social stability. But it is not just a lack of vision that is keeping Jamaica back. Our long history of bondage and colonialism still casts a long shadow. Even 50 years after Independence, Jamaicans retain a mentality that accepts the injustices as something we deserve.

We will not be liberated until we change our minds and abandon - not our strong faith or even stronger character - but the attitude that we must pull each other down rather than lift each other up. We need to stop viewing our personal and national success as a zero-sum game.

Most important, we must demand of our leaders an end to the toxic climate of hatred and despair that they have done nothing to alleviate.

THE STAGNATION IN JAMAICA

In the United States, where I now reside, there are lessons to be learned. In this climate of respect for human rights, though far from perfect, Jamaican expats flourish. The United States is a work in progress, always striving to live up to the ideal upon which it was founded. The flow of people and ideas enriches this country like no other place on this planet.

Compare that dynamism to the stagnation of Jamaica, where no matter how hard most people work, opportunity rarely seems rarely to appear on the horizon. The cause is obvious: Jamaica is a failed state that has largely abrogated its responsibility to protect the basic rights of its citizenry.

Our country cannot move forward without a revolution. I do not mean a violent struggle - God knows, Jamaica has experienced enough violence - but rather a dramatic change from ways of thinking that have held us back. The inspiration is already before us.

Jamaicans need to start listening to - better yet, acting upon - the words of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, and our national prophet Bob Marley. Such a change means confronting some painful truths.

One such truth is that Jamaica can only move forward if it addresses its embarrassingly abysmal record on LGBT rights. How can a country effectively function when so many of its citizens live in fear? How can families function when so many sons and daughters are cast out?

Jamaican morality is a bizarre inversion of what it should be. A man can haphazardly impregnate women and run off when it comes time to care for his children, and Jamaicans will not bat an eyelash. A man or woman loves someone of the same gender, and mob violence ensues.

Getting Jamaicans to shift their thinking is no easy task. While I do not normally advocate a top-down approach, the situation is so bad in Jamaica that leadership at the top is necessary to open a productive public dialogue about LGBT rights. PM Simpson Miller can spark this conversation by calling for the decriminalisation of LGBT lives, initiating comprehensive police training on respecting human rights, and prosecuting anti-LGBT crimes.

LGBT Jamaicans, like all Jamaicans, deserve the opportunity to live in safe communities, obtain jobs unhindered by discrimination, and start families. Jamaica will simply not be able to move forward without dealing without improving its human-rights record vis--vis LGBT individuals and other vulnerable populations.

Dwayne Brown is a legislative intern at New York City Council and advocacy director at Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand based in New York. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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