Gay Caribbean News & Reports 2010-11

Summary-Regional Consultation on Health Promotion and the Provision of Care to MSM in Latin America and the Caribbean

1 Universal access in the Caribbean must include men who have sex with men 3/10

2 Why Gay Men Live A Lie! 7/10

3 Commentary: Stop discrimination against Blacks and gays 11/10

4 1-in-5 unaware that HIV can be passed though unprotected gay sex 2/11

5 MSM and HIV in the Anglophone Caribbean: A situation review 3/11

6 State-Sponsored Homophobia Helps Spread HIV 5/11

7 Homophobia in the Caribbean Varies Widely 5/11

16 March 2010 – UNAIDS

Universal access in the Caribbean must include men who have sex with men

Although the Caribbean as a region has the second highest HIV prevalence after sub-Saharan Africa, most countries have concentrated epidemics which disproportionately affect certain groups including gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM). In many countries men who have sex with men experience considerable social stigma and are not reached with vital HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. Not only are men afraid of disclosing their sexual activity, they are also deterred from finding out what they need to know to reduce their risk or to buy condoms.

An environment of homophobia is often reinforced by anti-sodomy legislation which exists in 11 of 16 Caribbean countries*. This can contribute to an intolerant cultural and social environment which risks keeping men who have sex with men away from accessing HIV testing and counselling and education services that would reduce the vulnerability to HIV infection.

In Jamaica—a country with anti-sodomy laws—there is 32% HIV prevalence among MSM, versus 1.6% in the general population. In Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana, countries which also criminalize sex between men, the HIV prevalence ranges from 20% to 32%. While in Cuba, Suriname, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, countries without such legislation, the HIV prevalence in MSM ranges from 1% to 8%.

According to 2007 UNGASS Country Progress reports less than 40% of MSM in the Caribbean are reached by prevention programmes. Local groups in many countries in the Caribbean have been urging civil society and government programmes to include MSM issues and organizations within the AIDS response. These efforts have been supported by regional networks including PANCAP. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé has called for an end to punitive laws which hamper the AIDS response in this region. Reducing homophobia and removing punitive laws that criminalize sex between men creates the right conditions for achieving universal access.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé
“In most of the countries in the Caribbean that don’t have repressive laws, HIV prevalence is between 1% and 8% among men who have sex with men,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “This contrasts sharply with a range of between 20% and 32% in countries which outlaw sex between men.”

“Reducing homophobia and removing punitive laws that criminalize sex between men creates the right conditions for achieving universal access,” Mr Sidibé continued. A collaborative effort is underway between UNAIDS, UNDP and PAHO/WHO to develop strategies for Latin America and the Caribbean on human rights and improvement of access to health services for MSM and other sexual minorities. UNAIDS will lead a regional effort in the Caribbean to strengthen HIV prevention programmes among these groups, to bring together the human rights and service provision components for their improved health, human rights and well-being.

* Countries in the Caribbean with laws that criminalize men who have sex with men: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. Countries in the Caribbean with no laws criminalizing men who have sex with men: Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname. According to ILGA web site accessed 16 March 2010

July 8th, 2010 – The St.Lucia Star

Why Gay Men Live A Lie!

by Kayle Lewis
Confessions of Closet Homosexual in Saint Lucia – A Gay Man’s Struggle to Find True Love

When I decided to write this series of articles from within the closet, my objective was neither entertainment nor sensationalism. This is way too serious an issue and life is way too short for me to be engaged in such. I continue to follow the discussion on the STAR website with much interest. Indeed, there are those who are voicing some very profound insight into the discussion, while of course, there are those who are venting their moral outrage on the issue and yet still others who want to take a myopic view on the matter—and you know what? They are all expected, and as such, people participating in the debate on the issue should respect what is being said on both counts. After all, what makes a rainbow colourful are its varying colours.

