Gay Jamaica News & Reports 2009

Also see:
Caribbean Anti Violence Project
SoulRebels against Chi-Chi Music

1 Fear and Loathing in Jamaica 1/09

2 Gay Jamaican Cop 2/09

3 Prime Minister orders forum on X-rated songs 2/09

4 Buggery laws firm 3/09

5 Gay men ‘face higher levels of HIV due to discrimination’ 3/09

6 ‘Homosexual has right to life’ 3/09

7 Gay men in hiding – Avoiding health care because of stigma 3/09

8 Jamaica: Don’t Boycott Us! 4/09

9 After years of debate, gay activists have begun a Jamaica boycott 4/09

10 Gay men in Jamaica must lead two separate lives 5/09

11 There are no gay pride parades in Jamaica 6/09

12 Gays live _ and die _ in fear in Jamaica 7/09

13 Live Nation cancels concerts by homophobic Jamaican singer 8/09

14 British consul killed in ‘homophobic’ attack in Jamaica 9/09

15 Jamaica: A grim place to be gay 9/09

16 Comment: Consul’s death thrusts Jamaican homophobia into the spotlight 9/09

17 Increase in Gay Asylum in USA 10/09

January 2009 – Passport Magazine

Fear and Loathing in Jamaica

by Anja Tranovich
Jamaica is a land of contrasts. Tourists from around the world fly to tranquil, opulent resorts offering sugar white sand and all you can eat and drink getaways, while Jamaicans struggle in a flailing economy and increasing public instability. Jamaica has also had one of the highest murder rates in the world for many years and the LGBT community gets hit hard with this violence. The simple reality is that the vast majority of LGBT Jamaicans cannot be publicly out and physically safe.

Jamaican police don’t compile statistics on attacks against gays and lesbians, but leaders of J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays,, the only gay organization in the country, say that they know of 30 gay men who were murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2000. J-FLAG cannot publish its address and its staff uses pseudonyms for fear of attacks and killings. “Verbal and physical violence [against LGBT members] ranging from beatings to brutal armed attacks to murder, are widespread,” wrote Rebecca Schleifer, a Human Rights Watch researcher in a report on HIV and LGBT life in Jamaica. “For many, there is no sanctuary from such abuse.”

When Schleifer visited Jamaica in 2004, Brian Williamson, the country’s leading gay activist, was violently chopped to death with a machete in his apartment in Kingston. Schleifer walked to his street shortly after the murder and found a crowd of people gathered outside Williamson’s apartment singing and celebrating his murder and shouting the chorus of “Boom Bye Bye” a popular Buju Banton dancehall hit about shooting gay men: “Boom bye bye, in a faggot’s head. Rude boys don’t promote nasty men, they have to die.” Others were laughing and yelling, “Let’s get them one at a time,” and, “That’s what you get for sin.” Schleifer said, “Without a doubt it absolutely was a homophobic killing.” Williamson was the only publicly out gay man speaking for LGBT rights in Jamaica. Since his death no one has come out publicly on a national scale.

There have been more attacks in the past year, including a mob that attacked gay men who were attending a funeral on Easter Sunday. Gay men and women are sometimes forced out of their homes and shootings and murders continue to occur. The violence has prompted hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in other countries. “The government’s failure to take strong measures to protect gay people has made life hell for many in Jamaica. Its failure to educate the broader public has endangered many lives,” wrote Schleifer in her report. The homophobia and rejection of gays and lesbians is prevalent at many levels in Jamaican society. The Prime Minister recently told a BBC reporter that he would never allow an out LGBT member to be in his cabinet.

Thomas Glave, a Jamaican professor and writer now living in the US, was a co-founder of J-FLAG along with Brian Williamson. “When we came out to the public, we were facing an enormous amount of opposition,” he said. “There was a ferocity we encountered, scathing is not enough to describe it—more like horror. Yet, we had a powerful and growing micro-community. From that core we did an enormous amount of work.” Glave did not speak out publicly as a gay man in Jamaica like Williamson did, so he was not widely known as gay. Still, he experienced homophobic violence. Glave was attacked by a group of men on the streets of Kingston and pinned to the wall with a knife against his throat by a man who thought he was gay. “I’d never seen that hatred before in black men.”

Glave says homophobia and homophobic violence in Jamaica is driven by the church, dancehall music, rigid ideas about gender, and the vigilante justice pervasive in the country. Jason MacFarlane, the current director of J-FLAG (his name is a pseudonym) agrees with Glave. “Homosexuality challenges gender roles and ideas. If you don’t conform, you don’t appear to be everything that man should be, you are other than a man, less than a man, which is seen as against the natural order of gender,” he said. He also attributes the widespread homophobia to some dancehall lyrics that promote violence against gays, which he calls murder music. Artists such as Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, T.O.K., and Shabba Ranks, write and perform songs that advocate attacking or killing gays and lesbians. “‘Boom Bye Bye’ is an anthem to some people,” he said. Many Jamaicans who come to J-FLAG for help after attacks say that assailants sang the lyrics to homophobic dancehall songs as they beat or attacked them. According to Glave, “The music exacerbates public homophobia. We don’t need this kind of advocacy of violence in Jamaica, which is already very violent.”

Groups such as Outrage! a UK-based LGBT activist organization, and J-FLAG have led protests and awareness campaigns targeting record companies and concert sponsors in a Stop The Murder Music Campaign. Some of their efforts have been successful, Beenie Man had to cancel a number of concerts because of protests and a concert sponsor dropped out thanks to Outrage! complaints. A few statements and promises not to promote homophobic violence have been signed by artists, but these have generally not been abided by. Homophobic dancehall is still being made and distributed, played and performed. J-FLAG advocates against the music but spends most of its limited resources counseling and aiding LGBT Jamaicans who are victims of anti-gay violence. It is a small organization, with a staff of two and a country-wide case-load. “We are funded through the goodwill of friends overseas,” said Jason MacFarlane, noting that information on how to make donations is on the J-FLAG website.

Jamaican officials largely ignore homophobic attacks. The Senior Superintendent of Police in Jamaica rejected the idea that members of the LGBT community face violence. He said, “We haven’t had any reports about violence against homosexuals. Most of the violence against homosexuals is internal. We never have any cases of gay men being beaten up. I know that there is a sort of revulsion against homosexuals and lesbians, but evidence does not substantiate that there is any level of violence perpetrated against them.” Activists in Jamaica say that there is some inter-class violence within the LGBT community but the majority of the beatings, attacks, and murders are perpetuated on the LGBT community by others.

Jamaica is not exceptional. The US still has homophobic violence, as do many other countries, especially in the Caribbean. In fact the Jamaican laws outlawing sodomy are about as authentically Jamaican as the British lilt with which many Jamaicans speak, which is to say, not Jamaican at all. The laws began in Victorian England and were inherited by Jamaica from colonial rule. The LGBT community in Jamaica exists in spite of the laws against them and prevalent homophobia. “Even when you are there you find ways to negotiate the space, and ways you can live that you think are safe,” said Deann Fontaine, a filmmaker creating a film on LGBT life in Jamaica. “You live with what you have.”

Young people in Jamaica are increasingly willing to come forward and make spaces where they can be out, even in the face of violence. They can’t be out safely in their own communities but they travel for parties and to meet together, often armed with knives in case they encounter fights. “Some of the kids feel like, ‘enough is enough,’ but they don’t have the time to wait for change, and they can’t leave,” said Glave. As the LGBT community becomes more visible, it faces increased violence, but visibility also brings hope for awareness and change. “There is more talk about gay people in communities in Jamaica. And the reality is, people have to deal with it,” remarked Glave. “You can only maintain so much hatred for so long.”

February 2009 –

Gay Jamaican Cop

Profile of a gay policeman working in the notoriously homophobic Jamaica.

