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January 29, 2016

LGBT Voices for Equality: Jamaica

Jamaica's Offences Against the Person Act of 1864, also known as the sodomy law, criminalizes all forms of intimacy between men, even in private. Although the law is rarely enforced, it provides the foundation for the marginalization of the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Jamaican activist Jalna Broderick told us about the law’s far-reaching effects: “Men get beaten, get screamed at, get evicted. Women are belittled, sometimes raped; all these things justified by one law. And we need that law to be removed, but doing so would not change everything. We need hearts and minds to be changed, and I think that's part of what we're trying to do."

Jalna Broderick and Angeline Jackson founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) in response to continuing violence and discrimination against lesbian, bisexual women, and transgender persons. Since 2013 the organization has fought to create safe, judgment-free spaces that empower the LGBT community.

Discrimination against LGBT people is pervasive throughout Jamaican society and profoundly effects particularly vulnerable groups, like youth. This month, the leader of the Jamaica Association for Guidance Counselors in Education expressed concern that many school counselors ignore the needs of LGBT students. The head of Jamaica's Teacher Association supported this status quo, justifying their neglect with the sodomy law.

Early last year President Obama visited the University of the West Indies in Kingston to hold a town hall with young Jamaicans. He opened his remarks by hailing the work of QCJ and Broderick's co-founder Angeline Jackson: "Instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, and get them treatment and get them justice, and push back against stereotypes, and give them some sense of their own power."

Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaican attorney and human rights activist, is now challenging the sodomy law in Jamaica's Constitutional Court. Many hope this will lead to the law’s removal so that it can no longer provide cover for violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

While there is much to be done to change the hearts and minds Broderick mentioned, Broderick, Jackson, Tomlinson, and activists like them are empowering LGBT Jamaicans with hope that justice will soon come. 

For more information on Human Rights First's work to help advance the human rights of LGBT people in Jamaica, read our report: The World as it Should Be.