New Report Recommends U.S. Action to Address Challenges for Jamaica’s LGBT Community
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today released a new report outlining the issues of discrimination and violence for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Jamaica, and highlighting the vital efforts of civil society to combat these human rights challenges. The report titled, “’The World as it Should Be’: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in Jamaica,” follows a March 2015 research trip conducted by Human Rights First and includes recommendations for the U.S. government to better support Jamaican civil society.
“While there are serious challenges to the human rights of LGBT people in Jamaica, civil society activists are changing the tide through important efforts to combat violence, discrimination, and homophobia,” wrote Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord in today’s report. “The current momentum is a prime opportunity for the United States to lead an international effort to support Jamaican civil society in combating violence and discrimination and working towards full realization of the human rights of LGBT people.”
Homosexuality is criminalized in Jamaica under various provisions of the colonial-era Offences Against the Person Act. While the law rarely triggers arrests, activists argue it is used to justify other human rights violations against the LGBT community. LGBT Jamaicans experience a climate of generalized societal homophobia and often face serious violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people are discriminated against in access to healthcare, employment, and housing. Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people face an additional threat of gender-based and/or sexual violence.
In addition to detailing the challenges faced by Jamaica’s LGBT community, the report outlines progress toward the advancement of human rights propelled through the efforts of Jamaica’s civil society. Human Rights First notes that there are strong linkages and cooperation between Jamaican civil society groups working to advance the rights of LGBT people. Activists are combating the legal and institutional structures of homophobia, providing direct services to LGBT people, and spearheading public education campaigns.
Recommendations in the report were informed by Human Rights First’s meetings with members of Jamaica’s LGBT community, Jamaican officials, civil society activists, and U.S. Embassy staff during the research trip to Kingston in March. Key recommendations include:
- Secretary of State John Kerry, along with other high-level State Department staff, should convene a human rights dialogue with Caribbean heads of state to address human rights concerns in the Caribbean and particularly the situation of LGBT people in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.
- The State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons Randy Berry should travel to Jamaica to meet with local activists and elevate the efforts of local civil society during all meetings with high-level Jamaican officials. Upon return from Jamaica, Berry should share findings with relevant agencies and promote a whole-of-government approach for U.S. engagement on LGBT issues in the country.
- The State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs should prioritize the advancement of the rights of LGBT people, including decriminalization efforts, within the broader Jamaica country strategy.
- The State Department should increase Caribbean Basin Security Initiative funding for programs within INL and USAID that aim to support civil society and promote accountability within the Jamaican justice system.
- The president’s Global Equality Fund and USAID should continue to support Jamaican civil society organizations working on behalf of the LGBT population, including smaller organizations and groups that cater to the needs of the LBT community
- Congress should prioritize the human rights of LGBT people through sponsoring congressional letters and legislator-to-legislator outreach.
- The Department of Justice should work with Jamaican law enforcement to develop capacity for documentation of human rights violations and hate crimes, in partnership with civil society.
- The Department of Justice should develop and execute training programs in Jamaica on equal treatment of the LGBT community as well as gender-based violence programming that is sensitive to LBT people
The release of the report coincides with Human Rights First’s reception this evening commemorating International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia featuring Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Jamaican activist Angeline Jackson, and Dominican Activist John Waters. For more information or to RSVP for the event visit the event page.
“The United States and Jamaica have a long, rich history of cooperation and partnership. This history offers a foundation for helping make Jamaica a safer place for all of its citizens, including those who face violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” wrote Gaylord.