February 10, 2009 –

Prime Minister of Jamaica orders forum on X-rated songs

Prime Minister Bruce Golding has given directives to Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Olivia Grange, to organise a task force to discuss concerns raised over the explicitly sexual and violent content of some local songs, a release from the Office of the Prime Minister has stated. The forum will be held Friday. The prime minister’s order comes just days after the Broadcasting Commission banned radio and television stations from airing songs with content deemed explicitly sexual and violent, particularly those which qualify as ‘daggerin’ songs.

Golding was responding to a request made by dub poet, Mutabaruka who, in his address during a reception in recognition of Reggae Month held at Jamaica House on Sunday, called on the Government to take immediate action to address the concerns of Jamaica’s dancehall music.

Eroding the values
Mutabaruka noted that the negative lyrics and explicit images being promoted through the music were eroding the values of the society and impacting negatively on the behaviour of some young people. Addressing the stakeholders in the music industry at the Reggae Month reception, Golding called for Grange to set up a meeting no later than this week and has requested that Mutabaruka be invited to participate in those discussions. The prime minister said Jamaica’s music was too important for the Government and citizens to allow it to be compromised. "We are going to have to find a way to deal with what is going on out there with the music," Golding said. "If we have to change the law, let us prepare the legislation and go to Parliament and change it."

Stop assault on music
He continued: "If it is going to call for some resources, we will have to find them. As tough as things are, let us find it, because we can’t allow this assault on our music, on our psyche and identity as a people, to continue." He, however, said there might be some challenges, as musicians deserved the right to express themselves freely. "But if we work with the music industry and if we embrace the kind of leadership offered by Mutabaruka, then we should set some parameters and be prepared to ostracise those who step beyond the boundaries of what is decent and uplifting," Golding said.
"This country does not belong to us, we hold it in trust for the next generation and we must pass it on to them in better shape than we got it," he continued. "As we play this music, we have to ensure that it is used to transform the society in a positive way."

Prime Minister of Jamaica orders forum on X-rated songs
Prime Minister Bruce Golding has given directives to Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Olivia Grange, to organise a task force to discuss concerns raised over the explicitly sexual and violent content of some local songs, a release from the Office of the Prime Minister has stated. The forum will be held Friday. The prime minister’s order comes just days after the Broadcasting Commission banned radio and television stations from airing songs with content deemed explicitly sexual and violent, particularly those which qualify as ‘daggerin’ songs.
Golding was responding to a request made by dub poet, Mutabaruka who, in his address during a reception in recognition of Reggae Month held at Jamaica House on Sunday, called on the Government to take immediate action to address the concerns of Jamaica’s dancehall music.

Eroding the values
Mutabaruka noted that the negative lyrics and explicit images being promoted through the music were eroding the values of the society and impacting negatively on the behaviour of some young people. Addressing the stakeholders in the music industry at the Reggae Month reception, Golding called for Grange to set up a meeting no later than this week and has requested that Mutabaruka be invited to participate in those discussions. The prime minister said Jamaica’s music was too important for the Government and citizens to allow it to be compromised. "We are going to have to find a way to deal with what is going on out there with the music," Golding said. "If we have to change the law, let us prepare the legislation and go to Parliament and change it."

Stop assault on music
He continued: "If it is going to call for some resources, we will have to find them. As tough as things are, let us find it, because we can’t allow this assault on our music, on our psyche and identity as a people, to continue." He, however, said there might be some challenges, as musicians deserved the right to express themselves freely. "But if we work with the music industry and if we embrace the kind of leadership offered by Mutabaruka, then we should set some parameters and be prepared to ostracise those who step beyond the boundaries of what is decent and uplifting," Golding said.
"This country does not belong to us, we hold it in trust for the next generation and we must pass it on to them in better shape than we got it," he continued. "As we play this music, we have to ensure that it is used to transform the society in a positive way."

March 4, 2009 –

Buggery laws firm – PM says life or 15 years for some sex-offence breaches.

by Daraine Luton, Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Bruce Golding has described gay advocates as "perhaps the most organised lobby in the world", but has vowed not to yield to pressure to wipe buggery from the books as a crime.
"We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organisations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalise the laws as it relates to buggery," Golding said in Parliament yesterday. The prime minister was closing the debate on the sexual offences bill.

Not stiff enough
Ernest Smith, South West St Ann member of parliament, created a stir when he made his contribution to the House last month. During that speech, Smith charged that the punishment for buggery, which has a maximum seven-year sentence, was not stiff enough and that homosexuals were "abusive and violent". Smith later called for the director of public prosecutions to instruct the police to charge members of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) with conspiracy to corrupt public morals. However, Golding has distanced himself from Smith’s comments on homosexuality and the right of J-FLAG to exist.

"I disagree with the comments he (Smith) made about the rights of persons who advocate for liberation of laws relating to sexual offences, to facilitate, to allow persons the right of choice in their sexual practices," Golding said.

Won’t accept suggestions
But Golding made it clear that his government was not prepared to accept suggestions or demands for the crime of buggery to disappear from the books.

"Every society is shaped and defined by certain moral standards and the laws that evolve in that society are informed by a framework that the society recognises. If we start to yield; if we start to liberalise in the direction that strong organised lobby would insist that we should, then where do you draw the line?" the prime minister said.

Golding found himself at the edge of the daggers of gay-rights advocates following his "not in my Cabinet" statement that was made on BBC television. Golding was responding to whether gays would be allowed a place in his Cabinet to which the prime minister responded, "Sure, they can be in the Cabinet but not in my Cabinet."

Yesterday, Golding said that the Government had a duty to uphold the moral framework of the country through legislation. He also promised that homosexuals would not be targeted because of their lifestyle. "We have a duty to protect people in the country and, therefore, we will never support or condone either the acts of violence or threats of violence or intimidation in any shape or form against persons because of their sexual preferences or lifestyle," the prime minister said.

Won’t peep through windows
The prime minister continued: "We will never start peeping in anybody’s bedroom to see what they are doing within their own privacy. We will never start hounding down people because they may have lifestyles that we would prefer did not exist." "But what we are not going to do is to give official or legislative endorsement that now holds that up and say this is a perfectly acceptable way to live," the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Golding has said that as part of a menu of sexual legislation in the new bill being considered, provision was being made to sentence those persons who engage in buggery carried out in circumstances similar to rape or grievous assault to life. Grievous sexual crimes such as rape, carnal abuse and incest will attract the maximum penalty of life under the proposed sexual offences act.
Today The Office of the Prime Minister issued a release seeking to clarify statement reported in the lead story of today’s daily Gleaner.
A report in today’s issue ( March 4) of the Daily Gleaner attributes to the Prime Minister, a statement made in Parliament which reports him as saying that “provision was being made to sentence those persons caught in the act of buggery to life”. This statement is grossly inaccurate. What the Prime Minister stated was that buggery carried out in circumstances similar to rape or grievous assault, will attract the same penalty which , for rape or grievous sexual assault, will be imprisonment for life or a term not less than 15 years.

Listen to the Prime Minister’s own words on the issue.

March 13, 2009 – PinkNews

Gay men in Jamaica ‘face higher levels of HIV due to discrimination’

by Staff Writer,
Gay Jamaican men are suffering from high levels of sexually-transmitted diseases due to discriminaty barriers in accessing healthcare, it has been suggested.
According to the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance, gay men are reluctant to go to healthcare providers because of homophobic laws and attitudes in the country. A 2008 survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health suggested that 31.8 per cent of gay men in Jamaica are living with HIV. Another 8.5 per cent were reported to have chlamydia, while 2.5 per cent had gonorrhea and 5.5 per cent had syphilis.

