Tag Archives: Jamaica
Review: ‘Goldeneye’ explores Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat
James Bond is a British icon, but the fictional spy hero really was born in Jamaica, just as the Caribbean island gained its independence from the waning British empire.
The relationship between Bond’s author, Ian Fleming, and the island where he sought to escape from dreary post-war Britain is explored in Matthew Parker’s unique biography, “Goldeneye.”
Fleming wrote all the Bond short stories and novels, which inspired an ongoing series of blockbuster films, at his Goldeneye estate on Jamaica’s northern shore. He spent two months every year, from 1946 through his death in 1964, at Goldeneye, and for a while his own boozy, cigarette-fueled seductions rivaled those he created for Bond.
Fleming’s neighbor in Jamaica was the British actor and playwright Noel Coward, and Parker carefully compares and dissects how the island and its residents are depicted in each man’s writing. Mostly, they viewed Jamaica as a backdrop, at best, where the “island natives” are cheerful and sexy but never threatening.
The fading of an empire weighed on Fleming as he developed escapist fantasies for Bond, the paragon of British intelligence and power. He found rich source material in Jamaican waters for Bond’s underwater action scenes, but he rarely troubled himself with island drama beyond his jet-set social circle.
Parker explores where Fleming would not, delving into Jamaica’s politics and economy, the legacy of 300 years of colonial rule and the emergence of the island as a tourist destination, a development fueled partly by the glamour projected by Fleming and his friends. He also spells out what Coward and Fleming didn’t see coming _ that their tropical-yet-British hideaway would be short-lived, and the island was ready for a change.
Parker’s “Goldeneye’” is an appealing Caribbean history dressed as pop culture, and he adds complexity to Bond’s legacy of vodka martinis, car chases and women in bikinis.
Jamaican activist ends legal challenge to anti-sodomy law
A young Jamaican gay rights activist who brought an unprecedented legal challenge to the Caribbean island’s anti-sodomy law has withdrawn the claim after growing fearful about violent backlashes, advocacy groups and colleagues said over the weekend.
Last year, Javed Jaghai made headlines after initiating a constitutional court challenge to Jamaica’s 1864 law that bans consensual sex between men. He argued that the anti-sodomy law fuels homophobia and violates a charter of human rights adopted in 2011 that guarantees people the right to privacy.
But in an affidavit, Jaghai said he has been “threatened enough times to know that I am vulnerable.” The 25-year-old man believes his “loved ones are under threat” by intolerant people and the drawn-out court challenge is causing too much stress and anxiety.
“Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings,” Jaghai wrote in a statement withdrawing his Supreme Court claim.
Jamaica’s rarely used anti-sodomy law bans anal sex and sets a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and hard labor. Anything interpreted as “gross indecency” between men can be punished by two years in prison.
Janet Burak of New York-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World said the fear that pushed Jaghai to end his court challenge is an all-too familiar fear among the LGBT community in Jamaica. It’s “the same fear that keeps gay men in Jamaica underground, away from effective HIV testing, prevention treatment, care and support interventions,” she said in a statement.
When Jaghai initiated the legal challenge last year, several church pastors led crowded revival meetings in Jamaica’s two biggest cities to oppose overturning the anti-sodomy law.
Many Jamaicans consider homosexuality to be wrong, but insist violence against gays is blown out of proportion by activists. But anti-gay epithets are heard frequently and attacks on LGBT Jamaicans or people perceived to be gay do occur from time to time. Last year, a transgender teen named Dwayne Jones was murdered by a mob at a crowded street dance and his slaying remains unsolved.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller vowed to put the anti-sodomy law to a “conscience vote” in Parliament during the leadup to 2011 elections but nothing has been accomplished.
J-FLAG, Jamaica’s biggest gay rights group, says Jaghai’s courage has inspired other young homosexuals in Jamaica who are not willing to live in the shadows.
“Javed has made history and will forever remain a hero to the Jamaican LGBT community,” said activist Brian-Paul Welsh.