While I continue to follow the debate, I note something that has always disturbed me. I find that as a people, we tend to want to analyze, analyze and still analyze. While being analytical has its place, sometimes we can miss the essence – it’s like making the simple complex. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that will never change and homosexuality, which is as old as rock formations, will continue. It’s time that we move to the point of acceptance and let be and leave the “judgment” to whatever higher power we believe in.

From my window in the closet, it continues to amaze me, as to how homophobic we are as a Caribbean people. I smile when I hear that in some Caribbean countries if a van is filled and there is a male in the front with space for one more passenger next to him, that another male would not take the front seat but rather go in the back and perhaps “jam up” under five or six other males instead. Am I missing something? Is it not the same male you are going to “jam up” under in the back?

From my closet, I would like to make a point that I omitted and it’s an important one—femininity in a male does not equal homosexuality as masculinity does not always equal being straight. Too often, feminine young men have been branded as being gay and often times this is not the case. While I have listened to debates and discussions over the years, it was not easy for me to fully accept that my sexual attraction was towards the same sex. I came to the realization that truth is truth, and that its nature is to be told. As a matter of fact, the more you deny truth, the more it gathers strength.

Many people continue to deny their feelings. I struggled with my own for years. It’s amazing that I am still alive. Once I wrote a letter intended for my family. I locked my room and held the razor near to my wrist, for I had realized that the desires that I had toward men and my wanting to be with a man would not have been accepted by those around me. I will never forget that night and the pain that I experienced. I was cognizant of the attitudes towards gays and felt that I was not at that point where I wanted to let what I was feeling be known. I was not ready to pay the price. To this date, my few friends do not know about this painful episode. And I am sure that there are young men who are struggling like I have— perhaps some are even reading my words. Could you imagine a “thug” or a “shatta” struggling with those types of feelings? Of course he would be given a “heterosexual pill.” While there are many faces in the closet, there are also many personalities; there are those men in the closet, who are in the lifestyle for pleasure, some for money and some looking for love and a deep relationship.

I happen to be in the latter group and trust me, it’s not the best group to be in. It was hard for me when I fell in love with a man—a man who told me that he was not gay but that he was merely having sex with men for pleasure. And to think that I fell in love with such a man! You see, while there are those who might want to say that I am part of the deception that is far from the truth, for, because of my embracement of who I am, I have been seeking for depth and a lasting relationship. Unfortunately, the men I am attracted to or end up being intimate with are either confused about their sexuality, or they simply want to lick both sides of the stamp. I’ll never forget one instance when I saw my lover on the street with his girlfriend hanging with his buddies. He had left my bed only the morning before and yet the next day, he did not so much as acknowledge me! That night, I drank myself to sleep.

Sometimes because you are in the closet, it’s hard to find the kind of sustaining emotional support that you would need, particularly when you are a closeted man like me looking for something lasting and deep. You see, for a man like me, who values trust and fidelity, there are periods of gut wrenching pain—especially when I become attracted to the wrong man: the man who merely wants a quick fix. These are the words from my closet. My words are not written for indoctrination, nor are they written for judgments or speculation. They are my words; my struggles—which can perhaps be someone else’s struggles as well. I made the decision to share, to bring to light an issue that, like so many others, we want to continue to sweep under the covers. You have your values. I respect them. You have your opinions. I respect them. You make your choices. I have made mine. You can choose to read my words or you can choose not to . . . but whatever you do, remember in the final analysis, you have to give an account and so do I. Until then, judge not!

November 14, 2010 – The Barbados Advocate

Commentary: Stop discrimination against Blacks and gays

by Sir Ronald Sanders
Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, drew a recent report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to my attention.
It confirms what Caribbean countries had always heard about the way people of African descent are treated in some Latin American and Caribbean countries, and it also flags-up the legal intolerance and criminalisation of homosexuals and lesbians in the countries of the English-Speaking Caribbean because of their sexual preferences.

According to the report, during its 140th period of sessions from October 20 to November 5, 2010, the Commission held 52 hearings and 28 working meetings and concluded that “structural human rights problems still persist in the region.” These include the situation involving people of African descent, women, persons deprived of liberty, and the gay community.

