THE GOVERNMENT'S refusal to repeal the laws as they relate to homosexuality is undermining the efforts of health officials to adequately gauge and control the spiralling AIDS crisis in Jamaica.
The matter is compounded further, health practitioners say, by the country's intolerance, from the religious to the wider community, of homosexuality and forcing gays, they claim, into seclusion.
"Officially, we have statistics show ing that six per cent of homosexuals/ bisexuals are inflicted with AIDS," explained Boris Bloomfield, communications officer for the HIV prevention programme at the Ministry of Health. "The figures also show that 60 per cent of those infected are heterosexuals while eight per cent are from mother to child. What is significant, though, is that there is a large bloc of 25 per cent that is undetermined and which we feel could be factored in the statistics for homosexuals/bisexuals.
"One of the problems of the HIV epidemic is that marginalised groups like homosexuals living in a society like ours tend to stay in hiding in fear for their lives. They also tend to live double lives, a situation we believe is very dangerous and which is one of the quickest ways to spread HIV infection."
Mr. Bloomfield said that without proper monitoring, the nation, he believes, could be at risk. "I am not saying that AIDS is synonymous with homosexuality," he added. "I am saying that by making the practice legal we would have a better handle on the situation as gays would be less inclined to go under cover."
Mr. Bloomfield's comments echoed those made earlier by Dr. Peter Figueroa, Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health. According to Dr. Figueroa, in a highly provocative speech nearly two months ago, laws which rendered sex between consenting homosexual adults as illegal were driving the AIDS epidemic underground. He called for a decriminalization of homosexuality and urged the authorities to tackle the problem of homophobia in the country.
But despite the concerns of health officials, the government appears no closer to repeal the country's homosexual laws. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson last year at a People's National Party (PNP) conference in Kingston declared that not under his watch would there ever be the repealing of laws as it relates to homosexuality. Mr. Patterson again last month raised eyebrows when on a live radio programme he saw it fit to declare his sexuality to the nation. "My credentials as a life-long heterosexual person are impeccable," Mr. Patterson said. "Anybody who tries to say otherwise is not just smearing but is engaging in vulgar abuse."
Edward Seaga, ever since the 1997 election campaign when he bellowed from
a platform in Trelawny that "nobody can sing Boom Bye Bye for me,"
a reference to an anti-homosexual song made popular by Reggae artist,
Buju Banton, has already telegraphed his party's stance on the subject.
His use of another anti-homosexual song, Chi Chi Chi Man, by the group
TOK during his party's successful March by-election campaign, only further
Dr. Aileen Boxhill, director of legal reform in the Ministry of National Security and Justice, said that considering the present climate in the country where homophobia remains high, it seems highly unlikely that laws making homosexuality legal would be changed anytime soon. She said that for the law to be changed, Cabinet would have to make the decision to which her department would assist in the implementation of the policy. "Without them initiating the move there is nothing we can do from where I sit," Dr. Boxhill said. "However, you have heard the declarations from the top person. This is not something I can say I foresee happening."
The religious community also appears deeply divided on the issue. While the Roman Catholic Church takes a hard-line stance in its denouncement of homosexual behaviour, others are preaching tolerance and in some cases, a decriminalization of the practice.
"As a Christian, I ask God to forgive those who commit adultery, fornication, those addicted to gambling, attempted suicide and participate in homosexual/lesbian acts," explained Reverend Canon Ernle Gordon of the St. Mary's Rectory. "All have sinned and every denomination has homosexuals who are members of the Christian community. Our duty as Christians is not to genuflect to the wishes of a society that is bloodthirsty, or argue that the voice of the people is the voice of God, but to assist in creating a culture that is truly human." Reverend Gordon noted that the society has to stop treating homosexuals like criminals, noting that he has helped many of those that have come to him for spiritual help.
Dr. Patrick Allen, head of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, while acknowledging that homosexuality is all over society, including within the churches, said that gays were capable of living a "normal life" if they accepted Jesus in their lives. He said that both the New and Old Testament have denounced homosexuality as a sin and noted that even if it was a genetic behaviour, there were ways for gays to refrain from acting out their desires. "It is not our desire to call down blood and fire on people," he said. "I have seen people who were once homosexuals now living normal Christian lives."
Father Richard Ho Lung from the Roman Catholic Church said that homosexuality is morally wrong and that it was unnatural for two persons of the same sex to be intimately involved with each other. He noted that it was common for young boys to have feelings for each other but that as they get to a more mature stage in life, those feelings, according to him, are likely to dissipate. "It is a matter of self control," he said. "A member who has that sort of inclination can lose it in fellowship."Elizabeth Hall, human rights activist and head of the Montego Bay chapter of Jamaicans for Justice, agreed. According to her, it is sad that in Jamaica today a child molester, she noted, had more rights than a homosexual. "Isn't it sad what we have become as a people," she said. "A lot of us would rather not talk about homosexuality because of the explosive nature of the subject. I remember, though, when there was the same kind of silence surrounding child abuse."
|A Go- Jamaica Feature 2001|