US drug policy fuels push for legal pot worldwide
In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica, politicians huddle to discuss trying to ease marijuana laws in the land of the late reggae musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley.
In Morocco, one of the world’s top producers of the concentrated pot known as hashish, two leading political parties want to legalize its cultivation, at least for medical and industrial use.
And in Mexico City, the vast metropolis of a country ravaged by horrific cartel bloodshed, lawmakers have proposed a brand new plan to let stores sell the drug.
From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction — a nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first country to approve nationwide pot legalization.
Leaders long weary of the drug war’s violence and futility have been emboldened by changes in U.S. policy, even in the face of opposition from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.
“A number of countries are saying, ‘We’ve been curious about this, but we didn’t think we could go this route,’” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado’s marijuana regulations. “It’s harder for the U.S. to look at other countries and say, ‘You can’t legalize, you can’t decriminalize,’ because it’s going on here.”
That’s due largely to a White House that’s more open to drug war alternatives.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine that he considers marijuana less dangerous to consumers than alcohol, and said it’s important that the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado go forward, especially because blacks are arrested for the drug at a greater rate than whites, despite similar levels of use.
His administration also has criticized drug war-driven incarceration rates in the U.S. and announced that it will let banks do business with licensed marijuana operations, which have largely been cash-only because federal law forbids financial institutions from processing pot-related transactions.
Such actions underscore how the official U.S. position has changed in recent years. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it wouldn’t target medical marijuana patients. In August, the agency said it wouldn’t interfere with the laws in Colorado and Washington, which regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot for recreational use.
Government officials and activists worldwide have taken note of the more open stance. Also not lost on them was the Obama administration’s public silence before votes in both states and in Uruguay.
It all creates a “sense that the U.S. is no longer quite the drug war-obsessed government it was” and that other nations have some political space to explore reform, said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group based in New York.
Anxiety over U.S. reprisals has previously doused reform efforts in Jamaica, including a 2001 attempt to approve private use of marijuana by adults. Given America’s evolution, “the discussion has changed,” said Delano Seiveright, director of Ganja Law Reform Coalition-Jamaica.
Last summer eight lawmakers, evenly split between the ruling People’s National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labor Party, met with Nadelmann and local cannabis crusaders at a luxury hotel in Kingston’s financial district and discussed next steps, including a near-term effort to decriminalize pot possession.
Officials are concerned about the roughly 300 young men each week who get criminal records for possessing small amounts of “ganja.” Others in the debt-shackled nation worry about losing out on tourism dollars: For many, weed is synonymous with Marley’s home country, where it has long been used as a medicinal herb by families, including as a cold remedy, and as a spiritual sacrament by Rastafarians.
Influential politicians are increasingly taking up the idea of loosening pot restrictions. Jamaica’s health minister recently said he was “fully on board” with medical marijuana.
“The cooperation on this issue far outweighs what I’ve seen before,” Seiveright said. “Both sides are in agreement with the need to move forward.”
In Morocco, lawmakers have been inspired by the experiments in Washington, Colorado and Uruguay to push forward their longstanding desire to allow cannabis to be grown for medical and industrial uses. They say such a law would help small farmers who survive on the crop but live at the mercy of drug lords and police attempts to eradicate it.
“Security policies aren’t solving the problem because it’s an economic and social issue,” said Mehdi Bensaid, a legislator with the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, a political party closely allied with the country’s king. “We think this crop can become an important economic resource for Morocco and the citizens of this region.”
In October, lawmakers from Uruguay, Mexico and Canada converged on Colorado for a firsthand look at how that state’s law is being implemented. They toured a medical marijuana dispensary and sniffed bar-coded marijuana plants as the dispensary’s owner gave them a tour.
There’s no general push to legalize marijuana in Mexico, where tens of thousands have died in cartel violence in recent years. But in liberal Mexico City, legislators last week introduced a measure to let stores sell up to 5 grams of pot. It’s supported by the mayor but could set up a fight with the conservative federal government.
