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January 15, 2016

Jamaica is failing its LGBT youth

By Maurice Tomlinson

Maurice Tomlinson

This week the president of the Jamaica Association for Guidance Counsellors in Education (JAGCE) revealed that some homophobic school counselors completely shun LGBT students. She explained, “we have counsellors who are of the Christian faith who will not…look at those students at all.”

In response to the revelation—and to calls to train counselors on working with LGBT students—the head of Jamaica’s teachers union Norman Allen brandished the sodomy law as a shield to justify this discrimination. Allen said that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association cannot call for counselors to be trained to work with LGBT youth because sodomy is illegal in the country. Allen went even further, implying that LGBT students should be reported to government agencies.

This is one of many examples of the ways my country’s sodomy law, which criminalizes all forms of intimacy between men even in private, is used to justify the daily violence and discrimination that LGBT people face in Jamaica. In this case, the law is exacerbating the rejection vulnerable Jamaican youth suffer. LGBT youth—like many other LGBT Jamaicans—experience violence, discrimination in access to services, and bullying in schools. And in addition to facing rejection from their peers, many of these students are also rejected by those officially designated to support them through a developmentally crucial and difficult time.

Jamaica is failing its vulnerable youth, and defending this failure with a law that, at its very core, infringes upon the rights of Jamaica’s LGBT population. In November 2015, I filed a constitutional challenge against Jamaica’s sodomy law, citing the law’s violation of the protections outlined in Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. These include the rights to liberty and freedom of the person, freedom of expression, privacy and family life, and freedom from inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, among others.

This is just one of the many efforts that I and other members of Jamaican civil society are undertaking in order to transform society and make our country one that fully respects the rights and freedoms of all. It is my hope that this constitutional challenge will eventually lead to a decision that prioritizes the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Jamaicans, including our LGBT youth.

Maurice Tomlinson is a Jamaican attorney and human rights activist currently with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. As part of his activism, he acts as counsel and/or claimant in cases challenging anti-gay laws before the most senior tribunals in the Caribbean, authors reports to regional and UN agencies on the human rights situation for LGBTI people in this region, conducts judicial and police LGBTI and HIV-sensitization trainings, and facilitates human rights documentation and advocacy capacity-building exercises. In 2012, Maurice received the inaugural David Kato Vision and Voice Award, which recognizes individuals who defend human rights and the dignity of LGBTI people around the world.