A gay healthcare peer educator told the Jamaican Gleaner: "Many MSMs [men who have sex with men] are not secure in themselves and so put themselves at risk by having multiple partners." The source, who requested anonymity, added: "Our main problem is that based on the law, we have problems interacting with each other. There are no safe spaces." Earlier this month, Jamaica’s prime minister, Bruce Golding, said that the country will not decriminalise homosexual acts and that he has a duty to "protect" the country.

Speaking in parliament in support of a new sexual offences bill, he said: "We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organisations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalise the law as it relates to buggery."

March 6, 2009 –

‘Homosexual has right to life’

by Barbara Gayle, Staff Reporter
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Caroline Hay, addressing the jury yesterday at the trial of the man accused of murdering Ambassador Peter King, said a homosexual had a right to life.
She referred to comments defence lawyer Berry Bryan had made that King, 64, was a "disgusting sodomite" and said the words used to describe King were vile because some people believe homosexuals do not have a right to life. Hay told the 12-member jury that if a person made a particular choice (as to sexual preference), then other people could not decide if that person should live or die.

Fatally stabbed
Sheldon Pusey, 25, a waiter and carpenter, has been on trial in the Home Circuit Court since January 19 for King’s murder. King was fatally stabbed and chopped between March 19 and 20 at his Waterloo Road, St Andrew, home.
Pusey said in his defence that he went to King’s house about a job and King was attempted to "rape" him and he stabbed him. Hay advised that Pusey said he was not a homosexual but "if you accept the evidence that he was in under pants with another man who was in underpants or naked downstairs in a kitchen, then the jury could come to the view that Pusey was a homosexual".

She also told the jury that if they accepted that King’s semen was on a towel on which Pusey’s blood was found, then "you can come to the view that Pusey was gay". She called on the jury not to have any bias because when the Crown opened its case they were told that King was a homosexual. She said Bryan in his address told them that King was a notorious homosexual.

Two knives
She asked the jury to consider what Pusey was doing in King’s bedroom watching television and why was Pusey answering questions posed to him by a doctor in relation to how he got his nails to be so shiny. In response to Berry’s comments that the prosecution had suppressed an important piece of evidence, particularly two knives which were taken from King’s house, Hay said the knives were not relevant to the case. She said all exhibits and documents were available to Bryan and if he wanted, he could have put the knives in evidence. Hay asked the jury to consider the evidence which the prosecution put before them and return a true verdict.

The verdict will be given next week.

March 11, 2009 –

Gay men in hiding – Avoiding health care because of stigma, survey suggests

by Petrina Francis, Staff Reporter
As debate stirs over the Jamaican Government’s insistence on retaining legislation against buggery, homosexual men continue to suffer from discriminatory acts which make it difficult for them to seek health care in the country, a study has indicated.
A 2008 survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health showed 31.8 per cent of gay men in Jamaica are living with HIV. Another 8.5 per cent were found with chlamidia, 2.5 per cent had gonorrhoea and 5.5 per cent had syphilis.

According to a release from the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance (CHAA), the high number of sexually transmitted infections among gay men, sometimes termed men who have sex with men (or MSM), is linked to the way they are treated by the law and members of the general population, including those in the health sector.

"Many MSM are not secure in themselves and so put themselves at risk by having multiple partners," an MSM peer educator, who requested anonymity, said. That claim was corroborated by the MSM survey. Some 27.7 per cent reported having two or more sexual partners in the last four weeks; 25.9 per cent had a new partner in the past four weeks; 28.8 per cent had a female partner in the past four weeks; 15.9 per cent live with a female partner; and 33.8 per cent had two or more female partners in the past 12 months.

The peer educator explained that even with the high level of sexually transmitted infections, MSM are reluctant to go to health-care providers, as they fear discrimination.
"Our main problem is that based on the law, we have problems interacting with each other. There are no safes spaces," the source said. Devon Cammock, targeted intervention co-coordinator at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), explained that even when meetings were convened, MSM shy away from them or hide their sexuality. This makes it difficult to conduct programmes that are needed in the community.

Through funding from the non-governmental organisation, Caribbean HIV and AIDS Alliance, the JASL has been conducting voluntary counselling, testing programmes and peer education training with MSM. The CHAA, which was launched in Jamaica yesterday, will continue to work in close partnership with JASL, as well as other key regional and national institutions, governments and donors, on various activities to empower MSM and other vulnerable communities.

April 12, 2009 –

Jamaica: Don’t Boycott Us! –
Jamaican LGBT activists explain why a U.S.-led boycott of two Jamaican products would harm their struggle for equality.

Dear Friends and Supporters:

We thank our international allies for their continued interest in the state of LGBT affairs in Jamaica. Your support over the years has strengthened our voice and made it possible for us to make progress where we hardly thought it possible. One of the most significant ventures in which our international allies have collaborated with us was the SMM campaign that started in 2004, and which culminated in a local debate about the appropriateness of violence and hate in Jamaican music played in public places. Despite the occasionally homophobic rant by rogue deejays, we have seen a general decline in the level of homophobia coming from new Jamaican artistes and in new music from Jamaica. We have also seen corporate sponsors withdrawing their support from music that promotes violence or discrimination against any group.

It with this in mind that we find it unfortunate that a campaign has been launched calling for the boycott of two Jamaican products, one marketed by a company that unequivocally distanced itself from the hostility and violence typical of Jamaican music towards members of the LGBT community. In April 2008, Red Stripe took the brave and principled stance to cease sponsorship of music festivals that promoted hate and intolerance, including that against members of the LGBT community. The naming of Red Stripe, therefore, as a target of this boycott is extremely damaging to the cause of LGBT activists in Jamaica.

In the global arena in which we operate today, events in one place can and do have repercussions in another. Concomitantly, information about occurrences in different places across the globe is easily accessible everywhere. We believe that any overseas entity or organisation seeking to agitate for change in a context with which it has only passing familiarity should first do its homework to ensure that it does not do harm to its credibility and ultimately to the cause of the local community whose interest it seeks to defend.

It is unfortunate that the organisers of the current campaign to boycott Jamaica have failed in the key area of fact finding. The misguided targeting of Red Stripe does tremendous damage to a process of change that we began almost 11 years ago. The boycott call has now left us not only with our persistent day to day challenges but with a need to engage Red Stripe and attempt damage control as a result of actions that we did not take. Against this background, we would like to reiterate that while we appreciate the support given by our international allies, and understand their impatience for change, we who live in Jamaica best know and understand the dynamics of our situation. We also know that change is a slow and tedious process and those engage in it must be patient.

Jamaica’s deeply ingrained antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals is a social phenomenon that will not be undone by boycott campaigns or government dictate. It requires the painstaking effort of confronting the society and talking to social actors who can bring change in the way society sees LGBT people. We have been doing this through a small but growing group of increasingly aware opinion leaders who are concerned about the damage homophobia does to our society. We need those ears to continue being open to us and we need the relative safety that some of us have been given to speak to them.

It is important that our international allies understand the nature of our struggle and engage us in a respectful way about it. Unless they are willing and able to lead the struggle in the trenches as we have done, it is important that they be guided by us. To do otherwise would be to act in a manner that destroys the space for dialogue that we have managed to create over the past decade and to set back our struggle. It is for this reason that we urge those in the international arena who seek to act in our name and on our behalf to do so not only with the utmost care and responsibility but also with due consideration for our efforts and concerns as members of the local activist community.

Jason McFarlane
Programmes Manager

April 20, 2009 – Gay Activists Begin Boycott Against Jamaica

After years of debate on the issue, gay activists have begun a Jamaica boycott

by Carlos Santoscoy
Jamaican liquor – Red Stripe beer and Myer’s rum – was poured down the sewer last month in San Francisco and again last week at New York City’s famed Stonewall Inn. In New York, the city is prepping itself to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which began in the Greenwich Village bar. Forty years ago, patrons, mostly drag queens, rebelled against police harassment; rioters violently fought back against officers over the course of several days. The riots are often credited with sparking the modern gay rights movement.