“Rather than continue fighting a war that makes no sense, now we are joining a cutting-edge process,” said Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister.
Opponents to legalization worry that pot could become heavily commercialized or that increased access will increase youth use. They say the other side’s political victories have reawakened their cause.
“There’s been a real hunger from people abroad to find out how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place and how to avoid it,” said Kevin Sabet of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado, and are due to start later this year in Washington. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have medical marijuana laws.
A number of U.S. states are considering whether to try for recreational laws. Voters in Alaska will have their say on a legalization measure this summer. Oregon voters could also weigh in this year, and in California, drug-reform groups are deciding whether to push a ballot measure in 2014 or wait until 2016’s presidential election. Abroad, activists are pushing the issue before a United Nations summit in 2016.
While some European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Czech Republic, have taken steps over the years to liberalize pot laws in the face of international treaties that limit drug production to medical and research purposes, the Netherlands, famous for its pot “coffee shops,” has started to pull back, calling on cities to close shops near schools and ban sales to tourists.
There is, however, an effort afoot to legitimize the growing of cannabis sold in the coffee shops. While it’s been legal to sell pot, it’s not to grow it, so shops must turn to the black market for their supply, which may wind up seized in a raid.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, where some countries have decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, from cocaine to marijuana, there is significant public opposition to further legalization. But top officials are realizing that it is nevertheless on the table, despite the longstanding efforts of the U.S., which has provided billions of dollars to support counter-narcotics work in the hemisphere.
Current or former presidents in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil have called for a re-evaluation of or end to the drug war, a chorus echoed by Argentina’s drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, a Roman Catholic priest who has long served in the nation’s drug-wasted slums.
Molina said he’s following orders from President Cristina Fernandez to change the government’s focus from enforcing drug laws against young people to getting them into treatment. He also said after Fernandez appointed him in December that Argentine society is ready to openly debate legalizing marijuana altogether.
“I believe that Argentina deserves a good debate about this. We have the capacity to do it. The issue is fundamental for this country,” Molina said in an interview with Radio del Plata.
The pace of change has put American legalization activists in heavy demand at conferences in countries weighing their drug laws, including Chile, Poland and the Netherlands. The advocates, including those who worked on the efforts in Washington and Colorado, have advised foreign lawmakers and activists on how to build campaigns.
Clara Musto, a spokeswoman for the Uruguayan campaign, said meeting with the Americans helped her group see that it would need to promote arguments beyond ensuring the liberty of cannabis users if it wanted to increase public support. “They knew so much about how to lead,” she said.
John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organization that works to promote social and economic justice, was among the Americans who visited Uruguay as the president, the ruling party and activists pushed their proposal to create a government-controlled marijuana industry.
“This isn’t just talk,” he said. “Whether Colorado is going to do it well, or Washington, they’re doing it. If you’re going to pursue something similar, you’re not going to be alone.”
Editor’s note: AP writers David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica; Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City; Leonardo Haberkorn in Montevideo, Uruguay; Michael Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands; Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco; Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City; and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed.
Transgender teen brutally killed by Jamaican mob
Dwayne Jones was relentlessly teased in high school for being effeminate until he dropped out. His father not only kicked him out of the house at the age of 14 but also helped jeering neighbors push the youngster from the rough Jamaican slum where he grew up.
By age 16, the teenager was dead – beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car when he showed up at a street party dressed as a woman. His mistake: confiding to a friend that he was attending a “straight” party as a girl for the first time in his life.
“When I saw Dwayne’s body, I started shaking and crying,” said Khloe, one of three transgendered friends who shared a derelict house with the teenager in the hills above the north coast city of Montego Bay. Like most transgenders and gays in Jamaica, Khloe wouldn’t give a full name out of fear.
“It was horrible. It was so, so painful to see him like that.”
International advocacy groups often portray this Caribbean island as the most hostile country in the Western Hemisphere for gays and transgendered people. After two prominent gay rights activists were murdered, a researcher with the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch in 2006 called the environment in Jamaica for such groups “the worst any of us has ever seen.”
