Protesting Jamaicans fear UK leader will push LGBTI rights

Opponents of LGBTI rights in Jamaica protested outside Emancipation Park in New Kingston on Sept. 29, as British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived for a visit. (Bryan Cummings photo courtesy of the Jamaica Observer)
Opponents of LGBTI rights in Jamaica protested outside Emancipation Park in New Kingston on Sept. 29 as British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived for a visit. (Bryan Cummings photo courtesy of the Jamaica Observer)

Two Jamaican groups opposing LGBTI rights protested yesterday’s arrival of visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The protest was a missing opportunity, said LGBTI rights activist Maurice Tomlinson.  He argued that the protesters’ fears about sexuality led them to ignore a high-priority issue: pushing Cameron to help Jamaica recover from past injustices imposed on it by the British Empire — in particular, slavery.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller raised with Cameron the issue of reparations for slavery’s long-term harm to Jamaica and its long-term benefits for Britain. The British Empire benefited economically from slavery in Jamaica from 1655 until 1833, when it freed all slaves throughout the empire and compensated their owners, but not the slaves themselves.

In response to Simpson-Miller, Cameron acknowledged that “the wounds [of slavery] run deep but I hope we can move on.”  Cameron’s office said that he did not believe that paying reparations would be the right approach.

The sexuality protest’s primary organizer, Dr. Wayne West, chairman of the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, said the protesters wanted to warn Jamaicans that Cameron might try to influence the Jamaican government to repeal its buggery law and push for same-sex marriage.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of PRI)
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of PRI)

Repeal of the buggery law has been a frequent topic of debate in the recent past, with LGBTI rights activists in Jamaica pushing hard for it, much more so than for same-sex marriage. In 2011,  Simpson-Miller called for action on the buggery law, which was first imposed when Jamaica was a British colony, but she later backed away from that promise.

This year, the country’s major daily, the Gleaner, urged Simpson-Miller to seek the repeal of the buggery law and to follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court in establishing marriage equality.

In contrast to the United States, the Gleaner stated, Jamaica has “still much work to be done to lift official discrimination from large swathes of Jamaica’s citizens and to provide them with equality under the law.”

“Jamaica remains stuck on first base” on that issue, the Gleaner stated.

Yesterday’s anti-LGBTI protesters missed the point, Tomlinson said:

Maurice Tomlinson addresses Quorum meeting. (Click image for video.)
Maurice Tomlinson addresses 2014 meeting about international LGBTI rights.

“The fact that during the British PM’s visit to Jamaica some religious groups chose to focus on protesting Mr. Cameron’s protections for LGBTI people is a clear indication of these fundamentalists’ perversely misplaced priorities.

“Most Jamaicans see this visit an opportunity to press Britain to apologize and make reparations for the cruel atrocities of British slavery, which still negatively impacts our country.  However, the misguided evangelicals are fixated on the private lives of consenting adults.  It is my hope that Jamaicans will soon wake up to the fact that the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society and others have a truly unhealthy obsession with sex.  This is to the exclusion of real bread-and-butter issues that impact our quality of life.”

The Jamaica Observer reported West’s description of the protesters’ concerns:

Dr. Wayne West (Photo courtesy of
Dr. Wayne West (Photo courtesy of

“When he (Cameron) pushed through the same-sex legislation [in the UK] he vowed to advance it all over the world, including places like Jamaica. …

“[He also] threatened to cut off aid to countries that did not support the concept of homosexuality, so we want to protest those public policies and statements and say that, if he is coming to Jamaica to discuss those things, we are protesting against it.

“What is happening (same-sex marriage) in America and England is illogical and unwise; it is just plain stupid, and because they are First-World countries and are doing it does not mean we should do it.”

An unidentified member of the Love March Movement told the Jamaica Observer that the groups were not “advocating negativity against homosexuals,” but were “protesting against their lifestyle and the institutionalisation of same-sex marriage.”

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 [email protected]


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