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'Arrest errant gays' - Human-rights advocate says homosexuals who run afoul of the law should face its full brunt

Published:Tuesday | January 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

"Homosexuals are not above the law; they must be arrested if and when they break the law."

That was the admonition of Maria Carla Gulotta, executive director of human-rights organisation Stand Up for Jamaica, which carries out on-the-ground work for Amnesty International.

Gulotta was quick to acknowledge the concerns of the police, who are forced to work 'round the clock to maintain order at the Golden Triangle and New Kingston in South East St Andrew, which have reportedly been overrun by errant homosexuals.

"If he breaks the law, then he must be apprehended like anybody else. There is no other alternative," asserted Gulotta, an Italian by birth who has also been working with the gay community at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre for the past eight years.

Declaring that a young woman is "free to wear miniskirts" but not to engage in illegal activities of prostitution, Gulotta stressed that while homosexuals have their rights, they should not be allowed to go free when they run afoul of the law.

Branches of the human-rights organisation that Gulotta heads also operate out of Europe.

Gulotta said while Amnesty International focuses on the campaign side of the human-rights operations, the machinery of Stand Up Jamaica undertakes on-the-ground remedial functions.

She asserted that she has visited the affected areas of the Golden Triangle and New Kingston where both residents and business owners complain that they are being terrorised and traumatised.

Acknowledging that the situation was quite serious, Gulotta said she knew "good officers" who were mobbed while professionally executing their mandate in dealing with matters concerning homosexuals.

"This is a major problem for the police because of its delicate nature," she said.

Last week, Senior Superintendent in charge of the St Andrew Central police division, Fitz Bailey, lamented that when police officers take action, they are often accused of being homophobic.

Extreme discrimination

Gulotta lamented that many youths within the troubled group were affected by extreme discrimination at the family level, making life difficult not only for the young men but the police and others as well.

"Really, I do not know where these discriminations come from," said the human-rights advocate who has been working in Jamaica for 25 years.

Gulotta said she recently had to rush to the rescue of a 16-year-old boy who was also ejected from a Sunday school (operated by a church) in Kingston.

"They said he looked like a 'homo', so they threw him out of the Sunday school and the family members are beside themselves," Gulotta told The Gleaner. "What are these young ones to do? The family doesn't want him, the school doesn't want him. What is going to happen to him? They end up in the middle of this situation because they have no other options … ."

She said the police might have to follow the example set in the penitentiary.

"They have a jail (called the 'Special') within the facility, where the homosexuals are kept," she revealed. This is where she visits twice weekly - on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Said Gulotta: "My suggestion is that the police must make the arrest but be very professional when they go about their job, and then try to find in the police stations one of the cells which is not occupied."

Seize passports

Admitting that this task was at times "almost impossible", Gulotta said, "if this does not work, the police should seize the accused's passports and other critical documents and grant them bail, but keep them grounded in order to face the brunt of the law. This can be done unless it is a serious crime; just make sure that they face the court. The law must take its course … .

"At Tower Street, we have to be very careful when we move those who are secluded to protect them from harm, because I don't want any of them to be attacked," she said. "This makes the rehabilitation work which I am doing there more difficult."

Added Gulotta: "I have a school and have to make another school because they cannot go there, because of the high level of discrimination."

Declaring that homophobia continues to be a major problem in Jamaica, she said this added to the problem of homelessness that created groups such as the one in the Golden Triangle.

Gulotta disclosed that she had in her custody a 15-year-old boy who her team had to rescue after he was booted from his home by family members.

"The male side of the family was adamant that they didn't want him at all," she said.

Gulotta noted that, all too frequently, the correctional officers who are assigned to the section of the facility that houses homosexual inmates are unwilling, with the exception of two open-minded persons.