Local activists have since disputed that label, but still say homophobia is pervasive. Dwayne’s horrific July 22 murder has made headlines in newspapers on the island and stirred calls in some quarters for doing more to protect Jamaica’s gay community, especially those who live on the streets and resort to sex work.
Advocates say much of the homophobia is fueled by a nearly 150-year-old anti-sodomy law that bans anal sex as well as by dancehall reggae performers who flaunt anti-gay themes. The island’s main gay rights group estimated that two homosexual men were killed for their sexual orientation last year, and 36 were the victims of mob violence.
For years, Jamaica’s gay community has lived so far underground that their parties and church services were held in secret locations. Most gays have stuck to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of keeping their sexual orientation hidden to avoid scrutiny or protect loved ones.
“Judging by comments made on social media, most Jamaicans think Dwayne Jones brought his death on himself for wearing a dress and dancing in a society that has made it abundantly clear that homosexuals are neither to be seen nor heard,” said Annie Paul, a blogger and publications officer at Jamaica’s campus of the University of the West Indies.
Some say the hostility partly stems from the legacy of slavery when black men were sometimes sodomized as punishment or humiliation. Some historians believe that practice carried over into a general dread of homosexuality.
But in recent years, emboldened young people such as Dwayne have helped bring the island’s gay and transgender community out of the shadows. A small group of gay runaways now rowdily congregates on the streets of Kingston’s financial district.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s government has also vowed to put the anti-sodomy law to a “conscience vote” in Parliament, and she said during her 2011 campaign that only merit would decide who got a Cabinet position in her government. By contrast, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding said in 2008 that he would never allow homosexuals in his Cabinet.
Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays, said there were increasing “pockets of tolerance” on the island.
“We can say that we are becoming more tolerant. And thankfully that’s because of people like Dwayne who have helped push the envelope,” said Lewis, one of the few Jamaican gays who will publicly disclose his full name.
Yet rights groups still complain of the slow pace of the investigation into Jones’ murder, despite the justice minister calling for a full probe.
Police spokesman Steve Brown said detectives working the case are struggling to overcome a chronic problem: a strong anti-informant culture that makes eyewitnesses to murders and other crimes too afraid or simply unwilling to come forward.
Even though some 300 people were at the dance party in the small riverside community of Irwin, police have yet to make a single arrest in Dwayne’s murder. Police say witnesses have said they couldn’t see the attackers’ faces.
Dwayne was the center of attraction shortly after arriving in a taxi at 2 a.m. with his two 23-year-old housemates, Khloe and Keke. Dwayne’s expert dance moves, long legs and high cheekbones quickly made him the one that all the guys were trying to get next to.
Like most Jamaican homosexuals, Dwayne was careful about confiding in others about his sexual orientation. But when he saw a girl he had known from church, he told her he was attending the party in drag.
Minutes later, according to Khloe and Keke, the girl’s male friends gathered around Dwayne in the dimly-lit street asking: “Are you a woman or a man?” One man waved a lighter’s flame near Dwayne’s sneakers, asking whether a girl could have such big feet.
Then, his friends said, another man grabbed a lantern from an outdoor bar and walked over to Dwayne, shining the bright light over him from head to toe. “It’s a man,” he concluded, while the others hissed “batty boy” and other anti-gay epithets.
Khloe says she tried to steer him away from the crowd, whispering in Dwayne’s ear: “Walk with me, walk with me.” But Dwayne pulled away, loudly insisting to partygoers that he was a girl. When someone behind him snapped his bra strap, the teen panicked and raced down the street.
But he couldn’t run fast enough to escape the mob.
The teenager was viciously assaulted and apparently half-conscious for some two hours before another sustained attack finished him off, according to Khloe, who was also beaten and nearly raped. She hid in a nearby church and then the surrounding woods, unable to call for help because she didn’t have her cellphone.
