LGBT rights in Jamaica

LGBT rights in Jamaica

LGBT (Lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) rights in Jamaica are dominated by the prohibition of sexual acts between men. Sexual acts between women are legal, by virtue of the absence of any reference to it in law. Sex between men is punishable with up to ten years jail. [ [,8599,1182991,00.html Crimes against gays are mounting in Jamaica and across the Caribbean] By Tim Padgett. Wednesday, April 12, 2006]

Social leaders in Jamaica accuse international groups of meddling in domestic affairs. They defend laws against homosexuality as upholding Christian values.

Criminal Code

Jamaican criminal code prohibits sex between men, as is the case in much of the English-speaking Caribbean. Article 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act states:

Whosoever shall be convicted of the the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept tohard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.

Article 77 adds:

Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hardlabour.

Article 79 further states:

Any male person who, in public or private, commits,or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.

"Gross indecency" is not defined, but has been interpreted to include male homosexual conduct between consenting adults in private. [Offenses Against the Person Act, 1864, revised 1969, Articles 76, 77, 79
J-FLAG, “Know Your Rights,” [ online]

Political parties

Neither one of the two major political parties in Jamaica have expressed any official support for gay rights. The People's National Party views international criticism of its human rights record as meddling, and either claims that homophobia is not a serious problem or that gay rights violate the conservative social values of the Jamaican people. The Jamaican Labour Party has likewise avoided the issue, although in 2004, the former Jamaican Attorney General and Justice Minister, Dr. Oswald Harding, stated that he felt that Jamaica law should follow the advice of the Wolfenden Committee in Britain and decriminalize homosexuality and prostitution when it occurred between consenting adults in private. None of the other minor political parties have endorsed gay rights.

In April 2006, the "Sunday Herald" ran a front page headline "No homos!" in which then opposition leader and current Prime Minister of Jamaica Bruce Golding vowed that "homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him". ["Sunday Herald", Jamaica, April 8, 2006: "No Homos! Opposition to gays in the cabinet".] The statement was supported by several clergymen and a trade union leader. During the 2001 elections Golding's party used as its theme song "Chi Chi Man" by T.O.K., ["The Guardian", [,,1762156,00.html Troubled Island] , by Gary Younge, Thursday April 27, 2006] which celebrates the burning and killing of gay men. The purpose of the use of this song was an attack on the then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who at the time, was the subject of a whispering campaign on his sexuality, with some critics referring to him as "P.J. Battyson."

Violence against homosexuals

According to Human Rights Watch (2004),

Verbal and physical violence, ranging from beatings to brutal armed attacks to murder, are widespread. For many, there is no sanctuary from such abuse. Men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women reported being driven from their homes and their towns by neighbors who threatened to kill them if they remained, forcing them to abandon their possessions and leaving many homeless.
In addition,
police actively support homophobic violence, fail to investigate complaints of abuse, and arrest and detain men based on their alleged homosexual conduct.Human Rights Watch, "Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic", November 2004. [ Report online] .]
In one gay-hate murder,
several witnesses [said] that police participated in the abuse that ultimately led to his mob killing, first beating the man with batons and then urging others to beat him because he was homosexual. [Ibid.]

Amnesty International agrees: "Gay men and lesbian women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality"; [Amnesty International media release: " [ Battybwoys affi dead] ("Faggots have to die"): Action against Homophobia in Jamaica", 17 May 04.] and gays and lesbians constitute one of the "most marginalized and persecuted communities in Jamaica". [Amnesty International, 10 June 2004. (AMR 38/010/2004). Press Release. "Jamaica: Amnesty International Mourns Loss of Leading Human Rights Defender."] Amnesty gave an example of a recent incident reported in a national newspaper, where a father encouraged a mob to beat up his son, who he suspected was gay, while he looked on smiling. No charges were laid.

