13-step plan to nudge Jamaica away from homophobia

"Love and Respect" video, rejected by Jamaican broadcasters.
“Love and Respect” video, rejected by Jamaican broadcasters. (Click on the image to see the video.)

The human rights advocacy group AIDS-Free World has filed a legal challenge against two Jamaican broadcasters that refused to air a paid announcement called “Love and Respect” advocating tolerance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. But that is merely the latest in a series of initiatives by activists, including the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), aimed at rescuing Jamaica from homophobia. Here are other steps in the process that AIDS-Free World has taken, starting in 2009:

  • We organized the first-ever “Walk for Tolerance” in 2009.
  • We worked for 3 years to help J-FLAG develop and implement a more robust system to document human rights violations against LGBT in order to more accurately respond to the needs of the LGBT community and also help J-FLAG with the development of their own advocacy efforts.
Sizzla was one of the anti-gay entertainers whose sponsorship by Coca-Cola came under attack by AIDS-Free World.
Sizzla was one of the anti-gay entertainers whose sponsorship by Coca-Cola came under attack by AIDS-Free World.
  • Also in partnership with J-FLAG, AIDS-Free World launched the first-ever legal challenge to the country’s anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2011.
  • We also sponsored 2 ground-breaking annual surveys into the levels and drivers of Jamaican homophobia.
  • We successfully confronted Coca-Cola on their sponsorship of “murder music” resulting in a new global sponsorship policy.
  • We had high level meetings with government officials to encourage leadership on the issue of tolerance.
  • We helped organize at least 14 public “Stands for Tolerance” in Jamaica and overseas (the latest one on December 10, 2012).
  • We successfully co-produced and aired the first-ever pro-tolerance ad for LGBT on Jamaican TV.
  • We initiated an animated discussion in local media about the human rights of LGBT.
  • We prepared international reports for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and IACHR on the situation of Jamaican LGBT.
  • We secured the first-ever Precautionary Measures from IACHR for LGBT Jamaicans.
  • We sponsored the visit to Jamaica of Dr. Keon West, a Jamaican psychologist living in the UK and the son of one of Jamaica’s leading homophobe, who is using his own transformative journey towards acceptance for LGBT to conduct research on how to use contact to achieve tolerance.
  • We conducted judicial sensitization on the human rights of LGBT.
"Respect" public service announcement
“Respect” public service announcement. (Click on the image to see the video)

There was never an intention to rely exclusively on legal challenges to achieve change in Jamaica.

As you can see, these legal challenges have been done in tandem with numerous other strategies.

What we have been told by members of the government is that they would prefer if we used the courts to challenge the anti-gay laws as that would provide the politicians with political cover from the powerful Christian fundamentalists who control the hearts and minds of the majority of citizens in this highly religious society (some claim Jamaica has the highest number of churches per square mile).

Government officials have has also said that they need to see the level of national homophobia fall below 50% (it’s currently near 80%) before they will “stick their necks out” and call for the Parliamentary conscience vote on reviewing the country’s anti-sodomy law as was promised by the new Jamaican PM during her 2011 election campaign.

Along with J-FLAG, we are therefore planning to revise the homophobia index survey instrument to more accurately measure just how many Jamaicans think their own adult children or friends, if found engaged in consensual same-gender intimacy in the privacy of their bedrooms, should be sentenced to 10 years at hard labour as is currently provided for in legislation.

This Constitutional challenge to the TV stations’ refusal to air the paid advertisement is meant to give Jamaican LGBT another avenue to confront homophobic national laws and policies. You may know that Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws and non-recognition of same-gender relationships were constitutionally entrenched after a revision to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in 2011. Hence, we need to find ways around this by going after other vulnerable laws.

J-FLAG will be seeking to do a review of these laws and, where appropriate, we will be supporting this effort.

Written by Maurice Tomlinson

Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica and Canada has been involved in HIV and AIDS and LGBTI rights activism in the Caribbean for over 15 years. An attorney-at-law, he leads and supports legal challenges seeking the repeal of the region's homophobic laws. Contact him by email via 76crimes (at) gmail.com.

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