It was a breath of fresh air to listen to Senator Natalie Campbell-Rodriques open the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday, September 9, 2022.
In her presentation Senator Campbell-Rodriques touched on a wide range of issues and made very pointed recommendations, such as those regarding the reform of the National Youth Service.
I must say, however, that the Senator dared to venture into areas that most politicians shy away from when she mentioned the need to provide greater protections for LGBT people and people living with HIV (PLHIV). She spoke to the fact that LGBT people are harassed and bullied daily, and PLHIV continue to face challenges with confidentiality of their health information when they seek to access health care. She spoke to security guards and nurses at health facilities disclosing people's health status simply by the way they shout certain information that will tell anyone in their hearing what a client is visiting a health facility for.
I want to make it clear that, in my experience working in the field of HIV as well as with LGBT people, these concerns are an everyday reality. Research supports the position that the number one barrier to PLHIV accessing HIV-related services is stigma and discrimination. In my daily duties I still have to advocate and provide support for PLHIV and LGBTQ people who are ill-treated at health facilities, dismissed from their jobs, or chased out of their homes because of their health status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is in this light that I laud Senator Campbell-Rodriques for bringing this issue to the fore on such an important stage and reminding all Jamaicans that it is a real issue.
Senator Campbell-Rodriques reminded those in her hearing that not too long ago we were being treated differently because of the colour of our skin. When we treat people differently today because of their health status or sexual orientation or for whatever difference, we are no different from the enslavers who treated our foreparents differently because of the colour of their skin.
She closed her presentation with the words of Marcus Mosiah Garvey: "The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself, but the ends that you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity."
All Jamaicans, including PLHIV and LGBTQ people, deserve to live free from discrimination and be guaranteed security of the person as provided for in our constitution, and I call on all policymakers to take a stand in reinforcing and ensuring same can be accomplished.
Policy and advocacy officer
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life