LGBT rights support improves in Jamaica but anti-gay sentiment grows

Support for LGBT rights in Jamaica is improving, according to new findings, but anti-gay sentiment is also increasing.

Rainbow Flag

The research from Goldsmiths, University of London discovered an increase in support for LGBT rights in the country and a decrease in approval of anti-gay laws, which punish consensual sex between men with up to ten years imprisonment.

One of the most obvious signifiers of this change is the fact that Jamaica’s first ever organised Pride events took place in August and October last year, in Kingston and Montego Bay respectively.

ocial psychologist Dr West, an expert in anti-LGBT prejudice in Jamaica, attributed this change in attitudes to three years of intense activism from organisations such as AIDS-Free World, the Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand, and J-FLAG.

But while there may have been a reduction in support for structural prejudice over the past three years, the study also found that personal prejudice against LGBT individuals has increased over the same period.

Heterosexual Jamaicans said that although they became more supportive of legal rights for LGBT people, they also became more likely to say they don’t trust or like them, or that they would threaten, hurt and insult them.

Dr West, who analysed results of two surveys from 2012 and 2015 of almost 1,900 people to see how views have changed, concluded that “heterosexual Jamaicans now respect LGBT Jamaicans more, but like them less”.

He argues that these results are to be expected, as strategies used by pro-LGBT groups in Jamaica have focused on protest and visibility, rather than friendly, cooperative interactions.

He said: “This does not indicate a failure of Jamaican pro-gay activism. All organisations have limited resources and anti-gay prejudice is a multi-faceted problem. The focus on legal equality is showing some signs of success.

“But it’s also important to achieve more positive attitudes and a reduction in day-to-day violence and negative behaviours. With those goals in mind, it might be time to accompany the closed fist with a bit more of the open palm.

“Jamaica can be seen as a testing ground for comparable anti-gay nations; like those in Jamaica, activists in these strongly anti-gay countries must select strategies that best suit their challenging social climate.”

Jamaica, 3 Years Later: Effects of Intensified Pro-Gay Activism on Severe Prejudice Against Lesbians and Gay Men by Dr Keon West, Goldsmiths, University of London, is published in The Journal of Sex Research.

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