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Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons Randy Berry
With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looking on, Randy Berry, the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, delivers remarks at a welcome reception in Special Envoy Berry’s honor at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 28, 2015. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State via Flickr)

News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. May 20, 2015: The U.S. is again putting the spotlight on the human rights of Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Jamaica.

Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons Randy Berry is set to visit the Caribbean nation from May 21 – 23 to discuss the human rights of LGBT persons and other marginalized groups. Berry, 50, is the U.S. special envoy for the human rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, the first such post ever created by a nation, according to the State Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry has instructed Berry to coordinate the State Department’s internal policies on LGBT employees and the department’s programs and policies regarding the rights of LGBT people in other countries, by working with governments, civil society and the business community.

Berry, a 22-year foreign service officer, has served in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nepal, Uganda and South Africa, where he met his husband, Pravesh Singh. They have a daughter, Arya, 3, and a son, Xander, 2.

Also set to accompany Berry on his trip, according to the U.S. State Department is USAID Senior LGBT Coordinator Todd Larson.

During the three day visit, Special Envoy Berry and LGBT Coordinator Larson will meet with government as well as representatives from religious, business, academic, and civil society organizations.

The visit comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s trip to Jamaica in April in which he used a town hall meeting to hail the example of a young lesbian activist.

While in Kingston at the University of the West Indies for a town hall with young people, Obama used his opening remarks to praise Angeline Jackson, executive director for Quality of Citizenship Jamaica.

Obama found Jackson in the audience, then shared her story this way:

“Several years ago, when Angeline was 19, she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted. And as a woman, and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side.  But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, and get them treatment and get them justice, and push back against stereotypes, and give them some sense of their own power. And she became a global activist.  But more than anything, she cares about her Jamaica, and making it a place where everybody, no matter their color, or their class, or their sexual orientation, can live in equality and opportunity.  That’s the power of one person, what they can do.”

In March, Members of LGBT activist group, Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand, interrupted a speech given by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller at a Diaspora meeting in New York, claiming her government is non responsive to increasing anti-gay violence in Jamaica.

But PM Simpson-Miller challenged the protesters from the podium saying according to the Jamaica Gleaner: “Nobody ever hears the government of Jamaica beating up gays, not one. Let me tell you something – you want to disturb, you can disturb, but this woman came here with the blood of Nanny of the Maroons and the spirit of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and this woman is not afraid of no man, nowhere, anywhere. And I will speak the truth everywhere.”

Jamaica is among the English-speaking countries in the Caribbean which prohibits “acts of gross indecency” (generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy) between persons of the same sex, in public or in private, punishable by two years in prison. There is also an “anti-buggery” law that prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but it was not widely enforced.

The U.S. State Department 2013 Human Rights report on Jamaica claims “Homophobia was widespread in the country, perpetuated by the country’s dancehall culture through the songs and the behavior of some musicians. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons faced violence, harassment, and discrimination.”

 

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