Jamaica needs to make a wide variety of improvements in its human rights record with regard to its LGBT citizens — which may not be possible if activists focus too much attention on the nation’s buggery law, says Jaevion Nelson, program and advocacy manager at the Jamaican LGBT advocacy organization J-FLAG. In today’s Jamaica Gleaner, he takes that position in a commentary that goes against what many Jamaican activists have pushed for in recent years.
Portia Simpson Miller’s statement in December 2011 in the lead-up to the general election about reviewing and facilitating a conscience vote on the antiquated buggery law has been the subject of scathing criticisms and even protests. Many have accused her of hoodwinking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community because the matter was never tabled in Parliament.
It is rather unfortunate that when there is discourse about LGBT rights in our country, it almost exclusively focuses on the need to repeal or amend the buggery law found in Sections 76-79 of the archaic Offences Against the Person Act. Consequently, political will to address the myriad challenges, such as homophobic bullying, inability to secure justice when their rights have been infringed, and employment and housing discrimination, among others faced by the LGBT community, is assessed on this basis. Regrettably, without realising, many gay-rights activists create the impression that this is the panacea for improving the rights of LGBT people. One of my lesbian friends says “buggery needs to be buggered”.
A more prudent move
I do not think the prime minister should be castigated for not pursuing her so-called election promise. I don’t recall her ever saying she would repeal the law. Regardless of her sentiments about non-discrimination and violence perpetrated towards LGBT people, we should appreciate that it might be more prudent to pursue other ways of promoting the rights of LGBT people than facilitating a vote that would likely fail and set the movement back.
The National Survey on Attitudes and Perceptions towards Same-sex Relationship conducted in 2012 found that Jamaicans want the law to be retained because they are (1) concerned that homosexuality would become more prevalent and popular, to the point of becoming the norm (12.2 per cent); (2) believe gays and lesbians would receive a new sense of freedom and begin to flaunt and openly display their lifestyle (11.3 per cent); and (3) fearful that children would be more at risk of molestation (11 per cent). Ludicrous? Yes, but it shows the tremendous work left to be done. About one-third did not provide a reason for its retention.
The surveys show many of us agree that LGBT people should be treated with respect and dignity. About 37 per cent of Jamaicans feel the Government is not doing enough to protect LGBT people from discrimination and violence despite the fact they want the buggery law to be retained (Boxill, 2012).
According to The Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll (2014), 23 per cent said transgender persons should have equal rights.
Evidently, there is an opportunity for us to take steps, as a nation, to improve the human-rights situation for LGBT people. Perhaps we can begin to acknowledge some of the other actions taken by successive governments to improve the human-rights situation for LGBT people over the years. It might be prudent that we outline to our Government what are some of the steps that can be taken to move the country further, in addition to a repeal/amendment of the buggery law, which isn’t the only thing that needs to happen where LGBT rights are concerned. Here are some recommendations:
1. Increase the number of shelters and implement strategies to make them LGBT-friendly. Staff and others residing at this facility would need sensitisation training to enable them to respect LGBT people and foster a hospitable and respectful environment for all to reside.
2. Implement interventions targeting families and community members in an attempt to reduce the number of displaced LGBT persons, including and especially children.
3. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms should be amended to prevent discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other relevant trepidation.
4. There needs to be additional training of law-enforcement officers who are already in service on human rights, including LGBT rights around the Police Diversity Policy.
5. The Government should take urgent action to strengthen the investigative arm(s) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and ensure that efforts are made to improve the relationship between the police and citizenry to reduce under-reporting in the LGBT community.
6. The Government should address homophobic discrimination with the use of public-information sessions and public-education campaign.
Differential treatment and violence, whether perpetrated against women, children, people living with disabilities, LGBT people, men, or the elderly is impacting negatively on our country in many ways. It is incumbent on all us to promote and show respect for everyone, even if we are different, rather than use our platforms to incite further marginalisation or bigotry.
- Protesters call for repeal of Jamaica’s anti-gay law (August 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaican PM reneges on promised review of sodomy law (April 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaica: Evicted, gay man aims to overturn buggery law (June 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaica: Vote coming soon on repeal of anti-gay law (June 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaican health official: Anti-gay laws must change (December 2012, 76crimes.com)