Common sense more reliable than expert opinion
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The headline conclusion in 'No gay rage - Homosexuals not targeted for violent crime say experts', published in The Gleaner, September 2, 2013, is actually not supported by the data cited by the experts featured in the article, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Devon Watkis and University of the West Indies political sociology professor, Anthony Harriott. This should not be a surprise; common sense can be more reliable than some expert opinion.
In the article, ACP Watkins is quoted reaffirming the commonly repeated fiction, usually associated with our religious hierarchy, that homosexuals are not specifically targeted in Jamaica: "I have no specific evidence, outside of those isolated ones, that this group (meaning homosexuals) is a target group as opposed to the ordinary citizen."
Professor Harriott makes the same point, "Truth is, I have encountered cases of murder where it is evident that it is as a result of one being gay, but those are few."
In other words, both experts are using the low number of reported homophobic attacks to conclude that the risks faced by the gay community must also be low.
What they fail to acknowledge is the incidence of homosexuality is low, possibly no more than about five per cent in Jamaica, as it is estimated to be elsewhere. In addition, because of the cultural negativity, and the risk of violence towards gays, the overwhelming majority remain closeted, pretending to be heterosexual. Only a few unfortunates are ever discovered by homophobic criminals.
Therefore, the low attack number cited by the experts is more a function of the availability of targets than it is an indication of the risk faced by the gay community. This should not be rocket science.
Indeed, if ACP Watkis and Professor Harriott were really interested in presenting a realistic picture, they would have focused on the likelihood of an attack after an individual is exposed as gay. Common sense tells us this is a near certainty in many of our communities, consistent with the findings of human-rights groups, and the US Department of State.
Paradoxically, Professor Harriott seems to agree. Towards the end of his interview, he rambles about the need for gays keeping their orientation private to avoid violence:
"I won't dispute that there has been some cultural intolerance manifested in the public, but I have known individuals who have chosen that lifestyle but they have practised their choices with responsibility and, as a result, they have not been subjected to any major taboo from the citizens of Jamaica."
Obviously, there is some capacity here to recognise there are risks when gay citizens are outed. At the same time, it is unfortunate that this capacity does not extend to embracing the reality that homosexuality is not a conscious choice or in realising that it is silly to blame a gay person for the violence inflicted by homophobic criminal mobs.
PATRICK E. WHITE