Alumni op-ed: Gay rights as human rights

February 2012

Timothy Wood, BCL/LLB’09, is a member of the New York bar currently working for CUSO international, a volunteer-based civil-society organization. He was previously a legislative assistant to Irwin Cotler. In this op-ed, originally published in Embassy, he writes about his personal project to support underground gay activists in Jamaica.

If Jamaica is the most homophobic place on earth, as Human Rights Watch has declared, ground zero in the worldwide fight for gay rights is a bungalow in north Kingston, the country’s capital. “Don’t tell the cab driver it’s JFLAG’s office,” warned the director of the underground gay advocacy group ahead of a recent meeting. Forget same-sex marriage: in Jamaica, as in much of the developing world, the goal is tolerance—and survival.

On Dec. 6, gay activists from the Caribbean to the Middle East were buoyed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s landmark speech to the UN Human Rights Council, in which she declared that “gay rights are human rights.” Ms. Clinton’s commemoration of the “brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause” was particularly poignant in Jamaica, where two pioneering advocates, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, were murdered by anti-gay mobs in 2004 and 2005, respectively. To this day their successors work in the shadows for fear of a similar fate…

Local activists alone cannot effectively lobby against laws which, while technically prohibiting acts of intimacy between adults of the same sex, create, in the minds of many officials and laypeople, a status crime for which gays and lesbians are liable to vigilante justice. To publicly challenge such laws in many countries is to risk social marginalization, employment discrimination, and physical violence…

Read on for four ways that Wood argues Canada should support gay rights as human rights.

Wood keeps a blog documenting his experiences in Jamaica at http://legal-nomad.blogspot.com/.

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