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State Dept. denounces ‘rising violence’ against LGBT people worldwide

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York last September during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

LGBT rights feature prominently in the 2013 Human Rights Report the U.S. State Department released on Thursday.

The report specifically references draconian anti-gay measures that Ugandan and Nigerian lawmakers approved last year – their country’s presidents signed them into law earlier this week and last month respectively. The State Department also notes up to 200 people may remain incarcerated in Cameroon under the country’s sodomy law.

The report further highlights Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“From Nigeria to Russia to Iran, indeed in some 80 countries the world over, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack their basic human dignity and undermine their safety,” said Secretary of State John Kerry as he unveiled the report in D.C. “We are seeing new laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill enacted by Uganda and signed into law by President Museveni earlier this week, which not only makes criminals of people for who they are, but punishes those who defend the human rights that are universal birthright.”

Kerry further stressed the aforementioned anti-gay laws “contribute to a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons and their supporters.”

“They are an affront to every reasonable conscience,” he said.

Individual country reports also contain LGBT-specific information.

The report notes the Indian government challenged a December ruling from the country’s highest court that recriminalized homosexuality. A Belizean LGBT advocacy group continued to challenge the Central American country’s colonial-era sodomy law in 2013.

The State Department highlighted Chilean authorities “appeared reluctant” to investigate and prosecute anti-LGBT attacks, even though the South American country’s hate crimes law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The report also noted Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, “continued to be outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons” in Cuba in 2013. Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) are among those who continue to criticize Mariela Castro and her father’s government over the country’s human rights record.

“Non-government rights activists asserted that the government had not done enough to stop harassment of LGBT persons,” reads the State Department report. “Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBT issues and faced government criticism, not for their promotion of LGBT issues, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, on Thursday noted a group of partygoers stabbed a cross-dressing Jamaican teenager to death outside Montego Bay last July.

“LGBT conduct is criminalized in nearly 80 countries worldwide,” said Zeya. “Even when these laws are not enforced, their mere existence creates a climate of fear and sends a message to the broader population that it’s permissible to discriminate against LGBT persons in housing, in employment, in education and that it’s permissible to beat or kill or torture someone simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The State Department issued the report three days after the Obama administration announced it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

The State Department’s Global Equality Fund since 2011 has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support LGBT advocates and underrepresented groups. USAID last April unveiled a public-private partnership with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and other groups that will $12 million over the next four years to LGBT activist organizations in Honduras and other developing countries – the initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Bogotá and Cartagena last May and August respectively.

Seven LGBT rights advocates from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic recently visited D.C., New York, Texas and California as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Activists from Latvia, Serbia, Russia, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries have traveled to the U.S. over the last year.

“We agree when Kerry said, ‘the United States government best advances its national interests when its policy choices are rooted in consistent adherence to human rights principles,” said Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First after the State Department issued its report. “As the secretary (Kerry) said, ‘countries that deny human rights and human dignity threaten our interests, and countries that practice these rights create opportunities.’ We agree and believe that the publication of the Country Reports should serve to inform the formation of policies that can contribute to solutions that the human rights violations described in the report are so badly in need of.”

28
Feb
2014

Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.

26
Mar
2014

Dennis, Judy Shepard push human rights in Caribbean

Judy Shepard, Cokie Roberts, gay news, Matthew Shepard, Washington Blade

Judy Shepard, on right, with Cokie Roberts, at an event unrelated to the Shepards’ Caribbean visit. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Dennis and Judy Shepard are in the Caribbean this week to meet with LGBT rights advocates, parents and other officials.

They met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago on Monday upon their arrival in the country. The Shepards later that day attended a reception at an art gallery in Port of Spain, the Caribbean nation’s capital.

The couple also met with a group of parents and attended a forum at the University of the West Indies. The Shepards were also scheduled to attend a screening of “The Laramie Project” at the University of Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday.

The couple is slated to meet with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica and Jamaican LGBT and human rights advocates upon their arrival in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, later this week. Nearly 200 people are also scheduled to attend a screening of “The Laramie Project.”

Judy Shepard told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Port of Spain that she and her husband received an invitation to travel to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.

“We always take advantage to talk about the human rights agenda,” she said.

“We’re going again to talk about human rights and equal rights throughout these countries at the behest of organizations and human rights activists within those countries and with the support of our own government,” added Dennis Shepard. “If Matt was alive, we wouldn’t be doing this. It would be him.”

The Shepards’ visit to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica is their fourth trip abroad with the U.S. State Department.

