As a lawyer working for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBT) people in my homeland of Jamaica, I am sadly accustomed to receiving death threats. However, when a particularly vulgar and graphic email promised to immediately end my life if I didn’t cease speaking out against homophobic abuse, I was so shaken that I finally took my friends’ advice and went to the police. What happened next shattered any illusions about my privileged position as a gay professional.
After listening to my story at the station in the tourist capital of Montego Bay where I lived, the recording officer told me that he hates gays, and that we make him sick. When I reported this cop to his senior officer — ironically, a Briton who had been sent to Jamaica to professionalize the Jamaica Constabulary Force — he responded that: “those attitudes are unfortunate but they won’t change until the laws change”(!)
Since that time I have been personally aware of many instances where police have used the existence of the British colonially-imposed anti-sodomy law to persecute or ignore savage attacks against LGBTI people. For example, I had to accompany a gay youth to the police station to report an incident of a thug hurling rocks and vicious anti-gay expletives at him near his home. When the youngster tried to make the police report himself (after calling me late at night in tears to relate the attack and his resulting fear), the officer told him that there had been no crime but only a “stone throwing.”
Similarly, a group of transgender youth were mobbed and assaulted while walking in New Kingston and when they tried to seek police assistance they were advised that they would first have to provide the names and addresses of their attackers before an investigation could commence. On multiple occasions I have had to attend police stations with clients who were caught by police in “compromising positions” and ordered by officers to pay a bribe or have the details of their arrests leaked to the media. Such revelations would be career and life-threatening/ending, so the bribe was invariably paid.
In sum, anti-sodomy laws make LGBTI people “un-apprehended criminals” in the eyes of many police and so homophobic attacks are largely un-investigated.
Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law criminalizes all forms of male same-gender intimacy, even holding hands in the privacy of a bedroom, with a maximum penalty of 10 years at hard labour. [Editor’s note: Both anal intercourse and “gross indecency with another male person” are illegal under Jamaican law.] Upon release the person would have to register as a sex-offender, always carry a pass or face J$1million fine plus 12 months imprisonment at hard labour for each “offence.”
But ours is not the worst statute. In Trinidad and Tobago, children who even experiment with same-gender intimacy face life imprisonment. Tragically 74 countries around the world retain similar laws and in 44 these were exported as part of the British colonial project to impose Victorian morality taught by the Church of England.
Many national, regional and international agencies and tribunals have found that these archaic penal provisions contribute to violent abuse, torture and even murder of LGBTI people globally. Criminalization has also been directly linked to the spread of HIV by driving gays underground away from effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions. For example, Jamaican gays have an HIV prevalence rate of near 33%, the highest in the western hemisphere, if not the world, compared with only 1.5% in the general population.
In 1955 a Church of England report was the first to call for the repeal of anti-sodomy laws. This led to the Wolfenden Commitee, which had several Anglican members, and was the basis for the repeal of the law in England and Wales in 1967. While organs of the global Anglican Communion have recently called for decriminalisation, some branches of our church in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia have fought to keep and even enhance punishments against gays. These include dehumanizing anal exams in Kenya. However, no action has been taken against these groups and individuals, while the church seems distracted by the issue of same-sex unions, which most LGBTI people suffering under criminalization care very little about.
Many lives, as well as our Communion’s credibility and conscience, are being destroyed everyday by the evil export of anti-gay laws that our church inspired. I therefore pray that all Anglicans will support our call for global decriminalization of private consensual same-gender intimacy, which harms no one.
Anglicans for Decriminalization.
Member of St. Jude’s Anglican Church
Diocese of Niagara
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
- Archbishop of Canterbury to LGBTI community: Sorry! (Jan. 15, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Anglicans discipline Episcopalians over same-sex marriage (Jan. 14, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Anglicans’ LGBTI schism: Archbishop’s realism or bad idea? (September 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Church of England to blame for anti-gay Nigeria, Uganda? (September 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Petition to archbishops: End anti-gay purge in Kenya (September 2015, 76crimes.com)
- U.S. church plans support for LGBT-friendly Africans (June 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Anti-gay Anglicans blast archbishop for friendly chats in U.S. (January 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Eject anti-gay Anglicans or keep a poisoner at dinner? (March 2014, 76crimes.com)