While police do not compile statistics on attacks against homosexuals, ["Rights-Jamaica: Gays Living in Fear.", by Dionne Jackson Miller. Inter Press Service, 16 June 2004.] , J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, report that they know of 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. [The Guardian, "If You’re Gay in Jamaica, You’re Dead", by Diane Taylor, August 2, 2004. [,,1274067,00.html Article online] ]

The violence has prompted hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in nations such as Great Britain, Canada and the United States, [Thompson, Tony, “Jamaican gays flee to save their lives: Homophobia runs so deep in society that asylum can be the only chance of survival,” The Jamaica Observer, 20 October 2002, 25.
See also: [] .
] and several have been successful. [BBC news, [ Growing up gay in Jamaica] , Wednesday, 15 September, 2004.] In 2005, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Jamaica to repeal their sodomy laws and to actively combat widespread homophobia. [Amendment 25: Human rights in the world and the EU's policy. "Paragraph 79 calls on the Government of Jamaica to take effective action to stop the extra-judicial killing of people by security forces; also calls on the Government of Jamaica to repeal sections 76, 77 and 79 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalise sex between consenting adult men and are used as justification for unacceptable harassment, notably against HIV/AIDS educators; asks the Government of Jamaica to actively fight widespread homophobia." [ Report online] .]

Recent reported incidents of violence include:

*In February 2007, three men were accosted by a large mob in a shopping area in Kingston and accused of being homosexual. Riot police were called, and they eventually carried the men to safety. There are allegations, however, that the men were also abused by the police. [] [] .

*In January 2006, Nokia Cowan, a young Jamaican man, plunged to his death off a pier in Kingston after reportedly being chased through the streets by a mob yelling homophobic epithets. [, [ Anti-Gay Violence Claims Another Life In Jamaica] , by Newscenter Staff, January 4, 2006.]

*In April 2006, students at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies rioted as police attempted to protect a man who had been chased across the campus because another student had claimed the man had propositioned him in a bathroom. The mob demanded that the man be turned over to them. It only dispersed when riot police were called in and one officer fired a shot in the air. If the claim of a sexual advance is substantiated, the chased man could face charges. [Jamaica Gleaner, "Alleged homosexual attacked at UWI", by Andrew Wildes. Wednesday, April 5, 2006. [ Article online] .
See also:, [ Jamaican Students Riot, Try To Kill Gay Student] , by Newscenter Staff, January 4, 2006.

Political activism

The first gay organization in Jamaica was the Gay Freedom Movement (GFM), founded around 1974 by five Jamaicans and an American Jesuit then working in the island. It focused on consciousness-raising within the LGBT community and professional organizations, issued a newsletter, "Jamaica Gaily News", and ran a Gay Youth Program, Prison Outreach Program and a free STD clinic. General Secretary, Larry Chang, who was also publisher and editor of JGN, was the first Jamaican to come out publicly, being interviewed on radio and JBC-TV and through his letters to the press. Before he fled to the US in 2000 where he was granted political asylum in 2004, he had helped found Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), which is today the only LGBT rights organization in Jamaica.

The organization was created in 1998, and operates underground and anonymously. In June 2004 founding member and the public face of J-FLAG and Jamaica's leading gay-rights activist, Brian Williamson, was stabbed to death in his home. Police ruled that the murder was the result of a robbery, but J-FLAG believes his murder was a hate crime. [BBC news, [ Jamaican gay activist murdered] , Thursday, 10 June, 2004.] Human Rights Watch researcher Rebecca Schleifer had a meeting with Williamson that day, and arrived at his home not long after his body had been discovered:

She found a small crowd singing and dancing. One man called out, "Battyman he get killed." Others were celebrating, laughing and shouting "Let's get them one at a time", "That's what you get for sin". Others sang "Boom bye bye", a line from a well-known dancehall song by Jamaican star Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men. "It was like a parade", says Schleifer. "They were basically partying." [Reported in The Guardian, [,,1762156,00.html Troubled Island] , by Gary Younge, Thursday April 27, 2006]

Human Rights Watch also reports that police helped a suspect evade identification, and consistently refused to consider the possibility of a homophobic motive for the killing, with the senior officer responsible for the investigation claiming “most of the violence against homosexuals is internal. We never have cases of gay men being beaten up [by heterosexuals] .” [ [ Letter Urging Jamaican Government to Protect Rights Defenders and Address Violence and Abuse Based on Sexual Orientation and HIV Status] , November 30, 2004. Human Rights Watch]

A friend of Williamson's, Lenford "Steve" Harvey, who worked in Targeted Inteventions at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, was shot to death on the eve of World AIDS Day the following year. Gunmen reportedly burst into his home and demanded money, demanding to know "Are you battymen?" "I think his silence, his refusal to answer that question sealed it", said Yvonne McCalla Sobers, the head of Families Against State Terrorism. "Then they opened his laptop and saw a photograph of him with his partner in some kind of embrace that showed they were together. So they took him out and killed him." [Ibid.] Four people have been charged with the killing.