The couple traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden late last year. The Shepards visited Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Hungary in September 2012.

“What the rest of the world is experiencing also reflects back into the U.S.,” Judy Shepard told the Blade, referring to marriage rights for same-sex couples and other global advances in LGBT rights. “It sets an example for everybody else.”

Colin Robinson of CAISO, a Trinidadian LGBT advocacy organization, met the Shepards on Monday during the Port of Spain reception.

“For folks here it was exciting and inspiring meeting parents who have been able to take that role after their son’s death and who are taking leadership in creating space for equality, for LGBTI people,” he told the Blade on Tuesday during an interview from his home outside the Trinidadian capital. “The biggest impact of the visit may be inspiring people who are struggling and organizing here to make change that there are people like the Shepards who can and will join the fight.”

Robinson said two government officials attended the Monday reception, but it remains unclear whether Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar met with the Shepards. Vice President Biden met with the her last May while he was in Trinidad and Tobago to meet with other Caribbean leaders.

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, told the Blade he and his colleagues are scheduled to meet with the Shepards on Friday.

“We feel that it is timely, what with the reality being faced by many LGBT youth and their families struggling to deal with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Rampant anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica has garnered headlines around the world.

A group of partygoers stabbed Dwayne Brown to death near Montego Bay last July after someone at the gathering realized the teenager was cross-dressing.

A Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. These include Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.

Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica are among the English-speaking Caribbean countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the colonial-era statute.

Robinson noted his country recently had a “discussion around sexual orientation and citizenship” within the context of constitutional reforms.

“There’s no political leadership on this issue,” he told the Blade. “There is a climate where it would be very easy for politicians to take leadership… but they won’t.”

Robinson acknowledged anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica is “real” and “worse objectively” than what he said occurs in his own nation. He added he feels the country has seen some progress on LGBT-specific issues that has yet to occur in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Our violence happens in homes,” said Robinson. “Homophobic violence is by parents and relatives and not mobs. Looking in it’s very eager to see the Caribbean as this place of backwardness and horror where terrible things happen, but there have also been changes that we admire in Jamaica that haven’t happened here.”

Robinson added he feels the Shepards’ trip will have what he described as a largely “domestic” impact in the sense that it will inspire Trinidadian advocates to continue to seek progress on LGBT-specific issues.

“It’s really important to us here to domesticate these issues,” said Robinson. “That is the only way progress will happen. It won’t happen through U.S. imports. International media will help, but it will really happen when people perhaps inspired by the Shepards – parents, ordinary heterosexual people, those of us who are trying to build a movement.”

09
Apr
2014

Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hong Kong, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Bess Hepworth/Pink Season HK)

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.

16
May
2014

Jamaica’s ‘unique’ brand of homophobia

Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was walking with a friend in a town outside of Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2009 when two men robbed them.

Jackson, now 24, said during a Capitol Hill reception on May 21 that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attended, that the two men who were stepbrothers forced her to perform oral sex on them at gunpoint. The two men raped Jackson’s friend before bringing them to one of their mother’s homes two hours later.

Two female police officers came to Jackson’s home after she told her mother about the alleged incident. She said one of them told her that she “should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.”

“I looked at her,” said Jackson as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. “I was like, you mean the same night that this has just happened to me this is the response that you give me as an officer of the law.”

Jackson, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in January 2013 alongside Jalna Broderick, met with New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark and officials with the U.S. State Department while in D.C. last week. She also spoke with the Washington Blade on May 21 at the offices of Human Rights First.

“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” said Jackson.

Lesbian, bi Jamaicans face discrimination, violence

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) says the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.

The murder of Dwayne Jones last July near Montego Bay after a group of partygoers stabbed him to death after they realized the teenager was cross-dressing sparked global outrage.

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle last August. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

Jackson noted to the Blade that gay men and “butch” women are more likely to experience physical violence, in part, because of the way she said Jamaican society views male homosexuality. She said sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated against “feminine” LGBT women.

“A male being gay means that somebody’s making themselves a woman,” said Jackson. “You’re making yourself a girl; you’re making yourself less than and so the way the male relationships are looked at is different than female relationships.”

“Our culture is this melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny,” she added. “All four of them just combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”

Jamaica has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence with a third of women reporting they have been raped.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica last year conducted the first survey of LGBT Jamaicans designed to collect information about education, health care and other basic needs. Jackson said her organization is also trying to determine any possible connection between sexual violence and the sexual orientation of those who experience it.

