End State-sanctioned discrimination

End State-sanctioned discrimination

Thursday, November 07, 2019

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Dear Editor,

It was with regret that we saw your editorial cartoon on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 (http://www.jamaicaobserver. com/tools/cartoons/20191022?- profile=1566) mocking the efforts of LGBT Jamaicans to exercise their constitutional rights of freedom of expression and assembly by holding a public forum at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.

A correction and a few observations are warranted in response to this cartoon: First, the cartoon is simply incorrect in representing that the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is behind the demands of MoBay Pride, including before the courts.

We were indeed a proud supporter of Montego Bay Pride during its first few years, but this initiative has always been — and continues to be — led by members of the local LGBT community.

One of our current part-time staff members, lawyer and human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson, himself a proud member of the Montego Bay community, was the founder of MoBay Pride in 2015.

We salute and thank him for his courage and dedication in doing so, in demanding freedom and visibility for LGBT people in Montego Bay and in Jamaica as a whole. He remains a leading organiser of Pride activities in 2019, including the lead organiser of the planned forum that was to discuss the question of whether Jamaica is ready for equal marriage.

But the work of MoBay Pride is entirely that of local community members. Our organisation is not involved in organising this year's activities, nor, contrary to the suggestion in your cartoon, are we involved in the court case or other local advocacy challenging the clearly discriminatory actions of the mayor or the Montego Bay Cultural Centre in denying the use of the venue for this public forum.

This admirable advocacy is entirely the work of Tomlinson and other local LGBT community advocates in their own individual capacities.

Second, we suggest that all Jamaicans, regardless of their views on the issue of equal marriage for same-sex couples, should be deeply concerned by the cavalier and discriminatory disregard for basic human rights that has been shown by the cultural centre and the mayor.

Jamaica's constitution, and international treaties to which Jamaica is legally bound to respect, ostensibly guarantee rights such as freedom of expression and assembly.

The freedom to gather and to debate are essential to any mature, functioning democracy, and these matter most when people with power would seek to ignore them out of personal prejudice, such as their disapproval of LGBT people or of any discussion of the rights of LGBT people.

If the individual religious beliefs or other biases of a given office holder can be allowed to determine who gets to enjoy their constitutional rights, and when, then all Jamaicans should be offended and concerned. Whose rights will be disregarded the next time?

Finally, speaking of rights, all Jamaicans should be concerned that the State continues to discriminate by criminalising consensual sexual behaviour. Four years ago, Tomlinson initiated a constitutional challenge to the laws criminalising so-called buggery and gross indecency.

These laws, relics of British colonisation, are rooted in anti-gay history and continue to foment hatred, discrimination, and violence against LGBT people.

But, in a secular democracy, there is simply no justification for the State telling consenting adults what they can do in their sex lives — and this, too, should be something of concern not just to LGBT people who bear the brunt of such Statesanctioned homophobia, but to all Jamaicans who value the rights to privacy and personal autonomy.

If you don't think the State belongs in your sex life, then you should support the ongoing court case to put an end to the criminalisation of LGBT people in Jamaica.

Richard Elliott
Executive Director
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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