US will not hurt Jamaica over gay stance, says Moreno

Outgoing Ambassador says observing human rights is the 'American way'

Sunday, July 02, 2017

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OUTGOING United States Ambassador to Jamaica Luis G Moreno says that while the United States would not intimidate Jamaica into amending laws seen as discriminating against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, its embassy will continue to facilitate discussions on the issue.

In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer last Monday at his Jack's Hill residence in St Andrew, Moreno, who left his post on Friday, Moreno argued that the United States had no intention of shuffling aid to force the Government's hand in moving to amend the country's buggery legislation, which is considered discriminatory by the local LGBT community.

However, he said that “it is the American way” to facilitate discussions on human rights issues, including those affecting Jamaica's “sizeable gay community”.

He also explained that the raising of the “rainbow flag” on the US Embassy's premises in Kingston in June 2016 was in empathy with the gay community, following the mass murder of 49 persons in an attack on a gay club in Orlando, Florida, as well as support of LGBT Gay Pride Month.

Moreno was not in a position, however, to give any indication as to how soon a new US Ambassador to Jamaica would be named, and whether these practices, like raising the flag on the premises in commemoration of LGBT achievements, would continue at the embassy.

US President Donald Trump has reportedly broken with the precedent of US embassies raising the flag in recognition of LGBT Pride Month. It is celebrated in June, in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of late June 1969, considered in some quarters as the start of the modern gay rights movement.

Trump's decision may have ended a tradition started by Bill Clinton in 2000, halted by George W Bush and then resumed by Barack Obama, at least for the time being, as there was no sign of the flag at the embassy in Kingston in June.

However, there was a copy of the famous picture of Obama standing at the top of stairs to the aircraft taking him back to the United States, with a rainbow above his raised arms, after his brief visit to Jamaica in 2015, on display on Moreno's verandah.

The Ambassador insisted that human rights would always be a US priority and would include LGBT rights.

“Every American administrator talks about human rights because it is the American way,” he told the Sunday Observer.

“But no American administrator has ever, and I challenge anyone to tell me that there has ever been any effort to cut our budget contribution, training programmes, material, or that anything else would ever be affected by how Jamaicans feel about themselves,” he stated.

He confirmed, however, that the US recognises that members of the local gay community feel that they are not being treated as equals with the rest of the Jamaican population because of their sexual preferences.

“Some people don't feel like they are equal citizens with everyone else because of their sexual preferences. So I think it is an issue, and I think it should be discussed, and we have to facilitate that discussion,” Moreno said.

But, he admitted that there is evidence that things are changing in terms of the treatment of the LGBT community in Jamaica.

“I can see a difference in the short two and a half years that I have been here, in the way people are now engaging on this. Not everyone agrees with us. Not everyone was happy that we put the rainbow flag up at the embassy. But the fact that we are having this dialogue, if you want to call it that, is indicative. I think we wouldn't have had this dialogue three or so years ago,” he commented.

He also stated that he was satisfied that social media in Jamaica had reacted positively to the raising of the flag, compared to a relatively insignificant demonstration against it by a few people.

“Things are changing. We had the US Department of State envoy on LGBT rights come here. We had the USAID envoy on LGBT rights here, as well. They met with people, so it's an issue,” he noted.

He also objected to a suggestion that raising the flag on the embassy premises, which takes it outside Jamaica's jurisdiction, is an act of intimidation.

“I don't find it intimidating. I think that extraditing eight guys who were Lotto scammers, who will be given a fair trial in North Dakota: Maybe if someone told me that it was intimidating, that they were put in handcuffs and put on a plane, I could debate whether that was intimidating. But, certainly, putting a multi-coloured flag upon a flagpole to support and celebrate diversity…How is that intimidating?”

Asked whether or not he considered the fact that many Jamaicans do not consider LGBT rights a human rights issue, Moreno noted that the Barack Obama's Administration had placed a high priority on LGBT rights and gender-based violence, and he expected that this would continue.

He said that the US Government, for example, has been playing a leading role in how the country handles the containment of the HIV virus and was concerned about the number of LGBTs who are affected. He noted that, in Jamaica, 33 per cent of “men who have sex with men”, or gay men, are infected with the virus.

“It is a real problem in Jamaica, although people don't want to talk about it. We intend to tackle that programme, head on,” he suggested.

He noted that, in the meantime, the embassy has been involved in programmes aimed at countering gender-based violence as well, as in the case of the HeforShe programme which has involved well-known Jamaican figures including athlete Usain Bolt and entertainer Shaggy.

HeForShe is a global solidarity campaign for the advancement of women, initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change by encouraging them to take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls.

But Moreno is also concerned that US involvement in these programmes may be seen as pushing its own agenda.

“You hear people saying, we are pushing a particular sexual agenda or sexual imperialism, which I have to say is the most creative expression I have heard. But, that's not the case. We just want people to be treated equally, as we in the United States put an emphasis on equality, race, colour, creed, religion, sexual preferences; people should all have the same rights,” Moreno said.

“That's what we are talking about, not pushing any particular, brand or agenda or business. We just want equality, and we really are a bit bullish when there is no equal rights and that's where that comes from,” he argued.

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