The inaugural winner of a new international human rights award named for the murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato is Jamaican lawyer Maurice Tomlinson.
Jamaica is regarded as one of the most homophobic countries in the world, where at least 35 people have been murdered because of their sexuality since 1997. Despite the very real risks to his own life and safety, Maurice Tomlinson has been one of the most outspoken advocates for LGBT rights in Jamaica, working tirelessly to promote change in laws and policies and challenging misrepresentations about LGBT communities.
The culmination of Maurice’s ongoing work is the unprecedented legal challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law, announced in October, that Maurice initiated at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Maurice is leading the legal team to file the first-ever such challenge at the regional level. If successful, it could be the beginning of the end of legalized homophobia in Jamaica, and undoubtedly will have a multiplier effect throughout the Caribbean.
Accepting the award, Maurice recalled those who have been murdered in Jamaica.
I dedicate this prestigious honour to the memory of David, Robert Carr, 16 year old Oshane Gordon (who was chopped to death in his home in the early morning of on October 18, 2011 because of “questionable relations” with another man) as well as ALL the other martyrs. “Lift every voice and sing!” he wrote.
In a letter to the Jamaican Gleaber, Tomlinson noted that Gordon’s homophobic murder was the second reported on Jamaican TV in three months. He noted that:
Despite these vicious attacks and many more like them, there are still those who argue that Jamaica’s deadly homophobia is a figment of the global North’s gay hysteria and an agenda to smear our country’s good name.
The spirit of the work that David fought and died for is perfectly captured by the very essence of Maurice’s tireless efforts in Jamaica and the region. In a highly competitive process Maurice is a worthy recipient of the very first David Kato Vision and Voice Award.
Kevin Osborne, Senior Adviser on HIV at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, one of the sponsors of the award, said:
Despite advances in many countries the fight for the sexual rights of LGBTI people is far from over. The overwhelming response to the David Kato Vision and Voice Award has highlighted that across the world – in far flung places and regions- LGBTI people are using our voices and vision to achieve human rights for all. It’s a battle that must be won.
George Ayala, Executive Officer of The Global Forum on MSM + HIV, another award sponsor, said:
Maurice’s courage and unapologetic determination to raise awareness and to bring people together in support of gay men and their families in the Caribbean embodies the spirit of the David Kato Vision and Voice Award. Maurice’s work is absolutely critical to the fight against HIV.
Kato was a leading LGBT activist in Uganda and his death was mourned worldwide, with vigils in several cities, which included a statement by President Obama. The murder led to an exceptional, positive editorial in the independent Monitor newspaper described by blogger GayUganda as “a real big deal.” Last month, his murderer was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
The aim of the new award is to support David’s legacy in continuing to promote human rights, particularly for LGBTI people, and recognizes the incredible and often dangerous work of individuals like David around the world.
It will be awarded annually, to an individual who demonstrates courage and outstanding leadership in advocating for the sexual rights of LGBTI people, particularly in environments where these individuals face continued rejection, marginalization, isolation and persecution. The award will be accompanied by a grant of US $10,000.
The award will be presented at a ceremony to be held at the end of January in London.
Photo: Tomlinson at Stand against Homophobia, Emancipation Park, Kingston, 28 July, 2011. Picture by Maurice Tomlinson.
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