Dwayne’s father in the Montego Bay slum of North Gully didn’t want to talk about his son’s life or death. The teen’s family wouldn’t even claim the body, according to Dwayne’s friends.
They remembered him as a spirited boy with a contagious laugh who dreamt of becoming a performer like Lady Gaga. He was also a street-smart hustler who resorted to sleeping in the bushes or on beaches when he became homeless. He won a local dancing competition during his time on the streets and was affectionately nicknamed “Gully Queen.”
“He was the youngest of us but he was a diva,” Khloe said. “He was always very feisty and joking around.”
Inside their squatter house, Khloe and Keke said, they still talk to their dead friend.
“I’ll be cooking in the kitchen and I’ll say, ‘Dwayne, you hungry?’ or something like that,” said Keke while sitting on the old mattress in her bedroom, flinching as neighborhood dogs barked outside. “We just miss him all the time. Sometimes I think I see him.”
But down the hall, Dwayne’s room is empty except for pink window curtains decorated with roses, his favorite flower.
Jamaican church rallies for anti-sodomy law
Several church pastors in Jamaica led a revival meeting on June 23 to oppose efforts to overturn the Caribbean country’s anti-sodomy law and turn back what they see as increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
Roughly 1,500 people gathered in a central Kingston park for a spirited religious service two days before a rare court challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. The island’s Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing on June 25 a petition by a gay rights activist who hopes to challenge the constitutionality of the 1864 law under a charter of rights revamped in 2011.
The colonial-era “buggery law” outlaws consensual sexual relationships between consenting men. The punishment is 10 years in prison in Jamaica, one of several Caribbean islands with anti-sodomy laws enforced with strong backing from religious groups. Barbados, Guyana and Grenada are among the regional countries that uphold laws prohibiting homosexuality.
Some in the Kingston crowd carried placards saying marriage should only be between a man and a woman and others pumped signs into the air saying “Keep the buggery law!” A similar prayer meeting was held in the northern city of Montego Bay.
A religious group called Prayer 2000, led by the Rev. Naila Ricketts, spearheaded the meetings. Pastors spoke about the power of prayer and the need to transform Jamaica as petitions were circulated urging the government not to abolish the anti-sodomy law. A gospel music band performed while the participants enthusiastically clapped, swayed and sang under the hot afternoon sun.
“We need our politicians to know that we need them to walk the path of righteousness,” said Eleanor Johnson, who said she traveled from Jamaica’s southern Clarendon parish to participate.
Church of Christ pastor Leslie Buckland urged the crowd to pray for the conversion of gays and lesbians. He said gay rights activists are trying to “take over the world” by challenging anti-gay laws in the courts. He said that once Jamaica’s sodomy law was repealed, gay activists would “go back to the court to make it a criminal offense to speak against the homosexual lifestyle.”
During a televised debate shortly before leading her party to a dominating win in 2011 national elections, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called for a review of the law that would come in the form of a “conscience vote” by lawmakers. The information minister recently said Simpson Miller would soon take the matter to parliament.
Many people in this highly Christian nation perceive homosexuality as a sin.
Some say Jamaica tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not in the open. But gay activists say Jamaica is by far the most hostile island toward homosexuals in the conservative Caribbean. They say homosexuals in poor communities suffer frequent abuse and have little recourse because of anti-gay stigma and the anti-sodomy law.
2 Jamaican guards accused of beating gay student
Two security guards at a university in Jamaica have been released from duty as police investigate accusations that they assaulted a student believed to be gay.
A video posted on YouTube shows the student being slapped, punched and kicked by one guard as he tries to shield himself from the blows while another guard holds him. A female guard is shown standing by, holding a large piece of wood. The assault occurred late Nov. 1 at the University of Technology in the capital of Kingston.
The video was shot by someone in the angry crowd that gathered outside the guard station, breaking a window and yelling homophobic slurs.
University officials released a statement saying that they strongly condemn the assault.
The human rights group Jamaicans for Justice demanded that the government take action to address intolerance and violence on the socially conservative island.