The Commission expressed its concern about information it received about persistent practices in the Dominican Republic whereby persons of Haitian descent “who were born in that country” are denied their right to nationality. The Commission believes that Dominican Republic’s argument that “there are no stateless persons in that country, since children born to Haitians in the Dominican Republic can be registered at the Haitian consulate”, is incompatible with the Inter-American Convention and case law of the Inter-American Commission and Court.”

Of course, the Dominican Republic is not the only place in which Haitians or persons born of Haitian parents are denied basic rights. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, it was well known that the Haitian migrant community was exploited as a work force and denied the right to become “belongers” or citizens, and in the latter case the consideration was not racial, it was pure and unadulterated xenophobia practised against people of the same race. Sadly, this latter phenomenon has also been witnessed in the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) where discrimination has been ruthlessly applied in immigration controls against people of African descent while a blind eye has been turned to Europeans and other non-black peoples.

The Commission also reported excessive use of police force against Afro-descendants in Brazil. The report said the IACHR had “received troubling information about the high rates of crime and police violence in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Espírito Santo, Bahia, and Pernambuco, and heard petitioners’ allegations regarding the close link between these violent deaths and racial discrimination”.

Charges of “institutional racism” was also levelled at Brazil and petitioners claim that it contributes to the “high levels of harassment, deprivation of liberty, and executions among the population of African descent in Brazil, as well as the underreporting of violent deaths perpetrated by the police”. Costa Rica was also fingered in the report for poor human rights practices toward Afro-Caribbean people in the canton of Talamanca. The IACHR was informed that Talamanca has the lowest index of social development nationally, along with the highest levels of extreme poverty and illiteracy in the country.

As a point of general concern, the Commission received what it called “sobering information” about the risk, threats, and the troubling number of murders of human rights leaders and defenders among the Afro-descendant population in various countries of the region. All CARICOM countries, with the exception of the British Colony Montserrat, are members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and are entitled to seek election to the IACHR. However, of the seven members now serving on the Commission, none of them are from the Caribbean.

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18 February 2011 – PinkNews

One in five unaware that HIV can be passed though unprotected gay sex

by Jessica Geen
A survey suggests that one in five people do not know that HIV can be passed on through unprotected gay sex. The poll of 1,944 people, by the National AIDS Trust, also found that the same number did not realise that unsafe heterosexual sex could lead to transmission of the virus. African and Caribbean people were least likely to know that unprotected gay sex was a route of transmission – 49 per cent compared with 20 per cent overall.

This is the fourth year that the charity has published the annual survey ’HIV: Public Knowledge and Attitudes’. Researchers said it was particularly concerning that more people now wrongly believe that HIV can be caught through kissing (nine per cent) and spitting (ten per cent). These figures have doubled from 2007’s survey from four per cent and five per cent respectively. Less than half of the public (45 per cent ) believe HIV can be passed from person to person by sharing needles or syringes. Only 30 per cent were able to correctly identify all the ways HIV can and cannot be passed on.

Sixty-seven per cent of people said they had sympathy for those with HIV and 74 per cent believed they should have the same level of support and respect as people with cancer. Eleven per cent had no sympathy, rising to 30 per cent towards those infected with HIV through unprotected sex. Almost half of people (47 per cent) thought that there are no effective ways of preventing a pregnant mother with HIV from passing HIV on to her baby. Evidence shows that the right treatment gives an HIV-positive mother a 99 per cent chance of having a healthy baby.

Deborah Jack, the chief executive of National AIDS Trust, said: “It is certainly positive to see the majority of the public have supportive attitudes towards people with HIV, but there are still huge gaps in awareness of what it means to live with HIV in the UK today.

“It is extremely important that inroads are made in terms of educating the general public so we can eradicate the prejudice which still exists around HIV. In addition to improving knowledge of HIV, intensive work also needs to go into tackling the often deep-seated judgments and beliefs held about HIV and the people affected. The government made a concerted and effective effort to tackle this stigma in mental health, and now it is time for HIV to be addressed in the same way.”

