For over a decade I was only known as “A.B.”. This was to protect me from violent homophobia in my homeland of Jamaica. Thankfully, last week one of the highest human rights bodies in the Western Hemisphere, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), declared that my country’s anti-sodomy law, which threatened my life, must be struck down.
By Tina Brown
Growing up, I never fit my country’s stereotype for my assigned gender. I was always too thin, too delicate, and too “girly.” And because of that I was regularly bullied, harassed, and threatened.
Even eating at KFC was dangerous, as a mob of several hundred people mobbed me and my high school friends when we met there for lunch one Saturday afternoon in 2011. We only managed to escape because our slight bodies made us light on our feet. But a bloodthirsty gang found my home the next day and they ordered my mother to kick me out that night or they would burn our house to the ground.
I have other siblings, so my mother did what she had to do. I was sacrificed to save the rest of my family. As dusk fell, I fled the only home that I knew. I left with all the money mom could scrape together, a few hundred Jamaican dollars (less than US$20) and what I could hastily cram into a small bag. I had to travel light as I had no idea where I would end up. I was only 17 and had not even finished high school.
After couch surfing for weeks, which often led to sexual abuse, I made my way to the capital city, Kingston. I was rescued by a saintly lesbian who offered me a bed in her remote home. I also went back to school. But my new classmates soon turned on me for being different and once again I had to suspend my education.
I knew that my life would always be in danger in Jamaica because of an archaic law. This statute, which was imposed on us during British colonization, criminalizes all forms of same-sex intimacy between men, even holding hands in the privacy of a bedroom.
And although I had never even had a boyfriend, the law gave licence for such vicious anti-gay hate in the country that my very existence was considered criminal. As a result, homophobic vigilantes felt that they were doing the law and the Lord’s work to rid me from their “righteous” nation. Jamaica is reputed to have the most churches per square mile and most of them preach “death to gays” theology every week.
I knew that my life would remain hellish if this law and the attitudes that it spawned remained. So, in 2011 identified only as “A.B.”, I joined a gay man, “S.H.”, in filing a petition challenging the law before the IACHR. Our friend and gay lawyer, Maurice Tomlinson, advised us that the law violated many of our constitutional rights, including privacy and the right to life. This archaic edict also ran afoul of the American Convention on Human Rights that Jamaica signed decades ago.
But many legal scholars thought that the law could not be challenged in our country’s courts as Jamaicans hate gays so much that they tried to entrench the anti-sodomy law in the constitution.
Both S.H. and I filed the petition anonymously because we had to continue living on the island and feared a violent backlash if we were discovered. Even so, after Maurice and the organization that he worked for, AIDS-Free World, launched the case, my life remained in danger.
Among other things, I was spotted by some community members at a public stand for LGBT human rights that was organized to support the petition. All of us at the stand wore masks, but my green shorts were recognized on TV. That simple slip caused me to receive multiple death threats. So, once again, I had to flee as I did not want to expose my new chosen family to danger.
With the help of friends, I eventually made my way to the Netherlands, where I was granted asylum and allowed to become my true self, Tina. I also went back to school and qualified as a nurse. Finally, I met and married a wonderful man. For the first time in my life, I feel truly free and happy being myself.
But the petition that S.H. and I filed is still valid after all these years. Many LGBT Jamaicans still experience death threats and violence simply for existing.
Maurice eventually found a way to challenge the law in Jamaica and six years ago he launched his own case before our Supreme Court. The matter has been delayed multiple times and the presiding judge granted 10 extremist religious groups permission to join the government in defending this law. Ironically, the country’s Public Defender was not allowed to support Maurice’s case.
So, Maurice is fighting a David and Goliath struggle. And the churches have significant Global North help. They have even applied to have two court “experts” from the UK and US, Roger Kiska and Linda Harvey. These people plan to argue that allowing LGBT people to live and love will cause civilization to collapse. How fragile and frail their God must be.
Maurice goes back to court on March 8. I know that he is brave, and the result of this petition will help his case. But I also fear for his safety. Because, although Maurice left Jamaica and now lives in Canada, he returns to the island often to see his ill mother and to continue the fight for LGBT human rights.
He has received death threats, which the police have ignored, and like me he has escaped mob attacks. But he stubbornly keeps fighting. I hope he wins. Because I want to return home one day to see my mother and siblings again. I also want to finish that KFC meal with my friends, which was so violently interrupted many years ago.
If you can support Maurice, please consider donating here and state “JAMAICA CASE” in the comments section.
- After long delay, scathing report blasts Jamaica’s anti-gay laws (February 2021, 76 crimes.com)
- Archive of this site’s articles about Jamaica
- Archive of this site’s articles by and about Maurice Tomlinson