In 2006, TIME magazine dubbed Jamaica “the most homophobic place on earth”. While local activists and movement building have improved the situation for the LGBTQI+ community over the past 14 years, the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be LGTBQI+.
Legally, the sodomy, or ‘buggery’ laws criminalize same sex intimacy, and the police are known to actively target members of the LGBTQI+ community. Jamaica's history of colonial violence and religious-excused homophobia and transphobia have made community level hatred rampant. Similar to most locations that Rainbow Railroad works in, the transgender community is particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical violence as well as precarious living conditions. Many LGTBQI+ individuals in Jamaica are experiencing homelessness or displacement, many living in gullies [storm drains] underneath the city.
Reports from individuals experiencing persecution in Jamaica are staggering. Rainbow Railroad case workers frequently work with case individuals who have been brutally attacked, sexually harassed or assaulted, burned with acid or fire, received death threats, or had gang violence occur in their neighborhoods. These acts of cruelty are usually made known to the police and state, and rarely are there protections offered or justice achieved by victims.
Unfortunately this situation is not limited to the Caribbean. 9 countries in the Caribbean still criminalize same sex intimacy. The consequences of these laws are environments where members of the LGBTQI community are victims of violence.
Due to the rate of violence, the limited options for people displaced in the country, and activists such as Gareth Henry, who helped found Rainbow Railroad, since the Rainbow Railroad’s infancy, Jamaica has been at the core of our work. Approximately 40% of our requests for help originate from the region, and we have relocated nearly 300 gay, lesbian, bisexual, non-binary, and transgender Jamaicans experiencing extreme persecution over the last 2 years.
Rainbow Railroad has a robust network of partners and activists on the ground in Jamaica. These essential partnerships assist us in the identification of vulnerable persons, the verification of their files and evidence to support their claim, and support in building a plan for their escape. Without these critical partnerships we would not be able to assist the volume of persons we are each year.
While we believe that a route for emergency evacuation is essential, Rainbow Railroad also recognizes the critical importance of advocating for systemic change and in contributing to the movement for freedom for LGBTQI+ in the Caribbean. That is why we also partner where possible to elevate the work of local activists and advance the state of human rights in the region.
A main point of advocacy in the Caribbean is decriminalization of anti-homophobia and anti-sodomy laws, and we are in solidarity in the movement for legal reform.