December 9, 2015 at 6:58 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Lawsuit challenges Jamaica sodomy law

hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

A prominent LGBT rights advocate in Jamaica has filed a lawsuit against his country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

A prominent LGBT rights advocate in Jamaica has filed a lawsuit that challenges his country’s anti-sodomy law.

Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer who lives in Montego Bay and Toronto, notes in the lawsuit he filed with the Jamaican Supreme Court on Nov. 27 that the colonial-era statute violates several provisions of the Jamaican constitution, including the right to privacy. He also argues the sodomy law violates “the right to protection from inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.”

Tomlinson says he has received numerous death threats because of his advocacy.

He claims that he received more than 20 death threats in 2012 after a Jamaican newspaper published “an unauthorized photo” of his wedding to his Canadian husband. Tomlinson points out that J-FLAG, an advocacy group, in 2012 received 68 reports of anti-LGBT violence.

Tomlinson claims that several of his Jamaican clients who the police caught having consensual same-sex sexual relations were threatened with blackmail if they did not pay a bribe. His lawsuit further cites media reports that indicate men have been charged and convicted under the sodomy law.

“I have a real and tangible fear, based on such cases, of being prosecuted and convicted for engaging in any form of intimacy with my partner in Jamaica,” said Tomlinson. “This fear is highlighted since as an activist for the human rights of LGBTI people, I am frequently in the public eye.”

Tomlinson also argues the sodomy law hinders efforts to fight HIV in Jamaica.

“These laws result in gay people in Jamaica being driven underground, away from effective HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support interventions,” he said.

Lawsuit against anti-gay statute withdrawn in 2013

Those convicted under the sodomy law face up to a decade in prison with hard labor and registration as a sex offender.

Javed Jaghai in 2013 filed a lawsuit against the sodomy law with the Jamaican Supreme Court. He withdrew it in August 2014, citing concerns for his personal safety and that of his family.

“We are going forward because we think that this is the only way we will effect change,” Tomlinson told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during an interview at a reception at the Newseum in D.C. for International Human Rights Day. “We thought the government would have delivered on its promise to review the law, but basically the prime minister said it’s off the agenda because it doesn’t concern the majority of Jamaicans who are poor.”

“We have people who are suffering,” he added. “This law is contributing to it and the only way to end this suffering is to get rid of the law. Hopefully the courts will do it.”

Marsha Coore-Lobban, deputy chief of mission at the Jamaican Embassy in D.C., on Wednesday it would be “inappropriate” for her government to “comment on the matter at this time.” A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade to the Jamaican government for comment on the lawsuit.

“U.S. policy supports the human rights of all individuals, including members of the LGBTI community,” said the spokesperson. “Through respectful dialogue we can learn from our differences and create stronger, more vibrant and diverse societies.”

Lawsuit will be ‘difficult’

LGBT-specific issues have begun to gain traction in Jamaica in recent years, despite persistent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kingston Mayor Angela Brown-Burke in August was among those who took part in the country’s first-ever LGBT Pride celebration.

“I come from the point of view that, I, as mayor, have a responsibility to all the individuals of Kingston,” Brown-Burke told the Blade.

President Obama in April during a town hall meeting in Kingston applauded Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans. Special U.S. Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and Todd Larson, senior LGBT coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveled to the island in May.

A number of religious groups, including those from the U.S., continue to oppose efforts to repeal the country’s sodomy law.

Jalna Broderick, co-founder of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, conceded to the Blade that Tomlinson’s lawsuit “will be a difficult one.”

She nevertheless expressed her support for it.

“If Jamaica is to move forward, we must leave behind all things that hold us hostage,” said Broderick.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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