March 31, 2015 at 6:32 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Obama to travel to Jamaica next month

ISIL, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama is scheduled to travel to Jamaica on April 9 to co-chair a meeting of CARICOM member states. The White House on Monday declined to say whether he will specifically discuss the country’s LGBT rights record with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House on Monday declined to say whether President Obama plans to discuss Jamaica’s LGBT rights record with the country’s prime minister during his visit to the island next month.

Ned Price, spokesperson for the National Security Council, told the Washington Blade that “protecting universal human rights is at the core of U.S. foreign policy.”

“We are committed to advancing human rights for all, including LGBT individuals,” he said. “Indeed, we routinely raise issues of anti-LGBT discrimination and violence with foreign counterparts, including the Jamaican government.”

Obama on April 9 is scheduled to co-chair a meeting of CARICOM heads of states in Jamaica alongside Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, who chairs the Caribbean trade bloc. The president will also hold what a press release described as “bilateral discussions on a range of issues of mutual interest” with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller before they and other CARICOM heads of state travel to Panama for the Summit of the Americas.

“The government of Jamaica is delighted that President Obama will be visiting Jamaica at this time,” said Simpson-Miller in a statement her government released, noting Obama will be the second American president to visit her country since it declared its independence from the U.K. in 1962. “We view the president’s upcoming visit as an affirmation of the strong ties of friendship and cooperation that have united our two peoples for centuries. We are confident that through fruitful dialogue and exchanges during the visit we will succeed in further strengthening the close relations that exist at the bilateral level between Jamaica and the USA, and between the USA and CARICOM.”

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf on Monday told the Blade during her daily press briefing that Secretary of State John Kerry “at this point” has no plans to travel to Jamaica for the CARICOM meeting.

LGBT rights advocates last week interrupted Simpson-Miller’s speech to members of her country’s diaspora who were meeting at a New York church.

Members of Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand, a group that advocates for LGBT Jamaicans, challenged Simpson-Miller over what they perceive as her government’s insufficient response to rampant anti-LGBT violence on the island. This includes the release of a video earlier this month that reportedly shows a gay teenager being stoned to death in a street.

The State Department has previously criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Dennis and Judy Shepard, the parents of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was killed in 1998, last April traveled to Jamaica where they met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, the country’s capital, and Jamaican LGBT rights advocates. Hundreds of people also attended a screening of “The Laramie Project.”

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship of Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, last June met with State Department officials while in the U.S.

“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” Jackson told the Blade during an interview in D.C.

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

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