GLAAD calls on President Obama and media to address LGBT safety in Jamaica

GLAAD has joined 20 other LGBT and human rights organizations in urging President Obama to address the persecution of LGBT people in Jamaica during his upcoming visit to the country. President Obama will meet with leaders from the Caribbean Community, and with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller. The intention of the meeting is to discuss the United States' partnership with the region, including through the administration's Caribbean Energy Security Initiative.

Highlights of the letter include:

We are writing to ask that you underscore your longstanding commitment to the rights of LGBT people by raising concerns regarding the violation of the human rights of the LGBT community when you travel to Jamaica for meetings with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders. In your discussions with leaders from Jamaica and from across the Caribbean, you should highlight the importance of supporting and recognizing the meaningful contributions from members of civil society in combatting this and other human rights challenges. During your stay in Jamaica we also urge you to meet with members of civil society, including representatives of the LGBT community.

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.

A meeting with activists working for the rights of the LGBT community, as well as others advocating for human rights in Jamaica, would underscore your administration’s commitment to full equality and human rights and highlight the leading role that these organizations play in bettering their societies.

Read the full text of the letter here.

GLAAD is urging media to be informed about the anti-LGBT laws and attitudes in Jamaica, and to ask questions and share the stories of LGBT people living in Jamaica during the president's visit. Human Rights First has an easy one-pager that the background on LGBT issues in Jamaica.

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.

In 2011, Jamaica’s Parliament approved the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The charter protects against discrimination “on the ground… of being male or female, race, place of origin, class, colour, religion, political opinions.” Gender identity and sexual orientation are not included.

Additionally, 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, resulting in alarming rates of homelessness and HIV.

The main LGBT advocacy group in Jamaica, J-FLAG, reported 231 instances of violence or discrimination against the LGBT community between 2009 and 2012.

Jamaican LGBT activists also report that members of the LGBT community are fearful of seeking adequate healthcare treatment, including for HIV, given experiences of mistreatment or discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The United States has considerable influence, as Jamaica is the third-largest U.S. trading partner in the Caribbean, exporting $421.1 million and importing almost $2 billion of goods in 2013. In 2012 more than 1.25 million U.S. tourists visited Jamaica.

GLAAD will continue working with LGBT advocates in Jamaica, and calling on the international community to support LGBT Jamaicans as they continue to advocate for themselves.