Jamaica has a new gay-friendly public defender

Arlene Harrison-Henry (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)
Arlene Harrison Henry (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

Jamaica’s new public defender supports LGBTI people!

This is refreshing, as the previous public defender seemed ready to deny the right to freedom of expression of LGBTI people and said that we should “tone down” our behaviour if we wanted to be safe.

After she was named as Jamaica’s first female public defender, Arlene Harrison Henry said that “The LGBT group is … a delicate matter in our country, but they, too, are entitled to equality, representation, and equal protection of laws.”

She added: “The bottom line is I won’t be partial, and if I encounter someone from that group whose rights have been breached, I will be defending them just the same, and every sector in society will be represented.”

The role of the public defender in Jamaica, as described on the office's official website.
The role of the public defender in Jamaica, as described on the office’s official website.

In Jamaica, the role of the Office of the Public Defender is to be an advocate for persons who are without resources to do so for themselves. In fulfilling that role, she can investigate complaints against the government, “seek redress for Constitutional and Administrative injustice,” and pay people’s attorney’s fees, as needed.

Arlene Harrison Henry demonstates for LGBTI human rights at a stand on April 8, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)
Arlene Harrison Henry (right) demonstrates for LGBTI human rights at a stand on April 8, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Her advocacy for the human rights of LGBTI citizens is not surprising, as she has been a long-time ally of the LGBTI community and briefly served as counsel for J-FLAG [the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays] in the aborted domestic challenge to the anti-sodomy law. She has also participated in public stands on the streets of Kingston to support LGBTI people.

By contrast, consider the following news report on the previous public defender describing his views on LGBTI people. Basically, he felt that we should be seen and not heard. From the Jamaica Gleaner of April 25, 2007:

“Public Defender Earl Witter resorted to the vernacular yesterday as he advised members of the gay community to ‘hold your corners,’ and avoid flaunting their sexual preferences in the face of those who are repulsed by their behaviour.

Earl Witter, former public defender. (Photo courtesy of DigJamaica.com)
Earl Witter, former public defender. (Photo courtesy of DigJamaica.com)

“Condemning violence in all forms, particularly against homosexuals, the public defender, however, warned members of the gay community that if they continued to shove their tendencies on others who found it repugnant, it might incite violence.

” “It may provoke a violent breach of the peace,” Mr. Witter told The Gleaner yesterday evening.

“Earlier in the day, he had addressed the hot-button topic during a Rotary Club luncheon at the Golf View Hotel in Mandeville, Manchester.

“During the luncheon, Mr. Witter said that, as with most things, ‘tolerance has its limits’ and gays and lesbians should be sensitive to the ‘repulsion that others feel’ and should not be so ‘brazen.’ “

Needless to say, the new public defender is a welcome change!

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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