LGBT rights in Jamaica
|LGBT rights in Jamaica|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Male illegal,
|Up to 10 years imprisonment and hard labor|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons in Jamaica face legal and social issues not experienced by non-LGBT people. Sexual acts between men are punishable with up to ten years imprisonment. Sexual acts between women are legal.
Jamaica has been described by some human rights groups as the most homophobic place on Earth because of the high level of violent crime directed at LGBT people. The United States Department of State said that in 2012, "homophobia was widespread in the country".
The government of Jamaica said in 2012 that it "is committed to the equal and fair treatment of its citizens, and affirms that any individual whose rights are alleged to have been infringed has a right to seek redress." The government also claimed that "there is no legal discrimination against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation" and that it "is opposed to discrimination or violence against persons whatever their sexual orientation.":page: 95
An assistant commissioner of police claimed just before he retired in July 2012 that Jamaica's reputation as homophobic was merely "hype" and that life for LGBT persons was improving. He suggested the real problem was gay-on-gay crime and members of the community cross-dressing in public.
- 1 Issues
- 2 Jamaican political parties
- 3 LGBT rights movement in Jamaica
- 4 Social conditions
- 4.1 Anti-LGBT violence
- 4.2 Particular incidents
- 4.3 Public attitudes toward LGBT people
- 4.4 Homophobia and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica
- 5 Living conditions
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
Laws against male same-sex sexual activity
Jamaica's laws do not criminalize the status of being LGBT but instead outlaw conduct.:page: 97 The Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) provides as follows:
Section 76. Unnatural Offences. Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.
Section 77. Attempt. Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour.
Section 79. Outrages on decency. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.
Section 76's prohibition of buggery was not widely enforced in 2012. However, according to Human Rights Watch, regardless of how often persons are convicted of buggery or gross indecency, "the arrests themselves send a message." The Jamaican press publishes the names of men arrested for those crimes, "shaming them and putting them at risk of physical injury." The gross indecency law in Section 79 made LGBT persons "vulnerable to extortion from neighbors who threatened to report them to the police as part of blackmailing schemes."
Section 80. Other matters. Any constable may take into custody, without a warrant, any person whom he shall find lying or loitering in any highway, yard, or other place during the night, that is to say the interval between 7 o'clock in the evening and 6 o'clock in the morning of the next succeeding day, and whom he shall have good cause to suspect of having committed, or being about to commit any felony in this Act mentioned, and shall take such person, as soon as reasonably may be, before a Justice, to be dealt with according to law.
Police have great discretion in detaining individuals under Section 80. This and other laws are used as a pretext by police to detain men who do not conform to gender roles, and women who have sex with women are also targeted for arrest.:page: 97
Following Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson's pledge that "no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation", LGBT rights campaigner Maurice Tomlinson filed a case against Jamaica at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in February 2012. He had fled the country because of death threats after news about his marriage with another man in Canada reached the local media. No date for the first hearing has been set.
Efforts to increase criminal penalties
In 2009, Ernest Smith, a Labour Party member of Parliament, stated during a parliamentary debate that "homosexual activities seem to have taken over" Jamaica, described homosexuals as "abusive" and "violent", and called for a stricter law outlawing homosexual conduct between men that would impose sentences of up to life in prison.
Absence of laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Jamaica has "no law which prevents discrimination against an individual on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. There is no legislation addressing hate crimes in Jamaica.":page: 97
Many in Jamaica oppose inclusion of sexual orientation as a human right because they claim that to do so would be alien to Jamaican culture, with its traditional religious and gender attitudes, and would be a form of cultural imperialism.
Jamaican political parties
Neither one of the two major political parties in Jamaica has expressed any official support for gay rights.
However, at a televised debate in late December 2011 between opposition leader (and former prime minister) Portia Simpson-Miller of the People's National Party (PNP) and then-Prime Minister Andrew Holness, she said she would consider appointing anyone she felt was most qualified for her cabinet regardless of sexual orientation and added that she wanted to see conscience votes allowed by the major parties on gay rights issues in parliament. Although Simpson-Miller was criticized by some social conservatives for her stance, the PNP won a sweeping election victory days later.