Gay activists are asking GLBT people to cross off the island nation from their vacation itineraries and avoid Jamaican goods, mostly liquor. Bars are being encouraged to stop serving Jamaican booze; better yet, they say, flush it down the toilet. Three prominent bloggers – Michael Petrelis, Wayne Besen and Jim Burroway – are behind the protest. The activists say Jamaica retains the title of “the most homophobic place on Earth.”

“Gay people have the right to live free of violence everywhere in the world,” Besen told On Top Magazine. “We have to stop excusing the inexcusable and serving as apologists for those who would brutalize and kill our people. I don’t care what your culture is, your history, or your religion – there is no excuse to persecute GLBT people. Period.”

Jamaicans living in the U.S. called the action outrageous.
“Who are they to be imposing their beliefs on us and boycotting Jamaican products?” Ann Walters, a Jamaican native, told CWNN in response to the boycott. “How is that going to change how people in Jamaica view homosexuality? Isn’t there homophobic people in the U.S. so why not attack ‘Made in the USA?’”

“There are conservative Christian groups in the U.S. who are very anti-homosexuality and anti-gay so why aren’t they going up against them,” New Jersey resident Sharon Gordon said. The growing uproar over Jamaican gay rights has been festering for years and gay activists in the U.S. say they have not acted out of deference for Jamaican gay groups that argued the effort would ultimately hurt gay men and lesbians living on the island.

Anti-gay sentiment in Jamaica, however, continued to surge. In February, Ernest Smith, a Jamaica Labor Party parliamentarian, described gay men and lesbians as “abusive” and “violent,” and called for tightening of Jamaica’s law that outlaws being gay. Smith said the law should impose sentences of up to life in prison. Smith also told a Jamaican newspaper that J-FLAG, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, a gay rights group, “should be outlawed.” Smith said, “How can you legitimize an organization that is formed for the purposes of committing criminal offenses?”

(In the past, J-FLAG has not supported a call for a Jamaica boycott and told gay weekly the Bay Area Reporter that the current action was “unfortunate.”)

Violence against GLBT people in Jamaica is at near epidemic levels, fueled in large part by the openly homophobic remarks of its leaders. In the town of Mandeville on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, about 100 men attacked 150 people attending the funeral of a gay man. The men became violent, breaking windows and threatening to kill the mourners. Police officers called to the scene neither restrained the mob nor detained members as they escaped, Human Rights Watch reported.

In another 2007 incident in the town of Kingston, a vicious mob of at least 200 demanded the death of four men because they were gay. This time police officers joined in the violence – they verbally abused the men and struck one in the face, head and stomach. Much of the rest of the Caribbean also has a long history of anti-gay sentiment. Most outlaw being gay. In March, a man from the Bahamas who had admitted to killing a gay, HIV-positive man was set free after a jury agreed the murder was induced by the threat of rape. That lethal threat: The man allegedly touched his killer’s crotch.

Jamaica also is at the heart of a violent reggae music scene that incorporates homophobic lyrics. Stars such as Buju Banton, Elephant Man and Bounty Killer have topped the charts with their violent anti-gay songs, which are exported around the globe. In one Bounty Killer song, the Reggae star urges listeners to burn “Mister Fagoty” and make him “wince in agony.”

Besen said the situation in Jamaica has become more “dangerous” for gay men and lesbians, and pointed to a damaging State Department report as the final straw. “The status quo had failed and it was time to consider new options to catalyze change,” Besen, president of the gay rights group Truth Wins Out, said. “Instead of business as usual, it was time to stop doing business in Jamaica.”

On the Net: Learn more about the boycott at

May 18, 2009 – World Focus

Gay men in Jamaica must lead two separate lives

by Lisa Biagiotti
Lisa Biagiotti is reporting on HIV/AIDS, sexuality and young gay men in Jamaica. Her interest in the subject began when she met Alex Brown* 18 months ago. The story below is his — of a gay Jamaican who received asylum in the U.S. because he was persecuted on the basis of his sexuality. Though Alex is free from persecution, he still wrestles with issues of secrecy and religion, and his family in Jamaica still doesn’t know he’s gay. It’s no secret that homophobia crosses class lines in Jamaica. From the inner cities to elite high schools, homosexuality is not accepted in Jamaican society. Pastors preach against the sin of homosexuality from the pulpit and dancehall lyrics glamorize gay killings.

Mob violence and attacks against gays have earned Jamaica the mark as one of the most intolerant nations for homosexuals. And the act of sodomy is still illegal, holding a 12-year prison sentence of hard labor.

Hurling stones in Jamaica
Alex Brown knew he had to leave Jamaica after back-to-back anti-gay attacks at work and home. On a Saturday evening in August 2002, two young men knocked on Alex’s cottage door in Kingston, shouting, “We know you’re a battyman (gay man — batty means buttocks) and you better pay us.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, I’m not a battyman. No, I’m not,” he cried. The 6-foot-3-inch Alex shut the front door, cowered beneath a window of his one-room hut and watched five men hurl stones at his home, shattering windows and alarming neighbors. “Are you going to come pick up my dead body?” Alex pleaded to the female police dispatcher. Alex feared he would end up like his gay uncle, who was beaten to death in downtown Kingston in the late 1990s.

The police were stationed two blocks away, but it took more than an hour for them to arrive. They rounded up the men at a corner store. When the men accused Alex of making a pass at them, an officer turned to Alex and said, “If we find out you’re a battyman, we’ll come over there and lock you up.” “The police don’t protect gay people in Jamaica,” Alex said. He feared reporting other anti-gay incidents where he was punched in the face, threatened to be run over by a car, or robbed at gunpoint at Portmore Plaza. “I could not go back to the same police station that threatened to lock me up because I’m gay.”

In 2002, Alex left his 9-year-old son, the offspring of the only opposite-sex encounter he has had, and his job of 13 years as a wharf warehouse supervisor. With a fellow gay Jamaican, he headed to London to complete his bachelor’s and earn a master’s degree in business administration. “I had to move from one place to the next,” Alex said. “I was accused of being gay. I learned my lesson.” When he couldn’t pay his tuition bills, he was forced to return to Jamaica in June 2006. The anti-gay sentiment seemed more hostile. Alex’s best friend Emil and ex-lover Robert had been murdered earlier that year. Six months of further harassment ensued and Alex decided to board a plane to the U.S.

In 1994, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno expanded asylum law to include immigrants who could prove government persecution based on sexual preference. Asylum applications must be filed within one year of entry into the U.S. Immigrants must prove persecution in their home country on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group — gay asylum cases fall under this category. While gay asylees make up a small percentage of the 12,000 total asylum cases per year, the severe situation in Jamaica against homosexuals proved grounds for asylum. Immigration Equality, a national U.S. organization that works to end immigration discrimination, handles about 100 gay asylum cases a year. They are seeing a steady stream of applications from Jamaicans, which make up about 20 percent of their caseload. Their stories always seem similar.

Living a double life, again
Gay Jamaicans abroad still face challenges in reconciling two parts of themselves — being gay and being Jamaican. Despite the freedom from persecution that asylum offers, they are frequently drawn into communities of other Jamaican immigrants, including the very same people that persecuted them. They find themselves see-sawing between gay isolation and keeping up appearances for the Jamaican community at home and abroad.

“You live a double live,” Alex said. “Sometimes living two or three lives; that’s how it is.” After spending a year on a cot in a New York homeless shelter, where he shared a room with two other men, Alex now has his own subsidized apartment in the Bronx. He received his Greencard and is working on his nursing certificate. But even with asylum and a new start, some Jamaican roots cannot be forgotten completely. So, he hasn’t told anyone about his asylum — not his 13-year-old son, his family in Jamaica or his church communities.

