Last edited: January 25, 2005

Anger Not Going Away

The Nation, November 23, 2004
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax: 246-427-6968

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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