Written By:Rachel Zabonick
Edited By:Dave Talmage
“Among all the countries we’ve had clients from, Jamaica ranks number one in persons seeking asylum from their home country,” due to the level of discrimination they face caused by extremely high levels of homophobia, said Steve Ralls, Director of Communications for Immigration Equality, located in New York, NY.
According to Immigration Equality, an organization “that advocates for equality under the immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and HIV-positive individuals,” in 2010 the organization had 30 LGBT cases of individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. from Jamaica. For comparison, said Ralls, “Russia had only 7 cases.”
Immigration motives examined
There are two reasons as to why Ralls believes Immigration Equality receives so many cases from Jamaica. “One is an issue of geography. In order to apply for asylum, you must be able to reach the United States border. The Caribbean’s proximity to the U.S. means that individuals in Jamaica have more access to get to the border,” he said. “We are also seeing increasingly more disturbing reports from our clients about the climate there.”
According to Maurice Tomlinson, a Legal Advisor for Marginalized Groups for an Aid-Free World and a gay-rights activist in Jamaica, acts of violence that members of the LGBT community have experienced include murder, rape, home invasions, and beatings. “Lots of this has happened in the past year,” he said.
Ignorance boiling over
Mr. H (only identified as Mr. H on condition of anonymity), is a blogger who identifies himself as a gay member of the LGBT community. He said that ignorance has a lot to do with the levels of violence and discrimination he and other members have experienced. “Ignorance has a lot to do with it, and misconceptions of lifestyle. Gay men are seen as predators. That negative perception has been said by the tabloid press- paints a very ugly picture,” he said.
Religious indoctrination, which does not support homosexuality, and much of Jamaica’s music fuels discrimination as well, said Tomlinson. “Music has a tradition of being very violent, especially against homosexuals,” he said.
Prince Jones, an employee of The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), in Jamaica, said that “there is great discrimination and lots of violent acts from the general Jamaican community, especially from members of the police force, and pretty much all uniformed groups.” J-FLAG’s (located in Kingston, Jamaica) mission is “to work towards a Jamaican society in which the Human Rights and Equality of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays are guaranteed.” Immigration Equality has also, “heard numerous reports of police violence, because of the general climate of homophobia,” said Ralls.
Fear of violence fuels silence
LGBT individuals are reluctant to report acts of violence to the police if they become victims of violent crime, said Ralls. “Reporting violence will lead to their own outing, which often leads to further violence,” he said. “This becomes a vicious cycle.” According to Ralls, if “ousted,” members of the LGBT community often face discrimination from their families, and some families even disown LGBT family members when their sexual orientation is discovered.
J-FLAG has received some cooperation from uniformed groups, said Jones. According to Mr. H, police support, “comes and goes. To be fair, some of them are trying (to be supportive), but it comes and goes,” he said.
Another issue facing LGBT individuals is the lack of support from the Jamaican government, said Mr. H. “The government tends to play to the hand of the so called ‘majority,’ and what they’re saying is they don’t like homosexuality.” Currently, members of the LGBT community are lobbying the government to take an official stance, said Tomlinson.