In the Newsroom

June 29, 2009
There are no gay pride parades in Jamaica

Lisa Biagiotti (right) walks with Ida Northover (left) through an inner city on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica.

Lisa Biagiotti is working on signature stories for Worldfocus on HIV/AIDS and homophobia in Jamaica. She reported with Producer Micah Fink and Director of Photography Gabrielle Weiss, both from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Their reports will air on Worldfocus later this summer. Lisa gave the below interview to Thirteen.org.

Q: Gay pride is celebrated across the U.S. every June. Could there be similar celebrations of gay pride in Jamaica?

Lisa Biagiotti: No, there could not be an openly gay pride parade on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, as in New York or San Francisco. In Jamaica, anti-sodomy laws criminalize sex between men, fundamentalist interpretations of the bible and pride in reproduction contribute to the general disdain and non-acceptance of the gay lifestyle.

The idea of a “glass closet” best describes the public’s expectations of homosexuals, meaning, “We know you’re gay, and we can see you, but stay in that glass closet.” In fairness, Jamaica tends not to be a heavily PDA (public display of affection) culture. You don’t see men and women petting each other or even holding hands in public, with the exception of the dancehalls.

One thing that was interesting was the way homophobia finds its way into the language, in the choosing (or avoiding) of certain “gay” words. When little boys call each other “sissy” names, they say “you’re a battyman.” “Batty” means buttocks and is a derogatory name for a gay man. Saying the number “two” — referring to the anus — is also avoided. We heard a story of a father instructing his two-year-old son to say he’s going to be three. You’d say “come forward” instead of “come back.” If you’re ordering fish to eat, you’d say, “Give me a swimmer or a sea creature.” “Fish” is another term for a gay man.

Q: This anti-gay side of Jamaica doesn’t really jive with what many Americans may think of Jamaica. (Stereotypically, sun, fun, Bob Marley and “no problem, mon.”) How did you become interested in this topic?

Lisa Biagiotti: I first became interested in the subject of gay Jamaicans about 18 months ago. I was reporting on gay asylum in the U.S. and was told that Jamaica was one of the most violent and homophobic places for gays. I was told by human rights organizations that if you’re gay and Jamaican, you’d qualify for asylum. I then spent a year profiling Alex Brown, a gay Jamaican who received asylum in the U.S. In all honesty, this portrait of Jamaica was completely foreign to me — it contradicted the image of the Jamaica I know and love.

Q: Your mom is Jamaican, and your family ties to Jamaica span three generations. Was it difficult to report these seemingly negative stories for Worldfocus? What did your family think?

Lisa Biagiotti: At first, I was concerned we were doing advocacy journalism. I questioned whether we were imposing our U.S.-centric views on a country with a different cultural bedrock. Did we really understand the Jamaican culture, which is steeped in religion? Admittedly, I was protective of Jamaican people, who I still hold to be some of the warmest and most resilient people on Earth.

Going into these stories, I was aware of my bias. As a journalist, first-hand observation served as my guide. My team and I went to the places where people were literally living in hiding. We listened to the palpable stories of many gay men — the violence against them, the families that rejected them, the double lives they lead and the idea of mainstreaming their lifestyle to “make it right with God.”

We spoke to hundreds of Jamaicans from all walks of life to try to understand the cultural nuances and attitudes toward homosexuals. And everywhere we went, we heard the same things — said with varying levels of vitriol. Open homosexuality is not accepted. Tolerance and violence really depends on class and whether people act on their general disgust toward gays.

After observing and speaking with people on the ground, I’m confident that the stories we’re producing are fair and accurate illustrations of Jamaican attitudes toward homosexuals. As for my family in Jamaica and abroad, I believe they will respect that. Our goal is not to change Jamaican culture and mores, but to present what it’s like to be gay in Jamaica, and why it is important for the general population to talk about homosexuality because gay men are living double lives in secret.

Q: What do you mean by “double lives?” How is this playing into the spread of HIV?

Lisa Biagiotti: A recent Ministry of Health study showed that more than 30 percent of gay men are HIV+. It was a small sampling of about 200 gay men. But it was one of the first surveys conducted within the gay community. Whether or not the study is actually reflective of the larger gay community is questionable, but this rate is still 20 times higher than that of the general population.

What’s important here is that gay men are not isolated from the rest of the population. These men lead double lives — one gay life underground and another “heterosexual” life to save face in their communities. Gay men have girlfriends and wives and children, who likely do not know of their secret lives. This poses a threat to spreading HIV into the general population. So, when you layer this 31.8 percent figure over the laws, religion and general stigma against homosexuality, you’re masking the problem and potentially spreading the infection into the general population.

