Thursday, October 19, 2017

LGBT Issues in Jamaica

LGBT issues in Jamaica
By Jacob Solether
Produced/edited by: Sarah Wagner

LGBT Issues in Jamaica

Homophobic Jamaica

Many people think of Jamaica as the most homophobic country on earth. Though it is not illegal in Jamaica to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, it is illegal to perform “homosexual acts.” There are no laws protecting the rights of LGBT members, although some people believe the country is progressing in its efforts toward equality for all. The LGBT community in Jamaica has endured a long history of violence and discrimination that have caused problems for the economy.

History of discrimination

Common Law - which banned same-sex activity - has been in practice since Britain’s colonization of the island. Jamaica gained its independence from British rule in 1962, and there continues to be a lingering impact on the island today. In a study on The Developmental Costs of Homophobia, Rochelle McFee and Elroy Galbraith report former British colonies are more likely to have laws that criminalize homosexuality than other colonies that were once under French or Spanish rule. Nearly 70% of Britain’s former colonies still ban same-sex activity, while only 8% of former French colonies still ban the practice. Other long-lasting influences on the island are deeply rooted values from religion. Throughout Jamaica’s history, religion and faith have hampered gay rights.. In the study on the developmental costs of homophobia, as of 2012, nearly 77% of Jamaicans back the sodomy law.

Costs of homophobia

Human rights are important for the health of a country’s economy as well as its impacts on the socioeconomic status of people living in that country. Fear of violence and discrimination are preventing LGBT Jamaicans from fully participating and contributing to society. Jamaica’s economy suffers when businesses, organizations and establishments refuse customers or employees simply because they are LGBT. Many Jamaicans are discriminated against in the workplace for being LGBT, resulting in mass unemployment.

Violent discrimination

Photo of Dexter Pottinger courtesy of a fan's twitter.
Severe homophobia in Jamaica has led to a lack of access to education, legal services, and healthcare for LGBT people. Nearly 93% of the people who participated in the costs of homophobia study said discrimination against LGBT Jamaicans is “widespread.” LGBT people are denied services to healthcare and education. Homophobia in Jamaica has led to violence, death, and illiteracy displacement. One-fifth of gay Jamaicans have been attacked in the last five years and many attacks on LGBT people go unreported because they are poor and cannot afford legal services. LGBT people also lack legal rights and are underrepresented in the court of law, which contribute to the ongoing problems for the LGBT community. Brian Williamson, the co-founder of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), was hacked to death by a machete in 2004. The anti-LGBT violence is so bad that J-FLAG does not disclose the location of its offices in fear of an attack. Steve Harvey, an openly gay activist was shot to death in 2005. The late Dexter Pottinger, was a famous fashion designer and the most recent face of the LGBT community to be murdered. Pottinger was killed in his home on August 31, 2017.

            Jamaican music is a force on the island that promotes anti-gay rhetoric. Popular Dancehall musician, Buju Banton, has a hit-song “Boom Bye-Bye,” which advocates shooting gays with Uzis and declares that all gays "haffi dead" - "have to die.”

J-FLAG and other signs of change

Photo courtesy:
J-FLAG works with several advocacy groups in Jamaica. The advocacy groups promote respect for and inclusion of LGBT people in Jamaica. The groups rely on advocacy, activism and community engagement and mobilization as a part of their efforts to make Jamaica a more hospitable place for LGBT people. Although Jamaica has a history of anti-LGBT violence, Jaevion Nelson, the Executive Director at J-FLAG, says there has been tremendous progress in Jamaica.  “The country has had six incident-free staging of pride in the last three years,” said Nelson. He also said there are more LGBT members visible and open about their identities, which is creating dialogue among LGBT people and key stakeholders in the government and society.

**Global Spotlight is a nonprofit educational production, constituting a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.  

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