Jamaican police may get “sensitivity training”

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police in Jamaica has said his officers need training to improve the way they deal with gay people.

The Commonwealth country is notorious as one of the most homophobic places on earth.

In the course of the last month a leading LGBT activist has fled the island claiming he was brutalised by police and an officer has gone into hiding after being abused by colleagues about his sexuality.

Deputy commissioner Mark Shields told The Gleaner “I think there is a place for minorities, whoever they are, to have the opportunity to speak to recruits during their initial (police) training.

“Diversity is something that needs to be embraced. Therefore, the only way to do that is to train police officers so that they are no longer just citizens with a view and with prejudices.”

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

In December 2003, a World Policy Institute survey on sexual orientation and human rights in the Americas said:

“In the Caribbean, Jamaica is by far the most dangerous place for sexual minorities, with frequent and often fatal attacks against gay men fostered by a popular culture that idolises reggae and dancehall singers whose lyrics call for burning and killing gay men.”

Hatred for gay people is often publicly expressed by political and religious leaders in Jamaica.

Opposition leader Bruce Golding vowed in 2006 that “homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him.”

The homophobic island nation is given money by the British government.

“The Department for International Development (DFID) has an aid programme for Jamaica worth in the region of £2.5 million a year,” according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“In addition, the UK also waives approximately £5-6m of Jamaican debt annually.

“Major projects include assistance to the programme to reform the Jamaican police force.”

Last month two men were hospitalised, one with serious injuries, while another man is still missing and may be dead.

The men were attacked at a private home in Mandeville by an angry mob who had days before threatened them if they did not leave the community.

Despite repeated calls for help, police 90 minutes after they were first called and half an hour after the mob broke into the house and attacked the men.

That most recent attack echoes another incident in the same town on Easter Sunday 2007.

Approximately 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man.

According to mourners, the crowd broke the windows with bottles and shouted, “We want no battyman [gay] funeral here. Leave or else we’re going to kill you. We don’t want no battyman buried here in Mandeville.”

Several mourners inside the church called the police to request protection. After half an hour, three police officers arrived.

But instead of protecting the mourners, police socialised with the mob, laughing along at the situation.

A highway patrol car subsequently arrived, and one of the highway patrol officers reportedly told the churchgoers, “It’s full time this needs to happen. Enough of you guys.”

The highway patrol officers then drove off. The remaining officers at the scene refused to intervene when the mob threatened the mourners with sticks, stones, and batons as they tried to leave the service.

Only when several gay men among the mourners took knives from their cars for self-defence did police reportedly take action by firing their guns into the air.

Officers stopped gay men from leaving and searched their vehicles, but did not restrain or detain members of the mob.

Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, said:

“Gays and lesbians in Jamaica face violence at home, in public, even in a house of worship, and official silence encourages the spread of hate.”

Michael Hayden, a 24-year-old police officer is in hiding in Jamaica after being abused and attacked by fellow officers because of his sexuality.

Earlier this week he told the Toronto Star that he wants to seek asylum in Canada.

A leading gay rights activist from Jamaica, Gareth Henry, did so last week, claiming that thirteen of his gay and lesbian friends had died in the last four years.

“I want to stay here and fight,” Mr Hayden said in a telephone interview from Jamaica.

“But it’s not safe for me. My life is in great, great jeopardy.”

He is on leave and in hiding while his allegations of abuse at the hands of other officers are investigated.

Mr Henry, a prominent member of gay rights group J-FLAG, Jamaica’s Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, claimed refugee status in Canada earlier this month.

He spoke at Pride London last year about the plight of lesbian and gay people in his country.

Mr Henry told the Toronto Star that the situation is getting worse.

On Valentine’s Day last year he was one of three gay men stoned by a huge mob in a homophobic attack.

Police eventually escorted the men from a pharmacy in Saint Andrew Parish, where they had been hiding for almost an hour.

An angry crowd had gathered outside the pharmacy, hurling insults and threatening to kill the men. Officers dispersed the crowd with tear gas. As many as 2,000 people were involved in the attack.

Mr Henry, 22, told CBC:

“When you find police officers who are leading mob attacks, turning up at people’s home like myself, pointing guns at my window, with civilians with them, and saying that I need to leave or they’re going to kill me, it reinforces homophobia.”