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Jamaican politician: I would allow gays in cabinet

In an interview on May 1, Jamaican opposition leader Andrew Holness said that, if he becomes prime minister, he would allow gays in his cabinet.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

9th May 2014 18:55

Alessia Valenza

This rather innocuous statement represents a major shift from the views of his immediate predecessor, former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding. In a now infamous 2008 BBC interview, Golding declared that gays would not be a part of his administration.

Holness’s declaration is even more remarkable in light of his studied refusal to address the issue during a 2011 national leadership debate. While his opponent, Portia Simpson-Miller, readily supported the inclusion of gays, and proposed a Parliamentary conscience vote to review the country’s 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law, Holness equivocated.

Simpson-Miller went on to trounce Holness in the ensuing national elections, which she won by a massive landslide.

Regrettably, once installed as Prime Minister, Simpson-Miller reneged on her promise of the conscience vote and, on April 4, 2014, she said it was simply not a priority for her government because “it did not concern the majority of Jamaicans who are poor,” This represented a major betrayal of the LGBT community.

That statement by the prime minister was picked on by the opposition leader, who in late April tried to force her to call a national referendum on the issue.

In response, Simpson-Miller stated that she had deputized a government Minister to meet with the LGBT community, however, very little is publicly known about plans for this meeting or if it actually took place.

In the meantime, there has been growing international publicity about the plight of homeless LGBT youth who have been forced to live in the sewers of the capital. The group Dwayne’s House has been assisting these youth with basic food, medical, and legal assistance.

This publicity no doubt prompted the Minister of Youth to
issue a release that she plans to establish programmes for LGBT youth. Again, few specifics have been provided about these plans.

The country’s Minister of Health has also publicly reiterated his call for an end to cultural and religious discrimination against LGBT and other vulnerable persons. This discrimination is universally recognized as driving the country’s HIV epidemic by forcing persons underground, away from effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions.
Minister: Cultural, religious beliefs driving stigma and discrimination – News

There is clearly some jostling for the support of LGBT Jamaicans and our allies in light of national elections due in about a year’s time. This is a significant change in the power dynamics as the church (which once threatened the government that they have the votes to punish any Parliamentarian who supported a repeal) is now increasingly on the defensive.

The recent political statements are also important for the case brought by AIDS-Free World to challenge the country’s anti-sodomy law. Central to the case, which will be heard Nov. 10-21, is whether the Jamaican Parliament intended to criminalize private acts of intimacy between consenting adults when the 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms was passed. It would appear that this was not the case, at least if the recent pronouncements by senior political leaders are to be believed.