“When you’re gay, you’re isolated,” Alex said. “Once you interact, it opens up a gate for your own downfall.”

*Alex Brown’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

June 29, 2009 – World Focus

There are no gay pride parades in Jamaica

Lisa Biagiotti is working on signature stories for Worldfocus on HIV/AIDS and homophobia in Jamaica. She reported with Producer Micah Fink and Director of Photography Gabrielle Weiss, both from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Their reports will air on Worldfocus later this summer. Lisa gave the below interview to

Q: Gay pride is celebrated across the U.S. every June. Could there be similar celebrations of gay pride in Jamaica?
Lisa Biagiotti:
No, there could not be an openly gay pride parade on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, as in New York or San Francisco. In Jamaica, anti-sodomy laws criminalize sex between men, fundamentalist interpretations of the bible and pride in reproduction contribute to the general disdain and non-acceptance of the gay lifestyle. The idea of a “glass closet” best describes the public’s expectations of homosexuals, meaning, “We know you’re gay, and we can see you, but stay in that glass closet.” In fairness, Jamaica tends not to be a heavily PDA (public display of affection) culture. You don’t see men and women petting each other or even holding hands in public, with the exception of the dancehalls.

One thing that was interesting was the way homophobia finds its way into the language, in the choosing (or avoiding) of certain “gay” words. When little boys call each other “sissy” names, they say “you’re a battyman.” “Batty” means buttocks and is a derogatory name for a gay man. Saying the number “two” — referring to the anus — is also avoided. We heard a story of a father instructing his two-year-old son to say he’s going to be three. You’d say “come forward” instead of “come back.” If you’re ordering fish to eat, you’d say, “Give me a swimmer or a sea creature.” “Fish” is another term for a gay man.

Q: This anti-gay side of Jamaica doesn’t really jive with what many Americans may think of Jamaica. (Stereotypically, sun, fun, Bob Marley and “no problem, mon.”) How did you become interested in this topic?
Lisa Biagiotti: I first became interested in the subject of gay Jamaicans about 18 months ago. I was reporting on gay asylum in the U.S. and was told that Jamaica was one of the most violent and homophobic places for gays. I was told by human rights organizations that if you’re gay and Jamaican, you’d qualify for asylum. I then spent a year profiling Alex Brown, a gay Jamaican who received asylum in the U.S. In all honesty, this portrait of Jamaica was completely foreign to me — it contradicted the image of the Jamaica I know and love.

Q: Your mom is Jamaican, and your family ties to Jamaica span three generations. Was it difficult to report these seemingly negative stories for Worldfocus? What did your family think?
Lisa Biagiotti:
At first, I was concerned we were doing advocacy journalism. I questioned whether we were imposing our U.S.-centric views on a country with a different cultural bedrock. Did we really understand the Jamaican culture, which is steeped in religion? Admittedly, I was protective of Jamaican people, who I still hold to be some of the warmest and most resilient people on Earth. Going into these stories, I was aware of my bias. As a journalist, first-hand observation served as my guide. My team and I went to the places where people were literally living in hiding. We listened to the palpable stories of many gay men — the violence against them, the families that rejected them, the double lives they lead and the idea of mainstreaming their lifestyle to “make it right with God.”

We spoke to hundreds of Jamaicans from all walks of life to try to understand the cultural nuances and attitudes toward homosexuals. And everywhere we went, we heard the same things — said with varying levels of vitriol. Open homosexuality is not accepted. Tolerance and violence really depends on class and whether people act on their general disgust toward gays. After observing and speaking with people on the ground, I’m confident that the stories we’re producing are fair and accurate illustrations of Jamaican attitudes toward homosexuals. As for my family in Jamaica and abroad, I believe they will respect that. Our goal is not to change Jamaican culture and mores, but to present what it’s like to be gay in Jamaica, and why it is important for the general population to talk about homosexuality because gay men are living double lives in secret.

Q: What do you mean by “double lives?” How is this playing into the spread of HIV?
Lisa Biagiotti: A recent Ministry of Health study showed that more than 30 percent of gay men are HIV+. It was a small sampling of about 200 gay men. But it was one of the first surveys conducted within the gay community. Whether or not the study is actually reflective of the larger gay community is questionable, but this rate is still 20 times higher than that of the general population.

What’s important here is that gay men are not isolated from the rest of the population. These men lead double lives — one gay life underground and another “heterosexual” life to save face in their communities. Gay men have girlfriends and wives and children, who likely do not know of their secret lives. This poses a threat to spreading HIV into the general population. So, when you layer this 31.8 percent figure over the laws, religion and general stigma against homosexuality, you’re masking the problem and potentially spreading the infection into the general population.

Q: How does the Jamaican government address the HIV problem without acknowledging the gay community?
Lisa Biagiotti: It’s difficult to target the gay community because they’re not out in the open. There could be no ad campaign in Jamaica talking about using condoms for anal sex because anal sex is illegal and punishable with a 12-year prison sentence of hard labor. The channels of awareness and education of gay men are limited and insufficient. I should also mention that, on the flip side, Jamaica has made incredible strides in making anti-retroviral medication free and accessible to everyone. Early testing has whittled down the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under 5 percent. But the gay community is not siloed from the general population and could potentially reintroduce the disease into the general population.

Q: Given the extreme anti-gay discrimination and level of violence in Jamaica, did you ever feel that you were in danger as you covered these stories?
Lisa Biagiotti: Every day, approximately four or five people are murdered in Jamaica. For a country the size of Connecticut, with 2.8 million people, that’s a staggering murder rate. I don’t know if I had a false sense of security, but I never felt in danger. We had local guides taking us around and introducing us to communities, and I think that was key. We made sure we had introductions wherever we went. We told people we were reporting on homosexuality, HIV and AIDS. We knew these were touchy topics, but we were open and I think Jamaicans appreciated our honesty, and were in turn welcoming.

July 19, 2009 –

Gays live _ and die _ in fear in Jamaica

by David McFadden (AP)
Kingston, Jamaica — Even now, about three years after a near-fatal gay bashing, Sherman gets jittery at dusk. On bad days, his blood quickens, his eyes dart, and he seeks refuge indoors.
A group of men kicked him and slashed him with knives for being a "batty boy" — a slang term for gay men — after he left a party before dawn in October 2006. They sliced his throat, torso, and back, hissed anti-gay epithets, and left him for dead on a Kingston corner.

"It gets like five, six o’clock, my heart begins to race. I just need to go home, I start to get nervous," said the 36-year-old outside the secret office of Jamaica’s sole gay rights group. Like many other gays, Sherman won’t give his full name for fear of retribution.

Despite the easygoing image propagated by tourist boards, gays and their advocates agree that Jamaica is by far the most hostile island toward homosexuals in the already conservative Caribbean. They say gays, especially those in poor communities, suffer frequent abuse. But they have little recourse because of rampant anti-gay stigma and a sodomy law banning sex between men in Jamaica and 10 other former British colonies in the Caribbean.

It is impossible to say just how common gay bashing attacks like the one against Sherman are in Jamaica — their tormentors are sometimes the police themselves. But many homosexuals in Jamaica say homophobia is pervasive across the sun-soaked island, from the pulpit to the floor of the Parliament. Hostility toward gays has reached such a level that four months ago, gay advocates in New York City launched a short-lived boycott against Jamaica at the site of the Stonewall Inn, where demonstrations launched the gay-rights movement in 1969. In its 2008 report, the U.S. State Department also notes that gays have faced death and arson threats, and are hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear.