“We know because of that, it must mean that the same thing is happening within the LB (lesbian, bisexual) community,” Jackson told the Blade. “We just don’t know what it is. We’re trying to ascertain what that figure is.”

Jackson said anti-LGBT harassment — particularly against those who live in lower-income areas of Kingston where Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is based — remains pervasive.

She noted to the Blade a group of people stoned a lesbian couple. Jackson discussed another reported incident during which a man who saw a lesbian couple walking to their respective homes in Kingston called them a “sodomite” and asked them whether it was “a good man you want” or “a good cock you want to change you.”

She said she receives “certain looks” if her hair is cut “too low” or she dresses in “a certain way.” Jackson added she has also “gotten the stares” and questions about whether she is a lesbian or a “sodomite” or “a boy” when she wears a large T-shirt or cuts her hair short.

“I’m usually more of the in-between look that people can’t figure out whether I’m butch or femme,” she said. “They kind of leave me alone.”

Jackson told the Blade she spends more money when she travels to make sure she remains safe. She said she takes public transportation only for short distances or when she is with a friend.

“It doesn’t always boil down to actual violence,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the mere fear of violence and the attack. It can cripple you or it can force you to take precautions. I prefer to be safe than sorry.”

Jackson said she used to wear a mask, hat and glasses when she attended pro-LGBT protests because she was afraid.

“When we started QCJ we decided this is not going to be the face of this organization,” she told the Blade. “There is going to be a face, and unfortunately that meant it was me.”

Jamaica is among the Caribbean and Central American countries in which same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaican Prime Minister elect, gay news, gay politics DC

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her December 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to a decade in prison with hard labor. She said she would call for a so-called conscience vote of her taking office that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.

A vote has yet to take place.

“I do not agree with the vote,” Jackson told the Blade. “I do not think that rights — fundamental human rights — should be put up for a vote.”

The Jamaica Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a complaint against the colonial-era law that AIDS-Free World filed on behalf of Javed Jaghai who alleges his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation.

The new constitution that Jamaican lawmakers unanimously approved in 2011 explicitly guarantees the right to privacy.

Jackson referenced to the Blade a newspaper account of two older men convicted under the sodomy law who were caught having sex inside their home in 1999 after police officers patrolling their Mandeville neighborhood saw them having sex.

“Jamaicans tend to forget that means male and female as well, conveniently,” she said, referring to privacy and her group’s desire to amend the law to criminalize only non-consensual sex. “So if it’s consensual sex, you leave the people alone.”

The University of the West Indies last week terminated the contract it had with Dr. Brendan Bain to direct a program that uses a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to train doctors and other health care providers throughout the Caribbean to work with groups at risk for HIV after he testified on behalf of religious groups defending Belize’s anti-sodomy law. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s Kingston campus on Monday to protest the decision as the Associated Press reported.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society in 2011 hosted a symposium at the University of the West Indies in Kingston at which Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Paul Diamond, a British lawyer, spoke about what Jackson described as the need to keep the sodomy law in place.

Brian Camenker of MassResistence spoke at a Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society rally that took place at a Kingston park last December. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, and Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern in the U.K. are among those who spoke at a conference the group organized alongside the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship earlier that month in the Jamaican capital.

“Keep your crazies at home,” Jackson told the Blade when asked whether the U.S. government has done enough to address anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica. “Keep the fundamentalist people at home; the people who have the crack science that you know has been discredited here or has been discredited in their respective countries.”

She also urged LGBT rights activists in the U.S. and other countries to work directly with Quality of Citizenship Jamaica and other advocacy groups on the ground.

“It’s a problem, this savior complex,” said Jackson. “These white people come in with a savior complex to save LGBT people and tell Jamaica what to do. And it doesn’t work well because then it backfires.”

28
May
2014

Jamaican LGBT advocates condemn murder of cross-dressing teenager

Montigo Bay, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

A street in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Photo by D. Ramey Logan via Wikimedia Commons)

Jamaican LGBT rights advocates have expressed outrage over the reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the resort city of Montego Bay.

The radio station Irie FM reported the 17-year-old was dancing with a man at a party on July 21 while dressed as a woman when someone realized the teen was cross-dressing. A second man reportedly discovered the teenager was actually male.

Irie FM said a group of party-goers stabbed the 17-year-old to death either late on July 21 or early Monday morning before dumping the teen’s body in bushes on the side of a road.

The Jamaica-Gleaner reported earlier today that police officers found the teen, whom they identified as Dwayne Jones, with what it described as “multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound.”

