Jamaica: 'Church, TV can dictate how gays are viewed'

Rejected ad: ‘As a Jamaican, I respect you and I love you.’

In rejecting an appeal for a TV ad promoting respect for LGBT people, the justices of the Jamaican Constitutional Court last week “basically upheld the right of anti-gay fundamentalist churches (to which they belong) to dictate to the public how LGBT citizens should to be viewed,” activist Maurice Tomlinson said on Facebook.

AIDS-Free World announced it would appeal the ruling. The group explained:

The innocuous ad promoting tolerance was created as part of AIDS-Free World’s broader HIV advocacy strategy in the Caribbean, which includes impact litigation, human rights trainings, and communications campaigns. Those efforts address discriminatory anti-gay laws and attitudes that fuel the spread of HIV by driving LGBT underground, away from effective HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

The banned ad starred two Jamaicans, including claimant Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World’s Legal Advisor, Marginalized Groups. The television stations had argued, illogically, that by allowing an ad that promotes respect for all Jamaicans, regardless of sexual orientation, they would be supporting an illegal activity.

The court ruled that in Jamaica “the right of freedom of expression does not give anyone the right to use any other person’s property to disseminate his views,” the Jamaica Gleaner reported on the case.

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)
Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)

Tomlinson and AIDS-Free World seek a declaration that refusing to air the ad promoting tolerance for homosexuals breached Tomlinson’s constitution rights to freedom of expression and freedom to distribute or disseminate information, opinions, or ideas.

Tomlinson commented that “the court said that by denying an ad which calls for respect of the rights of gay Jamaicans, the stations were covering this important public issue ‘fairly and accurately.’ ” He added:

So, the TV stations, who operate under a public trust in the form of a broadcast license, have the court-sanctioned right to ignore the lived reality of an entire segment of the population (vulnerable gays) in order to patronize the group campaigning against them! If us gays want equal airtime to counter the hateful falsehoods being spread about us, we should just set up our own TV station! Simple, enough right? Well, not quite. You see, there is the HUGE matter of acquiring a license!

Please note that at no time did we say the stations HAD to air the tolerance ad. We simply said that, in the public interest, the stations should ensure that they acted REASONABLY in making their decision whether or not to air. Was it reasonable for the stations (especially the public broadcaster who has a statutory obligation to promote respect for the rights of citizens, such as gays) to simply refuse to air the ad because they did not want to anger the powerful fundamentalist churches? Is there ANY concept of separation of church and state in Jamaica?

I hope my Jamaican LGBT family and our allies realize just how much work we have to do in order to achieve full equality. I hope this decision makes you MAD enough to actually DO something for the cause of LGBT liberation. All the powerful organs of the state appear to be working against us and in cahoots with the homophobic factions of the church. We need to be LOUD AND PROUD to claim our RIGHTS as no one is going to hand them to us on a silver-platter (or on the silver-screen).

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.


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