Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Protecting the rights of minority groups

Published:Thursday | November 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jaevion Nelson, Contributor

Contrary to what some persons may think, there are many Jamaicans who believe people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) must be respected. This is true even for persons who are in opposition to repealing or amending the 'buggery law'.


It's unfathomable that there are groups trying to mislead the public and our elected officials to suit their agenda against rights and equality for all. They have conveniently ignored the findings of the recent poll by Johnson (2014) about equal rights for LGBT people for some queer reason.

It is important that we understand that the fact that 91 per cent of the population want the law to remain intact does not mean the Government should make no effort to protect and promote the rights of people who are LGBT. In many democracies around the world, including Jamaica, legislators must make, repeal or amend laws to protect the rights of minority groups. This sometimes require governments to make 'unpopular' but equitable decisions.

REASONS TO NOT CHANGE LAW

Let's explore the reasons Jamaicans want the law to remain in place. The National Survey on Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans towards Same-sex Relationships conducted by Professor Ian Boxill of the University of the West Indies in 2012 found that the top three reasons were Jamaicans: (1) were concerned that homosexuality would become more prevalent and popular, to the point of becoming the norm (12.2 per cent); (2) believe gays and lesbians would receive a new sense of freedom and begin to flaunt and openly display their sexuality (11.3 per cent); and (3) were fearful that children would be more at risk of molestation (11 per cent). I wonder what the results would be if these fears/concerns were addressed and allayed. I must hasten to point out that a significant number of persons (about one-third) declined to provide a reason for wanting the 'buggery law' retained in its current formulation.

The cited reasons should not be misconstrued to mean Jamaicans do not believe that, or want LGBT people to be treated with respect and dignity (although we are generally homophobic, as found by the Boxill study). The same study revealed that 37 per cent of Jamaicans believed the Government was not doing enough to protect LGBT people from discrimination and violence. Therefore, while strong negative attitudes towards LGBT people persist, there is a growing recognition that the inherent right and dignity of each human being, born free and equal, must be respected.

In addition, although the majority of the society is hostile and Jamaicans want the 'buggery law' to be retained, there is a significant number of us who know that the Government must be doing more than it is currently doing to enable a "society that is secure, humane and just".

In 2012, at the time of Boxill Survey, 17 per cent of Jamaicans supported an addendum to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms to include protection from discrimination on the basis of one's sexual orientation. The poll findings by Johnson (2014) is arguably consistent with Boxill's (2012) findings, given well over 20 per cent of Jamaicans believe gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexual persons.

The Government should, therefore, not be deterred by the poll results relating to the 'buggery law', and should continue its efforts at ensuring the full and wholesome development of each person, inclusive of the protection of the rights of persons who have been vulnerabilsed and marginalised. Any action to the contrary would have negative consequences for the achievement of Vision 2030 - The National Development Plan.

By now, we should know that discrimination, abuse or violence of any kind whether perpetrated against women and girls, men and boys, the elderly, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, LGBT people, or sex workers impacts negatively on peace, security and justice in our communities.

The Government's responsibility is to be responsive to the needs of people, including and especially those who are vulnerable and marginalised (for whatever reason). They should endeavour to ensure that no individual or group is denied the opportunity to participate fully as citizens with equal rights and dignity, in developing the country.

Rights for LGBT people do not begin and end with the repeal of, or amendment to the 'buggery law'. Therefore, while the amendment to the law is needed to allow for adult consensual sex in private, the poll findings is no justification for the Government to abdicate its duty to protect the rights of all, including those who are LGBT. Remember, "To transform our country into the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business requires that we all participate in the process".

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.