01 March 2011 – MSM Global Forum

Men who have Sex with men and HIV in the Anglophone Caribbean: A situation review

Men who have sex with men (MSM)1 in the Anglophone countries of the Caribbean2 comprise a disproportionate share of the HIV epidemic (Baral et al. 2007; Cáceres et al. 2008a). Although only 4 of the 12 Anglophone Caribbean countries publicly collect HIV prevalence data among MSM, in 3 of these 4 countries (Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago) researchers report an HIV prevalence of more than 20 percent among MSM (Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS [UNAIDS] 2008). This data clearly classifies MSM in the Anglophone Caribbean as a most-at-risk population (MARP) for HIV.

Good clinical and public health practice in HIV epidemics recommends channeling resources toward the prevention of infections and illness among MARPs by promoting health, reducing risk, and increasing access to—and utilization of—services. Despite the known extent of HIV among MSM in the Anglophone Caribbean, however, HIV interventions geared toward MSM remain severely underfunded. Foreign assistance and international donors—particularly the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM)—provide some funding for programs for MARPs, but the programs that exist do not offer comprehensive services, only bits and pieces (e.g., providing condoms and information, education, and communication materials separately).

A notable lack of human rights protection in the Anglophone Caribbean also impedes efforts to improve the health of MSM (Waters forthcoming). This technical brief provides basic information about HIV programming for MSM in the Anglophone Carib-bean and reviews programming opportunities and resources for regional and local organizations involved in the response to HIV, nongovernmental organizations, U.S. Agency for International Development Mission staff, U.S. Government-funded health program planners and implementers, and other stakeholders including govern-ments and other international donors and agencies.

Full text of article available at link here

May 4, 2011 – Open Society Foundations

State-Sponsored Homophobia Helps Spread HIV

by David Scamell
A few weeks ago, civil society groups and human rights activists from across the Caribbean met with officials from UNAIDS, UNDP, and various national governments to talk about the impact that laws have on the HIV epidemic in the region. The meeting was the second regional dialogue of the UNDP Global Commission on HIV & Law, and was held in a region where a number of governments continue to use the law to persecute sexual and gender minorities.

According to the 2010 report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, State-Sponsored Homophobia, 11 of the 13 Caribbean states criminalize sex between men. Under the continuous threat of imprisonment and police abuse, as well as discrimination from other citizens and even family members, gays and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in these countries are often driven away from the health and social services that they need. The same services, such as access to condoms and voluntary HIV testing and counseling, which are crucial in the fight against HIV.

Unsurprisingly, HIV among MSM is a relatively hidden but increasing problem for the Caribbean. In a region where the general adult HIV prevalence is second only to sub-Saharan Africa, at one percent of the population, infection among MSM is disproportionately high. For example, one in three MSM in Jamaica and one in five in Trinidad and Tobago are living with HIV. What is happening in the Caribbean is happening across the world. Emerging research on MSM is highlighting an alarming epidemic on every continent, including in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV has long been considered a “heterosexual” problem. UNAIDS has recognized MSM as one of the most at-risk population groups when it comes to HIV infection, yet sex between men remains illegal in 76 countries and highly stigmatized in many others. Many governments either proactively ignore MSM in their national response to HIV or are prevented from effectively engaging with this population because of their own laws criminalizing homosexuality.

The governments of the Caribbean must show real leadership and take responsibility for properly addressing the HIV epidemic in their countries. Where criminal laws against MSM exist, they must be repealed. Where national responses to HIV sideline or silence the needs of this population group, changes must be made so that those who are vulnerable and at risk of infection receive the information, care, treatment, and support that they need. It is time for governments to step up and recognize the dignity and human rights of all of their citizens.

