January 16, 2016 at 3:54 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Report: Anti-LGBT discrimination adversely impacts Jamaica economy

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates gathered outside the Jamaican Embassy in D.C. in August 2013. A new report indicates anti-LGBT discrimination and violence has an adverse impact on the island’s economic development. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A new report indicates anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica adversely impacts the development of the country’s economy.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, in 2014 commissioned a study of the issue.

Ninety-three percent of the 316 people who took part in the study said discrimination against gay Jamaicans is “widespread.”

More than 70 percent of respondents who identified themselves as gay said they experienced some form of harassment or discrimination over the last year.

The report indicates that 32 percent of respondents said they had been threatened with violence over the last five years. It also notes lesbian Jamaicans face the threat of “corrective” sexual violence that includes rape.

The report also notes, among other things, that LGBT Jamaicans are “taken out of productive employment” when they are targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They also face “disproportionate rates of physical, psychological and structural violence, which may restrict their ability to work due to injuries and psychological trauma.”

The report indicates LGBT Jamaicans also face “multiple barriers to” health care that leads to “reduced productivity.”

“Fear of violence and discrimination are preventing LGBT people in Jamaica from full participation in society and the economy,” writes M.V. Lee Badgett of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the report’s introduction. “This fear encourages behaviors which are detrimental to the affected persons’ wellbeing.”

Rochelle McFee of J-FLAG, who, along with Elroy Galbraith, conducted the bulk of the research, on Saturday discussed the report with the Blade during a telephone interview from the Jamaican capital of Kingston.

She said researchers “looked at all these variables to assess development costs of homophobia” and transphobia. McFee also told the Blade that many of the respondents who took part in the study had access to higher education, health care and employment because of their socio-economically privileged backgrounds.

“We looked at all these variables to assess development costs of homophobia,” said McFee.

Poll: 77 percent of Jamaicans back sodomy law

Tourism accounts for nearly a third of Jamaica’s GDP.

Queen Latifah, who continues to face speculation about her sexual orientation, last week discussed with Ellen DeGeneres her vacation to the island over the holidays.

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex relationships remain criminalized.

Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer and prominent LGBT rights advocate who lives in Montego Bay and Toronto, last November filed a lawsuit against Jamaica’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law. Javed Jaghai, another Jamaican activist, in 2014 withdrew his lawsuit against the statute, citing concerns over his personal safety and that of his family.

The report notes a 2012 poll indicated 77 percent of Jamaicans back the statute.

“In a global economy, countries that provide their citizens with an excellent education, quality health services, and a tolerant social climate are likely to have an advantage in attracting business investment, local entrepreneurs, and international tourists,” writes Badgett in the report.

Obama applauds advocate during Jamaica town hall

Advocates on the island have pointed to slow progress on LGBT-specific issues in recent years, despite persistent discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report notes that 42 percent of respondents said they would not disclose their sexual orientation with a family member who is not their parent.

Less than 10 percent of respondents “were not open with any” of their friends. Sixty percent of respondents, on the other hand, said they had not disclosed their sexual orientation to their employers.

“Just because of the culture of violence, usually people are unwilling to disclose that they are a member of this community,” McFee told the Blade. “That was surprising that so many people were out or willing to be visible.”

Kingston Mayor Angela Brown-Burke last August took part in the country’s first-ever LGBT Pride celebration. President Obama four months earlier applauded Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, during a town hall meeting in Kingston.

Special U.S. Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and Todd Larson, senior LGBT coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, last May traveled to Jamaica. Members of anti-LGBT religious groups from the U.S. and other countries have also visited the island to support efforts against the repeal of the country’s sodomy law.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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