Photo via White House Flickr
In the Caribbean, a region known for its general intolerance to the LGBT community, Jamaica stands out for the sheer violence of its homophobia. Sometimes named “the most homophobic place on earth,” politicians have repeatedly resisted pressure from human rights organizations and foreign countries to end state-sponsored discrimination and introduce protections. Yet, despite Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller’s 2011 pledge to decriminalize homosexuality, it is still punishable by up to ten years in prison. President Obama has now fired a shot across the nation’s bow, however, in the form of a rainbow.
The country’s alarming track record on LGBT rights was an issue President Obama broached on his recent visit—he even made a point of meeting with members of the community—a fact that lends an added power to the image captured by White House photographer Pete Souza. In a blog post, Souza explained that he managed to get the shot by anticipated the exact spot the president would turn around to wave goodbye after realizing there was a chance that the rainbow would still be visible.
Chosen as the official White House photo of the day, it’s impossible not to read into the selection a continuation of President Obama’s increasingly aggressive drive for LGBT rights and equality. In this past week alone, a gender-neutral bathroom was installed in the White House, the executive order banning LGBT discrimination for federal contractors went into effect, and the president responded to the White House petition for Leelah’s Law, which called for a ban on conversion therapy for minors, pledging to work with lawmakers on state levels. Last month, the State Department also introduced its first ever global envoy for LGBT rights, Randy Berry. Of the many countries that he will try to put pressure on, Jamaica will surely be an early and important push.