May 26, 2008
Hon O. Bruce Golding
Office of the Prime Minister
1 Devon Road
Dear Mr. Golding:
Recently a number of international human rights organisations have called for a boycott of Jamaica over concerns about how gays and lesbians and those perceived to be so are treated in the country. For our part, we at J-FLAG, while disagreeing with the strategy of a tourist boycott, have stated our concern about violence against persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. We note your intervention in the matter in both the local and international media, where you have suggested that the right to privacy is guaranteed and ought not to be violated by the state. Yet, you have confirmed, in a very public way and in a global arena, the view that Jamaica is a repressively homophobic society. Your interview on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’, for instance, presented the country as one where open discrimination against gays and lesbians is not only commonplace but sanctioned by a long-standing cultural history, ostensibly enshrined in law, and now condoned by the country’s political leadership.
We believe that the atmosphere of violence against homosexuals is sustained in part through the
perception that homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, based on the provision in the Offences Against the Person Act criminalising buggery. While the law relates to all persons engaged in anal sex, it is to be underscored that the offence, driven by a religio-cultural sense of what is biblically appropriate behaviour, is used symbolically and disproportionately against men engaging in consensual sex. This kind of legislating on the basis of religion is problematic because it lacks consistent application; it is not used against heterosexual persons. Further, no other contravention of biblical sexual values—for example, adultery or fornication—is criminalised in Jamaica. We contend that the continued existence of this law is a violation of our right to privacy and makes many consenting adults into unapprehended criminals simply for having sex.
You also seem to have misunderstood our concerns. We wish to state that one of J-FLAG’s primary concerns is the lack of redress for culturally-sanctioned violence against sexual minorities. In your public pronouncements, you have depicted this as constituting a quest ultimately to sanction same sex marriages. We wish to make it unambiguously clear that same sex marriage is not on J-FLAG’s agenda.
We perceive the dragging of this issue into the discussion as a smokescreen that distracts from the real challenges of how as a society we grapple with the violence and hostility that have come to define our engagements around controversial but important socio-cultural issues.
Your statement to the BBC that the country would not be pressured by outsiders into changing its values around homosexuality begs the question of whether you have instead been willing to listen to the many local voices raised about the same concerns. We know that this has not been the case and note that the shutting down of such a dialogue by retreating into a discourse on the cultural right to prejudicial behaviour makes it difficult if not impossible to achieve substantive progress on difficult questions in the society.
Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays