This summer, alongside a team of three other researchers and Dr. Deborah Thomas, professor of Anthropology, I conducted research on human rights and sexuality in Jamaica with a focus on advocacy. We sought to investigate the contextual frameworks that influence the ways which queer Jamaicans are seen in Jamaica, and how they have attempted to create secure spaces for themselves. We delved into how citizenship and sexuality have been imbricated in Jamaica, and to how this intersection is built on the divisions that structure Jamaican society. To accomplish this, we worked closely with three organizations: Jamaicans for Justice, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) and the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (URAP).
In doing this work, a number of things became apparent. On a personal level having previously lived in Jamaica for most of my childhood, the exposure I received to the vastness and vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ community and its advocates came as an extremely heartening and pleasant surprise, as in my time there prior to this research, I had no clue that the community existed with such breadth.
A recurring theme across organizations was the frustration voiced in the way that funding for nonprofits works. While local advocates have great ideas to advance the cause of human rights, stipulations on what ought to be done with funds donated by predominantly international donors hinders productivity and relationships built with the community locally. This point emphasized the need for the international human rights community to empower and recognize advocates already doing work locally, as they know the needs of their communities best as opposed to trying to set an agenda based on the existing framework of a global north country such as the US, Canada or the UK.
This project greatly influenced my desire to do further research, or potentially take on a research intensive career in the future. I feel better equipped as both a researcher and advocate to tackle similarly complex issues.