“This horrifying act of violence is yet another example of our society’s willingness to accept violence as an appropriate response in all too many circumstances,” the group said.
The group said that the student apparently was found in a sexually compromising position with another student on campus.
Homophobia is pervasive in Jamaica, one of several Caribbean islands that still enforce a sodomy law, punishable by 10 years. In a 2008 interview with the BBC, former prime minister Bruce Golding vowed to never hire a gay person for his Cabinet.
Jamaica has only one gay rights group, and its office location remains secret for fear of violence.
Jamaican candidates play up anti-gay rhetoric in advance of election
The leader of Jamaica’s sole gay rights group said Tuesday that some ruling-party candidates have aggressively played to anti-gay constituents by resorting to homophobic rhetoric in the final days of the campaign for this week’s national elections.
Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, said Jamaica Labor Party candidates have “unfortunately descended into pulling the sexuality card” in advance of Thursday’s tight vote.
“It’s been disappointing that they’ve chosen this road yet again because it seems to historically be their stance during campaigning,” said Lewis, adding that his group is not endorsing any political party.
Politicians have routinely railed against homosexuals in Jamaica, where a colonial-era sodomy law bans sex between men and many people in the highly Christian nation perceive homosexuality as a sin.
But during a debate last week with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, opposition chief Portia Simpson Miller called for a review of the law. She argued that professional competence, not sexual orientation, will determine who is selected for a Cabinet post if her People’s National Party wins.
Since then, some top Labor candidates have made homophobic comments at political rallies, among them Cabinet minister Daryl Vaz, who said “God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve,” prompting applause and anti-gay slurs from his West Portland constituents.
Labor’s candidate for West Central St. James, Energy Minister Clive Mullings, asserted that easing up on laws against homosexuality would bring God’s wrath down on Jamaica, while West Kingston candidate, Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, used an epithet at a rally while an anti-gay dancehall song played.
In a Sunday editorial, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper called the recent developments “not only sad, but dangerous.”
“Some might add cynical and vulgar.”
On Tuesday, the opposition People’s National Party stressed that Simpson Miller’s comments were being distorted by Labor partisans. They said the party is committed to a review of the anti-sodomy law, not its repeal.
It is not yet clear if either side’s recent comments will hurt their chances in Thursday’s election for the island’s 63 seats in Parliament. Recent polls have shown the two main parties in a statistical dead heat.
Despite the easygoing image propagated by the island’s tourist boards, Jamaica is by far the most hostile island toward homosexuals in the already conservative Caribbean, gays and their advocates contend.
Many Jamaicans insist hostility toward gays is blown out of proportion by gay activists. Some say Jamaica tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not openly displayed.
Grenada man arrested for having sex with another man
Police have arrested a man for having sex with another male on the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, where a law against homosexual acts remains on the books but is rarely enforced.
A 41-year-old man was charged with having sex with an unidentified 17-year-old man, Grenada’s director of public prosecution, Christopher Nelson, said.
The age of sexual consent in Grenada is 16 but while the sex in question was consensual, local law prohibits sodomy under the charge of “unnatural connection.”
Grenada is one of several Caribbean nations that have laws banning sex between men. The penalty in most islands, including Grenada, is up to 10 years in prison, although Barbados and Guyana have life imprisonment, according to a 2010 United Nations report.
Many islands remain socially conservative, with Jamaica considered one of the most hostile islands toward homosexuals. A gay right activist was killed there last year, and three gay men were attacked and beaten in St. Lucia in March. Gay cruises to the region also continue to draw protesters.
In Grenada, gays are discriminated against and find it hard to find employment and housing, said Nigel Mathlin, president of GrenCHAP, a local nonprofit organization that represents marginalized groups.
“The government, they are very much aware of the changes that need to be made, of bringing our laws into line with international human rights principles,” Mathlin said.
UN debates whether to denounce killing gays
A culture war has broken out at the United Nations over whether gays should be singled out for the same protections as other minorities whose lives are threatened.
