The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) mounted a ‘Stand Up to CARICOM’ 4 July opposite the entrance to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica, site of the 31st CARICOM Heads of Government meeting [the 15-nation Caribbean Community].
“The decision was made to mount this Stand because of the continued presence of anti-buggery laws in 11 of the 14 member states in CARICOM which contribute to discrimination, marginalization and other serious human rights violations of CARICOM citizens,” said Jason McFarlane, the group’s programme manager.
“J-FLAG therefore calls for the immediate repeal of such laws and the full integration of LGBTI citizens into the CARICOM family.”
Demonstrators carried placards calling for the repeal of the anti-buggery laws, as well as an end to gay discrimination and improved human rights for all citizens in CARICOM.
One of the participants was Maurice Tomlinson of AIDS Free World. He expressed his organization’s support, staying that such actions are necessary to raise awareness within CARICOM about the rights of LGBTI, including the right to an adequate standard of health.
He went on to say that anti-buggery laws and discriminatory practices undermine the regional fight against HIV by driving gays underground, away from effective HIV prevention, treatment and care.
The group was able to stand peacefully for 17 minutes before they were asked by police to relocate due to the sensitive nature of the site. Demonstrators complied, hanking the police for their professionalism in handling the situation.
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Curaçao, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has opened its first gay centre. With its activities Casa Rosada (pink house), located in the neighbourhood of Otrabanda, hopes to break the taboo on homosexuality.
Education and information are badly needed, says FOKO (Fundashon Orugyo Korsou), the Caribbean island’s gay group. Founder Thirza Stewart stresses how important that is: “The silence that falls when you tell your mother you are gay is very hard.”
The guests attending the opening all get a glass of pink champagne. “Why should I apologise if I like women? I notice it’s hard to be open about my sexual preferences. The consequences can be quite painful. Certain people, for example, are no longer welcome at home.”
Gay and lesbian people, Stewart says, not only face prejudice at home but also on the work floor. She knows several people who were refused a job for being gay. Foko head Mario Kleinmoedig confirms gay people on Curaçao face an uphill battle, though things are not as bad as in Jamaica, where they fear for their lives.
Kleinmoedig stresses how difficult it is to have open gay relationships given all the social pressure. He says it is important to lower that pressure but also to teach gay people how to cope with it. “We want to raise the self-esteem of gay people. Homosexuality simply exists—that is a discussion we are no longer interested in. That’s history.”
Someone who lives close to Casa Rosada says he is worried by the opening of the gay centre. “A bit further down is a brothel, and over there is a hotel where people rent rooms for a few hours. There are many taboos here. At the same time, a lot happens, especially at night.”
Guyana's multi-religious community strongly condemned on Monday a gay and lesbian film festival, branding promoting homosexuality as a new form of Western colonization.
"We cannot allow the Western world to come and foist their lifestyles and thinking on to us; this will simply mean that we are just allowing a newer form of colonialism," said Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) spokesman Juan Edghill, a bishop.
Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Baha'is make up the IRO.
The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), which is organizing the week-long festival, would not immediately comment on the IRO's criticism.
The disagreement comes as the mostly former British colonies in the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have made repeated calls to scrap laws against buggery as part of efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination against groups vulnerable to HIV and AIDS.
Edghill said the religious community wants gays and lesbians to have rights to health care, education and housing, but that the IRO worried youths were being exposed to unnatural sexual activities with the dissemination of material about homosexuals.
The IRO insisted its position would not aggravate homophobic sentiment in Guyana, where gays and lesbians usually do not face routine assaults but are generally frowned upon and taunted in public.
Several months ago, SASOD made a court filing challenging the constitutionality of colonial laws against cross-dressing after several gays were arrested by police and prosecuted for the offense.