President Obama Should Raise Concerns about the Human Rights of LGBT People During Jamaica Visit

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today, along with a broad-based group of human rights organizations, urged President Obama to publicly raise concerns about the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and to meet with members of civil society working for equality during his upcoming trip to Jamaica on April 9. The call came in a letter highlighting the pervasive climate of violence and discrimination against Jamaica’s LGBT community. The president will travel to Jamaica to meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in advance of the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

“Across the Caribbean, activists and civil society groups are working to combat and respond to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community. These activists perform tireless work in challenging climates; in many Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, consensual adult sexual acts are criminalized and these laws often serve to justify and legitimize discrimination and violence against LGBT persons,” wrote Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “Your upcoming trip to Jamaica represents a concrete opportunity to highlight the U.S. commitment to strengthening and supporting civil society and to demonstrate the United States’ prioritization of human rights as part of its bilateral and multilateral relationships.”

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. Last year in Jamaica, a plaintiff contesting the “buggery” law withdrew his court challenge after he and his family were targeted with threats. Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people in Jamaica are often additionally impacted by gender-based violence.

“Women, girls, and LGBT persons are among the most disenfranchised within our society; I believe President Obama can impress upon us as a nation, the need to be an inclusive society for all by striving toward greater gender equality, the empowerment of women, the promotion of safe societies and full access to justice,” said Quality of Citizenship Jamaica executive director Angeline Jackson.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican human rights organization advocating for the rights of LGBT people, reported 231 instances of violence or discrimination against LGBT people between 2009 and 2012. LGBT people in Jamaica often live in a climate of fear of violence, including threats, sexual attacks, and other physical violence. Activists also report widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in access to services, including housing, employment, and healthcare. Access to healthcare is of particular concern, and activists report that members of the LGBT community are fearful of seeking treatment, including for HIV, given experiences of mistreatment or discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Homophobia is rampant in Jamaica, and is often fueled by the influence of American organizations and religious leaders. During his visit to our country, we hope that President Obama will meet with Jamaican LGBT activists to hear about the challenges we face and to publicly offer support for Jamaican civil society in the struggle for equality,” said J-FLAG executive director Dane Lewis.

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.


Published on April 2, 2015


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