Jamaican gay activist, Maurice Tomlinson, married a Torontonian
Tomlinson is a leading gay activist in Jamaica — the only country in the Western hemisphere where gay sex is still illegal.
In Toronto, he married Tom Decker, a police officer-cum-pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
The UN’s former special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa was the best man. Hawkes married them. Tomlinson wept with joy throughout the ceremony, but he didn’t invite any of his family out of fear.
Talk about a double life.
“In Canada, I have a husband,” he told me from their little red-brick row home in Toronto’s east end. “In Jamaica, I have a good friend.”
In the past year, Tomlinson has received three death threats for speaking out against the country’s virulent homophobia.
He’s stopped going to parties and bars and public beaches, he says.
He’s right to be scared. Vigilante justice against gay men is common in Jamaica, a country where 82 per cent of people self-identified as homophobic in one recent survey. Last year, two men were chopped to death with machetes because they were gay.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding was openly homophobic: he said he’d never appoint a gay person to his cabinet. According to the law, consensual sex between two men in Jamaica will get you 10 years of imprisonment and hard labour. Any “act of gross indecency” — like kissing — will get you two years.
The law is rarely enforced. More often, police use it for extortion, Tomlinson says. But its very existence fuels the mobs, machetes in hand, since gays are legally criminals. Even the police officer who recorded his first death-threat report “went on a tirade that he hates gays, who deserve to die,” says Tomlinson.
For two years, Tomlinson has collected victim reports as a legal adviser for Lewis’ international advocacy organization, AIDS-Free World. Now, he’s taking them to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, since the Jamaican charter protects the laws against “sexual offences” from constitutional review.
“There’s an African proverb: you are mopping the floor while the tap is still running,” says Tomlinson, 40. “If you don’t change the law, you’ll never change the attitude.”
The commission is likely to hear his petition this spring. Even though it has no authority over Jamaica’s parliament, it will be a big moment for the island’s underground gay community.
Dirty laundry for all to see.
There is other good news. On Jan. 29, Tomlinson will be in England to receive the inaugural David Kato award for gay human rights activism. Kato, a Ugandan gay activist, was murdered last year. The award comes with a $10,000 grant that Tomlinson plans to use to give Caribbean police officers anti-homophobic training.
And, last week, Jamaicans elected a new prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, who pledged to put the country’s anti-sodomy law to a vote in parliament.
“Justice will out!” Lewis wrote me in an email. “I genuinely believe this would not have happened had Maurice not spent the last two years on a personal crusade to convert Jamaica to tolerance.”
Tomlinson is less optimistic. He is sure parliament will be swayed again by the powerful evangelical churches and that machete mobs will continue unabated.
Change both seeps and charges. Just think: 11 years ago this month, Hawkes performed the country’s first gay wedding, wearing a bulletproof vest under his clerical vestments.
Looking at the freckles that splash down Tomlinson’s left cheek like sugar grains, I wonder how anyone could hate a man this breathlessly beautiful. He’s worried he’ll be dead by the time gays are no longer criminals in Jamaica. He’s applying for Canadian citizenship, he tells me. We’d be lucky to have him.
But I hope he stays in Jamaica.
That country needs him more.
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remarks by Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World’s Legal Advisor on Marginalized Groups, upon receiving the inaugural
‘David Kato Vision and Voice Award’
London, UK, January 29, 2012, 6:00 PM
more on audio (Feb 1, 2012)