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Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network Screens Documentary About Homophobia In Jamaica

By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer

TORONTO, Ontario – The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network recently held a free public screening of The Abominable Crime, an award-winning documentary by Micah Fink about homophobia in Jamaica. In June it will be launching a major campaign around some of the pillars of its work.

The film follows Simone, a lesbian mother, and Maurice Tomlinson, a leading LGBTI human rights activist as they navigate the conflict of loving their homeland and wanting to stay alive.

Held at Jackman Hall Auditorium at the Art Gallery of Ontario on April 16, the showing was followed by a post-screening discussion with two of the people in the documentary and a representative of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Tomlinson, a senior policy analyst with the network and Karlene Williams-Clarke, LGBT newcomer community services coordinator at the 519 Church Street Community Centre – both Jamaicans – were joined by Richard Elliott, executive director of Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Doug Elliott, International Lesbian and Gay Law Association past president and member of the Legal Network’s Advocates Circle, moderated the discussion.

Williams-Clarke, a former co-chair and chair of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), said in the past eight months in her work with Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that helps LGBTI refugees overseas, she has seen an increase in the number of lesbians seeking help.

The calls have come in from countries such as Jamaica, The Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.

Tomlinson said he continues to fight for the human rights of LGBTI people because he wants there to be a record of engaging people in intelligent discussions about this issue.

LGBTI Aware Caribbean, an organization with which Tomlinson is associated, holds courses to build critical capacity among key stakeholders like the police, media, health and other service providers, to reduce the level of intolerance towards LGBTI citizens.

“Across the region, homophobia, stigma, discrimination, and violence are wreaking havoc on the lives of LGBTI people, and their families.  Public health is also adversely affected as Caribbean men who have sex with men (MSM) are driven away from HIV interventions, and the region has possibly the highest HIV prevalence rate among this group worldwide,” notes LGBTI Aware Caribbean on its website.

The documentary screening and discussion were held to share information about the legal network’s work defending the human rights of LGBTI people in the Caribbean.

However, a member of the audience, a university student, had some questions about the efforts here.

He acknowledged that the work being done in Canada is absolutely important to highlight the harsh realities in the Caribbean but noted that the “current atmosphere of LGBT advocacy is somewhat of a rescue narrative, where we in the north, need to save our brothers and sisters back home.”

“How do you as activists and funders internalize your power to continuously frame the Caribbean gay reality as one that makes the non-conforming body marked for death while not also acknowledging the various other ways that we also thrive?

“How do funding stipulations influence the vocabulary that is currently utilized in arguing about LGBTI realities in the region?

“How do you forsee a change to this rescue narrative? Could you shed some light on some of the ways that gay life actually thrives in the islands?”

Tomlinson said he was aware of the north-south perception and that efforts required multiple approaches because the realities are different within countries and differ from country to country.

Someone from the audience responded angrily that there were no situations in the Caribbean in which gay life thrives.

Meanwhile, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network will be launching “a multi-pronged strategy to challenge the harmful laws on the books of many Caribbean countries, while simultaneously building the capacity of brave civil society organizations on the ground who are working tirelessly, sometimes in fear for their lives, to defend LGBTI human rights.”

The network says there is a real opportunity to create region-wide change, and it needs the help of supporters to make it happen. Interested persons can join its email list to get in-depth briefings about the network’s work on LGBTI rights and many other issues related to HIV and human rights.

On June 20, the organization will hold a special event at the 519 Community Centre to publicly launch its “Right(s) Now” campaign.

Just over a month before that launch, an event will be held on May 14 entitled, “Canada’s Role in LGBTI  Human Rights Globally,” a reception and discussion  for International Day  Against Homophobia  & Transphobia.

Hosted by the Dignity Initiative, it will examine how Canadians are becoming more involved in supporting human rights for LGBTI people around the world. This reception is co-hosted by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network & The Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.

The panelists are: Adedapo Fabunmi, APAA (Africans in Partnership Against AIDS), Initiative for Equal Rights, Nigeria; Maurice Tomlinson, LGBTI Aware Caribbean & Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Vijaya Chikermane, Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention; and Michelle Emson, KyivPride Canada. The moderator will be Doug Kerr of Dignity Initiative.

The panel will discuss ways that Canadians are working on human rights for LGBTI people in several regions and countries of the world, including the Caribbean, India, Nigeria, and Ukraine.

The Dignity Initiative is a new national project of over 20 civil society organizations with a goal of advancing Canada’s role in the world supporting human rights for LGBTI people.

“We are proud to co-host this reception and interactive discussion on how Canadians are becoming more involved in supporting human rights for LGBTI people around the world,” said Kimahli Powell, director of development and outreach at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, in an email to those who attended the event.

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