Wednesday, March 21, 2012

US Ambassador to Jamaica
Dodges Soft LGBT Question

Last Tuesday I blogged about submitting questions to the State Department's Dip Note blog's request for questions to be asked of the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, career diplomat Pamela Bridgewater.

Not only were my questions posted to the Dip Note, but they were asked during the chat with Bridgewater and Ambassador Curtis Ward, former ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations and currently President of the Caribbean Research and Policy Center, which took place at the department on March 16. The conversation was moderated by deputy assistance secretary Cheryl Benton.

Benton projected my questions on the screen and read them aloud to the ambassadors. Here is the video of the conversation and the LGBT questions come up at the 20:24 mark:

To my disappointment, our ambassador dodged the soft questions and unfortunately didn't address the specific matters of LGBT people and issues in Jamaica. This is a transcription of Bridgewater's response:

Well, as the individual stated, our human rights report is being vetted right now, so I will not comment on what it states because it has not been released. But I will say that our embassy has engaged very, very aggressively with Jamaica with Jamaicans on a plethora of human rights issues. 

Women's issues, the rights of vulnerable populations, children, trafficking in persons, LGBT. I have worked personally on these issues and will continue to do so. So I can assure the questioner that we are involved very vigorously on these areas.

Disappointment with our ambassador's dodge aside, I was quite pleased that Ward took the opportunity to address how the new prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller would hire a gay person for her administration:

If I might add to that Ambassador, you may recall that during the last election campaign in Jamaica, the now current prime minister had made a statement.

Which in effect, was a deliberate shift from what had been the perception at least, if not the practice, that she would not be discriminating against any individuals who were gay. That they could serve in her cabinet, that they could be appointed to high positions. So this is a big step in the right direction for Jamaica.

I think the questioner needs to . . . should understand there are steps being taken for greater tolerance and societies like Jamaica will never shift overnight from one position to another. It has to be a gradual process. I think we are in the right direction.

And Bridgewater replied:

We certainly commend that and are certainly looking forward to other opportunities to expand human rights in Jamaica.

This conversation is remarkable for the fact that Jamaica's former representative to the United Nations was more direct and specific about gays in his country, than the American ambassador who tip-toed around gay concerns.

Kudos to the State Department of hosting these conversations, engaging with the public for questions and issues to be addressed, and many thanks to Bridgewater and Ward for participating. On behalf of Gays Without Border, I applaud this public diplomacy effort by the American government.

No comments: