Among those countries currently competing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Jamaica has received some of the worst press in regard to its record on LGBT rights, but is this fair? We talked to Jamaican activist Latoya Nugent, who works with J-FLAG and is confident that things are getting better.
“Jamaica has been characterised by the international media as the most homophobic place in the Western hemisphere,” Nugent said. “Traditionally, the stories told by the international press represent one of violence, grave instances of stigma and discrimination, and a general lack of action or interest by the government to address issues affecting LGBT persons. While these stories represent the reality of some LGBT persons living in Jamaica, it is not true of all LGBT persons living here, and they do not demonstrate the incremental steps being taken to improve the lives of LGBT people.”
These steps, she noted, include increasing the visibility of LGBT people and working to reduce prejudice, with more and more people becoming allies. A police diversity policy has been implemented which requires non-discriminatory treatment of minorities and the Ministry of Health has created an Enabling Environment department with responsibility for reducing stigma and discrimination within the health sector.
J-FLAG works to create opportunities for public dialogue as well as empowering ordinary LGBT people to assert their rights. It continues to lobby for legal reform and there is a strong possibility that sex between men will be decriminalised in the near future.
Just two days ago, New Kingston Police Deputy Superintendent Christopher Murdock spoke out on the plight of homeless gay men and trans people, calling for the establishment of a shelter where they can get medical help and the skills training necessary to help them get off the streets. J-FLAG has developed a policy brief on homelessness, Towards a Multifaceted Approach to Addressing Anti-Gay Related Displacement, and welcomes the fact that some MPs have been speaking more openly about creating a safe and respectful environment for all.
“Life remains challenging for the LGBT community given the structural, sociocultural, and economic constraints that criminalise, ostracise, and malign LGBT people in Jamaica,” says Nugent. “But we are gradually claiming our freedom to be with the support of our allies.“