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Gay? No Way

Study shows J'cans growing more tolerant, but majority still opposed to homosexuality

BY JANICE BUDD Associate editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 04, 2012    

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LAST week's beating by security guards of a student accused of engaging in homosexual acts in a University of Technology (UTech) bathroom, captured on video and widely circulated, brought into sharp focus a 2012 study that suggested that Jamaicans are becoming increasingly more tolerant of homosexuals.

The National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans Towards Same-Sex Relationships, released in June this year, found that while Jamaicans continue to have strong negative attitudes towards homosexuality, one in every five is tolerant of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and would support an addendum to the Charter of Rights affording impartiality to that community.

"These findings speak to the progress we are making as a people in respecting the humanity, dignity and equality of LGBT persons," is how Dane Lewis, J-Flag's executive director, interpreted the data.

The study, conducted by University of the West Indies statistician, Professor Ian Boxill, was commissioned by J-Flag (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays). It was funded by international advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World and was a follow-up to the 2011 study on Jamaicans' views about homosexuality and what determined those attitudes.

Boxill used a nationally representative sample of 1,000 persons between 18 and 84 years and two focus groups. One of these focus groups comprised highly skilled professionals and the other, inner-city males who were predominantly low-skilled, self-employed and/or unemployed.

According to the survey, "The professional group was mixed along gender lines and the inner-city group was an all-male group whose ages ranged between 18 and 35 years".

Males comprised 49 per cent of the sample. The study had a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent.

Overall, the Boxill study found that there was very little variance between the results of the 2012 study and its 2011 predecessor; with this year's instalment showing the persistence of strong negative views towards same-sex relationships across all sectors of Jamaican society.

However, similar to the 2011 study, "females, higher educated persons, and those who do not listen mostly to reggae and dancehall music are likely to have less negative attitudes towards homosexuals.

"Religious persons are seemingly becoming more tolerant, but positive attitudes to homosexuals are still more likely found in less religious individuals who attend church infrequently or not at all.

"Young persons (35 years and under) were found to be slightly less negative in their views than older persons," the researcher said.

Additionally, although the majority of respondents (82 per cent) disagreed with the idea of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms allowing for same-sex marriage in the 2012 survey, 37 per cent felt that the Government was not doing enough to promote the rights of the LGBT community and give them freedom from discrimination and violence.

At the same time, most persons in the survey group disagreed with amending both the buggery law (76.7 per cent) and the Charter to protect the rights of the LGBT community (65 per cent). However, 21.3 per cent said they would support an amendment allowing for consensual sex between adults of the same sex, but only in private.

Eighty-eight per cent of the respondents felt that male homosexuality was immoral, 83.7 per cent thought the same of lesbianism, and 83.5 per cent felt bisexuality was immoral. These figures represent an increase over 2011 when 82.2 per cent felt male homosexuality was immoral, 75.2 per cent felt female homosexuality was immoral, and 75.3 per cent felt the same of bisexual relationships. There was a general consensus among participants of the two focus groups that same-sex relationships were immoral.

Sexual experimentation that involved homosexual acts was also frowned upon by most respondents. A total of 66.9 per cent were strongly against anal sex between a man and a woman. Just over half, or 53 per cent, strongly disagreed with one woman having sex with two men at the same time.

Most persons surveyed (92.8 per cent) for the 2012 study said they believe homosexuality is between somewhat and very prevalent in Jamaica, with a large number (48.5 per cent) saying that it is present in all social classes.

But this, too, was an increase of 3.8 per cent over the previous study's finding. When broken down, approximately 42 per cent of respondents felt that homosexuality was most prevalent among the upper class; 8.5 per cent said the middle class, with 1.4 per cent identifying the lower class.

"It should be noted that whereas most persons previously believed that homosexuality was most prevalent among the upper class, almost half of those interviewed now seem to feel that it is equal across all classes," the Boxill study concluded.

Approximately 53 per cent of the sample felt that professional help "can change a homosexual's sexual orientation to heterosexual" -- this represents an increase of about six per cent, compared to the 2011 study.

The 2012 national survey also included a sub-sample of business persons who said that although they would not fire an openly LGBT person, a little over half of them would not employ them.

This group said they felt that these persons "would make their co-workers uncomfortable, they do not support the sexual orientation, they feared being stigmatised, and they feared losing customers".

However, focus group results showed that co-workers did not see working with homosexuals as a significant problem "as long as they acted professionally".

Despite this seeming slight increase in the tolerance of homosexuality among certain groups in Jamaican society, J-Flag has tasked the Government with doing more.

"Urgent national leadership is required to address the chronic intolerance for LGBT Jamaicans so they can be afforded equal rights and protection of the law like any other person," Lewis said in a release Friday in the wake of the incident at UTech.

He pointed to the Boxill study and called on the prime minister, Opposition leader, and ministers of national security and education to take urgent action to address "the chronic demonstration of intolerance for LGBT Jamaicans".

The UTech incident, he said, "is evidence of the malignant level of homophobia which continues to pervade all levels of Jamaican society and ravage lives".

Lewis also sought to "remind the prime minister that almost 40 per cent of Jamaicans believe the Government is not doing enough to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination".

Also, on Friday, numerous groups rushed to condemn the actions of the security guards involved in the beating of the student. Among them were civil society groups, human rights advocates, and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

In the aftermath of the UTech incident, the two security guards involved were fired by their employer, Marksman Security Limited.

"The actions of the security officers are not in keeping with Marksman Limited's contractual arrangements and ongoing mandate to protect and secure life and property," said Robert Epstein, the company's managing director, in a late afternoon statement on Friday.

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