A 29-year-old activist in Jamaica is vying to become the first openly trans Member of Parliament (MP) to sit in the country’s House of Representatives.
Rich Richards has said he will run as an independent candidate in the Saint Andrew Eastern Constituency in the next general election, due in 2021.
In a country where tolerance and acceptance of trans people remains next to non-existent, Richards’ decision to campaign is one potentially ground-breaking in its effects.
‘It’s very complicated’
Richards broke ranks with the People’s National Party on Monday (1 July). He has been a member of the party since he was 15 years old.
Now an independent politician, Richards is finding a foe in the form of both his former party, and the ruling Jamaica Labour Party.
The constituency that will become the battle grounds in two years is currently represented by Delroy Chuck of the JLP.
‘As of today (Monday) I am in the process of putting together a campaign team. I’m going to be running as an independent candidate,’ Richards told the Jamacia Observer.
‘It’s complicated; it’s very complicated and people [try] to be politically correct when it comes to LGBTQ people speaking out.
‘It gets challenging but I will be a candidate in the next general election,’ Richards added.
Moreover, Richards stated that his independent status – far-removed from the Labour and National parties – should benefit him further.
‘My [gender identity] gives me an advantage’
While trans people undoubtedly face stigma and discrimination in the Caribbean country, Richards remains optimistic in his running.
‘I think my sexuality gives me an advantage. Because LGBTQ persons aren’t naturally prone to voting and I live in upper Saint Andrew.
‘[In] this constituency most of the communities are large so that will give me an advantage, whether it’s a familiar face or a person of said persuasion.’
The Saint Andrew Eastern constituency patch, one of 63 in the country, covers the areas of Mona and Papine in southeastern Kingston.
What would Richards’ election mean for Jamaica?
Quite a lot.
Within the Parliament of Jamaica, there are three levels: The Crown, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
Only the lower House is directly elected. So, as a result, it often serves as a barometer of Jamaica’s political and cultural views.
With homosexuality for men still illegal, with a penalty of up to 10 years, and trans people having no rights to change their legal gender, the election in the polls of a trans person would be an astronomical sign of progress to come.