For gays, the reality of this enduring hostility is loneliness and fear, and sometimes even murder. Andrew, a 36-year-old volunteer for an AIDS education program, said he was driven from the island after his ex-lover was killed for being gay — which police said was just a robbery gone wrong. He moved to the U.K. for several years, but returned to Jamaica in 2008 for personal reasons he declined to disclose.

"I’m living in fear on a day-to-day basis," he said softly during a recent interview in Kingston. "In the community where my ex-lover was killed, people will say to me when I’m passing on the street, they will make remarks like ‘boom-boom-boom’ or ‘batty boy fi dead.’ I don’t feel free walking on the streets." Many in this highly Christian nation perceive homosexuality as a sin, and insist violence against gays is blown out of proportion by gay activists. Some say Jamaica tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not advertised — a tropical version of former President Bill Clinton’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy for the U.S. military.

Jamaica’s most prominent evangelical pastor, Bishop Herro Blair, said he sympathizes with those who face intolerance, but that homosexuals themselves are actually behind most of the attacks reported against them. "Among themselves, homosexuals are extremely jealous," said Blair during a recent interview. "But some of them do cause a reaction by their own behaviors, for, in many people’s opinions, homosexuality is distasteful."

Other church leaders have accused gays of flaunting their behavior to "recruit" youngsters, or called for them to undergo "redemptive work" to break free of their sexual orientation. Perhaps playing to anti-gay constituents, politicians routinely rail against homosexuals. During a parliamentary session in February, lawmaker Ernest Smith of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party stressed that gays were "brazen," "abusive," and "violent," and expressed anxiety that the police force was "overrun by homosexuals."

A few weeks later, Prime Minister Bruce Golding described gay advocates as "perhaps the most organized lobby in the world" and vowed to keep Jamaica’s "buggery law" — punishable by 10 years — on the books. During a BBC interview last year, Golding vowed to never allow gays in his Cabinet. The dread of homosexuality is so all-encompassing that many Jamaican men refuse to get digital rectal examinations for prostate cancer, even those whose disease is advanced, said Dr. Trevor Tulloch of St. Andrews Hospital.

"Because it is a homophobic society, there’s such a fear of the sexual implications of having the exam that men won’t seek out help," said Tulloch, adding Jamaica has a soaring rate of prostate cancer because men won’t be screened. The anti-gay sentiment on this island of 2.8 million has perhaps become best known through Jamaican "dancehall," a rap-reggae music hybrid that often has raunchy, violent themes. Some reggae rappers, including Bounty Killer and Elephant Man, depend on gay-bashing songs to rouse concert-goers.

"It stirs up the crowd to a degree that many performers feel they have to come up with an anti-gay song to incite the audience," said Barry Chevannes, a professor of social anthropology at the University of the West Indies. Brooklyn-based writer Staceyann Chin, a lesbian who fled her Caribbean homeland for New York more than a decade ago, stressed that violence in Jamaica is high — there were 1,611 killings last year, about 10 times more than the U.S. rate relative to population — but that it is "extraordinarily" high against gays.

"The macho ideal is celebrated, praised in Jamaica, while homosexuality is paralleled with pedophilia, rapists," Chin said. "Markers that other people perceive as gay — they walk a certain way, wear tight pants, or are overly friendly with a male friend — make them targets. It’s a little pressure cooker waiting to pop." In 1996, when she was 20, Chin came out as lesbian on the Kingston UWI campus. She said she was ostracized by her peers, and one day was herded into a campus bathroom by a group of male students, who ripped off her clothes and sexually assaulted her.

"They told me what God wanted from me, that God made women to enjoy sex with men," recalled Chin, a poet, performer and lecturer who closes her just-published memoir "The Other Side of Paradise" with her searing account of the attack. Even in New York City, anti-gay Jamaican bigots sent her hate-filled e-mails after a 2007 appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s TV talk show to discuss homosexuality.

Chin said she doesn’t know if she would have the courage to come out now as a lesbian in Jamaica. "The tensions are higher now. People are feeling very much that they have to declare camps," she said. Jamaican nationalism has always been tied in deeply with bugbears about masculinity, making for a "potent brew" where those who violate accepted standards of manliness are easy targets, said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch.

Long, head of a gay rights program at the New York-based group, pointed out that most other English-speaking islands in the region have tiny populations, where gays don’t come out and visible activism is limited.

"(But) what stands out about Jamaica is how absolutely, head-in-the-sand unwilling the authorities have been for years to acknowledge or address homophobic violence," he said. "Most notably, three successive governments have completely, utterly, publicly refused even to talk about changing the buggery law — which expressly consigns gay people to second-class citizens and paints targets on their backs."

Prominent Jamaican political activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers noted that social standing still protects gay islanders, especially in Kingston, where a quest for privacy and the fear of crime has driven many to live behind gated walls with key pad entry systems, 24-hour security and closed-circuit television monitoring. People with power and money who are not obviously gay are often protected, she said.

"My thought is there are far more men having sex with men in this country than you would ever think is happening," Sobers said. Many gays from poorer areas in Jamaica say they congregate in private to find safety and companionship. Once a month, they have underground church services at revolving locations across the island.

Sherman, meanwhile, is simply trying to move on with his life. But he said he will always remember how, after his attack, patrolmen roughly lifted his bloodied body out of their squad car when a man admonished them for aiding a "batty boy." A woman shamed them into driving him to a hospital; they stuffed him in the car’s trunk. "Being gay in Jamaica, it’s like, don’t tell anybody. Just keep it to yourself," he said evenly, with a half smile.

August 28, 2009 – PinkNews

Live Nation cancels concerts by homophobic Jamaican singer

by Staff Writer,
A series of US concerts by reggae star Buju Banton have been cancelled after protests from LGBT groups. Banton was due to perform in Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas and Houston. However, promoter Live Nation has said they are cancelled and ticket holders will be offered refunds.
A campaign was organised via website and more than 650 people complained to Live Nation, who own the House of Blues venues where Banton was scheduled to perform next week.

Banton’s notorious 1990s hit Boom Bye Bye appears to incite the burning, shooting in the head and pouring acid over the faces of gay people. In October 2006 two of his concerts in the US were cancelled after pressure from gay activists. In July 2007 he signed up to the Reggae Compassionate Act, promising not to perform songs that advocate homophobia, in a deal brokered by Stop Murder Music activists. He later denied that he had made any such commitment.

The Stop Murder Music campaign spearheaded by UK gay activist group OutRage! has brought about the cancellation of hundreds of concerts and sponsorship deals.

September 11, 2009 – PinkNews

British consul killed in ‘homophobic’ attack in Jamaica – note on his bed called him a ‘batty man’

by Jessica Geen
A British honourary consul has been found murdered at his home in Jamaica, in what police believe is a homophobic attack.
John Terry, 65, was found at his home with severe head injuries and a cord and piece of clothing around his neck. He is thought to have been beaten around the head and upper body with a lamp. Post-mortem examination results released today showed he died of strangulation.

A note found on the bed called him a "batty man" – a homophobic term of abuse. It added: "This is what will happen to ALL gays" and was signed "Gay-Man". Although Mr Terry’s wallet and phone were stolen, police do not believe robbery was a motive for the killing. According to various reports, a detective working on the case said: "It might be that someone took exception to Mr Terry. "We do have reports that he has been seen with another man. It is likely he could have known his killer.”

Mr Terry’s body was discovered on Wednesday afternoon after a neighbour raised concerns that a light had been left on all night. There was no sign of forced entry to the property. He was the British honorary consul to the Montenegro Bay area and had worked for the past 12 years helping tourists who had gotten into difficulties. He is thought to have separated from his wife three years ago. She and his two children live in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.

