Dr Elsie Laurence-Chounoune, UNDP Resident Representative, a.i.

Opening Ceremony, Beyond Homophobia Conference

Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts

(Bert Rose Dance Studio Theatre)

Thursday, 24 January 2019



·        Public Defender - Arlene Harrison-Henry


Good evening esteemed guests,

The United Nations Development Programme is pleased to support this Regional Conference, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, J-FLAG, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, and Jamaicans for Justice.

Universality, sustainability, transformation and leaving no one behind, are hallmarks of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals, otherwise known as SDGs, emphasize the importance of efforts to first reach those who are the furthest behind. This commitment includes all persons regardless of their ethnicity, colour, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, culture and way of life.  In particular, SDG number 16, which focuses on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, commits all its signatories to protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements, and to promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

Everyone is born with certain inalienable rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Over the past few years the human rights of LGBTIQ persons have received increased attention throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, a number of decisions and actions were made in policy and legislation related to the acceptance and protection of the rights of the LGBTIQ community. This shows that a change in paradigm towards more holistic human rights is slowly being infused across the region. For example, there was an historic opinion on Gender Identity, Equality, and Non-Discrimination of Same-Sex Couples issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that is based in Costa Rica last year.

Many Caribbean countries continue to grapple with the issue of same sex relations. Notwithstanding efforts by Governments to improve human rights for many LGBTIQ persons continue to experience stigma, discrimination and violations of the most essential human rights. It is not uncommon for some LGBTIQ persons to experience violence and abuse, indicating a clear need to impartially enforce relevant laws to protect the rights of all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.

Homophobia and Transphobia manifest itself in various forms and in some instances may include violation of basic rights such as the right to identity, health, education, work, security, housing, or the right to have a family. Some LGBTIQ people may experience inadequate legal protection, sometimes rejection by their families and communities and may suffer from unequal treatment in schools, the workplace, medical care or the streets. The LGBTIQ community, like any other group faced with legal, social and economic barriers, may become marginalized and prevented from equally benefitting from development.  Advocating for human rights for all people is an important principle in UNDP and we support work that assesses the status of, and advance human rights across the region, including LGBTIQ persons.  

Under the theme “Navigating the State”, how LGBTIQ individuals and communities position themselves vis-à-vis Caribbean governments, this conference will explore for the next two days how to advance the attainment of human rights by LGBTIQ persons in the Caribbean. While improving human rights for all is slow, it does not mean that work is not being done. UNDP is working with Governments across the Caribbean region to enhance the state’s role in protecting human rights, including the reduction or eradication of inequality, discrimination and stigma.   

Ending stigma and discrimination, Ladies and gentlemen, is key to accomplishing the SDGs, a global commitment to achieving a life of dignity for all, with a special focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized. Governments across the region should ensure that everyone benefits from development gains thus ensuring that no one is left behind.

I end with some words of the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres:

So long as people face criminalization, bias and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end these violations.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let me underscore that the United Nations will never give up the fight until everyone can live free and equal in dignity and rights

I wish all of you a very productive and creative two days ahead. I am confident that this conference will endure as a rich opportunity for discussing the lived experiences of LGBTIQ persons in the Caribbean and how we all can work together to advance the full development of our region where everyone can achieve his or her fullest potential.

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