In April 2006, then-opposition leader and future prime minister Bruce Golding vowed that "homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him". Two years later when asked if LGBT people could be in the cabinet, he said, "Sure they can be in the cabinet - but not mine."
New or minor political parties, no matter their political philosophy, oppose LGBT rights. The conservative National Democratic Movement opposes LGBT rights on religious grounds alongside the more leftist parties such as the Peoples National Party and the New Nation Coalition.
LGBT rights movement in Jamaica
The Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) was created in 1998, and operates underground and anonymously. A columnist in the Daily Observer, Mark Wignall, responded to the formation of J-FLAG in a commentary entitled "J-FLAG Must Cool its Homosexual Heat":
Jamaicans expect homosexuals to be quiet as they indulge in their "watchamacallit." Jamaicans expect them to be ashamed, remorseful, penitent and retiring. None of us want them to take their song and dance routine to the National Arena, or Jamaica House.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2012 said that "discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression is widespread throughout Jamaica, and ... discrimination against those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex ... communities is entrenched in Jamaican State institutions. Those who are not heterosexual or cisgender face political and legal stigmatization, police violence, an inability to access the justice system, as well as intimidation, violence, and pressure in their homes and communities.":page: 95
Jamaica stressed that, although consensual sex between adult males remained proscribed by law, there was no legal discrimination against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Jamaica pointed out that Jamaican law did not criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender orientation, nor did the Government condone discrimination or violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. It added that there had been no credible cases of arbitrary detention and/or harassment of such persons by the police, nor was there any such official policy. Likewise, there was no evidence of any mob-related killing of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. Jamaica stressed that the issue of male homosexuality was one of great sensitivity in Jamaican society, in which cultural norms, values, religious and moral standards underlay a rejection of male homosexual behaviour by a large majority of Jamaicans; and that the Government was committed to ensuring that all citizens were protected from violence.:page: 6, ¶ 31–32
During the UPR working group meeting, Australia encouraged Jamaica to repeal its laws against same-sex activities and condemn homophobic statements made by public figures.:page: 8, ¶ 50 The Netherlands expressed concern about harassment of LGBT persons and stated that legislation criminalizing consensual same-sex activities might contribute to the problem.:page: 8, ¶ 52 The United States "remained concerned about continuing discrimination, violence and exploitation, especially against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.":pages: 8–9, ¶ 53
Slovenia stated that the abuse and harassment of LGBT persons by law enforcement officials were "highly worrisome".:page: 9, ¶ 54 The United Kingdom encouraged Jamaica to promote tolerance and end discrimination against LGBT persons.:page: 9, ¶ 56 Sweden expressed concern about the criminalization of consensual sex between men and inquired about whether there were initiatives to decriminalize it.:page: 10, ¶ 66
Jamaica refused to support the recommendations made about LGBT rights.:page: 22, ¶¶ 101.18-.25, 102 "In response to questions regarding sexual orientation, Jamaica ... noted that sexual orientation was not criminalized, only a specific act. Jamaica stated that it was aware of existing concerns and observed that this was a sensitive issue." In addition, "Jamaica explained that the government has raised public awareness" about sexual orientation and discrimination and "will continue to do so, but that this needed resources.":pages: 9, 12, ¶¶ 58, 84
Human rights non-governmental organizations and governmental entities have agreed that violence against LGBT people, primarily by private citizens, was widespread in 2012. The Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) in 2012 "continued to report serious human rights abuses, including assault with deadly weapons, 'corrective rape' of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of gay and lesbian patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons.
Police often did not investigate such incidents. During the year[,] J-FLAG received 68 reports of sexually motivated harassment or abuse, which included 53 cases of attempted or actual assault, including at least two killings, and 15 reports of displacements. J-FLAG data showed that young people, ages 18 to 29, continued to bear the brunt of violence based on sexual orientation." In Jamaican prisons, there were numerous reports in 2012 of violence against gay inmates, perpetrated by wardens and other inmates, but few inmates sought recourse through the prison system.
