Jamaican Activist Honored for Leadership in Challenging Homophobia

On January 29, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) presented its first annual David Kato Vision and Voice Award to Maurice Tomlinson. Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World’s legal advisor on marginalized groups, received the award for his leadership in challenging homophobia in Jamaica. Below is an excerpt from Tomlinson’s speech.

Pioneer and pariah are just two of the epithets I am sure that have been used to describe David Kato, because of his unwavering commitment to advocating for the full human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. However, I prefer to think David desperately fought, and ultimately gave his life, simply to make it easier for people like him to go about our regular mundane lives contributing to the development of our families, countries, regions, and the world.

Jamaica has been described as the most homophobic place on earth; one Ugandan commented that David’s murder reminded him of the type of homophobic attacks usually reported from Jamaica. One such attack was the brutal and barbaric slaying on October 18, 2011 of a 16-year-old youth, Oshane Gordon in the resort city of Montego Bay. Early in the morning, a gang of thugs barged into Oshane’s home and slashed him on his foot to slow his escape as he tried to flee through a window. When they caught up with Oshane, the men finished him off with several more blows from their machetes. Oshane was killed because of “questionable relations” with another man, and his mother was also severely cut up for harboring him.

Since 2009, AIDS-Free World has been engaged in an ambitious and aggressive program in partnership with the major LGBT group on the island, J-FLAG, aimed at documenting human rights abuses against homosexual Jamaicans. We were motivated to undertake this work by the vastly disproportionate level of HIV prevalence among Jamaican men who have sex with men…[which is] about the highest in the world, and there is evidence that the country’s notorious homophobia is a major contributor. Between 2009 and 2011 there has been a near 300% increase in the number of human rights violations against LGBT reported to J-FLAG, and highlighting these abuses has resulted in very supportive statements for the human rights of LGBT by Jamaican leaders of all stripes. Most noteworthy was a declaration during the December 2011 election leadership debate by Jamaica’s new Prime Minister, the Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller that…she would bring the matter of reviewing the country’s nineteenth century British colonial anti-sodomy law to a conscience vote in Parliament. While she was viciously attacked for her leadership…she bravely stood her ground.

I see Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s views as representing what I and my dear mother consider the true Jamaican “One Love” culture. As my mother tells it, during her youth everyone knew at least one person in the village who was gay, but no one cared. People respected the privacy of others and the anti-sodomy law was rarely, if ever, invoked. There certainly were no marauding mobs seeking to eradicate gays from the society. However, all this changed during the 1980’s and 90’s when there was a coarsening of Jamaican society through a deliberate export of hate and intolerance to Jamaica by, ironically, American televangelists.

A repeal of the [sodomy] law will not result in an immediate end to homophobia in Jamaica, in the same way homophobia still persists in the UK decades after the law was consigned to history. Sadly, evangelical Christian groups from North America are still funding and supporting a vicious fight to deny the human rights of Jamaican LGBT. However, one thing the law’s repeal will do is provide gay Jamaicans leverage when they seek assistance from police in the face of attack.

I fled Jamaica on January 10, 2011 after my marriage to Tom was made public when the Jamaica Observer…published an unauthorized photo of our wedding on their website. Even though I requested that the newspaper remove the picture because of the real threats it posed to my safety, they have refused. Since then I have started receiving a steady stream of death threats. I hope one day this vortex of hate will end, and I can once again return to the warmth of my amazing country to teach my inspiring students and be able to sit and chat with my mother after a wonderful bowl of her fabulous “Saturday soup.”

Until then…I promise, in David Kato's name, that I will never abandon my role in the struggle for the full human rights of LGBT until those rights are universally achieved.

Click here to read Maurice Tomlinson's entire speech.

Photo credit: Gaystarnews

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