Jamaica’s Attitude Towards Homosexuality Discussed
February 11, 2005
Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr.
NEW YORK, NY—Jamaican-born
homosexual, Larry Chang has appealed to fellow nationals to consider gays as
fellow human beings and urged them to examine their own attitudes towards the
Chang made the passionate appeal during a recent panel
discussion on the Human Rights Watch report, ‘Hated to Death: Homophobia,
Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic,’ that was hosted by Jamaica
Impact, Inc., (JAMPACT) at the St. Francis College in Brooklyn on January 29.
Chang revealed to the audience the difficulties he
encountered living as an openly gay man in Jamaica in the 1970s and said the
failure to discuss the “batty business” on a broader scale, was crippling
and contributing to a negative affliction on the national psyche.
Jamaica’s Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Gordon Shirley;
Dr. J. Peter Figueroa, Jamaica’s Chief of Epidemiology & AIDS for the
Ministry of Health and Rebecca Schleifer, a Human Rights Watch AIDS
researcher, who prepared the report under the aegis of Scott Long, director of
HRW’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights Program, were the
Schleifer who reiterated the report’s allegations and
argued that the issues of homosexuality and HIV/AIDS are linked because
Jamaicans perceive AIDS as a homosexual disease—that AIDS patients may be
afraid to seek treatment for fear of being labeled homosexual and subjected to
public persecution. Her argument also alleged that seeking treatment would
expose them to mistreatment and abuse from, among others, Jamaican healthcare
workers and called on Jamaica to address violence committed against
In response, Ambassador Shirley asserted that the report
collected evidence in a largely unscientific manner and was based primarily on
interviews of individuals provided by, Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals
and Gays, J-FLAG, a Jamaican gay-rights organization and Jamaica Aids Support.
The ambassador added that the report lacked context because it failed to
account for the complexity of the problem of crime and violence as a whole in
Jamaican society, and the relationship that this might have with violence
experienced by Jamaica’s gay community.
Dr. Figueroa called the report presented a “worst-case
scenario,” and made a sweeping characterization based exclusively on
testimonies of negative experiences by Jamaica’s gay community. He gave a
detailed power-point presentation, which showed that Jamaica’s progress in
combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic compared favorably with efforts by other
Caribbean islands and that in fact, Jamaica’s model was being emulated by
other nations. He also described the various campaigns undertaken by the
government to educate the public on methods of transmission and treatment,
including abstinence and safe-sex practices.
Dr Figueroa also shared statistical studies showing that
Jamaicans had a far more sophisticated understanding of the disease than
credited to them in the HRW report. Further, he stated that the incidents
documented in the HRW report, though tragic, represented worst-case examples
and that the Jamaican government has and continues to make efforts to educate
and reach out to at-risk populations, regardless of sexual orientation.
He also stated that healthcare workers are required to
safeguard confidential medical information and in general treat patients with
A tangential issue which emerged during the panel
discussion was the prevalence of anti-gay bias in dancehall songs, which was
also highlighted in the HRW report. Dr. Ben Chavis and Ms. Maxine Stowe,
representatives from the Hip Hop Summit Action Network and Jamaica Music
Culture Action Network, spoke briefly about the need for a balance between the
right of Jamaican dance hall artistes to exercise their free speech rights and
lyrics, which might be deemed as incitement to violence against homosexuals.
Dr. Basil Wilson, Provost of John Jay’s College of
Criminal Justice served as moderator.
JAMPACT officials said their primary goal in hosting the
event was to facilitate debate among panelists with relevant information to
share on the controversial topic.
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