This evening at a ceremony at the Roof Garden Hotel in Kensington, London, the gay Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson is receiving the David Kato Vision & Voice Award.
David Kato, human rights, was murdered in his home in Kampala, Uganda on 26 January 2011. The award has been established in recognition of his life and courage, and the continued struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals around the world and those committed to eliminating violence, stigma and discrimination.
Maurice Tomlinson is one of Jamaica’s most outspoken advocates for gay rights, a lawyer and activist. He has been forced to flee his home and country after an escalation in death threats against him. Last August he married his Canadian partner, a former police officer and a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, at a ceremony in Toronto. The news was deliberately kept quiet out of concern for his safety. However, recent media reports in Jamaica about the ceremony meant that Tomlinson’s life could not be guaranteed. Police warned him they could not offer him any security from vigilantes if he remained in Jamaica.
Jamaica is a country where homophobia is rife and where tacit support for violence against gay people is widespread in both the government and police. At least 35 Jamaicans have been murdered because of their sexuality since 1997. Last year 2 people were hacked to death for being gay.
On the 31 January Tomlinson is taking part in a discussion at the House of Commons organised by Kaleidoscope Trust with Frank Mugisha from Uganda and Pang Khee Teik from Malaysia. After the intervention of political leaders including Hillary Clinton and David Cameron, the debate will focus on how LGBT people themselves can take the lead in the demand for human rights for all.
I’m attending the event on behalf of Changing Attitude and I’m excited at the opportunity to meet all three for the first time.
Maurice has written that he should have been flying from Jamaica his country of birth and, until very recently, his home, and returning there after the ceremony to celebrate with fellow activists. Threats are nothing new for him; it’s only the intensity that’s changed. The police officer who recorded his first death-threat report ranted at him that he “hates gays, who deserve to die”. In the past year, he received three death threats for speaking out against the country’s ferocious homophobia.
For two years, Maurice has collected the reports of victims as a legal adviser for international advocacy organisation Aids-Free-World. Now he is taking them to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, since the Jamaican Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms protects the laws against “sexual offences” from constitutional review.
The culmination of the work the charity and its Jamaican partners have been doing over the past two years is an unprecedented legal challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law. If successful, it could be the beginning of the end of the criminalisation of homosexuals in Jamaica, and undoubtedly have a knock-on effect throughout the Caribbean.