Jamaica is known to be one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Gay sex between two men can carry a ten-year jail sentence or hard labour. Sex between two women is currently legal but many lesbians face persecution. Foreign secretary David Miliband offered his sympathies to Mr Terry’s family: "John Terry was a key member of our team in Jamaica and had been an honorary consul for 13 years, but with many years of other service to the British community in Jamaica before then.

"Honorary consuls like John play a valuable role in our work overseas and this was especially true of John who helped many, many British visitors to Jamaica over the years. My thoughts are with his wife and children. He will be greatly missed too by colleagues and all those who knew him."

September 12, 2009 – The Independent

Jamaica: A grim place to be gay

Homophobia was the probable motive for the murder of a British diplomat. Cahal Milmo reports on an island where hate crime is rife When neighbours of John Terry, the British honorary consul in Jamaica’s Montego Bay, were approached by a young man outside his home on Tuesday evening asking for a taxi, they assumed he was just the latest recipient of assistance from the voluntary diplomat who in his three decades on the island had become a pillar of his community.

As well as coming to the aid of hundreds of holidaying Britons, the genteel 65-year-old had served as a magistrate in St James, his well-heeled rural neighbourhood on the outskirts of the country’s tourism capital, and worked for a succession of charities, including a support group for the mentally ill.

But a team of detectives were yesterday investigating whether Mr Terry’s visitor that night, far from being a beneficiary of the honorary consul’s help, was in fact his murderer and a killer driven by the homophobia that plagues the country which the father-of-two had grown to love so much that he made his life there.

From the "murder music" lyrics of reggae stars exhorting the murder of gay men to a member of Jamaica’s governing political party who has described homosexuals as "abusive and violent" and called for gay sex to be made punishable by life imprisonment – the Caribbean island has long been beset by what campaigners describe as "institutional homophobia".

And the manner of Mr Terry’s death provides harrowing evidence that such prejudice continues to thrive. At lunchtime on Wednesday, the gardener who tended the shrubs outside the New Zealand-born Mr Terry’s modest bungalow found his partially clothed body lying on his bloodstained bedroom floor. He had been badly beaten about the head and body, possibly with the base of his bedside lamp, and then strangled with a cord ligature and a piece of clothing left around his neck.

On the bed was a hand-written note which described Mr Terry as a "batty man", derogatory slang for a homosexual. Signed "Gay-Man", it added: "This is what will happen to ALL gays."

Police sources said the note provided other details which could lead to the identification of Mr Terry’s killer, adding that the theft of personal items such as his wallet and mobile phone looked like an inept attempt to persuade investigators that robbery was the motive for the attack. More likely, says Deputy Superintendent Michael Garrick, is that "the person who murdered Mr Terry was close to him".

The killing was brutal even by the standards of an island where gang warfare over drugs has earned it the title of one of the world’s most murderous nations. If it is proven to have been motivated by hatred of homosexuals, it will be one of the most high-profile and horrific examples yet of what campaigners say is a growing trend for extreme violence against gay people in Jamaica.

Official statistics are hard to come by, but evidence gathered by Amnesty International shows that at least 35 gay men have been murdered in the Caribbean country since 1997. They include Brian Williamson, the co-founder of the country’s main gay rights groups, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), who was hacked to death with a machete in 2004. A crowd was seen celebrating around Mr Williamson’s mutilated body.

In the last 18 months, at least 33 incidents of mob violence against homosexuals have been recorded, including an attack in Montego Bay where three supposedly gay men attending a carnival were chased in the street, and one of them was beaten about the head with a manhole cover. Elsewhere, mobs have gathered outside a gay man’s funeral and chased another man to his death off a pier.

Homosexual activity remains a criminal offence in Jamaica, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Since 2007 Britain, the former colonial power which introduced the island’s sodomy laws, has granted asylum to at least five Jamaicans on the grounds that their lives had been threatened because of their sexual orientation.

Michael, a gay man in the Jamaican capital, Kingston, said the prevalence and virulence of anti-gay sentiment in the country had made his coming out as a homosexual an impossibility.

The 24-year-old, who is a member of J-FLAG but has kept his sexuality hidden from even his closest friends and family, told The Independent: "I know people who are called ‘batty boy’ or other taunts every time they leave home. They live in fear of being attacked. They don’t know if today is the day they are going to be set upon and hacked up.

"I could not take that step. My cousins are leading members of a local church where the pastor regularly condemns gays as the devil, as subversives. If anything, we are going backwards as a nation on this issue. You cannot even feel safe reporting things to the police. I have heard too many stories of police standing aside while a gay man gets a beating, or worse. I’ve heard of gang members shooting a gay man in the street as some sort of rite of passage."

The literal mood music to such violence, according to campaigners, is the mushrooming of lyrics of reggae singers which glorify and lend legitimacy to homophobic sentiments. Among the performers most frequently pointed to as leading the trend is Buju Banton, a singer from one of Kingston’s toughest slums, whose 1992 hit, "Boom Bye Bye", boasts of shooting gays with sub-machine guns and burning them with acid.

Another popular performer, Elephant Man, uses one song to say: "When you hear a lesbian getting raped/It’s not our fault … Two women in bed/That’s two sodomites who should be dead."

The Stop Murder Music campaign in Britain and North America has brought the issue to international prominence, attempting to apply pressure on Banton and artists including Beenie Man, Sizzla and Bounty Killer, by calling for boycotts of concerts and the withdrawal of sponsorship.

A number of singers, including Beenie Man and Sizzla, have agreed to sign an undertaking not to repeat songs containing lyrics that advocate homophobia, but the effectiveness of the agreement has been brought into question after performers, including Banton, agreed to its sentiments only to then deny ever having made any such a commitment.

The Black Music Council, a UK-based group set up to defend the singers, has accused campaigners of censorship and racism by targeting musicians who are reflecting hardline views on homosexuality held across all ranks Jamaican society, from Christian churches and Rastafarian preachers to the country’s parliament.

Certainly, homophobia is openly expressed in the highest echelons. Ernest Smith, an MP for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, earlier this year used a parliamentary debate to claim that "homosexual activities seem to have taken over this country" and gay men are "abusive, violent". He added that "acts of gross indecency" between consenting gay men should be punishable by sentences of up to life imprisonment and J-FLAG, which does not disclose the location of its offices for fear of attack, should be "outlawed".

Rebecca Schleifer, of Human Rights Watch, said: "Discrimination against people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation is widespread and entrenched. It is expressed from the pulpit to the schoolroom to the parliament. It is very important that the voices of Jamaicans who suffer this discrimination and are trying to overcome it should be heard. This is not a case of powerful white countries seeking to impose their will and values on Jamaica."

Those who knew Mr Terry, whose wife had separated from him and was living in Kingston with the couple’s grown-up son and daughter, confirmed that the hotel industry worker often socialised with other men, but said he had never come out as gay.

Instead, his friends focused on the unstinting decency of a lifelong volunteer in dealing with the problems of others, from Britons with lost passports to impoverished Jamaicans, whom he attempted to assist. Joy Crooks, administrator for the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill, said: "It is very sad for us to know that John has passed in such a horrifying way. It is frightening. He was a kind and caring individual and did anything he could to help the less fortunate."

September 15, 2009 – PinkNews

Comment: Consul’s death thrusts Jamaican homophobia into the spotlight

by V King Macdona
Last week John Terry, a British honorary consul, was murdered at his Jamaica home in what was suspected to be a homophobic attack.
The 65-year-old was strangled and beaten, while a note reportedly calling him a ‘batty man’ had been left at the crime scene, prompting suspicions that homophobia was the key motive for the crime. Although Jamaican police have since claimed it is unlikely that this was a factor in the killing, the act has brought the issue of Jamaica’s culture of homophobic violence to the fore in the world’s media.