Amnesty International has "received many reports of vigilante action against gay people by members of the community, and of ill-treatment or torture by the police. Gay men and lesbian women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality. ... We are concerned that these reports are just the tip of the iceberg. Many gay men and women in Jamaica are too afraid to go to the authorities and seek help." This violence has prompted many gay persons to emigrate and hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Violence against HIV positive people is commonplace, but legal repercussions for the aggressor are rare. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS representatives for Jamaica have described the blind-eye towards homophobic violence as "legalized discrimination" and have claimed that the violence has driven the HIV epidemic further underground, making access to treatment and outreach more difficult.
In June 2004, founding member and the public face of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) and Jamaica's leading gay-rights activist, Brian Williamson, was stabbed to death in his home. Police ruled that the murder was the result of a robbery, but J-FLAG believes his murder was a hate crime. Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Rebecca Schleifer had a meeting with Williamson that day, and arrived at his home not long after his body had been discovered:
She found a small crowd singing and dancing. One man called out, "Battyman he get killed." Others were celebrating, laughing and shouting "Let's get them one at a time", "That's what you get for sin". Others sang "Boom bye bye", a line from a well-known dancehall song by Jamaican star Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men. "It was like a parade", says Schleifer. "They were basically partying."
HRW also reported that police helped a suspect evade identification, and consistently refused to consider the possibility of a homophobic motive for the killing, with the senior officer responsible for the investigation claiming "most of the violence against homosexuals is internal. We never have cases of gay men being beaten up [by heterosexuals]."
A friend of Williamson's, Lenford "Steve" Harvey, who worked in Targeted Interventions at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, was shot to death on the eve of World AIDS Day the following year. Gunmen reportedly burst into his home and demanded money, demanding to know "Are you battymen?" "I think his silence, his refusal to answer that question sealed it", said Yvonne McCalla Sobers, the head of Families Against State Terrorism. "Then they opened his laptop and saw a photograph of him with his partner in some kind of embrace that showed they were together. So they took him out and killed him." Six people have been charged with the killing. Their trial began and was then postponed in 2007. It was resumed in 2012.
In April 2006, students at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies rioted as police attempted to protect a man who had been chased across the campus because another student had claimed the man had propositioned him in a bathroom. The mob demanded that the man be turned over to them. It only dispersed when riot police were called in and one officer fired a shot in the air.
In November 2012, two campus security guards beat a reportedly gay university student when he sought refuge from a mob of fellow students who were chasing him. The security company fired the two guards, and the university established a working group to develop a sensitization and education program to deal with intolerance and bullying and to recommend corrective measures.
In August 2013, an openly gay man in Montego Bay was stabbed to death in his home and then his home was set on fire. Earlier in the month, two men who were perceived by angry residents to be gay were forced to take refuge in a police station after a minor car accident. In July, a mob in St. James stabbed to death a gender-nonconforming 17 year old.
Public attitudes toward LGBT people
Opinion poll results
Results from the "National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans Towards Same Sex Relationships" were published in 2011. Based on a random survey in late 2010 of 1,007 Jamaicans, aged 18–84, 85.2 percent were opposed to legalizing homosexuality among consenting adults. In addition, 82.2 percent said that male homosexuality was immoral, 75.2 percent believed that female homosexuality was immoral, and 75.3 percent believed that bisexual relationships were immoral.
In 2008, a poll of 1,008 Jamaicans was conducted that read, "Whether or not you agree with their lifestyle, do you think homosexuals are entitled to the same basic rights and privileges as other people in Jamaica?" 26 percent said "yes", 70 percent said "no", and 4 percent did not know.
Homophobia based on religion
Many Jamaicans are devoutly Christian and claim that their anti-gay stance is based on religious grounds.
In June 2013, Jamaican church pastors rallied nearly 1,500 people in Kingston to support the country's buggery laws. Pastor Leslie Buckland of the Church of Christ argued that LGBT activists were trying to "take over the world" with their challenge of the laws. Buckland said that if the laws were repealed, activists would "go back to the court to make it a criminal offense to speak against the homosexual lifestyle."
In February 2006, a coalition of church leaders and members of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship declared their opposition to the privacy provisions of a proposed Charter of Rights that would form the basis of an amended Jamaican Constitution. Chief among the concerns was that homosexuality could be made legal, although Justice Minister A. J. Nicholson and the leader of the opposition, Bruce Golding, denied this and opposed decriminalizing buggery.
