US grants asylum to gay Jamaican

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A gay man who feared persecution because of his sexual orientation if forced to return to Jamaica has been given asylum in the United States.

The grant of asylum to Ven Messam was issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and comes at a time when conditions for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Jamaica are getting more dangerous by the day.

International human rights organisations have described Jamaica as one of the most homophobic places in the world.

Gay and lesbian relationships are largely conducted in secret.

“I am grateful to the United States government for saving my life,” said Mr. Messam.

“My life in Jamaica was constantly in danger, with angry mobs carrying machetes, stones, knives, and guns, threatening to kill me because I am gay.

“When I tried to contact the police for help, the police instead threatened to arrest me and told me to leave the country if I wanted to stay safe.”

Sex between men in Jamaica is illegal, and punishable with up to ten years in jail, usually with hard labour.

According to Amnesty International, the gay and lesbian community in Jamaica faces “extreme prejudice” and are “routinely victims of ill-treatment and harassment by the police, and occasionally of torture.”

Amnesty has highlighted the growing problem of vigilante action against gays and lesbians.

In 2004, the organisation revealed that “gay men and lesbian women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality,” and that they are one of the “most marginalised and persecuted communities in Jamaica.”

Political parties have ignored the issue of gay rights. Indeed, homophobia is flourishing amongst politicians and the police.

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic secured asylum for Mr Messam.

Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the clinic, said:

“This asylum grant highlights the particularly severe dangers facing gay Jamaicans.

“From election campaigns that use songs which promote burning and killing gay people to police support for violent, anti-gay mobs, the Jamaican government is actively menacing and endangering its gay citizens.”

“Mr. Messam’s personal story, and the stories of countless other Jamaicans demonstrate the terrifying situation facing GLBT individuals in Jamaica” said Simrin Parmar, one of the Columbia law students who worked on this case.