May 17, is the anniversary of the decision when the World Health Organisation removed ’homosexuality’ as a mental disorder marking a formal end to medical homophobia. Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) joins with organisations around the world in commemorating this day as International Day Against Homophobia.
The recent incidents of mob violence in our sister Caribbean territory, Jamaica, against people perceived to be homosexual have placed emphasis on the need of Caribbean societies to battle homophobia as one of the prejudices which retard the development of society. Police were forced to use teargas to dispel a mob threatening three men at a pharmacy in Half-Way-Three on Valentine’s Day. On Palm Sunday at Montego Bay’s Carnival Nite Out, performers and merchants along fashionable Gloucester Avenue had to scamper for their lives as a group of men were chased by an angry mob with one beaten into critical condition with a manhole cover and cutlass. Church windows were smashed with bottles and stones when mourners presumed to be gay attended an Easter Sunday funeral in Mandeville. On April 27, mobs of citizens viciously attacked a cross-dresser who was apparently waiting for transportation in downtown Falmouth.
The prevalence of homophobic lyrics in Caribbean music continues to highlight a kind of cultural and political acceptance of homophobia - singers who have no problem calling for the killing of homosexuals are encouraged rather than condemned by private sector and Caribbean Governments. While at the same time, many Caribbean citizens have protested homophobic music. For instance, Gary Steckles, cultural critic of Jamaican roots, calls on Caribbean citizens to say “No to Hate” in the November/December 2006 edition of the Caribbean Beat magazine.
Homophobic violence in the Caribbean is rarely reported. In this light, SASOD has partnered with the Caribbean Anti Violence Project (CAVP) – a regional, web-based initiative at HIV-AIDS Education Unit, University of the West Indies (UWI) - to document incidents of prejudice-fueled violence on the basis of homophobia, gender and HIV-related stigma (see www.CaribbeanAVP.org). Many times male and transgender sex workers are targets for violence by the army and police while in other places, the justice system does not seem to want to deal with people who have no problem openly attacking people perceived to be homosexual. As part of our collaboration with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), SASOD has endorsed the call of civil society groups and activists, human rights lawyers, national AIDS programme coordinators and researchers in the field of sexual and reproductive health rights across the Caribbean region to decriminalize all aspects of sex work. Particularly, more acute difficulties are posed for male and transgender sex workers who are especially vulnerable to human rights abuses and HIV-AIDS due to homophobia, and more specifically, trans-phobia.
Caribbean-born Professor Linden Lewis states in his paper “Man Talk, Masculinity and a Changing Social Environment” available from the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies (http://sta.uwi.edu/crgs/journals/Linden_Lewis_pm_07.pdf) that: "Moreover, violence directed at homosexual men is not even considered really problematic. Both men and women, on religious grounds, by appeals to nature, or in accordance with social convention, often rationalize or excuse violence against homosexuals in the Caribbean. The region cannot afford to condone violence against people who may not share the heterosexual norm while condemning acts of violence when directed against women. People need to be more vocal in their condemnation of the physical and verbal abuse of all, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. Failure to criticize all forms of violence is to be less than sincere..."
Globally, homophobia is being recognised as a neglected violation of human rights. Guyana and the Caribbean cannot ignore the global progress towards just societies. Earlier this year on March 26, SASOD joined human rights organizations across the globe in launching the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (http://yogyakartaprinciples.org/). The Yogyakarta Principles affirm binding legal standards which put new pressure on governments: end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, end criminalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s lives, make the promise of equality real.
This statement was published in Guyana Chronicle and Stabroek News