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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 6, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 01
New Jamaican prime minister supports LGBT rights
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New Jamaican prime minister supports LGBT rights

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Jamaica has the unenviable reputation of being the anti-Gay bastion of the Caribbean.

That may change if its new prime minster, Portia Simpson-Miller, has her way.

Simpson-Miller - know as Sister P to her supporters - was elected in a landslide in elections on December 29. During a televised debate on December 20 between Simpson-Miller and incumbent Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) was voted out of office, Simpson-Miller said she believes in protecting the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans.

'No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,' Simpson-Miller said.

'Government should provide the protection and I think we should have a look at the buggery [sodomy] law and that members of Parliament should be given an opportunity to vote with their conscience on consultation with their constituents.

'But for me, I do not support the position of the former prime minister [Bruce Golding, who said he would not appoint a Gay person in his Cabinet] because people should be appointed to positions based on their ability and to lead.'

In spite of polls showing a close race, preliminary election returns showed that Simpson-Miller's People's National Party (PNP) had won 41 seats out of 63 for a commanding majority in Parliament.

Colin Robinson, president of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), called Simpson-Miller's victory a lesson for all 'Caribbean cowardly politicians.'

'What the win says is that you do not lose an election by being supportive of the rights and the humanity of Gay people,' Robinson said.

'Similarly the JLP candidate, who was most outrageous [by] using homophobia as a campaign tool, lost his seat. So the other message is 'bun batty man' ['burn the Gays'] and beating the Bible on the backs of Gay people will not win you elections.'

Robinson said the election proves that supporting LGBT rights is not a political liability.

'The only reason that the politician has now to oppose full equality concerning Gay people is their own prejudice,' he said.

Lynette Vassell, a member of the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre in Jamaica, told the Trinidad Express that the JLP's attempt to use Simpson-Miller's pro-Gay statements against her backfired on the ruling party.

'It backfired because the issues on people's minds were more concrete and practical,' Vassell said.

'I and a lot of right-thinking Jamaicans support the stance she took during the debate because what she is saying is that we need to open up a conversation around a matter that is very touchy in our context.

'What she has said is that she is going to open the debate around the repeal of the Buggery Act and she is going to encourage parliamentarians to deal with it on an individual basis after consulting with their constituents.

'Of course we recognize that if a man had said it, it would have been a damaging and dangerous thing [politically] and I am glad that she is the one who very sincerely made the response.'

Simpson-Miller, now 66, was first elected to Parliament in 1976 and became Jamaica's first woman prime minister in 2006-07.

The PNP is a democratic socialist party founded by Norman Manley and led for many years by his son, Michael Manley. It dominated Jamaican politics from 1989 through 2007, and seems poised to do so again with a huge majority in Parliament.

Simpson-Miller became party leader in 2006.

'I am humbled as I stand before you and I wish to thank the Jamaican people for their love, for their support and for giving the People's National Party and the leader of the party her own mandate,' Simpson-Miller said to supporters as the results were counted.

Simpson-Miller's plate is already full. In addition to reforming Jamaica's anti-Gay sodomy laws - a leftover of British colonialism - she will have to cope with a 12% unemployment rate and a massive debt, about 130% of Jamaica's GDP.

She has also promised to make Jamaica a republic. Legally Jamaica remains a self-governing state under the British Crown, with Queen Elizabeth represented locally by a governor-general.

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