On Jamaica Independence Day, Activists Demand Action on Anti-Sodomy Law
Washington, D.C. – As today marks Independence Day in Jamaica, Human Rights First along with Jamaican human rights activists renewed their call for equality and freedom from discrimination for Jamaica’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community through the repeal of the nation’s anti-sodomy law.
“Independence does not in fact mean freedom,” said Angeline Jackson, founder of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. “The anti-sodomy law imposed upon Jamaica during colonial times should be struck down so that more Jamaicans can be free before the law. This law’s continued existence on the 52nd anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence is disheartening.”
“Jamaica’s national anthem encourages citizens to show ‘true respect for all.’ However, the basic rights to privacy, dignity and respect of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex population are regularly denied,” said Maurice Tomlinson from AIDS-Free World. “In this our 52nd year as an independent nation, it is time we shake off the shackles of our colonially imposed anti-sodomy law, and reject the neo-colonial imposition of homophobia by foreign evangelical groups. We must reclaim the inclusive spirit of our forefathers who determined that we should be, as our national motto declared: ‘Out of Many, One People.’”
Later this year, Jamaica’s Supreme Court will take up the case of Javed Jaghai, who is challenging the country’s “anti-buggery” law after being denied housing due to his sexual orientation. A ruling in favor of Jaghai would be a major step forward toward equality in Jamaica.
“As a nation that is familiar with how long and difficult the struggle for equality for LGBT people can be, the United States should partner with activists who are working to fight ongoing discrimination and violence against LGBT people in other parts of the Western Hemisphere,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “Human Rights First is committed to doing all we can to help amplify the voices of Jamaicans engaged in this fight for equality.”
The criminalization of homosexuality in Jamaica dates back to the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which calls for a punishment of up to 10 years of hard labor for those convicted of the “abominable crime of buggery.” Article 76 of the law makes sexual acts between men illegal. The Act also provides law enforcement the ability to obtain proof of penetration for suspected homosexual acts and provides the power to detain any person whom they suspect to have committed or to intend to commit these crimes.
While rarely enforced, the mere presence in Jamaican law continues to legitimize discrimination and violence toward LGBT people based on sexual orientation. Members of the LGBT community are denied access to basic rights and services, resulting in alarming rates of homelessness and HIV.