GAYS IN JAMAICA -
A POSITION PAPER,
THE THIRD ANNUAL CONFERENCE
OF THE INTERNATIONAL GAY ASSOCIATION
IN TURIN, ITALY
GAY FREEDOM MOVEMENT
P.O. BOX 1152
Gays in Jamaica
Gay men and women
Some Problems Faced by Gays in Jamaica
The Gay Community
Myths in the wider society
The Gay Freedom Movement
Plans for the future
Appendix - Jamaica
In this paper the Gay Freedom Movement of Jamaica (GFM)
hopes to present a brief overview of what it means to be gay
within the Jamaican context.
Our exposition begins with background information on the
island, then focuses on the gay population of Jamaica and its
A Chapter on the Movement and its efforts in the arena of
gay liberation completes the paper.
We take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude
to the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (SHRG) for its assis-
tance to the Movement without which we could not have attended.
Gay Freedom Movement
Some insight into Jamaican society is essential for any
understanding of the island's gay community.
English is the island's official language. Most of the
population speak Jamaican dialect (creole/patois) or a mixture
of the dialect and English. Chinese and Indian communities
contain some members who speak Chinese and Hindu.
Jamaica has a predominantly youthful population, made up
of upper, middle and lower classes, with the greatest disparity
existing between the upper and middle classes taken as a group,
and the lower classes.
The Upper and Middle classes are characterized by the
existence of a nuclear family where the parents are legally
married; good living conditions; reasonably well educated mem-
bers who have high aspirations for their children; and standard
'Jamaican English' speech patterns.
The Lower classes feature mother centred extended families,
which often include children from previous unions of either part-
ner; crowded living conditions; members with a level of education
which did not extend beyond Primary Schooling; and dialect based
speech patterns. Common law marriages are frequent,
The proportion of children born out of marriage is about
70% of all births. This occurs mainly within the lower classes,
where it is more often regarded (especially for women) as ab-
normal to not produce any children.
Religion is very popular among all classes, with the
upper classes generally supporting the older, established,
more 'respectable' Christian Churches. These include Anglican,
Baptist, Methodist, Toravian, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian de-
nominations. The lower classes favour the newer revivalist sects.
Minority religions include the Pentacostals, Christian mi-
nority Churches and the Rastafarians. There are also Jewish,
Hindu, Muslim and Bahai communities.
Class in Jamaica is linked in many ways with skin colour.
Within the social structure of the island, Blacks who form the
majority of the population (see Appendix) and East Indians
largely retain a place at the bottom of the scale. Chinese
are found mostly in the middle and upper social classes. Whites
and Middle Eastern peoples generally occupy the top of the
To some extent, a White bias still exists in the thinking
of the average Jamaican, particularly of the older generation.
Whites tend to feel superior to Negroes, while Negroes tend to-
look down on characteristics generally associated with the black
At the same time, nevertheless, a fair amount of intermar-
riage does take place between races, and social intercourse is
conducted harmoniously - with people of all races and colour b ig
able to move freely in all social situations. Skin colour does
not generally impede upward mobility, which usually comes through
The emotional development of youngsters are strongly influ-
enced by a number of factors. These include the matriarchal focus
of most families; the frequent absence of a male identity figure
within the family group; and social pressures to conform to mas-
culine and feminine stereotypes as they exist locally.
There is in the island, at present, a tremendous flowering
of all the arts, the origins of which go back to the self-govern-
ment movement of the 1930's which gave birth to modern Jamaica.
One result of this has been a wave of social consciousness,
reaching all levels of the society.
Every facet of our culture has been strongly influenced by
our African and European heritages, and our proximity to the
American continent. There is also evidence of Chinese, East
Indian and other cultural influences.
Internationally, our culture hay gained the island much
attention, and has become accepted and Acclaimed through such
groups as the National Dance Theatre Company, the Jamaica Polk
Singers and through such exponents of reggae as Bob Marley,
Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and Toots Hibbert.
Practically everyone in Jamaica has international links
or contacts through friends and/or relatives abroad. Jamaicans
are widely travelled and it has been said that we can be found
anywhere in the world.
3. GAYS IN JAMUICA
Using a very conservative figure of 5% of the total popula-
tion, gay men and women in Jamaica are estimated to number over
These individuals 'are distributed more or less evenly
throughout the island. However, gays are more visible in the
island's cities - Kingston and Montego Bay, and in the larger and
more affluent towns such as Mandeville, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio,
Negril. Spanish Town and Savanna-la-mar.
Gays can be found in every age group, at every socio-
economic level and in every profession. The most open gays tend
to be in their twenties or thirties and employed in 'white col-
lar' jobs (namely, their primary work functions are not manual),
and of higher than average educational standard.
