Jamaican activist challenges anti-sodomy laws in court

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Kingston, Jamaica (AP) – A Jamaican gay rights activist has brought a rare legal challenge to the Caribbean island’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalize consensual sex between men, according to the Canadian advocacy group he works for.

Gay rights campaigner and attorney Maurice Tomlinson recently filed a claim in Jamaica’s Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the rarely-used 1864 laws that ban anal sex and anything interpreted as “gross indecency” between men.

In a Dec. 9 statement from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Tomlinson said longstanding laws are a “gross violation of my human rights” and those of all LGBT people in Jamaica. He is a senior policy analyst with the Toronto-based advocacy organization.

Tomlinson believes the laws infringe on a charter of human rights Jamaica adopted in 2011 that guarantees islanders the right to privacy, among other things. He asserts the 151-year-old laws hinder efforts to fight HIV in Jamaica while fueling homophobia and “horrific violence.”

Another Jamaican gay rights activist made headlines in 2013 after initiating a similar constitutional court challenge to the anti-sodomy laws. But that activist, Javed Jaghai, withdrew the case last year because of safety concerns. He was represented by Tomlinson.

Homosexuality is perceived as a sin by Jamaica’s influential religious lobby and nearly a dozen other Caribbean nations where anti-gay laws are on the books. Many in Jamaica consider homosexuality to be wrong, and some insist violence against gays is blown out of proportion by gay activists.

In a 2014 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch asserted that LGBT people in Jamaica are frequently refused housing or employment and remain the targets of unchecked violence. The high-profile 2013 mob murder of transgender teen Dwayne Jones outside of Montego Bay remains unsolved. Yet Human Rights Watch noted a “groundswell of change” in the way Jamaica is responding to human rights abuses against LGBT people.

Activists with the country’s main gay rights group say tolerance is clearly expanding on the island even though stigma is common and the laws criminalizing gay sex between men remain on the books. The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays held the island’s first gay pride celebration last year and the weeklong observance was peaceful in the country frequently portrayed by gay activists abroad as one of the globe’s most hostile places to homosexuality.

It is not clear when a first hearing in Tomlinson’s challenge might be heard.

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