Combatting Bullying Against LGBT Youth in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Ministry of Education announced revisions to its Safety and Security Guidelines to address bullying against LGBT students, among others. This marks an important step towards guaranteeing safe school environments for LGBT youth. According to Minister Ronald Thwaites, advocacy from LGBT groups about bullying against students prompted the revisions.

Violence and discrimination are part of daily life for many LGBT Jamaicans, and public recognition of the problem is crucial in a society entrenched in a colonial-era sodomy law.

Besides bullying, LGBT people often also face threats, extortion, sexual violence, and mob attacks. The tragic murder of teenager Dwayne Jones—who was brutally killed by a mob after attending a party dressed in feminine attire—was preceded by years of discrimination. He dropped out of school after constant teasing and bullying.

Here in the United States, policies on bullying against LGBT students have helped create more positive environments for LGBT youth. According to research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, students in schools with comprehensive bullying and harassment policies were “less likely to hear homophobic remarks,” and “more likely to report that staff intervene when hearing homophobic remarks.”

Some Jamaican groups protested Minister Thwaites’ explicit recognition of the problem of bullying against LGBT people. But Thwaites responded unapologetically. He declared that the manual’s guidelines do not designate special categories and that consultations on the document rightly included LGBT human rights activists because LGBT people “are human persons with rights like everybody else in this society.”

Thwaites’ statement is vital recognition and validation of LGBT human rights from Jamaican officials. Vocal U.S. support for such important leadership should be part of a holistic strategy for U.S. engagement in Jamaica. Human Rights First’s recent report outlines recommendations to U.S. policymakers and lawmakers to support Jamaican civil society working for the full realization of the human rights of LGBT people.

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Published on July 31, 2015

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