Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor
THE VOICES of 32 men who have sex with other men - one of them a boy of only 15 - have been added to the debate over gay rights in Jamaica, courtesy of a recent publication from Panos Caribbean.
The publication, 'Speaking Out: Voices of Jamaican MSM', was released on Monday at the official launch ceremony, held at The Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.
"My families lick out against me. [They] say that's the wrong way and the wrong road I am trying to go. But my own mother is talking about she hates me, she don't like me because I'm trying to be a batty guy. My only sister cursed me and say she no want me 'round her," were the anguished words from the 15-year-old boy, identified only as Jona, in the publication.
"Sometimes I feel like committing suicide. I knock my head till I feel like killing myself. I do have one or two friends that help me with my struggles, but the worst, hurtful part of it [is] my own mother that give me life, licking [hitting] out against me," he added.
Jona's comments are indicative of only one of the challenges affecting Jamaican men, young and old, who have sex with men - family rejection.
issues facing group
Other issues that have emerged from the oral testimonies as affecting this group of males are stigma and discrimination, violence, homelessness, HIV and other health challenges as well as education and law-enforcement considerations.
"This has been an initiative long in the making. Panos started working on these testimonies in 2011 under the guidance of former Executive Director Jan Voordouw and [project coordinator] Jean Claude Louis," said Panos Caribbean's country coordinator for Haiti and Jamaica, Indi Mclymont Lafayette, on Monday.
"At the time, Panos thought that this was a key issue that needed to be discussed and that would fit into our goals of helping to air the voices of persons who are marginalised."
Started in 1986, Panos works to promote sustainable development in the wider Caribbean region through building the capacity of various sectors of society to effectively communicate the issues affecting them.
The 92-page book of oral testimonies - collected by other gays trained in the methodology for data collection - was made possible through project funding from the United States Agency for International Development and with the input of World Learning, whose mission is to empower people and strengthen institutions through education, exchange and development programmes.
"Panos believes in using communications as a tool for development and, based on our research, we think this is an issue that, with informed dialogue, can go a long way in helping Jamaica address issues of stigma, discrimination and intolerance," Mclymont Lafayette said, further explaining Panos' own role as facilitator of the discourse on the issues affecting MSM.
"It is our hope that we can communicate on an issue that many see as challenging in a spirit of respect, and listening because it is from listening that you learn. We know that in any conversation, there will be divergent views, but for Panos, it is critical that space is created for those views to have a voice," she added.
In the coming months, the oral testimonies are to be widely circulated among policymakers, the media and other stakeholders to see how best the challenges can be tackled.