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The Fight for LGBT Rights in Jamaica

Maurice Tomlinson

Jamaican human rights activist to speak at movie screening and symposium.


As a human rights lawyer and LGBT rights activist in Jamaica, Maurice Tomlinson is accustomed to a certain amount of notoriety and controversy.  But he wasn’t prepared for the multiple death threats that he received after a wedding photo of him and his husband appeared (without their permission) in a newspaper.

“My life got very complicated very quickly,” said Tomlinson, who, at the time, was being shadowed by a filmmaker shooting “The Abominable Crime,” a documentary on Jamaica’s homophobic culture.

Tomlinson, who was forced to flee Jamaica and now lives in Canada, will talk about his human rights work and share his personal story at an October 8 screening of  “The Abominable Crime,” and an October 9 symposium, Human Rights and HIV: Public Health, the Media and the Fight Against Stigma and Discrimination. Micah Fink, director of the documentary, will also speak at both events.

The Pulitzer Center-Johns Hopkins symposium will feature Bloomberg School faculty as well as journalists who have studied and reported on human rights violations against LGBT communities in the Caribbean, Russia, and Africa. Discussion topics include the harmful effects that punitive anti-gay laws have on HIV prevention and treatment—especially among vulnerable groups, including sex workers, men who have sex with men and injection drug users—and media coverage of the criminalization of homosexuality.

Jamaica has some of the most discriminatory laws against the LGBT community, and anti-gay sentiment has escalated in recent years, Tomlinson said.

“When I would take my clients to the police station to report attacks against homosexuals, the police would refuse to assist,” he said. “The fact is, the police and politicians think homosexuals are criminals and deserve what they get.”

Tomlinson, as external counsel for the advocacy group AIDS-Free World, filed a legal challenge to Jamaica’s sex offenses act—which bans “the abominable crime.” However, the plaintiff withdrew from the case out of fear for his family’s safety.

For now the challenge is on hold.

“We’re not sure if we’ll be able to find somebody who will be brave enough to be a claimant,” said Tomlinson.