June 19, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT advocates from Caribbean, South America visit U.S.

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Anti-LGBT violence remains a serious concern for advocates in Jamaica and in other countries in the Caribbean and South America. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A group of LGBT rights advocates from the Caribbean and South America are in the U.S. this month on a State Department-sponsored trip designed to help them bolster their advocacy efforts in their respective countries.

Advocates from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago arrived in D.C. on June 7 to take part in a trip organized through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

They attended Capital Pride events and met with Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, members of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and other advocates while in the nation’s capital. The activists also met with officials at the State Department and the White House.

The group traveled to Memphis on June 14 where they met with what their itinerary described as “small NGOs (non-governmental organizations) serving the LGBT population.” They also discussed “being LGBT within another minority community.”

The advocates on Monday traveled to Little Rock, Ark., and are scheduled to arrive in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday. The trip is slated to end on June 23.

“It’s a very intense program,” Donovan Banel, legal advisor of Suriname Men United, a Surinamese LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on June 12 during a mixer at Number Nine with National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling and other advocates. “I can take a lot of what I learned back to my home country and then apply it and help support the LGBT community that is in Suriname.”

Mellissa Johnson of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Alliance noted anti-LGBT discrimination and stigma remain prevalent in Antigua and Barbuda. The islands are among the 11 nations throughout the Caribbean and South America in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

“I’m happy for the opportunity to see how far and what progress has been made with the LGBT community here,” Johnson told the Blade. “We are facing some serious issues back home, so we wanted to see how you dealt with it here to see if we can incorporate it back here.”

The Jamaican Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy law filed by a man who claims his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize last year heard a challenge to the Central American nation’s sodomy law that a local LGBT advocacy group filed in 2010.

LGBT issues gain traction, visibility

Same-sex couples can legally marry on the Dutch island of Saba, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Nearly three dozen countries earlier this month approved a resolution in support of LGBT rights during the Organization of American States’ annual meeting in Paraguay. Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados are among the nations that backed it “with reservations.”

Belizean first lady Kim Simplis-Barrow has publicly spoken out against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in her country. A so-called conscience vote that would allow Jamaican parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the country’s anti-sodomy law has yet to take place, even though Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller during her 2011 campaign pledged to call for one.

Gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, last week released a video that commemorated Pride month.

Anti-LGBT discrimination, violence persist

Jamaican police on June 15 reportedly rescued a gay man who had been attacked by a mob after he was seen putting on lipstick. This latest incident of anti-LGBT violence in the country took place nearly a year after a group of partygoers killed Dwayne Jones, a cross-dressing teenager, near the resort city of Montego Bay.

Media reports indicate several people in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were injured last August after a mob attacked a British man and his partner as they celebrated their engagement.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic last June sparked outrage among local LGBT rights advocates after he described Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference.

A diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina and his wife that had been scheduled to take place in January was postponed after several ambassadors said they would not attend because Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to Santo Domingo who organized it, did not invite Brewster’s husband. It took place on March 24 with the gay U.S. ambassador and Satawake in attendance.

David Bustamante Rodríguez, a Cuban LGBT rights advocate with HIV, remains in jail after he staged a “peaceful protest” against the country’s government on the roof of his home near the city of Santa Clara last month.

Luke Sinnette of Friends for Life, a Trinidadian LGBT rights organization, noted to the Blade while in D.C. that Caribbean countries are often connected by culture, colonial-era laws and other factors. He said what happens in a particular nation can reverberate throughout the region.

“If something happens in Belize or happens in Jamaica, you can then use that in Trinidad, or the other way around,” said Sinnette.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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