Countdown to Tolerance

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Thu Mar 22, 2012

Maurice Tomlinson's Countdown to Tolerance: The Fear of a Gay Invasion

By Maurice Tomlinson

In response to a largely sensationalized media report of tragic instances of some girls in one all-girls high school being sexually assaulted by their seniors, there now appears to be a concerted effort to whip up fear among Jamaicans that gays are “taking over.” The Children’s Advocate has even weighed into the debate stating that homosexuality is now “pervasive” in the society. Self-righteous and misguided school principals, such as Esther Tyson, who “outed” gay  students to their parents, have also made incendiary statements about an apparent upsurge in homosexuality.

There is, of course, absolutely no evidence to support these wild allegations. The fact that Jamaicans are now having a long overdue debate about recognizing the human rights of homosexuals should not be misinterpreted to mean that the number of gays on the island has suddenly shot up!

The fact is no study on the number of gays has ever been done in Jamaica (this would be nigh impossible to accomplish in this homophobic culture), and although the new UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to the Caribbean, Dr. Edward Greene, has stated that at least 20% of the population of some Caribbean countries are gays, he failed to cite his sources. The most cited study on the percentage of homosexuals in society was conducted in 1948, when the noted researcher in human sexuality Alfred Kinsey estimated that about 10% of the US population is gay.

The recent spate of anti-gay fear mongering in Jamaica is directly attributable to the agitations of the island’s Lawyers Christian Fellowship. The most vocal spokesperson for this group, Shirley Richards, stated on a popular religious station’s talk-show (hosted by the equally virulently anti-gay pastor Clinton Chisholm) that the LCF would be seeking to have Parliament criminalize lesbian relations and to prevent the promised conscience vote on the anti-sodomy law. Their strategy appears to be working.

Government Member of Parliament Damion Crawford, who also happens to be Jamaica’s first dreadlocked parliamentarian, recently declared that the conscience vote is not likely to happen, as parliamentarians fear the political consequences. A recent poll shows that 61% of Jamaicans (down from 82% last year) would have a negative opinion of the Jamaican government should it repeal the law.

An inflammatory article, “The Legacy of Lesbos,” authored by self-proclaimed Catholic conservative Anthony Gomes, was published in the March 21, 2012, edition of the right-wing rag the Jamaica Observer. In this piece of wandering innuendos, Gomes tried to link the situation of alleged lesbian attacks mentioned above with opening the door for same-sex marriage (!). He claims such unions will “destabilize communities and the nation as a whole.” Again, his fallacious arguments are not borne out in any of the 11 countries or eight US states that have legalized same-sex marriage. The fact is that homophobic cultures such as Jamaica’s put incredible pressure on gay men to maintain “normal” heterosexual relationships; this opens doorways between epidemics of HIV among men who have sex with men (in Jamaica MSM currently have an HIV prevalence rate of about 32%) and the general population (the country’s adult HIV prevalence rate is currently about 1.6%). Lesbians in homophobic societies are also forced to maintain heterosexual relationships and those who don’t are sometimes subjected to “corrective rape” which increases their HIV risk.

Those are the facts. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, but we are not allowed our own set of facts. In the meantime, Jamaicans must accept that gays exist in the country and they have rights. Denying those rights increases the level of societal violence and endangers public health.