New Year’s Message from J-FLAG

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Kingston — December 31, 2010

Fellow Jamaicans, respect and tolerance is fundamental to enabling individuals, regardless of religion, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation, to claim and enjoy their human rights.

J-FLAG continues to observe and articulate the implications of the absence of a specific legal instrument to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. While the enactment of laws alone will not change the engrained discrimination within our society, the presence of discriminatory laws coupled with the lack of specific protections continue to contribute to the high incidences of stigma, discrimination, harassment and other forms of abuse as well as death of Jamaicans who are, and in some cases perceived to be gay or lesbian.

This year, we have received and documented over forty incidences of human rights abuses meted out to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Jamaica. For example, there were two mob invasions of the homes of men suspected to be gay in February. On separate occasions, two females were raped by men who attempted to sexually cleanse them and make them heterosexual women. Additionally, two gay men were violently murdered including a cross-dresser known as “Charm” in December, because they identify as gay.

Sadly, in the majority of cases, there have been little or no thorough investigation and/or prosecutions for such inhumane acts unless the case has been labeled ‘high profile’. Jamaica’s adoption of the OAS Resolutions 2435 and 2504 on ‘Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ in 2008 and 2009 is in keeping with the United Nations Resolution on Extrajudicial Killings which binds our government “to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation”. These resolutions symbolize a commitment by the Government of Jamaica to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity from human rights abuses.

However, despite these unfortunate occurrences, we have seen some encouraging demonstrations that there are possibilities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans to be accorded their human rights and dignity. This has been demonstrated by the numerous public activities that have been held without incident since April to raise the awareness of the issues being faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and our allies.

In addition, police men and women have been more professional in their attempts to serve and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. The media has begun to feature more constructive conversations, articles and letters with regards to the rights of lesbian and gay Jamaicans. Key leaders in our society have accepted our invitation and extended a helping hand to have conversation with us and support our advocacy and programmes. We salute the Jamaican foreign ministry who communicated with J-FLAG about their December 22 vote at the United Nations to “recognize that…people [of different sexual orientation] continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many…other groups”. This demonstrated a welcome measure of accountability and transparency in our foreign policy.

Nonetheless, there are still many important steps that must be taken to make Jamaica the country for people to live, raise families and do business. We must appreciate the crucial role lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans play in societal development, inter alia, through cultural expressions, educational development, economic activities, such as job creation and entrepreneurship and as productive members of the workforce within public and private sector entities. However, this national vision will never be truly materialised if there exist distinctions in our constitution about the protection of one set of people over another. As such we encourage Jamaicans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, to urge their member of parliament to support the inclusion of sexual orientation as a basis for non-discrimination in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

J-FLAG applauds and encourages the police force and societal leaders to continue to support efforts to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans. We thank our allies and supporters both locally and internationally who have dedicated themselves and resources in the relentless pursuit of human rights for the communities we serve. We encourage the Senate and Parliament to be more open to having dialogue with us. To the communities we serve, we urge you to be strong and steadfast despite the daily struggle for respect, tolerance and acceptance. Your pursuit shall not be in vain if we stand together to claim our rights as human beings, as equals in this diverse society shaped by a motto “Out of Many, One People.”

We encourage all Jamaicans to appreciate that the realisation of the universal human rights of all Jamaicans, whether gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender “is no unsolvable problem if we [act] wisely and courageously” (Roosevelt, 1933). As the Prime Minister highlighted in his Emancipation Address to the nation (borrowing from the words of Haile Selasse), that until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill […] the world will not know peace.

As we celebrate the end of another year, let us remind ourselves that Jamaica does not have to be known as one of the most homophobic and violent countries worldwide. There is too much talent and diversity for us to allow ourselves to be labelled as such. For 2011, let us articulate the inscription of equal rights without distinction in our constitution and show respect for each other with the dignity with which we treat each other (Golding, 2010).

Happy New Year.

 

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