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Most LGBT Jamaicans Have Suffered Physical Violence Because of Their Sexuality, Rights Group Says

Human Rights Watch found homophobic attacks to be commonplace and rarely investigated by police in the Caribbean country.
October 21, 2014, 3:50pm
Image via VICE News

Most LGBT Jamaicans have been physically attacked because of their sexuality, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The US-based monitoring group found a high level of impunity for such crimes in the Caribbean country, with police making just four arrests out of 56 cases of alleged violence documented over a five-week period.

Researchers for HRW found that 44 of 71 LGBT individuals interviewed in Jamaica last year had suffered some form of violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Only 19 of the victims reported the abuse to the police, who took formal statements in eight cases.

The fear of retaliation from perpetrators, and a need to keep their sexuality secret, were the major factors for victims' reluctance to report homophobic attacks to police.

HRW's 86-page reportNot Safe at Home: Violence and Discrimination Against LGBT People in Jamaica — also documents cases of discrimination in the public and private sector, including health providers stigmatizing LGBT people when they seek services, landlords refusing to rent to them, and employers arbitrarily firing them.

Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News: "LGBT people in Jamaica face intolerable levels of violence and cannot rely on the police."

"The authorities from the prime minister on down need to call a halt to the violence and discrimination, prosecute anyone responsible, and get homophobic laws off the books," Reid said.

Jamaica's "buggery" laws prohibiting same-sex conduct between consenting adult males date back to 1864, when the country was a British colony.

Gay sex is punishable by up to a maximum of 10 years in prison, and severe sexual prejudice is not uncommon among politicians and in the media.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said in April that repealing Jamaica's anti-homosexuality laws was not a priority, and that she would have to "consult our constituents" before making any changes, a statement that appeared to contradict earlier pleas for tolerance she had made.

When standing for election in 2011, Simpson-Miller declared that "no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation," and indicated she would have gay people in her cabinet.

In March 2012 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is widespread and entrenched in Jamaican state institutions.

Earlier this year, the VICE News documentary Young and Gay: Jamaica's Gully Queensprofiled members of a homeless LGBT community that, exiled from their homes and under constant threat of violence, has found refuge in the storm drainage systems of Kingston.

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant