A recent study reveals increased support for LGBT rights in Jamaica, particularly amongst the younger generation, while homophobia and negative perceptions of gays and lesbians still present social and health challenges.
The study by Professor Ian Boxill of the University of the West Indies shows that almost two in every five Jamaicans believe the government is not doing enough to protect and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons to freedom from discrimination, violence and other forms of harassment.
The 2012 study was commissioned by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J- FLAG) and funded by AIDS-Free World, published Wednesday (5 September).
The study entitled the National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans Towards Same-Sex Relationships found that Jamaicans continue to have strong negative attitudes towards homosexuality.
Respondents felt that male (88%) and female (83.7%) homosexuality and bisexuality (83.5%) were immoral.
Most respondents (76.7%) disagreed with amending the anti-buggery law which criminalises homosexual acts in the country and opposed a bill of rights that would offer protection for LGBT people.
53% of the sample felt that professional help can change a homosexual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, this view increased by 6% over last year’s study.
Speaking with GSN Dane Lewis, J- FLAG’s executive director, said: ‘Urgent national leadership is required to address the chronic intolerance for LGBT Jamaicans so they can be afforded equal rights and protection of the law like any other person.’
The study also found that one in every five Jamaicans is tolerant of LGBT people and would support LGBT rights.
The 2012 study found that people 35 years old and under are more likely to be ‘tolerant, accepting, supportive, admiring and appreciative of LGBT persons’.
Lewis commented that ‘these findings speak to the progress we are making as a people in respecting the humanity, dignity and equality of LGBT persons.
‘However, given that we have a vibrant LGBT community, much more still needs to be done so we can more forward as a cohesive and just society that intends to become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.’
The national survey also included a subsample of businesspersons and found that although they would not fire an openly LGBT person, a little over half of them would not employ LGBT people for the following reasons: ‘they feel they would make their co-workers uncomfortable, they do not support the sexual orientation, they feared being stigmatized and they feared losing customers’.
However, focus group results show that co-workers did not see working with gays and lesbians as a significant problem (as long as they acted professionally).
‘Urgent national leadership is required to address the chronic intolerance for LGBT Jamaicans so they can be afforded equal rights and protection of the law like any other person,’ Lewis stated.
Maurice Tomlinson, legal advisor at AIDS-Free World, told Gay Star News that ‘this study provides conclusive proof of the malignant level of homophobia which continues to pervade all levels of Jamaican society and ravage lives. The serious effect of homophobia is most evident in the vastly disproportionate level of HIV among Jamaican men who have sex with men (MSM).
‘The level of ignorance and homophobia in Jamaica forces men who primarily have sex with men to also have sex with women, through marriage, for example. This means that HIV is spreading into the general population due to homophobic views, which highlight that it is a problem affecting all society, not just LGBT people in Jamaica.
‘There is very little variance between the results of the two studies as there is still strong negative views towards same-sex relationships across all sectors of the Jamaican society. This was confirmed by two homophobia scales that were used by Boxill,’ added Tomlinson.
The study also showed that the statement of the Jamaican prime minister, that she would work to repeal the buggery laws which criminalise homosexuality, had no positive effect on public opinion and in fact hurt her politically. As a result these plans were shelved.