Q: How does the Jamaican government address the HIV problem without acknowledging the gay community?

Lisa Biagiotti: It’s difficult to target the gay community because they’re not out in the open. There could be no ad campaign in Jamaica talking about using condoms for anal sex because anal sex is illegal and punishable with a 12-year prison sentence of hard labor. The channels of awareness and education of gay men are limited and insufficient.

I should also mention that, on the flip side, Jamaica has made incredible strides in making anti-retroviral medication free and accessible to everyone. Early testing has whittled down the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under 5 percent. But the gay community is not siloed from the general population and could potentially reintroduce the disease into the general population.

Q: Given the extreme anti-gay discrimination and level of violence in Jamaica, did you ever feel that you were in danger as you covered these stories?

Lisa Biagiotti: Every day, approximately four or five people are murdered in Jamaica. For a country the size of Connecticut, with 2.8 million people, that’s a staggering murder rate. I don’t know if I had a false sense of security, but I never felt in danger. We had local guides taking us around and introducing us to communities, and I think that was key. We made sure we had introductions wherever we went. We told people we were reporting on homosexuality, HIV and AIDS. We knew these were touchy topics, but we were open and I think Jamaicans appreciated our honesty, and were in turn welcoming.

  • Watch all the Worldfocus In the Shadows video signature series
  • Listen to Worldfocus Radio on LGBT politics and gay asylum
  • For more information on homophobia and HIV in Jamaica, visit The Glass Closet, a multimedia project produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
  • Visit the Pulitzer Center’s multimedia website Live, Hope, Love, which explores living with HIV in Jamaica.

See more Worldfocus coverage on Homosexuality Around the World.

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Comments

15 comments

#15

American are so sheltered to the real world…we live in a bubble. Respect other cultures even if they are wrong. My partner and I recently visited Jamaica, and we had no problem mon. I think people knew we were, but we didn’t do anything to offend anyone. That’s the key. I don’t think they way they treat openly gay people is right but that’s why I don’t live in Jamaica.

We LOVE this country, and if being openly gay was tollerated we would move there in a heartbeat.

#14

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#13

Everyone on here sounds like a complete idiot. How dare homophobic Jamaicans use the Bible as a reason for beating homosexuals… that sounds like pure hypocrisy to me. I just don’t understand why people cannot be who they want to be if they do not directly affect you. Jamaicans need to get off of their pretentious high horses and realize that they are backwards uncivilized people.Homosexuality is not the problem here, it is hypocrisy.

#12

If there is something that leads to homosexuality that you find out your doing doesn’t mean you are gay that just means you should stop doing that thing
unless God reverses the curse if it came from some
bad rather a person,environment, or etc
it will produce bad fruit
the raising of children born into homosexual families if that child ends up a homoseual it is because he was given that way of life from hanging around the environment
which it didnt start from the mind or the body
and definitely not the heart,but was given to the mind at an early age of transforming or shaping the mind into that,and it definitely it didn’t start from birh
but from somewhere it came while on earth being taught that in society,and those things that lead u to homosexuality to say homosexuality is alright though it came from a disfunction
to say someone is alright being disfunctional and to give them ground to stand on first of all shows that you hate that person yourself
and to say that you would have to not look at all the other disfunctions as out there such as ,a fettish for blood{in other words murderers}
the rapist{who justifibly in his own way of thinking justifies himself as a man who insists on getting what he wants,or a man who wants control of everything}we call him a monster of which he is but twisted in the head he is also only difference is he hurts others
while homosexuality produces the seed of this kind of behavior why because has the spirit of confusion to look at things as it is not given to look at by God which is perverseness

