Last edited: February 12, 2005

Jamaica’s Attitude Towards Homosexuality Discussed

Hardbeatnews, February 11, 2005

Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Gordon Shirley

Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Gordon Shirley

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 sexual lifestyle.

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 other panelists.

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 homosexuals.

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 compassion.

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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