“We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the teenager who was slain,” the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT rights group, said in a statement it issued on Tuesday. “We call for a thorough investigation into the murder of the teenager in Montego Bay and hope that the family and loved ones of the slained teen will find the justice they deserve.”

Jones’ murder comes against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean nation.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004.

A man stabbed J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson to death inside his home in Kingston, the country’s capital in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009. They found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy,” a derogatory term used against gay men in Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in 2012 after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade from his home in upstate New York that there have been nine reported anti-gay murders on the island so far this year. He added there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of reported attacks against LGBT Jamaicans since 2009.

Tomlinson said this spike in the number of reported incidents could be the result of the work advocates have done to document human rights abuses against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last month heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor.

“The rhetoric is getting much more toxic,” Tomlinson said, noting brutal attacks against gay Jamaicans has become more common. He said they are no longer confined to just Kingston and a handful of other areas. “We’re not sure if the increase in attacks is a function of that or the reporting.”

The State Department, Amnesty International and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

AIDS-Free world has challenged Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. It has also asked the group that is housed within the Organization for American States to formally respond to the ongoing persecution that homeless men who have sex with men and other vulnerable groups of gay Jamaicans face.

Tomlinson’s group also plans to ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to formally condemn discrimination and violence against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Organization of American States, of which Jamaica is a member, last month adopted an anti-discrimination resolution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression during its annual meeting that took place in Guatemala. Jamaica declined to accept the protocol’s LGBT-specific recommendations.

Tomlinson, who appeared on the National Public Radio program “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin on Monday to discuss the documentary “The Abominable Crime” that examines anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, told the Blade the government has been “absolutely silent” on the issue.

Former J-FLAG staffer Nico Tyndale’s cousin was murdered in Jamaica earlier this year because his assailants thought he was gay.

Tyndale told the Blade earlier on Tuesday that many people continue argue the country is not homophobic – and gay Jamaicans are actually “the ones killing ourselves.”

“We can’t even be who we are,” Tyndale said. “Being who we are only leads to a mob and a slaughter.”

24
Jul
2013

Activists protest anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle on Aug. 28. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A group of LGBT rights advocates on Wednesday gathered in front of the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle in Northwest D.C. to demand authorities investigate last month’s murder of a cross-dressing teenager.

Ten activists affiliated with GetEQUAL, the D.C. Center and other groups held illuminated panels with various slogans in front of the embassy on New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. A handful of others from the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition in Springfield, Mass., took part in a second gathering in Boston.

30 LGBT rights advocates gathered outside the Jamaican High Commission to protest Jones’ murder and the death of Dwayne Brown, a gay man who was found stabbed to death near the resort city of Montego Bay early on Aug. 27.

“Jamaica has long been called the most homophobic place on Earth,” Cathy Kristofferson of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition said outside the Jamaican embassy in D.C. “The violence due to homophobia has prompted hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Currently the country is doing nothing to distance itself from that label.”

A group of partygoers reportedly stabbed Jones, 17, to death near Montego Bay on July 21 after someone at the gathering realized the teen was cross-dressing. The radio station Irie FM reported a man at the party discovered Jones was actually a male.

Jones murder took place against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean country.

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his home in Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2004.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last year after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, noted in an Aug. 29 post to his blog there have been several anti-LGBT attacks in Jamaica since Jones’ death. These include a mob who attacked a cross-dresser in St. Catherine outside of Kingston on Aug. 10, and a group who surrounded the home of two gay men in the same area nine days earlier.

Nearly 1,500 people in June attended a Kingston rally in support of the country’s anti-sodomy law a few days before the Jamaica Supreme Court heard a lawsuit that challenges the statute under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said during an Aug. 26 press conference at which he discussed a new school curriculum that it would not be “grooming Jamaican children for homosexual behavior.”

“The material stands squarely against any kind of discrimination, but there is a line to be drawn and we have drawn it clearly,” Thwaites said. “The values we propose for human relationships — wholesome, joyous relationships are between men and women.”

Authorities have yet to make any arrests in Jones’ death.

“The government of Jamaica, through the Jamaica Constabulary Force, is continuing its investigation of the killing of Dwayne Jones,” Jamaica Ambassador to the U.S. Stephen Vasciannie told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “We are confident that, if sufficient evidence is unearthed, the director of Public Prosecutions will bring appropriate charges in keeping with Jamaican law.”

Vasciannie also referred to Justice Minister Mark Golding’s July 29 statement in which he condemned Jones’ murder.

