Friday, February 22, 2008

The Stigmatization of Homosexuals and Individuals Living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, W.I.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the Caribbean in the early 1980s and was primarily transmitted by homosexual men. However, this trend was greatly reversed in the mid-1980s in which the main mode of transmission became heterosexual sexual contact. Despite the reversal of the mode of transmission from homosexual men to heterosexuals, there remains a large group of individuals in the Caribbean that still view HIV/AIDS as a “gay disease”. In the Caribbean, the most stigmatized groups that have HIV/AIDS are homosexuals (particularly men) and sex workers. As a result of this stigmatization, homosexuals and sex workers are denied health care and are victims of harassment and hate crimes in many Caribbean islands. Jamaica has the third largest population in the Caribbean of people living with HIV/AIDS. Of the Caribbean islands, Jamaica has dealt with major social issues caused by the stigmatization of homosexuals and people living with HIV/AIDS. A great deal of these issues is perpetuated by ignorance, politics, and one of Jamaica’s major genres of music, dancehall reggae.

Homophobia in the Caribbean stems from deep rooted cultural beliefs and values. Heterosexism in the Caribbean is centered on the ideals of masculine dominance; therefore, individuals that veer from such standards are ostracized and criminalized within these communities. HIV/AIDS is on an increase in Jamaica with an estimated 1.5 percent of people infected. However, the stigma of Jamaican homosexuals with HIV/AIDS which are enforced by law enforcement and the public has caused HIV positive homosexuals to be reluctant about seeking help for their illness. The link between HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in Jamaica has also resulted in HIV prevention programs and services to be negatively targeted within the community. People infected with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica also face difficulties receiving treatment in health facilities because health workers discriminate against them, provide poor care, talk to them in demeaning manners and even denying them treatment.

The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in Jamaica is also perpetuated within political organizations. Jamaica has one of the most strict sodomy laws of any Caribbean island. Jamaica’s Offences against the Person Act, Article 76, states: “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery (anal intercourse) committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for a term not exceeding ten years.” This law is definitely an impediment of human rights and serves as a justifying tool for police officers who harass, beat, and incarcerate homosexuals. There have been cases in which police officers have stopped HIV prevention and support groups from helping men who have sex with men. On a political scale, the Jamaica’s Prime Minister, PJ Patterson has been unresponsive to reports by the HIV/AIDS program’s repeal of discriminatory legislation. Additionally, the Jamaican Labor party encouraged the discrimination of homosexuals in 2001 by adopting the song called “Chi Chi Man” as their theme song. The song celebrates the killing and burning of gay men. On the eve of World AIDS Day 2006, Steve Harvey, a Jamaican gay leader and prominent AIDS activist was abducted from his Jamaica home and killed by four gunmen. Harvey was an open homosexual and the director of an AIDS Support outreach program in Jamaica that focused on helping sex-workers and homosexuals.

In Jamaican dancehall and reggae music there are repeated antigay lyrics that encourage violence, murder, and the segregation of homosexuals. Such lyrics refer to homosexuals as: “battyman” or “chi chi man”, which are derogatory words in the Jamaican Creole known as “patois”. The word “battyman” comes from the term “batty” which means buttocks and refers to homosexual men that have anal intercourse. Likewise, the word “chi chi man” is a derogatory slang for men who have intercourse with other men. In the song “Boom, bye, bye”, the reggae artist Buju Banton sings: “Boom, bai bai, iina battybwoy hed/ Ruud buai no promuot no naasi man/ Dem hafi dead/... Sen fi di matic ahn di Uzi instead/ Shuut dem, no come ef ei shuut dem”. In translation, the singer is saying: “Boom, bye, bye, in a faggot’s head/ Rude boys don’t promote nasty men/ They have to die/... Send for the automatic and the Uzi instead/ Shoot them, don’t come if we shoot them.” This song is one example of many anti-gay songs that are popular and well-liked in Jamaican and Caribbean culture.

So, what has been done to combat the homophobic and HIV/AIDS issues in Jamaica? The Jamaican Government’s Ministry of Health is aware of the impact that the country’s homophobic stigma has on individual willingness to seek treatment for HIV/AIDS. Likewise, they have noted that a key priority area is the development of human rights policies and legislation to protect individuals with HIV/AIDS. However, such policies have still not been developed. In 2001, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) established the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). The PANCAP focuses on AIDS prevention, treatment, care, support, and ensuring the incorporation of international human rights protections in legislation and policies on HIV/AIDS. In late 2006, youths in Jamaica created radio public service announcements to reduce the stigma and discrimination linked to HIV/AIDS and to promote the rights of infected children. Such efforts like the PANCAP and public service announcements are some of the first steps in the reduction of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and the development of human rights protections in Jamaica. However, until the Jamaican government health care, law enforcement, and popular culture take active steps to end the stigmatization associated with HIV/AIDS and homosexuality, there will be no progression against the discrimination.

Courtesy of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays.
This picture shows a Jamaican man attacked with machetes and
sticks because he was thought to be gay.


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