Last edited: November 27, 2004

Jamaican Gays Refute Gov’t Claims of No Discrimination

The Associated Press, November 26, 2004

By Stevenson Jacobs

Kingston—As the mob around Victor Jarrett grew, so did the chanting. “Gays must die!” onlookers yelled as two policemen allegedly took turns beating him beneath the blazing afternoon sun.

His crime? Staring at a teenage boy on a beach, one witness said.

After chasing him to a nearby house, the crowd of civilians dragged Jarrett out and chopped, stabbed and stoned him to death.

“The police just let it happen,” said Nicholas Henry, another gay man who witnessed part of the June 18 attack in the northern town of Montego Bay. “Where are you supposed to turn when even the police won’t protect you? Our society tells us there’s nothing worse than being gay.”

Many in Jamaica insist such cases are rare, but the report by Human Rights Watch alleges widespread abuse against gays on the Caribbean island known for the slogan “one love.”

The report, released last week and swiftly condemned by the government, (story) has reignited debate about homophobia in this conservative former British colony just six months after the slaying of Jamaica’s best-known gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, in what police said was a robbery.

Compiled from weeks of interviews with dozens of participants, the 79-page report says homosexuals endure pervasive hostility in almost all levels of Jamaican society—from the police to the pulpit and even popular reggae music.

It paints a particularly bleak picture for gay men, saying they suffer frequent abuse—including harassment, arbitrary arrest and sometimes torture—but have little recourse because of anti-gay stigma and a colonial-era sodomy law banning sex between men.

“Jamaica can’t pretend any longer that there isn’t a problem,” said Rebecca Schleifer, a Human Rights Watch researcher who wrote the report.

Her group says homophobic violence is adding to HIV/AIDS infections on the island by discouraging at-risk people from seeking information about the virus, still widely considered a “gay disease” in Jamaica.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s government dismissed the report and criticized the group for linking homophobia to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“We are opposed to violence against all persons and will continue to protect the rights of all citizens,” Information Minister Burchell Whiteman said.

Police officials have denied they target gays and have asked Human Rights Watch for evidence in the cases of Jarrett and other abuses detailed in the report so they can investigate, police Superintendent Ionie Ramsay-Nelson said.

“We need the details of what they’re alleging: When did these things happen? Where did they happen? Who was involved? We can’t conduct an investigation until we get this information,” Ramsay-Nelson said.

Human Rights Watch cited witnesses’ accounts that two policemen were initially involved in beating Jarrett, then urged the crowd to take over.

A front-page photo of Jarrett’s blood-spattered body was published the next day in the Western Mirror newspaper with the caption “What a way to go,” referring to him as an “alleged gay man.”

Homophobia in Jamaica gained international attention in June after alleged thieves broke into the home of Williamson, the founder of Jamaica’s only gay rights group, and mutilated his body with an ice pick and a machete.

Human rights groups suggested he was the victim of a hate crime, but police ruled the act the result of a robbery and charged a newspaper vendor for the killing.

Human Rights Watch says anti-gay violence will continue unless the government acts to protect gays, a move likely to find little favor with ordinary Jamaicans, many of whom consider homosexuality a sin.

“Gay people want rights, but I don’t think it should happen in Jamaica,” said Pauline Small, a 36-year-old housekeeper. “Spiritually it’s wrong.”

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