‘Hated to Death’ in Jamaica
York Times, December 2, 2004
With the second-highest H.I.V. infection rate in the
world, after sub-Saharan Africa, many Caribbean nations have been working hard
to improve their public health and AIDS education efforts. Jamaica, however,
needs to work harder.
A disturbing new report from Human Rights Watch suggests
that Jamaica cannot win the battle against AIDS until it confronts the
virulent forms of anti-gay bigotry that run through the country’s popular
culture, its police force and much of its medical system. The report, grimly
titled “Hated to Death,” alleges that a pervasive anti-gay bias is driving
the epidemic by forcing people at risk to avoid hospitals, and by making it
difficult for them to acquire condoms and other things that would help them
remain free of the infection.
Not surprisingly, “Hated to Death” has drawn fiery
condemnations from some in the Jamaican government. But it will take more than
angry denials to sweep away the distressing testimony in this report, which
recounts the experiences of gay Jamaicans forced to flee their homes under
threats of violence and death. One of the bedrock problems is the
government’s timidity in the face of a primitive set of laws that
criminalize gay sex among consenting adults. The police appear to extend their
harassment to outreach workers, who are sometimes persecuted for passing out
The medical system is improving, but still problematic.
It sometimes abuses gay patients and sometimes turns them away. The report
coincides with disturbing data suggesting that the AIDS epidemic may be
deepening in Jamaica and that unprotected sex is far more common than it
The Jamaican government has already embarked on an effort
to provide AIDS sufferers with broader access to important medicines. But
these efforts cannot become fully effective until the government can summon
the courage to attack the virulent anti-gay prejudices that are driving this
epidemic by making people at risk fearful of seeking treatment.
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