“Given our country’s history of brutality and the pluralistic nature of our society, all well-thinking Jamaicans must embrace the principle of respect for the basic human rights of all persons,” Golding said. “This principle requires tolerance towards minority groups and non-violence in our dealings with those who manifest a lifestyle that differs from the majority of us.”

The groups who organized the protests in D.C., Boston and London also called for a boycott of Jamaica’s tourism industry and urged businesses not to invest in the island’s economy “until the hate and homophobia ends.”

30
Aug
2013

State Department meets with LGBT travel representatives

Janice Jacobs, State Department, gay news, Washington Blade

Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, speaks at the Smart Traveler Day roundtable at the State Department on Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy of Esperanza Tilghman/State Department)

The State Department on Wednesday hosted a roundtable to discuss its efforts to provide LGBT-specific information to Americans who plan to travel overseas.

“We want all of our citizens to be informed about their destinations abroad and any particular challenges that they may face,” Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said. “We want them to know about the services that are available to them at our embassies and consulates if problems should happen, despite their precautions.”

Jacobs’ comments come five days after the Bureau of Consular Affairs added LGBT-specific information to its website that includes travel warnings, alerts and other country-specific advisories. These include references to “widespread” anti-gay discrimination in Ukraine, efforts to curb “the promotion of homosexuality” in Russian cities and an advisory that urges LGBT travelers to “consider exercising caution when visiting Estonia” because of harassment and violence those who have publicly shown affection have experienced.

The country-specific profiles also include information about HIV/AIDS travel restrictions.

“It’s important that our LGBT audiences know about the resources that we provide to help U.S. citizens travel safe and travel smart,” Jacobs said.

Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director of Overseas Citizens Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, further stressed the protection of Americans “is really the department’s top priority.” She and other officials sought recommendations and other feedback on the Smart Traveler Day initiative from the roughly 50 people who attended the meeting.

“It’s a start,” Bernier-Toth said. “It’s a recognition that this is a community that is on the move, is traveling. It’s an important community, an important stakeholder for us. And we are going to make it as robust and as useful as we can possibly make it.”

White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan also spoke at the gathering.

He pointed out the initiative typifies the Obama administration’s commitment to equality for LGBT people. Raghavan specifically pointed out the extension of benefits to same-sex partners of foreign service officers, new regulations that make it easier to change gender markers on passports and the Global Equality Fund.

“It really shows that this is how this administration does business,” he said. “We are all about advancing equality in every place that we can find.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed in 2011 a during a speech she delivered in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights.” President Obama on the same day directed government agencies to consider a country’s LGBT rights record in the allocation of foreign aid.

The State Department in recent years has spoken out against anti-LGBT violence in Honduras, Jamaica, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other countries.

Clinton and Obama urged the Ugandan government to protect the rights of its LGBT residents following the Jan. 2011 murder of gay activist David Kato amid the debate over the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The former first lady last August honored Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Frank Mugisha and other human rights advocates at the U.S. embassy in Kampala, the country’s capital.

“Don’t ever lose context of what has been accomplished by this White House, by this secretary of State that will continue for four more years,” Charlie Rounds of the Forward Motion Group, who also chairs the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Foundation, said. “It’s huge.”

Uganda is among the countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality. Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the seven nations that impose the death penalty upon those found guilty of same-sex sexual acts.

UNAIDS notes Australia, Israel and Singapore are among the 45 countries with travel restrictions against people with HIV/AIDS. Obama in 2009 completed the process former President George W. Bush began that lifted the ban on those with the virus from entering the country.

Bernier-Toth told the Washington Blade during the meeting the State Department rarely urges an LGBT traveler not to travel to a specific country that criminalizes homosexuality.

“The decision whether to travel is always up to the individual,” she said. “Our purpose in life is to put out that information as accurately and in a timely fashion so that people can make those smart decisions.”

IGLTA President John Tanzella added his organization tries to work with a particular destination through affiliated hotels and other travel-related businesses as opposed to boycotting them.

“There’s also gay and lesbian citizens everywhere that we eventually hurt,” he said.

Lisa Peterson of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Ken Kero-Mentz, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, also attended the roundtable.

22
Feb
2013

Queen Elizabeth II to support anti-discrimination pledge

Elizabeth II, Queen of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Defender of the Faith, gay news, Washington Blade

Queen Elizabeth II (Photo public domain)

A British newspaper on Sunday reported Queen Elizabeth II will support a pledge that calls for an end of all forms of discrimination.

