Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, arrived on the Caribbean island on May 21. Todd Larson, senior LGBT coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveled to Jamaica the day before.
Berry and Larson on May 21 attended a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The men during their brief trip to Jamaica met with J-FLAG members and staff along with Jalna Broderick, co-founder of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, and Yvonne McCalla Sobers of Dwayne’s House, which provides support to homeless LGBT Jamaicans. Larson told the Washington Blade on Thursday that he and Berry also met government officials, educators and business and religious leaders.
Berry and Larson left Jamaica on May 22.
“Their visit was part of our broad and multifaceted engagement with the Jamaican government and people on a wide variety of issues ranging from economic development to security cooperation,” Joshua Polacheck of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston told the Blade earlier this week.
Berry was unavailable for comment, but he traveled to Jamaica slightly more than a month after assuming his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
He is scheduled to visit Uganda in July.
Officials ‘came to listen’ to Jamaican advocates
Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remains rampant in Jamaica due to what Quality of Citizenship Jamaica Executive Director Angeline Jackson described to the Blade during an interview in D.C. last June as a “melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny” that “combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”
Jamaica is among the Caribbean nations in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Liberty Counsel Chair Mat Staver and Dr. Judith Reisman, who publicly challenges Alfred Kinsey’s research on sexuality, are among the anti-LGBT advocates from the U.S. who have traveled to the country in recent years and attended events organized by groups that oppose efforts to repeal its colonial-era sodomy law.
J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis told the Blade that he and members of his group welcomed the opportunity to meet with Berry and Larson.
“We had the pleasure of meeting with them both at various points in their trip on various issues,” said Lewis. “What was most heart warming was that they came to listen and spent a lot of time listening in the meetings we had.”
Sobers expressed a similar sentiment.
“It is my view that their trip to Jamaica was useful for fact-finding and for seeing for themselves the situation and the nuances of the situation as relates to treatment of LGBT persons and issues in Jamaica,” she told the Blade.
Anti-gay groups protest Berry, Larson
Protesters gathered outside the Kingston hotel where Berry and Larson held their meetings. Members of the Love March Movement, which the Jamaica Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, described as “a youth Christian organization,” gathered in a Kingston park on May 22 where they held signs reading “No to U.S. buggery export.”
“We really find it offensive that persons would try, as it were, to sneak into the country to try and meet with different leaders to bring about any kind of change,” Love March Movement President Daniel Thomas told the newspaper during the protest. “Our stance is we’re keeping the buggery law and other family-friendly laws as well. We will not be bought out. We will not be coerced. We will not be intimidated by anyone at all and we are standing firmly on Godly morals and family values.”
Wayne West, chair of the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, which also opposes efforts to repeal the country’s sodomy law, in a letter to the Jamaica Gleaner said that Berry and Larson were attempting to force Jamaicans into accepting “buggery and sexual confusion.” West also accused the men of trying to impose a “new form of imperialism upon the country.”
Larson told the Jamaica Gleaner that he and Berry were “not advancing special rights” during their visit to the island, but “talking about the university…of human rights of everyone.”
“There has been some pushback, but that was to be expected,” Larson told the Blade earlier this week.
The Jamaica Gleaner in a May 24 editorial criticized West and his organization.
“This newspaper believes that there is much to criticize and/or to be wary of in America’s foreign policy,” opined the newspaper. “Its stance on the rights of LGBT persons is not among them. On this matter, the Americans, particularly the Obama administration, are on the right side of both humanity and the individual’s place in a liberal democratic society.”
President Obama during a speech in Kingston on April 10 specifically applauded Jackson for her efforts on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans. Obama earlier in the day met with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who has faced criticism from advocates who feel she and her government have not done enough to advance the repeal of the country’s sodomy law and to curb anti-LGBT discrimination and violence.
Representatives of the Jamaican government on Friday did not immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment.
Broderick said she feels Berry and Larson’s trip helped to further highlight the Jamaican LGBT rights movement.
“We saw a very supportive editorial coming from the Gleaner, but on the same day a piece from the Christian coalition, spouting the usual rhetoric,” Broderick told the Blade. “The exposure (Berry and Larson) brought to the issue has once again started a conversation, which I have found is much more positive than before.”
Larson expressed a similar optimism.
“Circumstances for LGBTI persons in Jamaica remain a significant concern,” he told the Blade. “A degree of optimism, however, derives from the caliber, focus, pride and patriotism of Jamaicans who are custodians of the robust ongoing dialogue.”