A gay man who challenged Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law has withdrawn his lawsuit, citing concerns for his personal safety and that of his family.
Javed Jaghai, a Jamaican gay rights advocate, in an affidavit filed with the Jamaica Supreme Court on Aug. 26 referred to nine reported anti-LGBT attacks and murders since AIDS-Free World filed the lawsuit on his behalf in February 2013. These include the murder of Dwayne Jones, who was killed outside of the resort city of Montego Bay last summer after partygoers at the party the 16-year-old was attending discovered the teenager was cross-dressing.
“Jamaica is a very small society with many intolerant individuals who regularly harm unsuspecting others for choosing to live in a way that displeases them,” wrote Jaghai. “This sort of intolerance expressed towards gay people, plus the several media reported attacks on gay men between 2013 and now, have made me extremely fearful. While I have never been harmed physically, I have been threatened enough times to know that I am vulnerable. I know as well that my loved ones are under threat and they are fearful for my safety. Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings.”
Jaghai also told the court his sister’s health is another reason he has decided to withdraw his lawsuit.
“My participation in the case and the attendant social consequences places an extra burden on us that I cannot justify at this time,” he said.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group that joined Jaghai’s case last September, supports his decision to withdraw his lawsuit.
“A law criminalizing what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home has no place in a free society that values and protects all its citizens,” said J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis in an AIDS-Free World press release.
Those convicted under Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, which dates back to 1864, face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor.
Jaghai’s lawsuit was the first domestic challenge to the statute.
“The decision Javed made to protect his family by walking away from this historic case is understandable,” Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled the island in 2012 because he received death threats after local media reported on his marriage to a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade. “The anti-gay rhetoric being whipped up by fundamentalist groups and irresponsible media since the case stared has inflamed an already hostile environment. Jamaican political leaders have also stood by and let this situation deteriorate because of shameful cowardice and complicity.”
Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, echoed Tomlinson.
“It is discouraging that Javed had to withdraw from the case as a result of threats of harm to himself and his family,” Jackson told the Blade on Monday. “His decision is of course understood, for as activists we know that there are dangers and risks involved in our work. Despite this turn of events, we must recognize that the mere act of deciding to challenge the law was a courageous one; that the challenge was brought by an individual as young as Javed gives cause for hope for a better future.”
The State Department has repeatedly criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to respond to rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the country. Jackson and other advocates have previously noted to the Blade that Peter LaBarbera of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality and Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom are among those from the U.S. and the U.K. who have traveled to island in recent years to meet with anti-LGBT Jamaican organizations.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said before her 2011 election that her government would review the anti-sodomy law. She said she would also call for a so-called conscience vote that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.
A vote has yet to take place.
“Though constitutional and legal challenges will help to facilitate and be part of the transformation we seek, we must never forget that another aspect of this process will be in the changing of hearts and minds, something that will not be achieved through court cases alone,” Jackson told the Blade. “We should not be disheartened by this change of events, rather this should be a reminder to us that we should continue to identify various methods through which we can move toward achieving full citizenship for LGBT Jamaicans.”