Fuelled by conservative religious beliefs, both Christian and Rastafarian, homophobia is rife and even Jamaican law can be said to support it; sex between two men carries a ten year jail sentence. The murder of John Terry, whether or not it was motivated by anti-gay sentiment, has highlighted a growing problem, and one which has been escalating in recent years.

In 2004 Brian Williamson, Jamaica’s most prominent gay rights activist and founder of J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, was brutally murdered. According to reports at the time, a crowd of people gathered outside the scene of the crime, shouted abuse and celebrated his death by singing the homophobic Buju Banton song ‘Boom Bye Bye’. This murder and the subsequent public reaction goes some way to indicating the level of homophobia that gay people in Jamaica face. Even popular music is underpinned by prejudice, with stars such as Bounty Killer encouraging hate crime with their lyrics. Beatings, gang violence and murder are a constant threat, and many gay men and women live in fear of their safety.

Jamaica’s latent homophobia has also affected the fight against HIV. A 2004 report by Human Rights Watch titled ‘Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic’ stated that it is much more difficult to get safe sex advice, information about protecting oneself against the virus and practical defences like condoms when whole issue of gay sex is completely taboo. Discrimination exists within the health service, with reports that gay patients do not receive the care they are entitled to. Some HIV-positive patients have reported that healthcare workers have refused to treat or even touch them, and have disclosed their condition to others against their wishes, increasing the risk of homophobic abuse. If the situation continues as it is, Jamaica faces an increase in the number of people contracting HIV, a disease which could be preventable were it not for the health service’s homophobia.

Amnesty International has publicly condemned anti-gay attacks which have taken place in recent years. The organisation has said it is "particularly concerned by reports of mob violence against persons perceived as homosexuals who are targeted because of their appearance or behaviour, which seems to be increasing in frequency". In a 2004 statement, Amnesty highlighted two incidents which typify this kind of violence. In one instance, people threw stones at mourners through a church window during the funeral of a man suspected to be gay, purposefully disrupting what should have been respectful ceremony. In another attack, a 30-strong mob chased and beat a group of men who had been dancing at a carnival, one of whom was hospitalised as a result of his injuries. Amnesty has said they are calling on Jamaican authorities to investigate the crimes thoroughly, though these examples constitute a minute proportion of the crimes perpetrated against gays and lesbians.

Human rights groups have been fighting Jamaica’s homophobia for years, and still the police and justice systems appear to turn a blind eye to anti-gay crime. When a gay police officer spoke out in a local newspaper in February 2008 about the fact that the police do not take violence against gays seriously enough, he was subsequently forced to leave his job and go into hiding, fearing for his life. In this climate of fear, in which victims cannot turn to the police for help, gay Jamaicans are finding it increasingly difficult to live openly.

Speaking to the New York Times last year, inspector Claude Smith, commander of Mandeville police station in Jamaica, said of gay people; “Based on the response of these mobs, people get very angry when they come across them. I don’t think they can survive in the open.” Even with the support of external, international human rights organisations, the gay population of Jamaica faces an uncertain future. British honorary consul John Terry’s murder has simply brought to the fore a problem which may take decades to resolve.

October 29, 2009 – The Associated Press

Increase in Gay Asylum in USA

by Russell Contreras (AP)
Worcester, Mass. — For weeks, Nathaniel Cunningham and his boyfriend secretly lived together in rural Jamaica. They showed no affection in public and rarely spoke to neighbors.
Then one morning, Cunningham picked up a local newspaper with a front-page story under the headline, "Homosexual Prostitutes Move into Residential Neighborhood." His address was listed below.

For days afterward, Cunningham said an angry mob gathered on his lawn hurling rocks and bricks and calling them "batty boys" — a Jamaican slang term for gay. Eventually, the pair grabbed what they could and fled on foot. Cunningham said neither he nor his boyfriend were prostitutes — the slur was just another example of the abuse gay men faced in Jamaica.

The story was one of many that Cunningham, now 32 and living in Worcester, recently shared with a federal immigration judge in his successful bid to win asylum in the United States. And it’s similar to other stories cited by a small but growing number of other gay, lesbian and transgender asylum seekers who are using U.S. immigration courts to argue that their sexual orientation makes it too dangerous for them to return home.

"I had no choice," said Andre Azevedo, 39, a transgender man from Brazil who recently won asylum and now lives in New York. "Where I’m from, heterosexual men practice hate crimes against us like a sport, and the police do nothing to stop it." Since 1994, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States. That’s when former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ruled in a case that persecution based on sexual orientation could be potential grounds for asylum. Until recently, those grounds have been rarely used and such cases represent only a fraction of all asylum cases.

But now immigrant and gay activists say more asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are citing sexual orientation as reasons for seeking asylum. Activists say the asylum seekers are escaping rape, persecution, violence, and threats of death from places where homosexuality is either outlawed or strongly, socially shunned.

Federal immigration law allows individuals asylum if they can prove a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Those applying for asylum are already in the United States, legally or illegally. No one knows for sure just how many have sought asylum on sexual orientation grounds. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t keep data on asylum cases won on that basis.

Still, last year Immigration Equality, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps gay clients with immigration cases, successfully won 55 asylum cases using sexual orientation as grounds, a record for the organization, said the group’s legal director Victoria Neilson. That’s up from 30 wins in 2007 and 27 in 2006, Neilson said. And a Worcester, Mass.-based nonprofit group, Lutheran Social Services, has recently won five cases and is looking to help others.

"I think more people are finding out that this is an option," said Lisa Laurel Weinberg, an attorney with the group. However, not all cases for asylum based on sexual orientation have been successful. For example, a gay Brazilian man who was married in Massachusetts and whose American husband remains in the state was recently denied asylum by the Obama administration on humanitarian grounds, despite pleas from Sen. John Kerry. Genesio "Junior" Januario Oliveira had originally requested asylum because he was raped as a teenager, but an immigration judge denied the application, saying Oliveira repeatedly said in the hearing that he "was never physically harmed" by anyone in Brazil.

He was forced to return to Brazil in 2007. Cunningham said he decided to file for asylum after working for a few years in the United States on a work visa. He conducted research online but couldn’t find an immigration group to help him with the case. "One group said my case clashed with their Christian values," Cunningham said. Many gay rights groups, he said, also had limited services for immigrants.

It wasn’t until Cunningham connected with Jozefina Lantz, the director of immigrant services at Lutheran Social Services, that Cunningham gained support. To win, however, Cunningham had to revisit painful moments of running from mobs in Jamaica. Even the police would point him out for persecution, he said. In successfully arguing Cunningham’s case for asylum, Weinberg also said Jamaica’s sodomy laws banning sex between men and "dancehall" music — whose lyrics often advocate violence against gays — made life for Cunningham unbearable. Cunningham won asylum in January 2008.

During his asylum hearing, Azevedo had to recall violent episodes in Brazil when he and a group of transsexuals were attacked in bars. He recalled a transgender woman set on fire. Each time Azevedo said he went to police about an attack or a threat, the officers didn’t even bother to file a report. "I had such a horrific experience," said Azevedo, who was granted asylum in July. "I was always in fear of being raped, maybe even killed." After winning their cases, both Cunningham and Azevedo have become advocates for other asylum-seekers by giving them counseling and directing them toward legal help.

In Worcester, for example, Cunningham has helped a Lebanese and three others Jamaicans win asylum with the legal help provided by the Lutheran Social Services’ "LGBT Human Rights Protection Project." Another case, involving an Ugandan woman, is pending in the courts. But while those who have been granted asylum are eager to help, Azevedo said many still haven’t resolved the pain from the past and can’t go back home to visit family — those who haven’t disowned them. Cunningham said he hasn’t gotten over the fear that, at any moment, he may be forced to flee. "I’ve never really owned furniture," Cunningham said. "You just never know."