#11

there are so many homosexuals that struggle with liking women actually trying not to like women but
instead like man
were all adults here so we normal function in a man’s body or even a boy for that matter when they first born is the rising of the peanus from a irection
that’s natural God-given function of a man
that is a disfunctiion of the mind
no man is born homoseual he is given that interpertation of himself by society after struggling with a disfunction in his life or his mind {oh not even the body}for the body that was made with natural God-given function from God
Like women who gets pregnant or a man who impregnates neither can do the job that the other one can why the body works with its God-given abilties so for man to say he is homosexual he has to believe it in the mind{but first get his mind on thinking on that compacity}
The body works{meaning human actions} outsside of its innerbeing because it cannot work on
the inside of change what God has made it to do for God created it to function in a way he
designed it to work.So man who say there homoseual must convince themselves of that
and even when the try to act on a social level cannot deny ther manhood during anal sex which
is the most common way to spread aids a man must input on which he was designed to do in the first
placeand so you can’t run from who you are you can only tell yoursef or convince yourself this how you want life to be
or want to live your life.And again a homoseual has a disfunction of the mind from a disfunction in his life or mental ilness
such as rape or child molestation .influence of other people,unseeming with his sexuality or ashamed of his sexuality,
or just plain ol want to be nasty-these are things that homoseuals{who goes through the emotions from thinking of it}go through
self hatred can lead to the thought,self-conceit,influenced by other family,the idolized worship of man over women,
hatred of good men,hatred of women,influenced by authorities figures who live{or condom that lifestyle}such as idol-worship of someone
n music artist or actor or actress someone who you look up to,And it don’t have to there homoseuality.You notice somwething else about them you like
if for a long time you’ve been looking up to them and they are deep in homosexuality{or anything for that matter}they will influence you
You weren’t born a fag or no homoseual
yu wre told that gay is the word first of that society gives it which in old english terms means happy.To say that
homosexuals are gay stating that they are happy.That s a blating outright lie.And putting in the mind of children that this is the happy way to go
look straight not down. God is not the God confusion this reprobate almost.

#10

Enough is enough what is wrong with the people of God
Enough is Enough what in the world makes the world so ignorant to european paganist ways
Enough is enough why can’t there just be one country that is left to be descent
What makes them want to devour everyone else
What in the world makes them want to make Jamaica also a gay ride country
What in the world makes your average christian in other countries
look and say yea those christians over there in
america{or any other eurpean,western country for that matter}is the true christians
What in the world makes {robert}you say a gay fag
can’t help who he is
when he honestly don’t even like who he is
or what he is They call man gay
There are no gay,fags who are homoseuals
because gay means happy
homosexual men are not homosexual homo meaning human species or in latin man or human being
means a man or women that is oversexed with there species
no man or homosexuals for the mind controls the body and a man must tell himself he is like that

#9

There may not be parades but there are Pride activities. Check RainbowVibes.com for a shocking list of parties, plays and businesses giving discounts and specials for Jamaica Pride Week which is now August 1-8th, 2009.

#8

That was great! I am jamaican to and I know that dis a chruu… I hate that my homeland a like dis bot at di seim time we are very religious bound people.

#7

lot of people does not realise that we are living in the days of saddam, and gomorroh, the bible says so, in the begining so shall be the end.every word in the bible have to come to pass

#6

IN the bible god made adam and eve ,god does not hate the person ,buts he hates the behaviour,as a christian we have to pray for them, that they will change from such ungodly,behaviour

#5

Homosexuals cannot help what they are. But, marriage has always been for the purpose of having children and propagating the human race. Same-sex marriage is an attempt to “normalize” something that is not normal. Same-sex couples cannot produce children by themselves; they have to cheat or adopt.

#4

Well done!

#3

“…through an inner city on the outskirts…”

Is this not the beginning of an Answer
and the one side of an equation awaiting equality to the other…revealiing by Nature, two sides to the same topic which in each of its Elements defines what is necessary in any mapping out of varied subjective regions and their ensuing psychological explorations of the objective Avenues which yet parallel in different ways the unknown inner dimensions of the psyche within the subconcious grounds dividing What-Is-Seen from What-Is-Not-Yet-Visible-With-Penetrating-Clarity when examined ‘cross-dimensionally’ by way of usages of continually updating psychological contours against emotional terrains involving landscapes that have always, heretofore, remained only at the ‘known outskirts’ of each individual’s regionally excavated personality concerning what is often buried and hereafter is exposed again to the Sun even as such ‘glass closets’ provide Light only through apparent boundaries which yet do not hide what is within where the evolution involved in transmuting the absence of What-Is-Yet-To-Be-Explored (within the boundaries of the Substantial Nature of the anatomy of the circumstances) has yet to be brought forth into the anatomy of the human elements…those particles of Actualities-In-Potential which are as the
seed-causes of what is growing internally already in the landscapes of future outer Effects…even now?

#2

once again lisa good job, but dont hold ur breath, politicians are working to sharpen up the laws against gays in jamaica. continoue the great job girl.

#1

once again Lisa you hit the nailon the head , I am glad that u came to see things from inside out and get the real perspective. May I republish the article on my blog with a link to it?

My blogs are:
http://www.glbtqjamaica.blogspot.com
http://www.gayjamaicawatch.blogspot.com

Thanks and keep in touch please

Howie

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