Potential Ally in Jamaica’s Public Defender

It looks like the Jamaican LGBT community has a new ally. Arlene Harrison-Henry, Jamaica’s first female public defender, was recently quoted as saying the country’s LGBT community is “entitled to equality, representation, and equal protection of laws.”

Jamaica is a hotspot of violence and discrimination against LGBT people. A law criminalizing same-sex sexual relations is perceived to legitimize continued hate crimes. The first credible challenge to the law was mounted last year, only to be withdrawn following concerns of backlash against the plaintiff’s family.

Harrison-Henry’s tenure as Public Defender may offer a unique opportunity to effect significant change for Jamaica’s LGBT population. Indeed, she may prove to be the most powerful ally the Jamaican LGBT community has.

Under the Jamaican legal system, the Office of the Public Defender acts on behalf of those who can’t get legal representation and investigates claims of injustice against the government. Harrison-Henry is the former head of the Jamaican Bar Association, member of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, and most recently, Chair of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights.

Prior to accepting the post, Harrison-Henry temporarily represented the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag) in its challenge to the country’s longstanding colonial-era law on sodomy, Article 76. Her association with the case may signify Harrison-Henry’s willingness to go beyond mere lip service to the basic human rights of LGBT Jamaicans.

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Published on February 20, 2015

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