LONDON (TrustLaw) - Lesbians in Jamaica face attacks such as gang rape due to rife homophobia in the country, but few of these abuses get reported, Jamaica’s leading gay activist said.
“In Jamaican culture women are generally expected to be quiet about harassment and abuse,” Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaica’s leading gay activist and HIV/AIDS campaigner, said in an interview with TrustLaw.
Women are not the only victims. Tomlinson said 70 percent of attacks reported to rights organisations between 2009 and 2011 concerned gay men.
Under Jamaican law it is legal to punish any act of physical intimacy between men with jail and the possibility of 10-years hard labour.
Tomlinson was in London this week to receive the inaugural David Kato award for gay human rights activism.
“When we find out about these cases (involving gay women), they are usually so horrible that they rise up to the level of having to be reported,” he said.
Tomlinson works as a legal advisor for rights group AIDS Free World, helping them forge a structured way to address homophobia in the country and documenting human rights abuses against LGBT people.
When he first started recording accounts of abuses, Tomlinson was appalled by the sheer brutality of some of these acts.
“There was one instance where a gang of four men raped a lesbian because they said she was ‘taking over all good looking women’, Tomlinson recalled.
“They cut her genitals, so she could ‘better take men’ because ‘that is why she was a lesbian’, they said.
With 82 percent of its citizens opposing homosexuality – according to the results of a recent survey – Jamaica is one of the most dangerous places in the world for gay people.
"The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG) reported in June (2011) that 51 homophobic incidents had been registered in Jamaica between January and June 2011, representing a rise compared to the same period over 2010,” according to a report released in September 2011 by Amnesty International.
Endorsement of homophobic behaviour used to come straight from the country’s political establishment. Former PM Bruce Golding was openly homophobic and stated he would never appoint a gay person to cabinet.
Now, some – even if feeble – signals of change are starting to emerge.
In January, the newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has made some promising statements regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT).
“I think she (Simpson-Miller) genuinely does not have a problem with LGBT people and does not pry to people’s bedrooms,” Tomlinson said.
Nonetheless, homophobia still permeates almost every aspect of the Caribbean island’s society.
People go to church where they listen to pastors preaching that homophobia causes diseases, then they turn on the radio and hear popular Jamaican musicians Buju Banton and Beenie Man using anti-gay lyrics.
Tomlinson himself has received numerous death threats.
After news of his marriage to a Canadian man sparked a row in Jamaica, it was deemed best for him not to return home. He is waiting on Jamaican authorities assure him it is going to be safe for him to travel back.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)