LGBTI activists protest on Jamaica’s Independence Day
London, UK – 8 August 2014
On 6 August LGBTI activists in Jamaica – together with allies in London, Toronto and New York – launched the inaugural “Annual International Day of Action” calling for the repeal of the Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalises same-sex relations between men with up to 10 years jail hard labour.
Photos of the protests: http://bit.ly/X3QUFC
The protests were held to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the failure of successive Jamaican governments to repeal the colonial era homophobic legislation. The Offences Against the Person Act was originally enacted in 1871 as part of Britain’s imperial repression.
Beyond harsh sentencing, the law has had a hugely damaging impact in the wider society, reinforcing discrimination and anti-LGBTI violence.
In June, thousands of Jamaicans rallied in support of maintaining criminalisation and against the “homosexual agenda” after the government had been reportedly discussing the possibility of repeal.
Despite making promises to work with the LGBTI community in her 2011 election campaign, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has so far failed to act to decriminalise same-sex relations.
Since then, activists have filed two legal suits against the law.
In her speech to mark the 52nd anniversary of independence, Simpson-Miller emphasised the theme of this year’s independence celebration:
“This is Jamaica, my Jamaica…A true ownership society. A Jamaica in which all of us would have a sense of place and belonging, not just a place of abode…Today we need to recapture that pioneering spirit, that spirit of adventure in building a Jamaica our children can be proud of, a Jamaica of righteousness and justice for all. We must believe we can do it”
While few voices openly favouring repeal have been heard within Jamaica, those who continue the fight for LGBTI rights cannot maintain this campaign alone. The continued support of solidarity movements around the world are vital to maintain pressure on the Jamaican government to commit to the repeal process.
Dwayne Brown, founder of Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand, said:
“From the safety of our adopted sanctuary countries, we demand an end to the grave injustices perpetrated against our LGBTI brothers and sisters. Every day, they must fight for their lives.
“We plan to hold internationally coordinated protests every Independence Day until all Jamaicans can be considered free at last,” concluded Brown.
“Jamaica’s ‘Emancipendence’ celebration is an appropriate time to reflect on the realisation of the dream of inclusion captured in our motto ‘Out of Many, One People,’” added Maurice Tomlinson, a prominent human rights lawyer forced to flee Jamaica.
“We are standing today, as Jamaicans in the Diaspora along with our allies, to affirm that ALL Jamaicans are citizens and deserve the full rights of our citizenship,” he said.
Jason Latty, President of the Caribbean Alliance for Equality, stated:
“It is imperative for the survival and vitality of the Jamaican people that we move swiftly to repeal the buggery law. My organisation is outraged about the increasing acts of terror directed against LGBT Jamaicans. A nation that does not respect the life and dignity of its people is a nation on the decline.”
As long as the sodomy law remains in place, LGBTI people remain in danger.
“This is the time for Jamaica to practice love for all. The buggery law should be scrapped immediately before more lives are lost. The government of Jamaica and its citizens should work towards achieving equality and justice for all its citizens, including LGBTI people,” said Edwin Sesange, Director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group.
“In Jamaica, people masquerading under the guise of ‘religious’ leaders have carried the banner for hatred and violence directed against LGBTI people,” said Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York and Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute.
“Ending the buggery law will help Jamaica celebrate the diversity of God’s creation and honour the value, dignity, and worth of all life,” concluded Bumgardner.
Beyond these groups, The U.S. Department of State, the Organisation of American States, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and Amnesty International have condemned the history of violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals in Jamaica and called for repeal of the Offences Against the Person Act.
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, added:
“Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law is a violation of the country’s commitment to equal rights and non-discrimination. It menaces law-abiding LGBTI citizens with arrest and imprisonment, as well as giving homophobic hatred the underpinning of law and a veneer of official legitimacy. Repealing the ban on same-sex relationships is in the wider public interest, to create an inclusive, cohesive society where everyone can flourish in equality and harmony.”