Elizabeth on Monday, which is Commonwealth Day in the 54 countries that comprise the British Commonwealth, will sign a charter that includes a statement that declares opposition “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, creed, political belief or other grounds.” The charter does not specifically refer to gay men and lesbians, but the Daily Mail cites sources within Buckingham Palace who said “other grounds” implies LGBT rights.

“This is an important development,” Andy Wasley of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall told the Washington Blade.

The queen will sign the charter less than six weeks after the British House of Commons overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers in the coming weeks are expected to debate the issue.

Anti-sodomy laws remain on the books in a number of British Commonwealth countries. These include Jamaica and Uganda, where lawmakers are poised to debate a bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

India’s Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalized same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults.

A bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in New Zealand is scheduled to have its second reading in the country’s Parliament on March 13. Gays and lesbians can also tie the knot in Canada and South Africa.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT issues.

“The fact that the queen as head of the Commonwealth is publicly endorsing a statement that opposes discrimination on any grounds sends a strong signal to the many Commonwealth countries where homosexuality remains illegal,” Wasley said. “We’re proud that having achieved equality here in Britain we’re now able to challenge anti-gay discrimination around the world with the Commonwealth’s backing.”

10
Mar
2013

Jamaican gay rights advocate visits D.C.

Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

Dane Lewis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, was visiting a gay friend in Kingston, the country’s capital, on a Sunday night in the late 1990s when a group of men slashed three of his car’s tires.

A mob had already formed when he told his friends who were inside the house that they needed to leave. The men eventually stoned Lewis’ car — and a friend who was sitting in the backseat still has shards of glass in his arm after they broke a window.

“We took a girlfriend with us, which we thought would have been a good cover, but that clearly didn’t work,” Lewis told the Washington Blade on Sunday before he attended a D.C. Center-organized mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle. “The community already had an issue with the guy that we went to see and obviously reacted because he had friends that the others thought were gay coming to visit.”

Lewis, who has been with J-FLAG since Feb. 2008, spoke with the Blade roughly two months after he appeared in a public awareness campaign designed to promote greater acceptance of LGBT Jamaicans.

He said reaction to the “We Are Jamaicans” campaign has been “thankfully very positive,” but he has received some negative feedback. This includes a threatening note left on his car outside his Kingston home that read “Batty man for dead” or “Gay man should be murdered” in Jamaican slang.

“We are claiming space in a way that they think we really should keep our lives private and behind closed doors,” Lewis said. “That sadly has been just the way that LGBT people are expected to play to survive in a culture like ours. They would obviously find it offensive that people are being so comfortable with their orientation and the need to speak openly about their realities.”

J-FLAG has faced a number of challenges since its 1998 founding.

A man stabbed Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder, to death inside his Kingston home in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009 — they found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy.”

The State Department, Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence on the island. J-FLAG is among the organizations that have blasted Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla and other reggae and dancehall for lyrics they contend incite anti-gay violence.

In spite of these challenges, Lewis notes the country’s LGBT rights movement has seen some advances in recent years.

Jamaican singer Diana King came out as a lesbian last summer in a post to her Facebook page. Beenie Man in the same year apologized for his anti-gay song lyrics.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court in June will hear a case that challenges the colonial-era statute on grounds it violates a constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy.

“It will be a very interesting case to watch,” Lewis said. “It will give a better sense of where the courts are at in terms of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

Lewis spoke with the Blade a day before Queen Elizabeth II signed a Commonwealth charter with an anti-discrimination statement that reportedly includes an implicit reference to gay men and lesbians. He said President Obama’s statements in support of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have had a positive effect in Jamaica.

“What it has done has opened up a debate for us around the issue of rights and whether same-sex marriage needs to be on the table,” Lewis said.

Lewis remains optimistic this progress will continue in the years to come.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson in December said lawmakers should repeal the country’s anti-sodomy law. A January sexuality symposium included LGBT-specific information, but a recent J-FLAG report found only 17 percent of Jamaicans tolerate gay men and lesbians.

A video showing a mob at a Jamaican university attacking a student whom they reportedly caught in a “compromising position” with another man in a bathroom went viral last November. The clip captures two security officers beating the man while the crowd calls him “batty boy.”

J-FLAG statistics note one third of Jamaicans feel the government has not done enough to protect their LGBT countrymen. Lewis said the Nov. 2012 incident and others like it help “generate the conversation” about gay and lesbian rights in the country.

“We need to capitalize on that energy and begin to have some public discourse,” he said.

12
Mar
2013