JM | Feb 23, 2023

Gay rights activists urge Jamaica to repeal anti-sodomy laws amid violence

/ Our Today

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Say homosexuals face horrific violence, discrimination and persecution

A Canadian gay activist group, Rainbow Railroad, is demanding that Jamaica repeal a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex, reiterating that the Government still has not heeded a regional rights panel’s recommendation two years ago for this to be done.

The call comes as some fellow Caribbean islands have grown more conservative towards gay laws with Jamaica maintaining its stance of not repealing its anti-gay legislation.

Rainbow Railroad released a report yesterday (February 22) along with Human Dignity Trust, a United Kingdom nonprofit legal organisation claiming the LGBTQ community in Jamaica faces “horrific violence, discrimination and persecution and lacks the most basic protections under the law”.

Since 2019, Rainbow Railroad says it has seen an increase in calls for help from gay people in Jamaica with 411 violent incidents reported last year compared with 377 the previous year. A spokesman for group, Devon Matthews, is of the view that the situation in Jamaica “has gotten significantly worse in the last number of years… . The data doesn’t even do justice to the degree of violence that we’re seeing.”

Gays say they are struggling

One defendant, Gareth Henry, is a gay man who claims he was beaten several times by Jamaican police in front of angry crowds and now lives as a refugee in Canada along with his mother, sister and other relatives. The other defendant, Simone Edwards, a lesbian woman, obtained asylum in The Netherlands after she was shot twice in anti-gay violence, according to Human Dignity Trust.

The activist organisation noted that gay Jamaicans struggle to access jobs, medical care, education and housing. It said similar discrimination was reported in other Caribbean islands that have since repealed anti-same-sex laws with Barbados doing so in December, following in the footsteps of Antigua & Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis.

However, such laws remain on the books in six other countries in the Americas namely Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines. In February 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that Jamaica’s Government was violating a right to privacy, equal protection, humane treatment and freedom of movement involving two members of the island’s LGBTQ community who were forced to flee the island.

However, the Jamaican Government has argued that it doesn’t enforce its 1864 anti-sodomy laws, but activists say having them remain on the books encourages homophobia and violent acts against the gay community in the religious country of some 2.8 million people.


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