Homophobia a vote winner in Jamaica

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A new survey conducted in Jamaica has found that the Prime Minister’s stridently anti-gay statements have boosted his popularity.

45 percent of people in a poll commissioned by the Jamaica Gleaner said that they are more likely to vote for incumbent Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his Jamaica Labour Party after he told the BBC that he would never allow gays in his Cabinet.

26 percent of people who identified as supporters of the rival People’s National Party said they were more likely to vote for Golding after his outburst.

Just 5 percent said they were less likely to vote for him after his widely-reported comments.

70% of Jamaicans do not believe that gay men and lesbians should be granted equal rights, the island-wide poll found.

The dancehall music scene on the island is notorious for its homophobia, with many artists taking pleasure in calling for gays and lesbians to be murdered.

That widespread hatred is evident in the wider culture, with reports of gay men and lesbians being attacked by gangs and murdered.

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 where an angry crowd had gathered, 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.

In February this year an attack on a group of men alleged to be homosexual left one man seriously injured and another missing feared dead.

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

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.”

The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) said in a letter to the Prime Minister after his BBC comments:

“You have confirmed, in a very public way and in a global arena, the view that Jamaica is a repressively homophobic society.

You … presented the country as one where open discrimination against gays and lesbians is not only commonplace but sanctioned by a long-standing cultural history, ostensibly enshrined in law, and now condoned by the country’s political leadership.”

Former J-Flag member Gareth Henry, in an interview with Canadian paper Globe and Mail, claimed that 13 of his friends in Jamaica had been murdered.

Islanders have been sending their colourful opinions to the Gleaner in the debate following the Prime Minister’s comments.

“One solution to this problem with the homosexuals is to give them an uninhabited island so that they can run their own affairs, make their own laws and grow that society,” wrote Louis Barton.

“Until this is done, there will be no peace with them in this society that cherish our moral values.

“I will never accept the idea of men having intercourse with each other or women doing the same.
I do not wish any harm to come to them, but these people must understand that their public behaviour is a direct attack on the morals of the rest of the society. The last two world wars were started because of attacks on moral values.”

Another anonymous letter read:

“The next time a gay man is discriminated against, beaten and killed in Jamaica, Golding should hang his head with guilt and shame because his faux pas has given licence to such behaviour.

“Then again, how does he know that there are no gays in his Cabinet? And, if there are, their sexuality is not his damn business.

“Leaving people and their sexuality alone, getting on with the business of governance, stopping the bloodletting in the country, and ridding himself of his deep-seated malice for the betterment of all are what he should do.”

Since 1997 the UK has given £80.5 million in bilateral aid and debt relief to Jamaica, according to the Department for International Development.

In addition to the debt relief, in 2007/08 DFID gave £2.5 million in aid to Jamaica and a further £2.5 million is expected to be disbursed in 2008/09.