Lafayette College will honor Jamaica’s prime minister this Saturday and will be met with resistance from one local LGBT organization.
The Caribbean Alliance for Equality, based in Somerdale, will protest Lafayette’s 179th commencement May 24, during which the school will present Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller with an honorary doctorate of public service.
Lafayette College stated that Simpson-Miller “has become an inspiration to many, in Jamaica and elsewhere, for her commitment and leadership in the areas of human rights, nondiscrimination, workers’ rights and social justice.”
Before the 2011 election, Simpson-Miller came out as supportive of the LGBT community. But Caribbean Alliance for Equality founder Jason Latty-Travis said Simpson-Miller has done little to protect the rights of LGBT people in the country.
“Lesbians are going through corrective therapy and are being raped and can’t report it because the police will not take the report. We have 150 people living on the streets who are constantly abused or tortured,” he said.
Latty-Travis said that, in the last two years, there have been more than 500 Jamaicans killed in shootouts, to which the prime minister, he said, has turned a blind eye. He added the violence often affects LGBT Jamaicans, who face discrimination both culturally and politically; it is legal for women to have sexual relationships with one another, but sexual acts between men can garner a 10-year prison sentence.
There have been a number of high-profile LGBT murders in the country, including the 2004 murder of Brian Williamson, founder of Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, who was stabbed to death in his home.
Latty-Travis said Simpson-Miller has remained silent on the alleged discrimination faced by LGBT Jamaicans from the government.
Caribbean Alliance for Equality was founded in 2013 to promote the idea of LGBT equality and protection in Jamaica. Latty-Travis said the organization has hosted a variety of screenings and workshops to promote its mission and anticipates at least 50 people will turn out for the protest, which begins at 1:30 p.m.
“We might get more people because there are people coming from New York. The concern is so great,” he said.
Latty-Travis, who said he does not have a personal connection with the college, added he has tried to make contact with the college’s president but has not received a call back. He said he has informed the college’s public-safety department that there will be a protest during commencement.
Kathleen Parrish, associate director for media relations at Lafayette, said students live in an interconnected and globalized world and can learn and benefit from a variety of educational and social contexts where participants come from all backgrounds.
“A college should be a place that includes a free exchange of ideas,” she said. “Other world leaders, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and former British prime minister Tony Blair, have spoken here within the time this graduating class has been attending Lafayette. As with all individuals who take on the responsibilities of leadership, differences of opinion exist about the views they have expressed and the positions they have taken.”
But Latty-Travis maintains the college should cancel the speaking engagement.
“It sends the wrong message,” he said. “It makes the college look bad when you have somebody like this who allows these travesties to go on.”
Parrish said Lafayette will also honor Roger Ross Williams, who was the director and producer of the documentary “God Loves Uganda,” a film that focuses on the persecution of LGBT Africans from American evangelical missionaries.
For more information, call Latty-Travis at 856-449-0611.