I'm Ian McKnight. My present job is with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, which is a Caribbean coalition of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that do work with marginalized groups, among which we work with MSM [men who have sex with men].
In the Caribbean, men who have sex with men suffer extreme discrimination and stigmatization. We have seen where that has resulted in people being beaten, people being killed in Jamaica. We saw that recently in Nassau. We see, for example, where the violence is catching on in countries like Antigua and St. Lucia. We're also seeing deaths, and we're seeing people threatened.
I think on a day-to-day basis, persons have to be very conscious of how they display their sexuality. Particularly, I'll narrow it down to Jamaica and say that Jamaican LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender] individuals have to be constantly careful of how they live and how they manifest their sexuality. That is a very high-pressured psychological state to live under. Many people find themselves having to look over their shoulders, having to wonder if people are seeing them, wondering if people are knowing what their sexuality is about.
Thankfully, persons are able to rise above that very intense psychological pressure to do their own work, to execute their own lives on a day-to-day basis. People are living productive lives. They go to work on a daily basis. Some people live together as couples. Some people rear children together as couples. Some people are in very good positions. It is true, too, that even [for some of these people], people know that they're homosexuals. People in their immediate circle at work may know, respect and engage with them on that level. But the wider knowledge, the wider public knowledge, is what becomes a much more threatening situation.
I feel that it's also important to state that there is a community. People come together to just to hang out and chill. People come together for educational purposes, so there are programs in place for the LGBT community, predominantly around safer sex and HIV issues. People party, of course.
There's that level of community. There's a very intricate underground network. When something goes wrong or something goes well, the ripple effect is felt very quickly. If someone needs help, people know the sources to go to, to call, to get help, and to address some of these issues.
In many instances, there is a protective network. Something might happen -- for example, something happens where somebody is discriminated against in a particular place. There are individuals who can make strong representation at the very highest level. Sometimes, even though it's done behind the scenes, it is very, very powerfully felt. People experience the impact of discriminating against a member of the LGBT community.
I think it's important to talk about young people. There's a group of persons who are very young who don't give a damn about what people think or say, who live their lives in a much more open way than many older persons do. For them, it's really pushing, pushing and pushing it to another level.
We see guys who are cross-dressing, some of them in public, which is amazing. Some have been beaten as a result of it, but others continue, and many of them are even challenging their teachers in school.
One fantastic story that came to us was: A guy was discriminated against verbally in his high school, and he said to them, "If you don't apologize, I'm going to tell JFLAG [Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays] and let JFLAG come down on this school." He got an apology from the school because they felt that having the wrath of JFLAG on them was not going to be something that they would entertain.
JFLAG has a very powerful and public stance. I've heard radio announcers joke. They have a kind of semi-comedy slot. One morning I heard one of them [telling] a joke which had a gay character, and he said, "Oh, God. I don't know if I should do that because JFLAG is going to be on my case in a couple of days." Things like those, small though they be, are some indicators that things are happening, things are changing.
From a policy level, a higher level, we are in negotiations with health officials. We are in negotiations with the police, all to make this better. I think we have to also bring attention to bear on the church, Sunshine Cathedral, which is a safe place for LGBT members and their family members to come and worship. That's a fantastic thing that's happened, where we have worship services of up to 100 persons on a monthly basis. People travel for two and three hours to get to these services. It's just a beautiful thing. It has a blog going with LGBT Jamaican-specific spirituality posted on it. ... It has a lot of powerful stuff on it. It actually uses a lot of local, cultural things and really is turning around, rewriting, the history for LGBT persons.