Jamaican gay rights activists hopeful of repealing anti-homosexuality law

Published: February 10, 2012

They are one of the world’s most beleaguered gay communities, brutalised by violence, hounded by a law that makes homosexual acts a crime and driven into the shadows in a country where four in five people admit they are homophobic. But now gay people in Jamaica are cautiously optimistic that change may be in the air.

A new government has begun making noises about an end to discrimination and repealing an anti-gay law. Portia Simpson Miller, standing for election as prime minister in December, declared that "no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation", and indicated she would be willing to have gay people in her cabinet. "I certainly do not pry or do not have any intention to pry into the private business of anyone," she said. She won by a landslide.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican law lecturer and legal adviser to the advocacy group Aids-Free World, says he is delighted by the change of mood – although it has yet to lift the sense of insecurity felt by Jamaica’s gay community. Tomlinson, a prominent voice for gay rights on the island, has fled his home because of death threats that followed his marriage to his male partner in Canada after a picture was published in the Toronto Star.

"I was advised to go into hiding," said Tomlinson, in London to collect an award named after murdered Ugandan gay rights activist David Katofor his advocacy work. "I went into a safe house for about three days because my passport was with the UK high commission waiting for a visa to come here.

"Right now I’m not sure if I will be able to go back to teaching this semester."

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