Visibility is liberty

Published: August 11, 2013

 Outside of this country’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, few might be familiar with the name of Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican activist and attorney who is fighting regionally for LGBT people. But if Tomlinson’s lawyer, Lord Anthony Gifford QC, who won the case against the anti-sodomy law in Northern Ireland, gets leave from the Caribbean Court of Justice for Tomlinson to challenge Trinidad and Tobago’s and Belize’s archaic Immigrations Acts which prohibit homosexuals entry into their countries, Tomlinson’s name will echo throughout the Caribbean. The CCJ will hear the case requesting leave on November 12-13. 

 
In accordance with the rules of the CCJ, Tomlinson wrote to the Jamaican Government, asking that it insist that the Governments of Belize and TT remove this unreasonable travel restriction, on the basis that it violates the provisions for free movement of persons in CARICOM, but the Jamaican Government declined to take the cases. Tomlinson in early 2012 had told the Toronto Sun that “in Jamaica, I have a good friend,” a reference to Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller who in 2011 during the general election campaign said she would consider appointing anyone she felt was most qualified for her Cabinet regardless of sexual orientation and added that she wanted to see conscience votes allowed by the major parties on gay rights issues in Parliament. But in the end, she “totally caved to the church,” says Tomlinson. 
 
I spoke to Tomlinson via Facebook earlier this week. 
 
“The Jamaica PM has been a disappointment,” he admitted. “The reality is that Jamaican LGBT will have to use the courts to gain our liberation as our Parliamentarians clearly lack the intestinal fortitude to show leadership on this issue.” 
 
Jamaica is one of the most homophobic societies in the Caribbean. Wikipedia says that Amnesty International has “received many reports of vigilante action against gay people by members of the community, and of ill-treatment or torture by the police. Gay men and lesbian women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality.” In June 2004, founding member and the public face of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) and Jamaica’s leading gay-rights activist, Brian Williamson was stabbed to death in his home. Police ruled that the murder was the result of a robbery, but J-FLAG believes his murder was a hate crime. Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Rebecca Schleifer had a meeting with Williamson that day, and arrived at his home not long after his body had been discovered. She found a small crowd singing and dancing. One man called out, “Battyman he get killed.” Others were celebrating, laughing and shouting “Let’s get them one at a time”, “That’s what you get for sin”. Others sang “Boom bye bye”, a line from a well-known dancehall song by Jamaican star Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men. “It was like a parade,” says Schleifer. “They were basically partying.” 
 
Dancehall culture perpetuates homophobic attitudes. “Shot battybwoy, my big gun boom,” sings Sizzla. “Jamaican reggae singer, Queen Ifrica,” Tomlinson posted, “could not resist the urge to spew homophobic vitriol at an event meant to celebrate Jamaica’s independence. This took place in the presence of many impressionable children, several dignitaries as well as the country’s Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller.” 
 
Tomlinson, 43, was forced to flee Jamaica in 2012 after his marriage in August 2011 in Toronto Canada to a pastor had been posted online by the Jamaica Observer. Within a few hours, the Observer article had attracted more than 20 online death threats. He now lives between Canada where he teaches law at the University of Ontario, Institute of Technology; Rochester New York where his husband Tom Decker is pastor of Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church; and Jamaica where he has a law practice and is involved in cases challenging the anti-gay laws across the Caribbean. However, when in Jamaica, he has to take precautions. 
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