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Local gays getting comfortable ... but Church stands resolute against homosexuality

Published:Sunday | September 8, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer

Despite the reputation Jamaica has developed among gay-rights advocates as a country that is intolerant to homosexuality, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG) is of the view that more gays are coming out of the proverbial closet.

"More people are feeling much more comfortable to come out and claim their true identity, particularly young people," Dane Lewis, executive director of JFLAG, told The Gleaner earlier this week.

While Lewis wants to make it clear that JFLAG is not a membership organisation, he said based on the accepted international measurement, which has gays ranging between five and 12 per cent of the population, he is estimating that five per cent (135,000) of Jamaica's population - which was listed by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) in 2012 as 2,711,476 persons - is gay.

"There is no system of measurement of one's sexual orientation," said Lewis. "The international standard of measurement used is between three to 12 per cent of the population, but we would estimate that in Jamaica it is a moderate five per cent."

The Church, which is opposed to homosexuality on moral and ethical grounds, remains unhappy with the traction the movement appears to be getting in Jamaica.

The Reverend Dr Sonia Seiv-wright, of Bounty Hall New Testament Church of God, said the rapid increase in the local homosexual population could be linked to greed, especially in the case of the young men who have been gravitating towards the movement.

"I think they are increasing and I am concerned for our young men. I believe that our young men feel that if they get involved in certain things they will be more successful financially," said Seivwright. "Maybe they are putting themselves with people who are financially stable, and so they are drawn into this lifestyle because they are told they can be helped or they can be taken out of the economic state they are in."

Like the vast majority of Jamaican church leaders, Seivwright is staunchly opposed to homosexuality on moral and ethical grounds, and thinks the nation stands to lose if the practice continues to grow.

Biblical stance

"The Bible clearly speaks against it (homosexuality) and God also destroyed a nation for practising homosexuality; therefore, if it is not biblical, then it is not right," said Seivwright. "I think they all should come out of the closet, as we need to know who they are. I have a son and I don't want my boy to become mixed up with them."

Because of her anti-gay stance, Seivwright is taking issue with the call by some gay advocates that they should be given more rights in Jamaica.

"I don't see where homosexuals should have any rights," Seivwright told The Gleaner.

However, anxious to generate legitimacy for his group, Lewis is calling for more tolerance for members of the gay community.

"We do see an increased level of tolerance being displayed but we are also seeing that the violations continue; so one can't necessarily sit back and say that we are enjoying a better life as a community, despite there not being any legal recognition," said Lewis. "There are still members of the community that are still being violated, harassed, threatened, as we see happen the other day in the case of Dwayne Jones."

Jones was the cross-dresser who was murdered by patrons at a dance in Montego Bay, St James, after they realised he was not a woman.

Under the Jamaican Constitution, men who have sex with men can be brought before the court for prosecution but there are no penalties for lesbians. Section 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act states:

"Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding 10 years."

The election campaign promise made by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that, if elected, her Government would review the buggery law, is also being frowned upon by some members of the society.

"They have been empowered by the prime minister's pronouncement to review the buggery law, so as a result, they have become braver in their attempt to enter mainstream society, and now it's the heterosexuals who are running scared," said Pauline Clarke. "In addition, we are being constantly pressured by gay-rights activists both here at home and abroad, but we just want them to know that there is no room for that sort of nefarious lifestyle in Jamaica."

The health authorities are also expressing concern about the gay lifestyle as it relates to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

According to the 2010 report of the National HIV Programme, one out of every three men who have sex with men are HIV-positive.

"The prevalence values recorded in vulnerable populations were higher with men who have sex with men, having a 31.8 per cent rate," the report stated

Earlier this year, Lenworth Anglin, the executive director of the Church of God in Jamaica, created a firestorm when he declared that the Church would never bow in its opposition to homosexuality.

"Let those who want to get offended get offended. Let those who want to oppose oppose," said Anglin. "I stand to declare, based on evidence, evidence in scripture, evidence backed by history. No negotiation. If you standing up for God, stand up for God."