Cecil Gutzmore at the University of the West Indies has written that religious fundamentalists believe that the Bible variously declares homosexuality to be an "abomination", a "vile affection", "unseemly", "not natural", or a "form of ungodliness".
Those who commit this great sin are thus unequivocally construed ... as legitimate subjects to be punished by terminal violence, a fate not only dealt out directly by God Himself but, presumably, also by those regarding themselves as His faithful servants and the possible agents of His will. These persons feel a kind of righteous justification for ... acting violently on God's behalf against perceived homosexuals and homosexuality. ... In Jamaica metaphorical stones enthusiastically and destructively cast take the form of homophobic song lyrics, passionate sermons, and parliamentary and party conference speeches that voice a refusal to liberalize anti-homosexuality laws.
Local LGBT-rights group J-FLAG acknowledges that anti-LGBT sentiment is influenced by certain passages from the Bible, but counters that,
the appropriation by legislatures of the Christian condemnation of homosexuals is a purely arbitrary process, guided largely by individual biases and collective prejudices. In the case of adultery, of which much more mention is made in Biblical text, Jamaica has no law pertaining to its condemnation or prosecution. The same applies to the act of fornication.
Homophobia based on masculine idealization
Jamaica has a heavily male-dominanted social structure. Consequently, adultery and fornication are praised as signs of male virility in the lyrics of popular songs, particularly in Jamaican dancehall. Homosexuality (i.e., buggery) in this context is seen as a potential affront to the male "ideal". The virulent forms of homophobia in Jamaica are attributable to norms of hypermasculinity, which is roughly equivalent to the sexual behaviours associated with machismo in Central and South America.
Jamaican male sexual identity has long been defined in opposition to homosexuality. According to Dr. Kingsley Ragashanti Stewart, a professor of anthropology at the University of the West Indies, "A lot of Jamaican men, if you call them a homosexual, ... will immediately get violent. It's the worst insult you could give to a Jamaican man." Dr. Stewart believes that homophobia influences almost every aspect of life and shapes the everyday language of ghetto youth. "It's like if you say, 'Come back here,' they will say, 'No, no, no don't say 'come back'.' You have to say 'come forward,' because come back is implying that you're 'coming in the back,' which is how gay men have sex."
Attitudes about lesbians
For lesbians in Jamaica, the situation is considerably more ambiguous. In common with many countries where homosexual acts are or were illegal, legislation refers specifically to acts between males, making female homosexuality legal by omission. Jamaica Gleaner columnist Morris Cargill, who supported the "nurture" view with respect to environment and sexual orientation, wrote in 1999:
There seems to be a certain logic in female homosexuality. For if it is true, broadly speaking, we acquire our first sexual proclivities in infancy, girl children who are petted and fondled by their mothers, nurses and female relatives acquire what might be said to be a "normal" sexual affection for their own sex. But this is not true of male children, so it seems to me that there is a very fundamental difference between male and female homosexuality.
Amnesty International, however, has received reports of violence against lesbians, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. Lesbians reportedly have been attacked on the grounds of "mannish" physical appearance or other visible "signs" of sexuality. Some reports of abduction and rape come from inner-city communities, where local non-governmental organizations have expressed concerns about high incidences of violence against women.
Although lesbian civil ceremonies have taken place, Jamaica does not recognise any legal basis for partnerships between women. In 2012, American couple Jamaican-born Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn and Emma Benn held the first lesbian wedding in Jamaica, although their marriage was not legally recognized in Jamaica, they were by law, legally married in New York State (which legalized same-sex marriage in 2012) where they reside. The couple had their celebration ceremony in Jamaica after being lawfully married in the United States.
Attitudes of Rastafari from Jamaica
There are some homophobic attitudes in the Rastafari movement, according to an anonymous, well-educated Rasta elder in 2007:
The real reason why the average "Jah D" in Jamaica has this extreme, rational aversion to male homosexuality is not ... because of "fear of the other", it is not because of Biblical injunction; it is not because of its supposed "un-Africanness" nor the fact that Jamaica is nominally a "Christian country". It is simply that he cannot condone the abandonment of the clean "nip and tuck" of normal heterosexual relations for the unhygienic foray amid waste matter, unfriendly bacteria and toxic germs.
