Jamaica is a Dangerous Place for Gays and Lesbians
By Branka Juran and Maria Caspani
According to Jamaica’s leading gay activists, Jamaican Lesbians face attacks such as gang rape due to rampant homophobia throughout the country. Few of these violent crimes get reported.
“In Jamaican culture women are generally expected to be quiet about harassment and abuse,” says Jamaica’s top gay activist and HIV/AIDS campaigner, Maurice Tomlinson, in an interview with TrustLaw.
Lesbians are not the only victims of such horribly violent crimes. Tomlinson reports that 70 percent of attacks brought to the attention of rights organizations between 2009 and 2011 concerned gay men.
Under Jamaican law it’s legal to persecute against any act of physical intimacy between men with a jail sentence and the possibility of 10-years of hard labor.
Tomlinson went to London this week to receive the prestigious David Kato award for gay human rights activism.
“When we find out about these cases (involving gay women), they are usually so horrible that they rise up to the level of having to be reported,” he states.
Tomlinson is a legal advisor for the rights group AIDS Free World, assisting them in forging a structured way to address homophobia throughout the country and documenting human rights crimes against LGBT people.
When he initially began recording accounts of abuses, Tomlinson was disgusted by the sheer brutality of many of these acts.
“There was one instance where a gang of four men raped a lesbian because they said she was ‘taking over all good looking women’, Tomlinson remembers.
“They cut her genitals, so she could ‘better take men’ because ‘that is why she was a lesbian’, they said.
With 82 percent of its citizens against homosexuality – according to the results of a recent survey – Jamaica is one of the most dangerous places in the world for gay people.
"The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG) reported in June (2011) that 51 homophobic incidents had been reported in Jamaica between January and June 2011, representing a rise compared to the same period over 2010,” according to a report released in September 2011 by Amnesty International.
Endorsement of homophobic behavior used to come directly from the country’s political establishment. Former PM Bruce Golding was openly homophobic and stated he would never appoint an LGBT person to cabinet.
Now, some – even if feeble – signals of change are starting to emerge.
In January, the recently elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller had made some promising statements regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).
“I think she (Simpson-Miller) genuinely does not have a problem with LGBT people and does not pry to people’s bedrooms,” Tomlinson remarks.
Nonetheless, homophobia is still rampant in almost every aspect of the Caribbean island’s society.
Citizens attend church where they listen to pastors preaching that homophobia causes diseases; then they turn on the radio to hear popular Jamaican musicians such as Buju Banton and Beenie Man using anti-gay lyrics.
Tomlinson himself has received numerous death threats.
After news of Tomlinson’s marriage to a Canadian man sparked a bought of tension in Jamaica, it was decided it would be best for him to not return home. He is waiting on Jamaican authorities to assure him it is going to be safe to return.
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