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Jamaica: Gay men and lesbians living in a constant state of fear

Jamaica: Gay men and lesbians living in a constant state of fear

A new report by the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch paints a damning portrait of the treatment of LGBT people in Jamaica.

The Human Rights Watch report – Not Safe at Home – follows five weeks of study on the Caribbean island country from April to June last year.

It details a wide range of discriminatory practices and a failing by the Jamaican authorities to adequately protect its LGBT citizens. It concludes that LGBT Jamaicans – and those perceived to be gay – are vulnerable to both physical and sexual violence.

It highlights failings by the police to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for anti-gay violence and hate-motivated murders. Government agencies are also accused of discriminating against LGBT people in regards to housing and employment.

The HRW report documents 56 incidents of violence. Of these, only 19 victims sought help from the police. Police took formal statements in only eight cases, and only four led to arrests or prosecutions.

The report features first-person accounts of horrific attacks. One young man reports police standing by when he beaten in January 2013 by a mob of 30 people armed with knives, machetes and sticks. The police finally intervened, removing him from the crowd. They placed him in a police van, handcuffed him, and then beat him again.

In July 2013, transgender youth Dwayne Jones, aged 16, was killed by a mob after attending a party. He was stabbed, shot and run over by a car. Nobody has yet been arrested for his murder.

The report also finds that many young LGBT people are thrown out of their homes, with many ending up living on the streets.

‘Discriminatory laws contribute to the specific vulnerability of LGBT people,’ said a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch.

‘The Jamaican government should strike down antiquated “buggery laws” – which outlaw anal sex and all male homosexual conduct – and take measures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans from discrimination and violence.

Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, said, ‘LGBT people in Jamaica face intolerable levels of violence and cannot rely on the police.

‘The authorities from the prime minister on down need to call a halt to the violence and discrimination, prosecute anyone responsible, and get homophobic laws off the books.’

‘In the past decade the Jamaican police have taken some steps to address the scourge of homophobic violence, but clearly these steps are not enough.

‘So long as discriminatory laws remain in place, piecemeal measures will never be adequate.’

During her election campaign in 2011, Jamaican Prime Minister Sophie Portia-Miller indicated that she would review the country’s anti-sodomy laws. However, since coming into power, she has said that the issue is not a priority and, ‘does not impact in a serious way the majority of our people who are poor.’ No date has been set for the proposed review.

Human Rights Watch have made a short film to highlight the finding of its Jamaica report – which you can watch below.