LGBT tolerance growing in Jamaica, push to repeal of anti-gay law

Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:04am EST
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By Aileen Torres-Bennett

KINGSTON (Reuters) - Prince Jones says he will never go back to Jamaica, not even to visit.

The 25-year-old, who is gay and uses a pseudonym to protect himself and his family, grew up in Kingston and recalls how he was repeatedly harassed over his sexuality before moving to the United States in 2012.

The plight of gays in Jamaica has cast an ugly spotlight on the Caribbean island, famous for its beaches, speedy athletes and laid-back culture.

When Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller visited New York to attend the 68th United Nations General Assembly meeting in September, she was greeted by protesters who chanted: "Shame on you, Portia. Gay rights, human rights."

Such protesting is uncommon in Jamaica, where homophobia is a cultural norm. Yet despite the stigma attached to homosexuality, the push for equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is gaining momentum.

The government says it plans to test the waters by conducting a non-binding "conscience vote" in parliament on ending the notorious Jamaican Offenses Against the Person Act, which makes anal sex a crime, regardless of gender or consent, and prohibits "acts of gross indecency" between men, in public or in private.

The Minister of Justice, Mark Golding, told Reuters that a vote in parliament would take place before the end of the legislative year in March, opening the door for the law to be reviewed, possibly later in 2014.

The prime minister, although she was the target of gay rights protesters in New York, reflected this increasing tolerance during her election campaign in 2011, when she advocated repeal of the law.   Continued...