Senior Rastafari Ras Iyah V opposes the repeal of Jamaica's buggery laws. "I would have to stand with those who oppose homosexuality because that is not our way. From a moral and traditional African point of view, homosexuality is not acceptable."
Some Rastafari from Jamaica, however, have supported gay rights. British-born writer Benjamin Zephaniah said in 2005, "[I]t hurts when I see that [Jamaica] ... is now associated with the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation. I believe it is my duty to call upon all the progressive people of Jamaica ... to take a stand against homophobia." Mista Mahaj P, a Jamaican-born Rastafari based in the United States, released in 2011 reggae's first pro-gay album entitled Tolerance. King B-Fine, a Rastafari Reggae artist born in Jamaica, openly supports gay rights. He clarified this after some controversy about his song "Jah Nah Dead".
Portrayal of LGBT people in popular Jamaican music
Jamaica's popular culture has a strong tradition of music, including reggae and dancehall. As a consequence, performers are high profile, both influencing popular opinion and reflecting it. The United States Department of State said that in 2012 "through the songs and the behavior of some musicians, the country's dancehall culture helped perpetuate homophobia." In its 2011 review of Jamaica for compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed regret over "virulent lyrics by musicians and entertainers that incite violence against homosexuals" and recommended that Jamaica investigate, prosecute, and sanction persons who do so.
Artists such as Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Mavado, Sizzla, Elephant Man, Capleton, T.O.K., and Shabba Ranks have during their careers written or performed, or both, songs that advocate attacking or killing gays and lesbians.
Banju Banton, according to Time Magazine, "is an avowed homophobe whose  song Boom Bye-Bye decrees that gays 'haffi dead' ('have to die')." The song also "boasts of shooting gays with Uzis and burning their skin with acid 'like an old tire wheel'." Buju Banton's manager, Donovan Germain, has insisted that "Buju's lyrics are part of a metaphorical tradition. They're not a literal call to kill gay men."
One of Beenie Man's songs contains the lyrics: "I'm a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays." Bounty Killer has urged his listeners to burn "Mister Fagoty" and make him "wince in agony." Elephant Man said in one of his songs, "When you hear a lesbian getting raped / It's not our fault ... Two women in bed / That's two Sodomites who should be dead." Lyrics from Sizzla's songs include: "Shot battybwoy, my big gun boom." (Shoot queers, my big gun goes boom.)
Some Rastafari have advocated for violence and discrimination against LGBT people. When singing about gay males, those advocates have used terms like "MAUMA MAN (Maama Man), FASSY HOLE (or simply FASSY), MR. BURN, PUSSYHOLE, FAGGOT, VEGETA MAN, FISHMAN, FUNNY MAN, BUJU MAN, FREAKY MAN, GOKU, POOP MAN, BUGGER MAN and the most commonly used, BATTY MAN (butt man) and CHI CHI MAN (chi chi, in Jamaica, is the slang for vermin)."
When signing about gay women, they have used terms like "SODOMITE, CHI CHI GAL or simply LESBIAN." The Bobo Ashanti, including dancehall singers Sizzla, Capleton, and Anthony B, condemn everything in conflict with their beliefs: "Fire pon politicians, Fire pon Vatican, Fire pon chi chi man..." Some singers have defended themselves by saying that it is "a 'spiritual fire.'"
An international campaign against homophobia by reggae singers was headed by OutRage!, the UK-based gay activism group, and the UK-based Stop Murder Music Coalition. An agreement to stop anti-gay lyrics during live performances and not to produce any new anti-gay material or re-release offending songs was reached in February 2005 between dancehall record labels and organizations opposed to anti-gay murder lyrics.
According to a 2005 published report, the Canadian High Commission in Jamaica was also requiring performers who wished to tour in Canada to sign an Entertainer Declaration that stated that they had read and fully understood excerpts from the Criminal Code of Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Canadian Human Rights Act and would not "engage in or advocate hatred against persons because of their ... sexual orientation." Calls for a boycott of Jamaica and its music in Canada had provoked a debate over censorship and free expression in both Jamaica and Canada.
