I am Maurice Tomlinson, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and I've helped to network with our Caribbean LGBT advocacy.
In August 2011, I married my husband in Canada, then returned to Jamaica to await the usual filing process to emigrate here. In 2012, a Jamaican newspaper published a front-page unauthorized photo of my wedding, and I immediately started receiving death threats. My husband, who at the time was a Toronto police service officer, contacted Interpol, and I was advised that my address and whereabouts were known, and I should go into hiding. I fled Jamaica soon thereafter, but I decided not to seek refugee status, because as a refugee I would not have been able to go back to Jamaica to visit my mother, and she is very ill. Most refugees are are not as privileged as I am, and Jamaicans account for the overwhelming number of LGBTQI refugees in Canada from the Caribbean.
Jamaica is one of 73 countries that criminalize same-sex intimacy, 10 of which have the death penalty. The anti-sodomy laws across the Caribbean are varied, and range from 10 years to life imprisonment, and most of these laws were imposed during British colonization, but have become domesticated. For example, the Jamaican law was made worse in 2012, requiring those convicted under the statute to register as sex offenders, and always carry a pass or face a fine of up to $11,000 plus 12 months' imprisonment for each offence of not having a pass.
These anti-gay laws serve as licence for abuse and attacks against LGBTQ people. For example, in May 2016, a gay couple was sleeping in their home near Montego Bay, Jamaica, when a group of men shot up the house, killing them. In 2004, Brad Williamson, a Canadian who moved to Jamaica to work for gay rights, was stabbed 74 times in his home by men who objected to his homosexuality. LGBTQ people are considered disposable, unapprehended criminals.
For many years, religious fundamentalists in the global north have also exported homophobia to the global south. Canadian Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham of Trinity Western University cautioned the Jamaican Parliament in 2007 not to enact a Canadian-style charter of rights, because it could lead to the horrors of marriage equality. Regional clerics have adopted this popular anti-gay message with dangerous effect.
In 2016, an evangelical bishop in Antigua opposed the government minister's suggestion to decriminalize sodomy. Having just returned from a conference in Alberta, he claimed the Fort McMurray fire was caused by gay rights in Canada, a fate that would befall Antigua if it, too, embraced gay rights. The minister dropped the suggested repeal.
At the same time, Jamaican music has been heavily influenced by religion, and our musicians have imbibed the anti-gay rhetoric they have heard from the pulpit. We have the most anti-gay songs per capita that call for the rape of lesbians, the burning of gays, etc. These songs are played everywhere and every day, and reinforced with weekly anti-gay preaching, they create the perfect storm of hate.
Capitalizing on this hate, Caribbean politicians have used anti-gay rhetoric to secure votes. For instance a minister in the Bahamas last year proposed exiling transgender people to a small island. The Prime Minister of Jamaica and government ministers have successfully campaigned on family values platforms.
Consequently, fear of violence, stigma, and discriminatory laws have driven LGBTQI people in the Caribbean away from effective HIV interventions. As a result, the region has the second highest HIV rate after Sub-Saharan Africa, with Jamaican men who have sex with men having the highest HIV rate in the western hemisphere, if not the world.
Because Canada's laws governing medical inadmissibility reject temporary and permanent resident applicants on the basis of their HIV status, many of these men are forced to apply for refugee status. In light of the horrible abuses that LGBTQI people in the Caribbean face, the legal network and our partners are working hard to defend their human rights. We have conducted LGBTQI sensitivity training in six Caribbean countries, most recently in Barbados where the Canadian High Commissioner gave the keynote graduation speech.
With the support of Jamaican religious leaders and the group Anglicans for Decriminalization, the legal network will be hosting a conference in Jamaica on October 12 to discuss the role of the church in decriminalization across the Commonwealth. The Anglican Church of Canada will be sending a representative. Jamaican LGBTQI people are also trying to influence the culture through visibility campaigns such as Pride. Pride Jamaica in 2015 saw the former mayor of Kingston give the keynote address, and in 2016 the Canadian High Commission held a flag-raising ceremony for Pride. The legal network is also engaging with diaspora groups such as the Jamaican Canadian Association to leverage their impact in supporting gay liberation efforts.
With the legal network's support I have also mounted two lawsuits in Jamaica, in one case challenging Jamaica's anti-sodomy law, and in the other challenging TV stations that refused to air an ad that called for the rights of LGBTQI people. These cases are winding their way through the courts. In 2013, I also filed a case challenging the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad that bar the entry of homosexuals. The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that as a CARICOM national, I am secure and I can enter, but that leaves Canadians vulnerable to being deported based on their sexual orientation. In addition, two petitions have been filed against the Jamaican anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, and are still at the admissibility stage. We have also tried to engage our local politicians and have been most successful in meeting them in international spaces, such as the Organization of American States, especially when other governments act as hosts.