From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.
Regina Jun, Gender Advisor for the Bureau of Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke with Maurice Tomlinson, who is an Attorney-at-Law, law lecturer on sexual rights, and HIV/AIDS advocate. He is leading an initiative, on behalf of AIDS-Free World, to have the region’s anti-sodomy laws repealed.
Q1: How have the situations for the LGBT persons changed in Jamaica?
For the past 4 years, AIDS-Free World has been working to eliminate homophobia in Jamaica. This includes working with civil society groups on the island to document and respond to human rights violations against the local LGBT population. In that time, we have seen a near 400% increase in the number of reported homophobic attacks. In the last few months alone there have been several brutal assaults, including murders and home invasions.
Q2: Why is the violence against LGBT persons such an important issue in the Caribbean?
Violence against LGBT persons in the Caribbean has been identified as a significant reason that the region has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. This violence drives LGBT citizens underground, away from effective prevention, treatment, care and support interventions. Jamaica, where homophobic violence is most acute in the region, has the highest HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) worldwide at 33%.
Q3: What projects are you currently working on in the Caribbean?
I am working on several court cases challenging anti-gay laws across the region. These include the first ever domestic challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, as well as a case before the region’s most senior tribunal, the Caribbean Court of Justice, to strike down the sections in the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad which ban the entry of gays. As part of a team, I conduct LGBT sensitivity training with police across the region and also train civil society groups on how to effectively document and report human rights violations against LGBT citizens.
Q4: What are some of the positive changes you have seen so far?
We have seen unprecedented editorial support for LGBT rights by the major newspapers across the Caribbean. There have also been positive statements from politicians — especially Minsters of Health — who underscore the need to repeal homophobic laws in order to address the region’s HIV epidemic. Mainstream civil society groups are also taking greater interest in and actively advocating for the human rights for LGBT persons. Further, the polling pioneered in the region by AIDS-Free World on the levels and drivers of homophobia points to a small but important movement towards greater tolerance for LGBT citizens. Finally, while the number of police attacks against LGBT persons has decreased, they still occur too frequently, especially involving LGBT citizens from the lower socio-economic strata.
Q5: In your opinion, what can be done to increase acceptance of greater sexual diversity in the Caribbean?
The visibility of LGBT persons will help to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about sexual minorities. Once persons realize that someone they know and quite possible care deeply about is gay, this will help to humanize the issue of homosexuality. It is easier for people to hate what they do not know. That is why AIDS-Free World has produced and tried to air tolerance ads showing positive images of LGBT persons.
Furthermore, political leaders continue to be very influential in the young nations of the Caribbean region. They can help to encourage more rational discussions about homosexuality by making unequivocal statements condemning homophobia. Such statements would help neutralize some of the more virulent anti-gay pronouncements being disseminated by powerful religious fundamentalists across the Caribbean.
Like Maurice, USAID is committed to advancing the rights of the LGBT community, including providing support to local LGBT advocacy organizations to extend democratic governance and respect for human rights to all individuals, and creating blueprints for increased access of comprehensive healthcare services to transgender and transsexual persons. Learn more about USAID’s work against gender-based violence here.