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Letter of the Day | Jamaican laws not most homophobic

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Research around the application of Jamaica's buggery law reveals it is not among the most severe in the Caribbean region. The findings, which are contained in a study conducted by J-FLAG titled 'Criminalizing Private Consensual Intimacy II', help to challenge the decades-old belief that Jamaica is the most homophobic place on earth.

The study found that when compared to similar laws in other Commonwealth Caribbean countries, Jamaica is neither the best nor the worst as it relates to the criminalisation of private, consensual same-sex conduct. Six Caribbean countries criminalise both male-to-male and female-to-female consensual sexual activity. They are Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago. In Jamaica, only male-to-male consensual sexual activity is criminalised, in addition to the criminalisation of anal sex regardless of gender.

J-FLAG undertook the study to review statistics on the use of the buggery law in the justice system, explore the treatment of similar laws internationally, and compare the severity of the local buggery law to others in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Sentences vary across the Caribbean. In Barbados, for example, the offence of buggery can attract a maximum sentence of life in prison, while in Trinidad and Tobago, a maximum sentence of 25 years. This is significantly more severe than the maximum 10 years in Jamaica.




The fact that Jamaica's punishment for buggery is not as harsh as some Caribbean neighbours does not mean the law must not be amended.

This is by no means an indication that the law does not affect LGBT people across the country. The buggery law continues to be a locally and internationally recognised symbol of state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Jamaicans. Reform of this unjust law remains urgent, since the provisions do not align with the fundamental rights to privacy and equality before the law as secured in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

This is particularly true of Section 80 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which legalises wanton arrests of gay men and trans women. Fixing this and other laws, and creating a welcoming legal and policy environment for LGBT Jamaicans, are steps in the right direction.