Tolerance As A Public Good


A haunting image of the deadly effects of intolerance is that of the gruesome murder of 16 year old Oshane Gordon in the early hours of Tuesday morning October 18, 2011.  While Oshane and his mother slept, men barged into their home in Lilliput, New England and after chopping Oshane on his foot to prevent him escaping through a window, the invaders then caught up with Oshane and finished him off with several more savage blows.

According to CVM TV, Oshane was brutally slain because of “questionable relations” with a man.  Oshane’s mother also received injuries during the home invasion.  This incident palpably demonstrates that intolerance takes a tragic toll on both its intended victims and “collateral damage” in the form of innocent bystanders.

The level of intolerance displayed towards Jamaica’s population of men who have sex with men (MSM) has created a social, public health, human rights and economic crisis for all Jamaicans.  Our astronomical level of homophobia (recorded at over 80% in a University of The West Indies study) has been used by many to justify retention of the country’s colonial era anti-buggery law.

Recently, there have also been attempts in the media by anti-gay lobbyists to encourage the retention of the law as a means of addressing the country’s HIV and AIDS epidemic.    This is contrary to sound epidemiological evidence and is actually counter-intuitive.

While it is true that anal sex is the most efficient mode of transmitting HIV (a practice most often associated with MSM), it is not true that retaining the law against buggery will act as an effective barrier to the transmission of HIV.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Acknowledging the psychological, social and physical imperatives to bond with another adult human being to whom one is attracted means that criminalization of such activity will simply force MSM to “mask” their true orientation by forming liaisons with females while continuing to engage in clandestine sexual relations with other men.

This increases the likelihood of HIV transmission.  The anti-buggery law also prevents the distribution of condoms in prisons despite clear evidence of sex happening in penal institutions.  Once released, former inmates infected by HIV then return to their communities where “riding bareback” is common resulting in infections of their often multiple concurrent partners.

Conversely, liberal democracies which have recognized the human rights of homosexuals have much lower HIV incidence than Jamaica, even while the HIV prevalence rate among MSM remains stubbornly high.  For example, Australia has a national HIV prevalence rate which is 17 times lower than Jamaica’s.

Further, with an estimated J$4.6Billion required to keep those currently infected with HIV alive (the overwhelming majority of whom are females in their reproductive years) it is fiscally irresponsible for us to ignore the deleterious impact of the anti-buggery law on the national HIV response.

And there is also the immeasurable and oftentimes irreparable harm done to men, women and children when the lie of enforced heterosexuality for homosexual males comes crashing down in the form of family break-ups and dislocation.

Both state and non-state actors also use the existence of the anti-buggery law to violate the human rights of Jamaican homosexuals.  This is why AIDS-Free World filed a petition on behalf of two gay Jamaican men who have experienced persistent acts of aggression by family, friends and the police based solely on their sexual orientation.  Tolerance of sexual diversity helps to preserve family life and will stem the bloodshed of innocents like Oshane.

It is time that Jamaicans realized that intolerance of consenting adults engaging in their private consensual acts of intimacy is overwhelmingly harmful.  In fact, by retaining such hostility, we are “cutting off our nose to spite our face.”






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