A homeless youth from the LGBT community sits in the sewer where he lives in Kingston, Jamaica. (C) 2014 Human Rights Watch

(Kingston) – LGBT Jamaicans are vulnerable to both physical and sexual violence and many live in constant fear, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. They are taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, or worse: beaten, stoned, raped, or killed.

What Jamaica Should Do

Call on police to protect #LGBT people from violence, investigate violent crimes, and prosecute offenders.
Repeal “buggery” laws that criminalize consensual sex between men and fuel discrimination against #LGBT people.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should make good on her promise that “No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

The 86-page report, “Not Safe at Home: Violence and Discrimination Against LGBT People in Jamaica,” documents 56 cases of violence in which victims reported they were targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual identity. Human Rights Watch found that police investigations are often inadequate or lacking altogether, in some cases due to homophobia within the police force. Discriminatory laws contribute to the specific vulnerability of LGBT people. The Jamaican government should strike down antiquated “buggery laws” – which outlaw anal sex and all male homosexual conduct – and take measures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans from discrimination and violence.

“LGBT people in Jamaica face intolerable levels of violence and cannot rely on the police,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities from the prime minister on down need to call a halt to the violence and discrimination, prosecute anyone responsible, and get homophobic laws off the books.”

The Jamaican police have recently established protocols for addressing hate crimes. But improved protection and non-discrimination mechanisms are still needed, as well as an end to legislation that facilitates abuses, such as the “buggery” laws, Human Rights Watch said.  

High levels of violent crime, public mistrust of the police force, low levels of crime reporting, low prosecution rates, and a perception that the criminal justice system is skewed against the poor are factors that affect all Jamaicans. But LGBT Jamaicans, especially those who are poor and unable to live in safer, more affluent areas, are particularly vulnerable.

Human Rights Watch conducted five weeks of field research in Jamaica in April and June 2013, interviewing 71 LGBT people, as well as government officials and other stakeholders. Of the 56 cases of violence documented, 19 victims had reported these crimes to the police. But police took formal statements in only 8 cases, and only 4 led to arrests or prosecutions. Those who did not file police reports, across the board, told Human Rights Watch that they were afraid of facing further discrimination at the hands of the police, or that they believed the police would take no action to assist them.

Devon O., a pseudonym used for his protection, told Human Rights Watch that in January 2013, police stood by and watched while a crowd of about 30 people – shouting insults regarding his sexual orientation and armed with knives, machetes and sticks – beat him for about 20 minutes. He said police finally removed him from the crowd and placed him in a police van but then handcuffed and beat him.

The report also documents cases of discrimination by government institutions, including health care facilities, and in the private sector. Families and neighbors often drive LGBT people from their homes and communities. Landlords refuse to rent to LGBT people; health providers stigmatize them when they seek services; and employers arbitrarily fire them. In some such cases, the “buggery” laws are evoked to justify discrimination.

Many LGBT Jamaicans are denied full citizenship rights and become effectively homeless. Some feel forced to flee the country. Among the most vulnerable are dozens of gay and transgender Jamaican children and young adults whose families have rejected them and who are living on the streets, where they face violence and harassment from the police and the public.

Bryan T., a homeless young gay man, said that New Kingston police promised to investigate an incident in which construction workers chased him in February 2013, but that he has seen no sign that police followed up.  He said that he and a friend were told they could not use the police officer’s pen to sign the complaint: “He said, ‘You are a battyman. We don’t want battyman to use our pen.’”

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should make good on her election promise that “No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” Human Rights Watch said. The National Security Ministry should closely monitor the implementation of the Jamaican Constabulary Police Force Policy on Diversity; and parliament should repeal sections 76, 77 and 79 of the archaic Offences Against the Person Act (1864) and introduce a gender-neutral rape law.

“In the past decade the Jamaican police have taken some steps to address the scourge of homophobic violence, but clearly these steps are not enough,” Reid said. “So long as discriminatory laws remain in place, piecemeal measures will never be adequate.”