Two gay Jamaicans have launched a legal fight to challenge the island’s homophobic laws in a hopeful step towards progress.

Having long promoted homophobia, its colonial-era laws are being challenged with support from the UK-based Human Dignity Trust. Aiming to remove three clauses from the Offences Against Persons Act of 1984, the legal challenge is to be taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, of which Jamaica is not a full member. However, it may produce an advisory ruling to change legislation.

Jonathan Cooper, London barrister and chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, said:

“We want to ensure that Jamaica satisfies its international human rights treaty obligations. We are supporting J-Flag in this case. These, and two accompanying cases supported by Aids-Free World, are the first cases before the Inter-American Commission but the issue is clear in international human rights law.”

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has not yet fulfilled her promise to hire a gay person for a cabinet role, despite claiming to condemn discrimination against LGBTs, since being elected in December 2011.

Described as the most homophobic place on Earth by Time magazine, the Caribbean island has a strong anti-gay rhetoric, with police often known to overlook anti-gay hate crimes. With the world’s highest murder rate, the environment is a dangerous one for the LGBT community. Diana King, a famous singer from the island, recently said in an interview with G3: “the culture I loved so much also displayed intolerance for LGBT people like me. I have not been back since coming out.”

According to the executive director of the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag), Dane Lewis, murders of gay men are on the rise. He said:

“This year alone there have been nine [murders]. The violence in Jamaica is having a spillover effect on other parts of the Caribbean: St Lucia now has a murder or so every year.”

One recent victim, John Terry, who was found dead in 2009 having been beaten and strangled, was left with the note on his body: “This is what will happen to all gays.”

Clause 76 of The Offences Against Persons Act states anyone convicted of ‘abominable crime of debuggery committed either with mankind or any animal’ could face up to ten years imprisonment, with or without hard labour. Two further clauses outlaw buggery and gross indecency between two men, with sex between women not even recognised by law.

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