Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was among those in the audience at University of the West Indies in Kingston when Obama described her as one of the island’s “remarkable young leaders.”
Obama during his speech noted that Jackson founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica after she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted.
“As a woman and as a lesbian, justice and society weren’t always on her side,” said the president. “But instead of remaining silent she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, get them treatment and get them justice and push back against stereotypes and give them some sense of their own power. And she became a global activist.”
“More than anything she cares about her Jamaica and making it a place where everybody, no matter their color or their class or their sexual orientation can live in equality and opportunity,” added Obama as members of the audience that included Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt and Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis applauded. “That’s the power of one person and what they can do.”
Obama made another reference to gay rights to the audience that primarily consisted of young people before introducing Jackson.
“You’re more eager for progress that comes not by holding down any segment of society, but by holding up the rights of every human being, regardless of what we look like or how we pray or who we love,” he said.
Obama’s comments come against the backdrop of rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in country that includes reports of a gay teenager who was recently stoned to death. Jamaica is among the Caribbean nations in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.
Jackson told the Washington Blade a few hours after Obama’s speech that his remarks “give me encouragement.”
“It also in some ways provides a validation for what I have been doing because it’s rough and moving forward with LGBT rights in Jamaica is certainly not going at rapid speed,” she said. “This mention, speaking about (my work), mentioning my name, speaking my work and mentioning my orientation brought to light the issues of the LGBT community because it brings a personal story, it brings a human to the conversation, so it’s not just them, it’s not just an abstract person. It becomes a person that they can recognize.”
Jalna Broderick, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica alongside Jackson, was attending a meeting in D.C. when Obama spoke at University of the West Indies.
Broderick told the Blade during a reception at the Human Rights First office near McPherson Square where she and advocates from Belize, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic were highlighting efforts to expand LGBT tourism in the Caribbean that she was crying when she watched Obama’s speech on YouTube.
“It is amazing to be recognized by anybody,” said Broderick. “It is even more amazing to be recognized by a man who is the leader of the free world.”
“In your country that is so homophobic she has been mentioned as a young woman, a woman, an LGBT activist, a lesbian, a survivor of sexual violence,” she added. “These are the things that we fight for, you want recognition of the issues and solutions to the problems.”
Obama earlier in the day met with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and attended a meeting of Caribbean Community countries that Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie chaired.
Jamaican advocates and others around the world had urged Obama to raise the island’s LGBT rights record during his one-day trip to the country that took place before he traveled to Panama for the Summit of the Americas.
Obama said during a press conference with Simpson-Miller that he would “be discussing” a range of topics at the University of the West Indies town hall that included “how we can support human rights, equality and the dignity of all people.” The president referenced “upholding human rights for all citizens” during his remarks before the CARICOM meeting.