Last edited: July 11, 2004

Gay Jamaicans Suffer Bias & Violence

The Data Lounge, October 18, 2002

LONDON—Life for gay people in Jamaica is so wretched, the British government estimates that hundreds and more probably thousands have fled the island for the relative safety of the UK and US.

Jamaica and other English-speaking countries in the Caribbean are among the most homophobic in the Western hemisphere. In an interview published by the BBC, a gay man from Jamaica requesting anonymity, shared details of his struggle.

"I was working in security and had to use a portable radio a lot. Every time I would get on the airwaves people would shout ‘hey, gay boy, get off the radio’. People are constantly at you," he said.

"I was arrested for allegedly abusing a boy—something I was wrongfully accused of and something I would never dream of doing. . . They locked me up and the policeman told all the other inmates I was gay. . . I was terrified. Gay men get killed in prisons."

In the summer of 1997, a Jamaican commissioner’s proposal to distribute condoms to prisoners and guards to prevent the spread of HIV triggered prison riots that led to the brutal murder of six prisoners branded by rioting mobs as gay.

The issue of gay rights revisited the region later that year when the Cayman Islands decided in December of 1997 to deny berthing rights to a gay cruise ship. Its government said the 900 passengers on board could not be expected to maintain "appropriate standards of behavior."

Tony Blair’s government in Britain added to the consternation of many Caribbean church leaders when it urged some of its remaining colonies and independent former territories in the region to liberalize anti-gay laws.

In January 2001, the British Government made good on a promise made in March 1999 and repealed anti-gay sodomy laws in five of its Caribbean territories after local legislatures flatly refused to do so.

The move in London was angrily denounced by religious leaders on the affected islands. The Rev. Nicholas Sykes, chief pastor of the Church of England in the Cayman Islands, called the move "totally unacceptable to the minds of the Christian community here."

David told the BBC of the abuse he suffered while in a Jamaican prison. "I was hit, I was slapped. The policemen beat me and hit me so hard I am still completely deaf in my right ear. . . I had my throat slashed and when I went to hospital I could not tell them I was gay or they would not have treated me."

Asked if he thought life for gay people would ever improve in Jamaica, he replied, " It is just not possible to live a normal life in Jamaica if you are gay."

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