Jamaica should repeal its ban on gay sex immediately, a top human rights tribunal determined in a ruling dubbed “a highly significant step forward” by activists.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which monitors human rights conditions in the western hemisphere, found that the Jamaican government is responsible for violating the rights of two queer people, Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards.
The solution, the commission concluded, is a simple one: Repeal Jamaica’s colonial-era anti-LGBT+ laws immediately.
The ruling is not binding but will give hope to queer citizens of the Caribbean island nation and others like it where the homophobic views of colonialist Britain remain deeply entrenched.
“It is a highly significant step forward that must now accelerate the repeal of these stigmatising and discriminatory laws,” said Téa Braun, the director of the Human Dignity Trust who represented Henry and Edwards, according to The Guardian.
The decision was handed down in September 2019 but could not be publicly reported on until now.
The commission said Jamaican leaders should also enact anti-discrimination laws and better train law enforcement.
Gay man who fled Jamaica: ‘I finally feel I am right’
Jamaica, once described as “the most homophobic place on Earth” by Time magazine, has long been gripped by laws banning “buggery” and “indecency”, adopted from the British constitution before independence.
Anal sex is prohibited and punishable by life imprisonment for any individual, any sexual encounter between men is illegal, and there are no protections for LGBT+ people against discrimination.
Both Henry and Edwards were driven off the island as a result of the homophobic violence they faced, the commission heard. They argued that the anti-LGBT+ laws violated their rights and legitimated the violence they faced.
Henry sought asylum in Canada after a police officer pummelled him in front of a crowd of some 200 people. Edwards was granted asylum in Europe after being gunned down outside her home by a homophobic gang in 2008 which placed her family at risk.
The ruling has brought a sense of “hope” for Henry and Edwards, that they might someday return to the island they once called home.
“All my life people have told me that who I am and who I love is wrong,” Henry said. “Now, for the first time ever, I finally feel I am right.”
Edwards explained: “It gives me hope that one day these outdated laws will be done away with and I’ll be able to return to my homeland without fear of attack.”