Support by US, Jamaica Leaders Highlights Fight Against Discrimination
May 10, 2012

What Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica and President Barack Obama of the United States have in common is that they took a political risk by speaking out in favor of inclusiveness instead of discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They inspire people around the world and give hope to a brighter future for LGBT people.

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Program

(New York) – US President Barack Obama and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller should be commended for their statements during their election campaigns on behalf of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people.

Obama gave an interview published on May 9, 2012, in which he said he had made a personal choice to support same sex marriage because he believes that people should enjoy equal rights irrespective of their sexual orientation. He said that he came to his decision after a period of personal reflection on the issue, but that he believes it is up to states to introduce same sex marriage legislation.

“What Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica and President Barack Obama of the United States have in common is that they took a political risk by speaking out in favor of inclusiveness instead of discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch. “They inspire people around the world and give hope to a brighter future for LGBT people.”

Simpson-Miller, who took office in January, spoke out in favor of inclusiveness during her election campaign. She said Jamaicans should not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. During the leadership debate she also indicated a willingness to review the country’s buggery laws. Human Rights Watch issued a report about discrimination against LGBT people in Jamaica in November 2004.

President Obama’s statement came in advance of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17, when groups in dozens of countries have since 2005 marked the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of disorders.

Each year since 2005, Human Rights Watch has published a Hall of Shame nominating several leaders for their actions in the previous year in endangering LGBT people’s dignity, families, and safety. This year, Human Rights Watch will honor Obama and Simpson-Miller instead for a hall of fame.

“President Obama made himself vulnerable for his decision to support same sex marriage during his re-election campaign, but in doing so shows he is a true leader,” Dittrich said. “Politically speaking, Simpson-Miller also took a big risk.  Jamaica has a very violent history of homophobia and transphobia and her predecessor favored ongoing criminalization of homosexual conduct.”