Countdown to Tolerance

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Thu Dec 8, 2011

Maurice Tomlinson's Countdown to Tolerance: Hypocrisy Reveals Itself

By Maurice Tomlinson

On December 29, 2011, Jamaicans will go to the polls to elect a new government and there is no doubt that tolerance towards the country’s homosexual citizens will (once again) be a hotly contested election issue. In advance of the elections, the local group Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) (affiliated with the conservative international lobby group Advocates International, and in association with the secretive US-based Issachar Foundation (IF), have organized a symposium for World Human Rights Day (December 10) under the curious theme “Human Rights, Sovereignty and the Politics of Truth.” Ironically, one of the stated aims of this LCF/IF symposium is “To examine the subversive effect that the fallacies of popular human rights rhetoric have on the democracy and sovereignty of nations.” The irony, of course, is that not only is the symposium being co-sponsored by a foreign organization, but also that two of the three featured speakers are from the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. I guess when importation from the West fits the agenda of hate and misinformation, then it is okay.

LCF and IF have publicly advocated for the retention of the country’s anti-sodomy law, calling it critical to the HIV and AIDS response.  The latest such occasion was a full-page color ad taken out in the most respected Jamaican newspaper, the Jamaica Gleaner, on December 1, World AIDS Day, under the deliberately inflammatory caption “HIV is ‘out of control’ among MSM.” LCF has also loudly championed the continued criminalization of abortion, as well as laws against “obscene publications.” The group proudly trumpets their successful lobbying of the Jamaican Parliament during the recently concluded revision of the country’s constitution, which saw the “saving” of laws outlawing consensual same-sex intimacy, abortion and “obscene publications” from being constitutionally challenged in any of the island’s courts. These “saved” laws directly undermine the rights of Jamaicans to privacy, prevention from cruel and inhuman treatment, and freedom of expression. Consenting adults engaged in private acts of intimacy can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Women have no rights over their bodies (despite the fact that this government boasts fielding the largest number of female candidates in any national election). Mature individuals are not able to decide what they want to watch, listen to or read, even if this takes place in the privacy of their own homes.

The LCF has also brought a noted “ex-gay” pastor to meet with the country’s Governor General (head of state) and held sessions about “curing” homosexuality. It must be noted that the Governor General is the former head of the Adventists denomination in Jamaica and was selected by his “church brethren,” the former Prime Minister and notorious homophobe Bruce Golding. His selection and actions then and now bring into question the doctrine of separation of church and state, which ostensibly is the bedrock of the country’s independence constitution.

Most alarming is the fact that Jamaica’s Minister of Justice will bring greetings for this symposium, which shows a clear alignment of the current government with the regressive human rights agenda proposed by LCF and its allies. This is not surprising, as Dorothy Lightbourne, the Attorney General disgraced and made the scapegoat for the government's duplicitous handling of the "Dudus" extradition matter (and appointed by this same ruling party), gave the opening remarks at another symposium hosted by LCF last year.

Compounding matters is that on Thursday, December 6, the Jamaica Observer newspaper (which is increasingly being viewed as the mouthpiece of the current government) sought to whip up national antagonism against the country’s gay population by totally miscasting US President Obama’s recent memorandum as “Gay Pressure-US to limit aid.” This despite the fact that Obama never mentioned aid conditionality in his landmark memo. Instead, he simply instructed US government departments to support the human rights of LGBT around the world. Any doubt as to the anti-gay agenda of the Observer must now be clearly put to rest. An interesting side-note is that the Chairman of the Observer, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, is also Chair of the world-famous Sandals/Beaches resort chains. It seems to me that pro-gay allies who vacation at these couples/family resorts should be made aware of this alignment.

Meanwhile, the country’s opposition party (which is currently trailing in the polls) has used strong tolerance language in their electioneering and selected a very gender non-conforming male as one of its candidates for a traditionally “safe seat.” While as an organization we remain politically neutral, we are concerned that, once again, the same homophobic party (which gave the country its most notoriously homophobic Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, famous for his statement on the BBC that gays would not form part of his cabinet) is heading for another electoral win.

The Christian lobby in Jamaica is undoubtedly very powerful and well connected internationally. They also count among their supporters such influential persons as the attorney who provides legal counsel for all members of the Jamaican Parliament. It is clear that in any strategy to change the country’s repressive laws that undermine the HIV and AIDS response (including laws against HIV-positive women being able to terminate their pregnancies), this lobbying group will have to be confronted and their regressive ideologies discredited.