On May 12th, 2011 at 5:00 pm, rc said:
While this report may be full of statistics to support its conclusions, the reality is quite another issue. Threat of imprisonment in the Caribbean, outside of Jamaica, which presents an extreme and unique case of state supported homophobia, is not what keeps people from not using condoms.Those are old laws that are just as ridiculous as not being able to wed across race in some Southern states(which happen to still exist). And contrary to people’s assumptions, it’s not homosexuality so much as it is feminized men that is frowned upon. Furthermore each island is so unique in its cultural attitudes towards the subject that an actual conclusion is going to be much to generalized. If you are a masculine man who happens to be into men you will not attacked or disrespected..but a feminine man is a another story. I like how these reports use a clinical perspective to measure and discuss "a reality" that only exists in the numbers. The problem cannot be discussed, much less resolved, if you continue to think these reports are doing anything more than helping to present an image which has little basis on reality. Sometimes common sense is more helpful than high intellec and this means forgetting the numbers and hitting the streets.

May 16, 2011 – IPS

Homophobia in the Caribbean Varies Widely

by Dalia Acosta
Havana (IPS) – While homosexuality is punishable by law in nine Caribbean island nations, gay activism is increasingly taking root in countries like Cuba. "The situation in the Caribbean today is one of contrasts," Gloria Careaga, co-secretary general of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), founded in 1978 and with close to 700 member groups in over 110 countries, told IPS. Differences are greatest between the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking areas of the Caribbean, Careaga, a Mexican psychologist who is also in charge of the Latin American and Caribbean region (ILGA-LAC), said by email on the occasion of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Tuesday May 17.

Careaga said "clear" signs of progress were the work of Cuban institutions in favour of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and of strengthening their groups, the growing presence of studies on sexual diversity in Puerto Rican universities, and the emergence of lesbian organisations in the Dominican Republic. However, "the English-speaking Caribbean seems to be unable to shake off the influence of Victorian morality, and not only maintains laws that criminalise gays and lesbians, but also argues the case for homophobia, for instance in Jamaica," she said.

A national survey carried out in Jamaica by the University of the West Indies in 2010 found that 89 percent of respondents were homophobic. The study polled 1,007 adults from 231 communities in the island nation. Jamaican courts often sentence men who have sex with men (MSM) to prison terms with hard labour. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago ban relations between same-sex couples, especially men. Penalties for this crime vary between 10 and 50 years, depending on the laws of each country. Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Saint Lucia only punish male homosexuality while allowing, or simply making no pronouncement on, lesbianism. Since 1976, Trinidad and Tobago has even forbidden homosexual persons from entering its territory.

Institutionalised homophobia is also a health problem. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicates that penalisation of homosexuality in the Caribbean is one of the main obstacles to controlling the epidemic that affects some 240,000 people in the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Against that backdrop, the few groups and individuals fighting for social acceptance of sexual diversity come up against a high degree of homophobia and the risk of hate crimes. They can even be accused of illegality, even though the constitution defends the universal right to free association. Wilfred Labiosa, a Puerto Rican activist who lives in the United States and is visiting Cuba to take part in the Fourth Cuban Day Against Homophobia, told IPS that the region’s major challenge is to consolidate unity among people struggling for respect for freely chosen sexual orientation and gender identity.

In socialist Cuba, which lived through several decades of institutionalised homophobia, outstanding efforts have been made by institutions and civil society sectors to raise public awareness in favour of the rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. "We want a new society," said Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and head of the state National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), during a May 10 conference on "Why a Cuban campaign against homophobia?" Fighting this problem is part of the struggle against all kinds of discrimination, she emphasised.

The experiences of Cuba and Puerto Rico, which hold around four Gay Pride parades, including educational activities, every year, should be disseminated throughout the Caribbean LGBTI community, Labiosa, a leader of Unid@s, the National Latino/a LGBT Human Rights Organisation in the United States, suggested. But factors like the criminalisation of homosexuality in nine English-speaking Caribbean island nations, and Belize and Guyana, and the lack of historical links between the region’s peoples mean that sexual rights activists remain dispersed in the region, he said.

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