Homos at risk
HOMOSEXUALS ARE increasingly becoming the targets of hate crimes in Jamaica but are afraid to press charges against their assailants for fear of bringing attention to their lifestyle.
This, according to a number of human rights advocates, is a result of the homophobic nature of the society where the vilification of gays has always been the norm. In a statement sent to The Gleaner, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) said that the group was deeply distressed by reports of attacks on people island-wide that were alleged to be homosexuals. It noted that the incidents exemplified some of the challenges which gays and lesbians encounter on a daily basis.
"Any act of discrimination meted out to an individual known or alleged to be gay, lesbian or all sexual is inhumane and intolerable," the statement read. "Moreover, it is a blatant violation of human rights as outlined in Articles of the Universal Declaration of human rights and the Jamaican Constitution."
Earlier this year, several students attending the Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville were attacked and beaten for alleged homosexual involvement. There is also the case of a man, suspected to be gay, who last year was shot and killed on the steps of a church in Kingston. Even within the high schools, students who are deemed to be too effeminate are the victims of hate crimes.
Kids can be merciless
"Kids can be merciless," explained one principal who requested not to be identified in the story. "I have had to both suspend and expel students for brutally beating up on other schoolmates believed to be homosexuals. Sometimes even the taunting can be vicious. I have spoken to principals of other schools and they also have similar experiences with their students."
The police, too, are aware of some of the attacks which have been made on gays but note that they hardly have enough evidence to go on. Several months ago in St. Catherine, police officers had to rescue two men from being killed by a group of angry residents. The men were allegedly caught having oral sex in the back seat of a car.
"Yes, it is something that happens quite frequently," explained an officer attached to the Montego Bay police station. "Homosexuals are afraid to report some of the atrocities that have been carried out against them for fear of being exposed so they remain quiet while criminals walk free. Police officers, many of whom are openly hostile towards gays, are also to be blamed for this. As a member of a human rights group, it is my belief that hate crimes, regardless of against whom, are wrong and should be condemned."
The officer noted that male prostitutes plying the streets, particularly in the resort towns of Montego Bay and Negril, are often attacked by what he referred to as "anti-gay thugs," sometimes brutally beaten to the point where they have to be confined to hospitals. He said that there is not much the police can do if charges were not brought forward. "A complaint has to be made before we can act," the officer added.
Public Defender, Howard Hamilton, said that he is outraged at the level of hate crimes going on in the country. In describing hate crimes as "disgraceful," he said that charges could be brought against people who actively seek to engage in such practices.
Speaking recently at the annual general members meeting of the Cornwall Bar Association held in Green Island, Hanover, Mr. Hamilton warned that he would soon be instructing lawyers engaged in private practice to file cases in the courts against the state and any other bodies on behalf of citizens who make strong allegations of breaches of their constitutional rights. He also noted that attorneys would be paid for their services.
Mr. Hamilton has also been publicly reiterating his stance on the matter, noting that violence of any kind, whether it be against homosexuals, could not be tolerated in any civilised society. "The problem is that the victims, because of their lifestyle, at times are reluctant to come forward with complaints," he said. "It is difficult to build a case without their assistance."
Clayton Morgan, president of the Cornwall Bar Association, said that his organisation would be working closely with the Public Defender's office to stem the flow of hate crimes in the country. He said that the homophobic nature of the country makes it easy for homosexuals to be targeted and that people at times are reluctant to assist them for fear of being branded. "No form of hate crime can be tolerated," Mr. Morgan said. "It is wrong and if persons are found guilty of practising such, they should be severely punish."
|A Go- Jamaica Feature 2001|