In August 2013, Queen Ifrica made anti-gay comments at the Grand Gala independence celebrations in Kingston, which were promptly criticized and labeled as inappropriate by the government's Ministry of Youth and Culture. The promoters of Rastafest in Toronto, held later the same month, then dropped her from the concert lineup after various persons and groups protested her inclusion.
A 2010 random survey of Jamaican adults showed that among those who most listened to reggae music, 65.0 percent expressed repulsion (the most negative word available) about persons in same-sex relationships. The percentages for dancehall music were 62.8 percent, 47.5 percent for rhythm and blues, 45.4 percent for those with no music preference, 42.9 percent for old hits and gospel, 35.3 percent for rock/alternative, and 30.8 percent for hip hop/rap.
Homophobia and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica
An estimated 1.8 percent of the age 18–49 population of Jamaica was HIV positive in 2011. The rate for men who have sex with men was 32.8 percent. The highest rates of infection were in the most urbanized parishes and in tourist areas. The HIV epidemic has been closely tied to poverty and developmental and socio-cultural issues, including slow economic growth, high levels of unemployment, early sexual debut, the culture of multiple partnerships, and the informal drug and commercial sex sectors.
In 2004, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the status of LGBT people in Jamaica. The report documented widespread homophobia and argued that the high level of intolerance was harming public efforts to combat violence and the AIDS-HIV pandemic.
The way Jamaicans associate HIV with homosexual anal sex has been partly shaped by the international media coverage at the beginning of the epidemic. Dr. Robert Carr, widely recognized as one of the world's leading researchers on cultural forces and the unfolding of the HIV pandemic, said,
AIDS was seen as a disease of gay, White, North American men. And people were really afraid of it. There were no treatments available in the Caribbean at the time, so AIDS really was a death sentence. You had people with Kaposi's sarcoma, people with violent diarrhea, who were just wasting away and then dying in really horrible and traumatic ways. To call what was going on here "stigma and discrimination" was really an understatement. In the ghettos[,] they were putting tires around people who had AIDS and lighting the tires on fire. They were killing gay people because they thought AIDS was contagious. It was a very extreme environment, and really horrible things were happening.
Stigma has been associated with HIV in Jamaica since the beginning of the epidemic, partly because of its association with male homosexuality. Jamaican men, in particular, are so concerned about being associated with homosexuality that they are hesitant to seek HIV treatment and prevention services. Poor men living with HIV are assumed to have participated in same-sex sexual acts, and poor men who participate in those acts are assumed to be HIV positive. Some people in Jamaica become suicidal when they first receive their HIV diagnosis, rooted in the fear of isolation and discrimination that will result from others finding out and not from the potential of death associated with it. HIV is a reportable disease, resulting in a visit by a contact investigator who asks for the names of sexual partners.
The spread of HIV also encourages a cycle of blame and violence, which marginalizes and encourages violence against a gay lifestyle. This cycle takes on further meaning under Jamaican law, which criminalizes all anal sex and often turns a blind eye to violence against homosexuals. Few are willing to take up the language of human rights against what is happening to homosexuals and HIV positive individuals because they are considered responsible for the spread of HIV.
A study conducted by AIDS researchers found that half of surveyed university students in Jamaica felt sympathetic towards heterosexual men and non-sex workers who were HIV positive, but did not feel the same for homosexual men and female sex workers. Essentially this study showed that less blame is attached to people who became positive through "less controllable" acts such as voluntary heterosexual intercourse or drug use. Many Jamaicans felt that sex workers and homosexuals are not to be pitied because they were acting in a way that knowingly put themselves at higher risk.
The secretive nature of gay culture in Jamaica makes outreach nearly impossible. Fear of being identified as gay has forced many men into early marriages in the hopes of avoiding future accusations. Miriam Maluwa, the UNAIDS country representative for Jamaica, said, "[Gay men] marry fairly rapidly, they have children fairly rapidly to regularize themselves, and that is really a ticking bomb". Gay men forced into heterosexual marriage are bound to have extramarital affairs. These affairs put their wives at high risk for infection as well.
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