This article was published on March 4th, 2021
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called on Jamaica to immediately repeal archaic laws from the British colonial era that outlaw consensual same-sex sexual relations with up to ten years imprisonment and hard labor. In the controversial case Gareth Henry and Simone Carline Edwards v. Jamaica, the suit was brought by a gay man and lesbian woman forced to leave their island country due to violence and fear of death at the hands of homophobic police and gangs.
Gareth Henry, commented on the ordeal: “I know what it is to live in hiding and be ostracized. I know what it feels like to be beaten and left for dead. It’s a real boost to see that the Commission is taking our complaint seriously. It gives me hope that one day these outdated laws will be done away with, and I’ll be able to return to my homeland without fear of attack.”
Téa Braun, director of Human Dignity Trust, issued a statement: “This is a major legal victory for Gareth, Simone, and the entire LGBT community in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, where nine countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex intimacy.” Also notably, Naomi Campbell and Idris Elba petitioned for Ghana to ease their LGBTQ+ laws.
In Gareth Henry and Simone Carline Edwards v. Jamaica, the Inter-American Commission found the government of Jamaica responsible for several violations of international rules and regulations. The commission declared Jamaica’s responsibility to provide full economic reparations for a myriad of human rights violations, and repeal laws “prohibiting or discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” and those that criminalize “consensual sexual conduct between men who have sex with men.”
The ruling also proposes studies and other programs to eradicate violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in the island nation, and develop and implement educational outreach programs to engender a more inclusive environment for all Jamaicans.
Recognizing that decriminalization is never immediate, the commission calls on Jamaica to gather information on violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, train public officials on addressing such cases, and provide comprehensive sexuality education that is inclusive of sexual and gender diversity.
The case laid out a slew of homophobic violence and actions committed or allowed by the state. Henry escaped to Canada following a series of violent assaults, and in 2003 was assaulted by police in front of 70 people, and in 2007 was threatened by police after being chased by a mob of 200 people “chanting that gay people must be killed.”
Edwards was shot multiple times by a homophobic gang just outside her home, who also tried to kill two of her brothers, including one who is gay. Like Henry, Edwards fled for her life and eventually found asylum in Europe.
Despite the violent past, Henry remains optimistic with the announced decision.