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PUBLIC AFFAIRS - Clarifying the 'J-FLAG agenda'

Published:Sunday | July 6, 2014 | 7:00 AM
Dane Lewis, Guest Columnist
A section of the crowd at an anti-sodomy rally in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, last Sunday. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
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 Dane Lewis, Guest Columnist

Those who advocate against the recognition of equal rights for sexual and gender minorities, most commonly referred to under the umbrella term 'LGBT', usually do so by using slick propaganda, unsubstantiated facts, and uncorroborated anecdotes to create a climate of fear and portray the pursuit of equality and rights for LGBT people as something sinister. A largely uncritical public makes this a relatively easy task.

The notion of a so-called 'homosexual agenda' is designed to alienate LGBT people and encourage paranoia and suspicion. This is a strategy that has been, and is still being, used in several countries, including Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica, Guyana, Nigeria, Kenya, and, most notably, Uganda.

This alienation creates an 'otherness' in the homosexual which necessitates hostility because of the ill will he is presumed to possess toward wholesome values and attitudes. In other words, the homosexual is viewed as an intrinsically antisocial and anti-Establishment rebel who cannot be allowed safe refuge lest he be given the latitude to fulfil his evil agenda.

To be clear, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are motivated by all of the same hopes, concerns and desires as every other Jamaican. We, too, want to be able to earn a living, be safe in our communities, serve our country, and take care of the ones we love. That is the Jamaican agenda, not a homosexual one.

Commitment to equality

This commitment to equality is one we are proud to share with our fellow patriotic Jamaicans.

The term 'the gay agenda' was first used in public discourse in 1992 when the Family Research Council, an American conservative Christian group, released a video series called 'The Gay Agenda' as part of a package of materials campaigning on the immorality of homosexuality and the supposed clandestine effort to re-order society in favour of the homosexual. This publication had a very specific doctrinal origin and in no way represented mainstream ideology at the time. Nonetheless, the idea took root and the demonisation of the male homosexual at the height of the HIV pandemic became widespread through political devices such as 'the gay agenda'.

Other persons have sought to use another text - 'The Homosexual Agenda: exposing the principal threat to religious freedom today' - as further proof of the existence of this sinister agenda at work. Not surprisingly, this book is a product of the Alliance Defence Fund - an organisation which is essentially the genesis of the anti-gay movement in America. Its work has spawned the export of religious intolerance into places like Uganda, which, at the moment, is whipped into a hostile, anti-gay, religious frenzy.

J-FLAG's mandate is locally owned and driven by the needs of a diverse community of LGBT Jamaicans. It has long been aimed at engaging Jamaicans at all levels in rational dialogue about the challenges faced by this community and how they can be addressed. Neither J-FLAG, nor the diverse community it represents, has ever sought to attack religious freedom to advance our human-rights goals.

Instead, we have consistently spoken to the respect for all views: political, religious and otherwise. It is this respect for and celebration of diversity that represents the realisation of our dream of a peaceful and harmonious Jamaica.

However, we must bear in mind that the freedom to express hostile and discriminatory ideas is not immunised from challenge by virtue of its iteration in the Constitution. Nor is it bolstered because of freedom of religion and the privilege certain ideologies are presumed to have. These freedoms exist in balance with each other while taking particular account of the plight of the underprivileged so as to ensure justice and equity.

WHY REVIEW BUGGERY LAW?

Sections 76 through 79 of the Offences Against The Person Act, which we collectively refer to as 'the buggery law', is a colonial-era imposition of Victorian values that was introduced to the colonies in the mid-19th century. Then, as now, it is highly problematic for several reasons, which has led to its review or repeal in several jurisdictions, including the country of its origin, Great Britain. It does not distinguish between consent, public or private acts of sexual intimacy, and lumps bestiality with buggery.

J-FLAG has consistently called for a revision of the law to exclude the private consensual intimate relationships of adults from criminalisation. In so doing, the review of the law would have to provide specific protection for our children and also put non-consensual acts of buggery on the same level as rape, without regard to gender. Additionally, in any review process, the act of bestiality should be separately and adequately criminalised.

A further necessity in this reform process would be a thorough examination of the relevant provisions in the Offences Against the Person Act and the Sexual Offences Act with the intention of promoting justice and equity. As it stands now, the maximum penalty for buggery is 10 years at hard labour, whereas by contrast, the Sexual Offences Act provides for a minimum penalty of 15 years to a maximum of life imprisonment for any person found guilty of vaginal rape.

It is, therefore, plain to see that the retention of the buggery law in its current iteration is not sufficiently protective of children, is not equitable with respect to the applicable punishments, and is injurious to the dignity of LGBT Jamaicans.

Some have argued that changes to the law will result in an increase in the number of cases of child sexual abuse. This is a baseless claim and further evidence of the desire to create hysteria.

It is important for us all to appreciate that it is not necessarily the existence or harshness of a law that prevents the abuse of our children but the surety that the perpetrator will be caught and appropriately punished. Impunity creates injustice. It is, therefore, critical that the rule of law be upheld in the interest of the preservation of equity and justice.

OUR COMMON INTEREST

We share the dream of a Jamaica where the family is strong and healthy. To this end, our family reintegration programme seeks to reunite LGBT youth with their families after they have been pushed from their homes and communities and forced to live in less-than-ideal situations. We also work to prevent displacement by sensitising and empowering family members with parenting tools for vulnerable youth in a hostile environment such as ours. This is our duty as patriotic Jamaicans.

Jamaica's Emancipation is founded on freedom and the protection of the dignity of the person. J-FLAG recognises the diversity of thought and opinion that makes up this plural democracy on which we were founded and seeks only to ensure that LGBT people are recognised as full citizens endowed with the same rights as all other Jamaicans.

Just as Jamaica's motto reads 'Out of Many, One People', we are convinced that LGBT Jamaicans ought never to be excluded from the Jamaican family.

Dane Lewis is executive director of J-FLAG, a gay-rights lobby. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and admin@jflag.org.


 


Just as Jamaica's motto reads 'Out of Many, One People', we are convinced that LGBT Jamaicans ought never to be excluded from the Jamaican family.