Last edited: January 13, 2005

Jamaica Noted for Intolerance of Gays

Seattle Times, January 10, 2005

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

KINGSTON, JAMAICA—When gay-rights activist Brian Williamson was stabbed to death in June and jubilant crowds danced around his mutilated body, police said he had been a robbery victim.

When Jamaican dance-hall music artists got bumped from U.S. and British concert appearances this fall for lyrics encouraging the killing of gays, people here called the censure a failure to respect free speech.

The stigma attached to homosexuality and to people living with HIV/AIDS prevails across much of the Caribbean region, where Victorian-era sodomy laws remain on the books in at least 11 countries. But gay activists and rights groups point to Jamaica as the most intolerant of the lot.

Some analysts, including Richard Stern, director of the Costa Rica-based Agua Buena Human Rights Association, see the hostility as stemming from a profound religious conviction that homosexuality is a sin.

Jamaicans, including Kingston taxi driver Dale Bell, say they reject homosexuality “because a man is supposed to be with a woman, not another man.” Bell acknowledges that his countrymen are deeply intolerant of gays, but “not to the point of killing.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Rebecca Schleifer sees the violence as one part of a neglected society lashing out at another.

“It’s important to note the context of endemic violence and the failure of police to respond adequately,” she said. “It’s a problem for many people, not just gay men. Violence against gay men is just a piece of that.”

In the report she prepared for the New York-based agency, Schleifer said violence against gay men had become so common that a culture of impunity had grown around it.

Witnesses to the June 18 hacking death of Victor Jarrett in Montego Bay reported that three police officers had triggered the attack by insulting him about his sexuality. A mob that had gathered on the beach to watch the confrontation chased Jarrett when he tried to flee, chanting “Gays must die” as they stabbed and stoned him.

“Violent acts against men who have sex with men are commonplace in Jamaica,” Schleifer wrote. “For many, there is no sanctuary from such abuse. Men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women reported being driven from their homes and their towns by neighbors who threatened to kill them if they remained.”

The report warned that the climate of fear was discouraging Jamaicans from seeking AIDS-prevention education or testing. Jamaica’s HIV infection rate of 1.6 percent is the third-highest outside sub-Saharan Africa after Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In almost two-thirds of the cases, the virus was transmitted through heterosexual sex, according to health officials.

The homosexual support group J-FLAG maintains a Web site and telephone hotline for abuse victims but doesn’t publish its address for security reasons.

“We speak but we hide,” said J-FLAG member Yvonne Artis.

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