Jamaica's only drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth was closed due to anti-gay sentiments by local authorities and media
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG) – a charity organisation, was forced to close down the Caribbean island state’s only drop-in centre for homeless gays which it managed with the Jamaica Aids Support (JAS) organization.
The announcement was made by a J-FLAG representative at a recent meeting in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston.
Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaican lawyer and leading LGBT rights advocate told GSN that homelessness of LGBT people is a major problem in Jamacia. A recent survey reported by GSN found high levels of homophobia in Jamaica; many young people are ejected by their families, communities and schools due to their sexuality.
The meeting on Thursday (27 September) was called by city officials who were said to ‘be concerned about the action of homosexuals behaving badly and selling sexual services on the streets of Kingston’.
It included representatives from J-FLAG and JAS and a group of approximately 20 homeless gay men, many of whom appeared to be in their teens and early 20s.
The gay men stated their greatest needs were for skills training, food, clothing and shelter.
One of the group was quoted by the Jamaican daily The Gleaner as saying: ‘the schooling is not going to be enough. We need meals and a drop-in centre. Some of them don’t have clothes. Where are they gonna sleep and get food?’
Dane Lewis, a J-FLAG representative, was quoted as saying: ‘We have tried to conduct a drop-in centre on a number of occasions, but we don’t have the skills set and resources to deal with it. What we have decided is that we have to stop it … because we don’t have the staff capacity to manage it.’
‘We are on our knees,’ said one of the street gays begging J-FLAG to reconsider.
City officials, however, had little sympathy for the homeless gay youth.
Kari Douglas, a city councillor urged the young men ‘to take responsibility for themselves’.
While Angela Brown-Burke, mayor of Kingston blamed the youth for bringing misery on themselves as they ‘were lacking a sense of responsibility.’
‘Be careful because we don’t want to think that there is a sense of obligation’ she said.
Julian Robinson, the member of parliament for the South East St Andrew constituency that includes Kingston and its environs agreed with the mayor and said that ‘raucous behaviour of the homosexuals, which includes fighting and flamboyance, in the neighbourhood had to be addressed.’
‘We have to tackle frontally the behavioural issue. Many people in Jamaica face similar challenges and don’t behave in the same disruptive manner.
‘It is a police problem, it is a residential problem and it is a business problem.’
Commander Christopher Murdock, head of the Kingston Police, also said the youth behaved ‘in a terrible manner
‘Each of these young men needs to take a hard look at themselves and see if they can behave in a civil manner’.
The local Jamaican media showed even less sympathy and reported the closure under a sensaltionalist title: ‘Rowdy Gays Strike – J-FLAG Abandons Raucous Homosexuals Misbehaving In New Kingston‘.
Tomlinson told GSN: ‘J-FLAG and JAS have been struggling for years to develop an appropriate protocol to deal with the steady stream of homeless LGBT youth living on the streets of the nation’s capital. Many them come from very challenging areas and have poor conflict resolution skills.
‘JFLAG and JAS are simply not equipped to meet the complex social, emotional and physical needs of these individuals and have therefore sought assistance from the government.
‘Both groups also tried to launch a media campaign encouraging Jamaicans to love their LGBT family members and so stop evicting them. In this regard, a tolerance themed advertisement was developed, however, the television stations flatly refused to even accept payment to air the advertisement because they claimed it would encourage homosexuality.
‘Expecting these homeless youth to rehabilitate themselves is ridiculous, and I suspect JFLAG and JAS know that.
‘The result is that these youth will now be harder to reach with essential HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions.
‘Since some of these homeless youth engage in sex work as a means of survival, this represents a public health crisis.
‘Jamaican homophobia contributed to the high number of homeless LGBT people.
‘Yet, like Pontius Pilate, the Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller and her government refuse to show leadership to end this scourge by expeditiously seeking a repeal of the archaic anti-sodomy law that sanctions violence, police extortions and other abuses against LGBT.
‘Simply put, while the Jamaican government dithers on the issue of human rights for LGBT, they are presiding over a public health tragedy. Truly, we sow to the wind and we reap the whirlwind.’
Watch the tolerance advertisement rejected by Jamaican media on the grounds they ‘encourage homosexuality':