Anger Not Going Away
Nation, November 23, 2004
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax:
By Robert Best
Within recent days debate and arguments surrounding
prostitutes, homosexuals and HIV/AIDS victims have been intensified in the
region. From Jamaica in the north to Guyana in the south there have been
exchanges displaying a surprising anger, especially when it is suggested that
prostitution and homosexuality should be legalised.
Gradually what has been emerging in the debate, even when
participants claim to be religiously inspired, is that this is no intellectual
exchange of words among sinners, but rather the adoption of hardened positions
that can cause people to be deadly.
This has been markedly so in Jamaica, although even here
in Barbados some of the words used have been acerbic enough at times to
reflect an anger that hopefully will not spread to less disciplined minds. It
is this type of anger that is creating many of the problems in Jamaica.
The Jamaica debate first centred around claims that
certain lyrics in reggae music were encouraging that “batty boys” be
killed and there has been a general acceptance that this has been so. However,
at a Press conference last week in Jamaica a report from Human Rights Watch,
an international organisation, claimed that there is widespread discrimination
and abuse in the country “based on sexual orientation or HIV status”.
This is easy to understand when it is accepted that there
is a link made in some minds between the spread of HIV/AIDS, homosexuality,
homophobia and prostitution. The report claims that this attitude is fostered
by the country’s sodomy laws which the government has failed to repeal.
These laws, like those in Barbados and some other Caribbean countries, make
homosexuality and prostitution illegal.
But what is more significant about the attitudes being
displayed is that the report claims that the Jamaica police encourage the
beating of gay men while turning a blind eye to documented cases of physical
and verbal abuse of HIV positive people.
It comes as no surprise when the activities of gays and
prostitutes are illegal to find the report going on to claim that “police
extort money and sex from gay men as well as sex workers (prostitutes),
sometimes using the mere possession of condoms – a key tool in HIV
prevention – as an excuse to harass or arrest both them and AIDS educators
who work with them”.
What we find here is that while there are those who will
regard laws against homosexuality and prostitution as good for the society,
these laws also present opportunities for those who break these laws to be
victimised by the very people we would want to uphold them. Man never ceases
in finding new ways to be inhuman to man.
The report has suggested that the Jamaica government
should take steps to end arrests and prosecutions based on adult consensual
homosexual conduct; ensure protection of HIV/AIDS outreach workers and protect
people living with HIV and AIDS against discrimination. But will laws be
enough to turn around the Jamaica attitudes?
The report was forced to admit that discrimination of
those mentioned is rampant in the Jamaica’s health facilities, in homes and
in the church. Where is the salvation desired to be found?
To the south in Guyana, the country’s health minister
Dr Leslie Ramsammy, was bold enough last week to suggest that some
consideration might have to be given to legalising homosexuality and
prostitution as a factor in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. As was
the case in Barbados, the Church, through a spokesman, was quick to tell the
minister that he should have second thoughts about any such move. Like others
in the region, Dr Ramsammy is advising that “. . . to contain the HIV/AIDS
epidemic we must act with a sense of urgency and yet be careful that the human
rights of all citizens are protected”.
There might still be hope.
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