President Obama and Angeline Jackson
President Obama has highlighted the plight of LGBT Jamaicans during his brief visit to the island nation last week.
Obama attended a youth leadership forum held at the University of the West Indies in Kingston on Thursday.
At the event, the American president praised Angeline Jackson, co-founder of LGBT rights group Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, who was in the audience.
Jackson and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted when she was just 19-years-old.
“And as a woman, and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side,” said Obama.
“But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organisation 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 colour, or their class, or their sexual orientation, can live in equality and opportunity. That’s the power of one person, what they can do,” explained the president.
Earlier, Obama spoke about the importance of “holding up the rights of every human being, regardless of what we look like or how we pray or who we love.”
Jackson told Washington Blade that Obama’s comments had given her “encouragement” and “validation for what I have been doing because it’s rough and moving forward with LGBT rights in Jamaica is certainly not going at rapid speed.”
Obama’s remarks follow a letter signed by American and international human rights groups calling on him to raise concerns about the human rights of LGBT people during his trip.
“Activists fighting for freedom look to the United States for support, and we thank the president for seizing this key opportunity to demonstrate the importance of protecting civil society in addressing human rights challenges,” commented Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord, one of the groups behind the letter.
In a damning report last year, Human Rights Watch found that “LGBT people in Jamaica face intolerable levels of violence” and are taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, beaten, stoned, raped, or killed.
Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, punishable with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.