Thursday, April 15, 2010
BY PATRICIA WATSON
Originally published Monday, April 12, 2010
WITH an HIV prevalence of 31.8 per cent, the rate of infection among men who have sex with men (MSMs) is more than 17 times that of Jamaica's national average of 1.8 per cent and represents the population group with the highest prevalence rate in the country.
As a result, the island ranks second in the developing world and first in the Caribbean with the highest HIV prevalence rate among MSMs. Only Kenya, with a 43 per cent rate, is higher than Jamaica.
Ivan Cruickshank, programme manager at the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC), explained that with all of the interventions that have taken place among the MSM community -- testing, safer sex campaigns and treatment for MSMs living with HIV -- the rate of infection remains high, not because MSMs are uneducated or irresponsible, but because of factors that make it difficult to benefit from the 'interventions'.
"The threats of criminal indictment and socio-religious discrimination against man-to-man sexual relationships have contributed to the increased vulnerability of MSMs to HIV," said Cruickshank. "Consequent to such discrimination, many MSMs are afraid of going to a pharmacy to purchase condoms and personal lubricant which are sometimes so precariously placed close to the cashier, in full view of other customers. Hence, negotiation of safe sex becomes seriously compromised."
The CVC is a regional non-governmental organisation that advocates and provides services for vulnerable populations in the Caribbean such as sex workers, MSMs, women and youth.
Cruickshank pointed to other serious social issues that make it difficult for MSMs to access services.
"With all of the safer sex promotion, we have done little to address the social issues that MSMs confront that make them vulnerable in the first place," he explained. "Issues of homelessness and poverty are high among those. MSMs are constantly being evicted from their homes and denied employment, leaving many to resort to transactional sex to 'get by'."
Maurice Tomlinson, representative of the international non-governmental organisation, AIDS Free World, while agreeing with Cruickshank noted that: "A major cause of this huge disparity is Jamaica's homophobia, spurred by the country's anti-buggery law, intolerant religious fundamentalism and dancehall music. Homophobia drives MSMs underground, away from effective HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care interventions.
According to Tomlinson, countries such as Cuba, Suriname, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, that are without anti-buggery legislation, have prevalence rates ranging from a low of one per cent to eight per cent.
Tomlinson conceded that over the years he has seen more professional actions by the police to protect MSMs, but private acts of violence against MSMs still continue, as seen by two mob invasions of homes of men suspected to be gay in February 2010.
"There have been no prosecutions for such acts of mob violence, despite the adoption by Jamaica in 2008 and 2009 of OAS Resolutions 2435 and 2504 on 'Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity'. These resolutions commit the Government to protecting persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity from human rights abuses," he noted.
Last week, civil society organisations, including those that support MSMs in Jamaica, took part in what was dubbed a march of tolerance. The march came at a time when the economic situation in the country has resulted in cuts in funding for HIV and AIDS programmes, a significant portion of which is carried out by civil society organisations.
"The Government has cut the funding for HIV and AIDS programmes by 23 per cent due to financial constraints and we could therefore see a resurgence of the disease, which had stabilised," said Ian McKnight, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that tolerance towards marginalised and vulnerable groups be adopted as an effective way to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS."
McKnight explained that one of the key outcomes expected from the march was to start a national dialogue on the need for tolerance of all marginalised groups as an effective way to reduce HIV and AIDS transmission.
He pointed to the fact that in 2009, Jamaica's Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Act, which retains the ban on private consensual adult sex work and male intimacy. This, he said, served to reinforce the discrimination against MSMs and sex workers.
"The Parliament is considering the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which will amend the Jamaican constitution but does not include 'sexual orientation or gender identity', 'sex' or HIV and AIDS status as grounds for non-discrimination," said McKnight. "Both legislative actions will further entrench Jamaica's homophobia and discrimination against sex workers.
"In February, the Star newspaper reported two separate cases of mob invasions of homes of persons suspected to be gay. One set of men was taken into custody for their own safety, according the police, and spent some days in lock-up. Such acts of intolerance further drive MSMs underground," McKnight explained.
He said there will be more public campaigns to encourage tolerance of marginalised groups as an effective way to reduce the spread HIV and AIDS. There are also plans to lobby Parliament to include 'sexual orientation, gender identity, sex and HIV and AIDS status', as grounds for non-discrimination in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Additionally, dialogue with churches will be sought to adopt more tolerant messages towards marginalised groups and the police encouraged to prosecute persons who attack MSMs, as required under OAS resolutions 2435 and 2504.
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Individuals who are mentioned or whose photographs appear on this site are not necessarily Homosexual, HIV positive or have AIDS.
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Recent Homophobic Incidents
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Steps to Take When Contronted or Arrested by Police
b) Only give name and address and no other information until a lawyer is present to assist
c) Try to be polite even if the scenario is tensed) Don’t do anything to aggravate the situation
e) Every complaint lodged at a police station should be filed and a receipt produced, this is not a legal requirement but an administrative one for the police to track reports
f) Never sign to a statement other than the one produced by you in the presence of the officer(s)
g) Try to capture a recording of the exchange or incident or call someone so they can hear what occurs, place on speed dial important numbers or text someone as soon as possible
h) File a civil suit if you feel your rights have been violatedi) When making a statement to the police have all or most of the facts and details together for e.g. "a car" vs. "the car" represents two different descriptions
j) Avoid having the police writing the statement on your behalf except incases of injuries, make sure what you want to say is recorded carefully, ask for a copy if it means that you have to return for it