Public attitudes toward LGBT people

In 2004, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the status of LGBT people in Jamaica. The report documented widespread homophobia and argued that the high level of intolerance was harming public efforts to combat violence and the AIDS-HIV pandemic. The Caribbean has by far the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the Americas, with heterosexual contact the predominant route of HIV transmission. [ [ Caribbean HIV/AIDS statistics ] ]

A recent poll showed that 96% of Jamaicans were opposed to any move that would seek to legalise homosexual relations. [Reported in Amnesty International media release: " [ Battybwoys affi dead] ("Faggots have to die"): Action against Homophobia in Jamaica", 17 May 2004.
Also reported in: The Guardian [London] . 26 June 2004. Gary Younge. "Chilling Call to Murder as Music Attacks Gays."
] Many Jamaicans are devoutly Christian and claim that their anti-gay stance is based on religious grounds. [Wockner, Rex, “Bishops denounce gay sex,” International News #400, 24 December 2001] In February 2006, a coalition of church leaders and members of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship declared their opposition to the privacy provisions of a proposed Charter of Rights that would form the basis of an amended Jamaican Constitution. Chief among the concerns was that homosexuality could be made legal, although the Justice Minister AJ Nicholson and the Leader of the Opposition Bruce Golding have denied this; both oppose decriminalizing buggery [, Wed February 15, 2006. [ Homosexuality won’t be legalised, says Justice Minister] ] which although not a gay specific crime, is most often used against gay men.

Local LGBT-rights group J-FLAG acknowledges that anti-LGBT sentiment is influenced by certain passages from the Bible, but counters that

the appropriation by legislatures of the Christian condemnation of homosexuals is a purely arbitrary process, guided largely by individual biases and collective prejudices. In the case of adultery, of which much more mention is made in Biblical text, Jamaica has no law pertaining to its condemnation or prosecution. The same applies to the act of fornication. [J-FLAG, “Parliamentary Submission: The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) with regard To ‘An Act to Amend the Constitution of Jamaica to Provide for a Charter of Rights and for Connected Matters’,” 2001. [ Submission online] . [Accessed 22 June 2006] .]

Rastafarianism, is in many ways even more intensely anti-homosexual. According to a Rasta elder:

The real reason why the average 'Jah D' in Jamaica has this extreme, rational aversion to male homosexuality is not... because of 'fear of the other', it is not because of Biblical injunction; it is not because of its supposed 'un-Africanness' nor the fact that Jamaica is nominally a 'Christian country'. It is simply that he cannot condone the abandonment of the clean 'nip and tuck' of normal heterosexual relations for the unhygienic foray amid waste matter, unfriendly bacteria and toxic germs... 'Jah D' cannot see how it can be considered normal to forgo the natural, preordained creative union of male and female; to disdain the mix of complimentary fluids whether premarital, marital or extramarital and willingly embrace a process which leads to rooting amongst waste which anal penetration necessarily involves. []

The focus remains heavily on homosexuality as representing anal intercourse, above virtually all other aspects associated with gay culture in society. Linked to this is Jamaica's pre-eminence as a country with male-dominant social values. [] Consequently, adultery and fornication are praised as signs of male virility in the lyrics of popular songs, particularly in Jamaican Dancehall. Homosexuality (i.e. buggery) in this context is seen as a potential affront to the male 'ideal'. [J-FLAG, “Parliamentary Submission: The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) with regard To ‘An Act to Amend the Constitution of Jamaica to Provide for a Charter of Rights and for Connected Matters’,” 2001. [ Submission online] . [Accessed 22 June 2006] .]

Female homosexuality

For lesbians in Jamaica, the situation is considerably more ambiguous. In common with many countries where homosexual acts are or were illegal, legislation refers specifically to acts between males, making female homosexuality legal by omission. Views of female homosexuality from a heterosexual perspective, expressed in terms of male superiority and difference, are common. "Jamaica Gleaner" columnist Morris Cargill wrote in 1999:

There seems to be a certain logic in female homosexuality. For if it is true, broadly speaking, we acquire our first sexual proclivities in infancy, girl children who are petted and fondled by their mothers, nurses and female relatives acquire what might be said to be a "normal" sexual affection for their own sex. But this is not true of male children, so it seems to me that there is a very fundamental difference between male and female homosexuality. [Cargill, Morris 'Heigh-ho for 1999!' in "Jamaica Gleaner", 21 January 1999,, accessed 2 March 2006]

As a consequence, Jamaican lesbians experience less persecution than gay men, but have nonetheless cited examples of hate crimes.

