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Jamaican activist Tomlinson wins first David Kato award

Jamaican attorney Maurice Tomlinson receives award for activism just weeks after having to flee due to death threats
Jamaican gay activist Maurice Tomlinson winning the David Kato award.

A Jamaican gay activist who has been forced to flee his home due to death threats against him has received the inaugural David Kato Vision and Voice Award.

Maurice Tomlinson picked up the award, named after the gay Ugandan activist who died in January last year, at a ceremony in London on Sunday evening (29 January).

Attorney Tomlinson is one of Jamaica’s foremost gay activists. He has spent almost two decades campaigning around HIV. But when he saw the link between HIV transmission and the criminalization of homosexuality and marginalization of gay and bisexual men, he widened his work to LGBT rights.

The culmination of his ongoing work is the unprecedented legal challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law that Maurice’s organization, AIDS-Free World, initiated at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. If successful, the legal change will have to ratified by Jamaica’s politicians but will have a multiplying effect across the region.

In his acceptance speech he praised the election campaign comments of new Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller who rejected the homophobia of her predecessor, Bruce Golding and said she would have a conscience vote on repealing the island’s 19th century British colonial anti-sodomy law which criminalizes gay sex.

He told those attending the ceremony: ‘I see Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s views as representing what I and my dear mother consider the true Jamaican “One Love” culture.

‘As my mother tells it, during her youth, everyone knew at least one person in the village who was gay, but no one cared. People respected the privacy of others and the anti-sodomy law was rarely, if ever, invoked. There certainly were no marauding mobs seeking to eradicate gays from the society.

‘However, all this changed during the 1980s and 90s when there was a coarsening of Jamaican society through a deliberate export of hate and intolerance to Jamaica by, ironically, American televangelists. These preachers spawned sick replicas of themselves in the form of local religious leaders who poured a steady stream of poisoning homophobia into the ears of their congregants on an almost weekly basis.

‘Many of their parishioners and choristers consisted of young impressionable individuals who would later go on to record some of the most hateful homophobic songs on earth. These songs (over 200 of them at last count) contributed to a vortex of hate that swirled unchecked for many years and resulted in numerous assaults, mob attacks, extortion, and murder of Jamaican LGBT.

‘The previously unused law then became a fixture and police, who are after all products of their society, started to extort, attack, or ignore attacks on gays who were perceived as un-apprehended criminals.’

Tomlinson also described how he had been forced to flee his home as he became aware that the police would not protect him in the face of death threats – which escalated after it became public that he had married his partner in Canada.

But he concluded: ‘I hope one day, this vortex of hate will end, and I can once again return to the warmth of my amazing country, to teach my inspiring students, and be able to sit and chat with my mother after a wonderful bowl of her fabulous “Saturday soup”.’

The David Kato Vision and Voice award is inspired by the life of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato, who was murdered for his sexuality and the work he was doing for LGBTI people on 26 January 2011.

It will be awarded annually, to an individual who demonstrates courage and outstanding leadership in advocating for the sexual rights of LGBTI people and comes with a grant of $10,000 (€7,600).

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