The battle will come to a head Dec. 21 when the General Assembly votes to renew its routine condemnation of the unjustified killing of various categories of vulnerable people.
It specifies killings for racial, national, ethnic, religious or linguistic reasons and includes refugees, indigenous people and other groups. But the resolution, because of a change promoted by Arab and African nations and approved at committee level, this time around drops “sexual orientation” and replaces it with “discriminatory reasons on any basis.”
The U.S. government says it is “incensed” at the change, as are gay rights campaigners.
“Even if those countries do not support gay rights, you would think they would support our right not to be killed,” said Jessica Stern of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Stern said gay people all over the world are frequent targets of violence because of their sexual orientation.
Authorities in Jamaica are investigating a possible hate crime in the slaying earlier this month of a man who belonged to the sole gay rights group in the conservative, largely Christian nation. Uganda, among 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality, is debating whether to join the five other countries in the world that consider it a capital crime.
The General Assembly is set for a final vote Dec. 21 on its biennial resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings – without the reference to sexual orientation for the first time since 1999. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice has said she was “incensed” the reference was removed and the United States will move to restore it.
The battle over those two words underscores the historic split over gay rights among U.N. members and their diverse religious and cultural sensibilities. Activists say gay and lesbian issues got only minimal attention at the U.N. a decade ago.
“There has been slow, but steady progress on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights at the U.N.,” Stern said.
Stern cited as progress Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “landmark” speech during a gay rights forum at U.N. headquarters on Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, calling for an end to laws around the world that make it a crime to be homosexual.
But as gay rights gain more acceptance in the U.N. system, some member states are pushing back, said Mark Bromley, of the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, which aims to advance gay rights in American foreign policy. “I think some states are uncomfortable and they are organizing to limit engagement on the issue.”
“We are seeing a backlash,” agreed Stern. “This is an illustration of the tensions around culture at the United Nations, and how power plays out and alliances are made.”
Benin, on behalf of African countries, introduced the amendment deleting the specific reference to sexual orientation at a Nov. 16 General Assembly committee meeting. Benin’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request sent via e-mail for more information about why the amendment was introduced.
Benin, a largely Christian country of 8 million with a sizable Muslim population, argued that “sexual orientation had no legal foundation in any international human rights instruments.” Morocco, an Arab country in north Africa that is almost exclusively Muslim, asserted that such selectivity “accommodated particular interests and groups over others” and urged all U.N. member states “to devote special attention to the protection of the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society.”
Western nations opposed the move to delete the mention of sexual orientation.
Britain called it “an affront to human dignity,” and France and Norway said the move was “regrettable.” Sweden said the change amounted to “looking the other way” when people are killed for being gay.
The amendment narrowly passed 79-70, with 17 abstentions. The so-called Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues and includes all 192 U.N. member states, then approved the entire resolution on all unjustified killings for discriminatory reasons 165-0, with 10 abstentions.
General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but rather reflect the views of the majority of the world’s nations.
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the United States will introduce an amendment next week to restore the previous language including the phrase “sexual orientation” because “this is an issue that is important to us.”
“We’ve also been doing a great deal of lobbying” to get the restoration of the phrase approved, Kornblau said.
Gay rights and human rights activists also have been lobbying missions to the U.N. in New York in recent days, urging especially those delegations that abstained on the amendment to help restore the mention of sexual orientation.
“We only need a few more countries and we can change this vote around,” said Boris O. Dittrich, who directs the program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights for the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
But gaining the world’s support for gay rights will take far longer.
More than two-thirds of U.N. members, many of them Muslim nations, are refusing to sign a separate United Nations statement condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, especially with regard to the application of the death penalty and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Under the Bush administration in 2008, even the United States refused to join all other Western nations in signing that declaration, arguing that the broad framing of the language in the statement might conflict with U.S. laws.
After President Barack Obama took office, the United States last year joined other member states to support the declaration, saying it found that the language did not conflict with American laws. Sixty-eight of the U.N.’s members have now signed the declaration. That leaves 124 countries that have not.