Amnesty has received reports of specific acts of violence against lesbians, namely rape and other forms of sexual violence. There are reports of lesbians being attacked on the grounds of ‘mannish’ physical appearance or other visible ‘signs’ of sexuality. Some reports of abduction and rape emanate from inner-city communities, where local NGOs have already expressed concerns about high incidences of violence against women. [ No Woman No Cry: Lesbians in Jamaica, "Diva Magazine"]

Although lesbian civil ceremonies have taken place, Jamaica does not recognise any legal basis for partnerships between women.

Portrayal of LGBT people in popular music

Jamaica's popular culture has a strong tradition of music, particularly reggae and dancehall. As a consequence performers are high profile, either (depending on perspective) seen as influencing popular opinion or reflecting it. Artists such as Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man, Sizzla, Capleton, T.O.K., Anthony B and Shabba Ranks, write and perform songs that advocate attacking or killing gays and lesbians.

Apologists argue that these artists are simply championing Rastafarian values in contemporary reggae music by recording material which is concerned primarily with exploring Rastafarian themes, such as Babylon's corrupting influence, the disenfranchisement of ghetto youth, oppression of the black nation and their abiding faith in Jah and resistance against perceived agents of oppression. Homosexuality is enmeshed with these themes.

One of Beenie Man's songs contains the lyrics: "I'm a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays." [ [ Gay News From ] ] Lyrics from Sizzla's songs include: “Shot batty boy, my big gun boom” (Shoot queers, my big gun goes boom). [ [ Gay News From ] ] "A Nuh Fi Wi Fault" by Elephant Man boasts: "Battyman fi dead!/Please mark we word/Gimme tha tech-nine/Shoot dem like bird". [ [ Sorry ] ]

Shabba Ranks's reputation was badly damaged by his explicitly homophobic views and lyrics. This was evidenced by a notorious incident on the Channel 4 programme 'The Word' where he advocated the crucifixion of homosexuals [ [, record of Shabba Ranks in The World (starts at 1:41)] ] . This view was also aired, for example, on his track "No Mama Man", where the following lyrics can be heard: "If Jamaica would a legalize gun / to kill battyboy would be the greatest fun".

An international campaign against homophobia by reggae singers has been launched by OutRage!, UK-based gay human rights group. [ [ Gay News From ] ] , the UK-based Stop Murder Music Coalition (SMM) and others. An agreement to stop anti-gay lyrics during live performances and not to produce any new anti-gay material or re-release offending songs was reached in February 2005 between dancehall record labels and organizations opposed to anti-gay murder lyrics. As of July 2006 this agreement seems to have been revoked. [ [ Homophobia Bad - Sexism Good in Music Biz ] ]

The Canadian High Commission in Jamaica is also requiring performers who wish to tour in Canada to sign an Entertainer Declaration that states that they have read and fully understand excerpts from the Criminal Code of Canada, Charter of Rights and Human Rights Act and "will not engage in or advocate hatred against persons because of their… sexual orientation." [Ibid.]

The most recent rising star of dancehall reggae to use violent homophobic lyrics is Dr. Evil, aka Mr.Evil of the duo Leftside and Esco. In his song "JA don't like gay" he uses lyrics which include, "I bought this AK to spray on all gays." In 2008 he collaborated with dancehall star Sean Paul.


ee also

*Homosexuality laws of the world
*Gay rights

External links

* [ J-FLAG – Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays]
* [ Amnesty International USA: "Battybwoys affi dead" – Action against homophobia in Jamaica]
* [ UKBlackOut - Comprehensive Black Lesbian & Gay Resource]
* [,8599,1182991,00.html The Most Homophobic Place on Earth?]
* [ The Jamaica Star: Gay people, get real!]
* [ Global Gayz: Gay Jamaica – Crime and Punishment]
* [ 2004 Jamaica update] from UNHCR
* [ Seeking Asylum: Jamaica]
* [ Murder in Dancehall]
* [ Gay in JA] – BBC radio documentary (RealPlayer format)
* [ NY Times - Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays]
* [ The Caribbeans first stand-alone social networking site for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons.]

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