Death threats won't stop Jamaican LGBT advocate

Published: March 23, 2015

Maurice Tomlinson
Original Article:

“On[e] bullet will solve the problem.”

This was a response to a Facebook post about a legal challenge I filed with the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) against the ban on gays entering Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.

I have been an advocate for LGBTI human rights in the Caribbean for over 20 years, and so these vulgar threats no longer shock me. However, such declarations help to underscore the urgency of the work that I continue to do fighting homophobia and HIV in the Caribbean, as well as the real risks associated with this work.

My latest endeavor to encourage my Caribbean family to recognize the equality and humanity of gender and sexually diverse people is a court case against the Immigration Acts of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago. Sections 5 and 8 respectively of these Acts include homosexuals in a “prohibited class,” along with the disabled, plus other persons on the margins of society.

I had travelled to both countries before and only found out about the offensive provisions when, ironically, I attended a UNAIDS regional meeting in Trinidad. A Belizean transgender activist who was scheduled to attend the meeting was stopped by a Trinidadian immigration officer and subjected to, as she describes it, a very humiliating parade before other officers and then finally allowed to enter the country.

As Trinidad is the regional seat for UNAIDS, I (naively) presumed that there were no laws against the entry of the persons that the agency was meant to serve, namely those most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. I also expected that there would have been some training for immigration officers in how to treat with members of these groups. I was wrong on both counts.

I quickly learned of the travel ban and when I was invited to a subsequent high-level meeting in Trinidad as part of my job as Legal Advisor for Marginalized Groups for AIDS-Free World I refused. I was expected to address senior Caribbean politicians and policy-makers on the work being done to eliminate stigma and discrimination against groups vulnerable to HIV. This was to take place in a country that knowingly stigmatized and legally discriminated against these very individuals. And I would have been complicit, not to mention committing a criminal act, if I entered the country.

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