Diane Abbott: We are seeing ‘encouraging signs’ out of Jamaica on LGBT rights

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Labour MP Diane Abbott says Jamaica is taking “encouraging” political steps to rid itself of its homophobic shadow.

The Hackney MP, whose parents are from the Caribbean island, believes there are grounds for cautious optimism in a country notorious for its high levels of homophobic and transphobic violence.

In May, former Prime Minister PJ Patterson called for greater acceptance of gay Jamaicans.

His words came shortly after The Gleaner, a leading Jamaican newspaper, published an editorial questioning the country’s ban on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The Jamaican criminal code prohibits sex between men through its buggery law.

Sentences for buggery can include 10 years imprisonment with hard labour.

Earlier this month, following the broadcast of a Channel 4 documentary on the situation, Jamaica’s Minister of State for Science and Technology, Julian Robinson, called on the government to help a group of homeless gay and trans people who are forced to live in a storm gully.

Diane Abbott, Chair of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Jamaica, said it all pointed to the tentative beginnings of a more politically tolerant approach to LGBT issues.

“I think you are starting to see encouraging signs,” the Labour MP told PinkNews.co.uk. “I mean after all these Caribbean islands are very international places. They are perfectly well aware of what’s happening in other countries and in Europe. It sometimes seems like they’re not.

“One of the arguments I put to Jamaicans when it comes to LGBT rights is that they are a modern service economy trying to exist in the 21st century, and rabid homophobia is not going to make it easier for them to sell their goods and services.”

Ms Abbott said Jamaica’s lucrative tourism industry would not benefit from a political climate against LGBT rights.

As part of her election campaign in 2011 Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller vowed to review the buggery law.

However, since then, the issue has remained unresolved.

“I think things are happening,” Ms Abbott told PinkNews.co.uk. “The Prime Minister in the last general election hinted she’ll get rid of the buggery law but she’s backed out from that unfortunately. But as I said it’s a country where everyone has family that they go and see. People go back and forth. They can see the trends and I think the trends in America make them stop and think.”

Speaking to PinkNews last month, leading Jamaican LGBT rights lawyer Maurice Tomlinson accused Prime Minister Simpson-Miller of a “blatant betrayal” for refusing to abolish the buggery law.

Ms Abbott said she would like to see the Prime Minister keep her word. The MP agrees with Mr Tomlinson that homophobia in Jamaica has been fuelled by its hugely influential reggae market and by the arrival of the US Christian mega-pastor evangelical moment.

“I meet with all of the Caribbean commissioners regularly and they worry that part of the homophobia you find in the Caribbean is partly being funded by certain Americans who put a lot of money into peddling that line.”

She added: “It’s more progressive in worldwide trends, but on the other hand some people are dumping money off in the Caribbean to ramp up homophobic opinion.”

In December 2013 Andrea Williams, the founder of Britain’s Christian Concern, flew out to Jamaica for a conference in support of the country’s buggery law.

Whilst there, she claimed Olympic diver Tom Daley’s same-sex relationship was due to the death of his father.

Ms Abbott said Britain should not shirk its responsibilities from making sure it doesn’t negatively influence the debate on LGBT rights in Jamaica too.

“I think there is this thing that the opponents of LGBT rights are losing in America, and they’ve certainly lost in the UK, so they’re trying to fight the culture war somewhere else.”

The MP concluded: “But to be fair, in Jamaica there is a level of homophobia that is there anyway. You may have expected it to fade and recede but it’s been kept artificially alive by the activities of these people.”