In a study carried out last year among gays in the Corpor-
ate Area (Kingston and its environs - see Bibliography), the
following profile emerged:
- average age of first sexual encounter, 17-18 years
- average age at onset of puberty, 13 years
- dominant personality at home during the formative years,
more often female (this is in. keeping with Jamaican culture in
which the family structure generally emphasizes the role of the
- at least one other member of the family is often homo-
sexual (38; of the sample)
- residence is more often outside the home (68% of the persons
in the study did not live at home. It is possible that this
simply reflects a national trend)
- an estimated 36% of the gay population are bisexual
- some 54% attended co-educational high schools
- fifty percent alternate roles (active/passive) during the
act of sex
- fifty eight percent have a particular lover
S eighty two percent are satisfied/happy with their sexuality
and would not accept counselling for change
- thirty. eight percent have had venereal disease
- meaningful relationships of appreciable duration are not
Rural and other isolated gays are numerous. Often, their
isolation stems from ignorance of the existence of other homo-
sexuals, or of how to contact them.
Other reasons exist however. These include a fear of their
own kind; the belief that homosexuality is wrong; a fear of what
people will say if their sexual preference is found out; or a pre-
ference to live their lives along self-centred lines.
Gay men and women
In Jamaica, gay men and women get on well together. How-
ever, women tend to be more conservative in terms of, for example,
being overtly gay, attending parties and visiting clubs or bars.
One result of this conservatism is that parties, meetings
and other get-togethers tend to be male-dominated. The women re-
act to this by complaining that they are always left out, and
as a result are even more reluctant to come out and take part -
a vicious circle. Periodically, they will also arrange all girl
The Jamaican laws which apply to homosexuals are found in
Volume XIII of the Laws of Jamaica, under the Offences Against
the Person Act, Section 76-79. These state:
Section 76 (Unnatural Crime)
"Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery,
committed whether with mankind or with any animal, shall be
liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not
exceeding 10 years."
Section 77 (Attempt)
"Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime,
or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same,
or of an indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty
of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable
to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 7 years, with or
without hard labour."
Section 78 (Proof of Carnal Knowledge)
"Whenever upon the trial of any offence punishable under this
Act, it may be necessary to prove carnal knowledge, it shall not
be necessary to prove the actual emission of seed in order to con-
stitute a carnal knowledge, but the carnal knowledge shall be
deemed complete upon proof of penetration only."
Section 79 (Outrages 6o Decency)
"Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a
party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure
the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency
with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,
and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of
the court to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 2 years,
with or without hard labour."
1. the law makes no distinction between gay intercourse, bestial
intercourse and heterosexual anal intercourse.
2. the interpretation of 'indecent assault' and 'gross indecency'
are left to the individual magistrate.
3. no mention is made of lesbians. Gay women are legally free
to do as they wish.
4. there is no law against being gay, one can only be charged
with sodomy or other acts of 'gross indecency'.
To date, there have b not been many charges and the law
has not been strictly enforced. In fact, in the cases where gEys
have been arrested, the charge has usually been one of 'loitering'.
This is not to say that gays have not been harassed by
policemen , and the very existence of the laws mzkes criminals
out of a large portion of the most productive, brilliant and
creative members of society.
4. SO.1 PROBT:;E:.; FACED BY GAYS IN JAMAICA
The gay community
Gays in Jamaica face three sets of problems.
We experience difficulties which we share in common with all
other members of the society, such as a high cost of living and
its accompanying financial constraints; a high rate of illiteracy
and unemployment; and -male chauvinism in the case of women.
In addition, gays are subject to a constant pressure of
injustices and cruelties which are peculiar to us alone. We
live in a society where it has traditionally been taken for
granted that homosexuality is wicked, sinful, nasty or sick.
Hence gays are oppressed in many ways and at all levels,
in the form of physical violence, police harassment, emotional
and verbal abuse, job insecurity and restricted promotion; dis-
crimination in housing rental; restricted responsibilities in
situations on and off the job; poor personal credibility; har-
rassment and/or renouncement by family and friends; persecution
of youths by fellow students. In short, all the problems faced
by gays worldwide.
Furthermore, gays in Jamaica generally have a irery low
level of consciousness, when it comes to their rights to their
Most believe that they are okay, if they are getting by
within their limited circle of friends, family and co-workers,
and get very upset with anyone who 'rocks the boat'. As a
result, they do not support gwy rights, but second the philoso-
phy of 'every man for himself', which force the majority of gay
Jamaicans to be closets.
There is another type of gay person who gives the impression
of being aggressive, who will insist on 'being himself', but who,
when challenged by someone will evade the question, back down
or in some way give the impression to the straight person that
being gay is something to hide or be ashamed of. Their point
of view is that 'yes, I'm gay, but it isn't anybody elsh's bus-
Within the wider society, gay women are seen as a sad
caricature of the male, who tries to act and dress in a mascu-
line manner;or as an unfortunate spinster who, unable to 'catch
a man', has had to settle for second best - another woman, whom
she will abandon as soon as 'Mr. Right' comes along.
On learning that someone is a lesbian, people tend to think
- she is some kind of biological freak whose genitals are mal-
-she is the unfortunate victim of some type of hormone imbalance
- she is wicked and sinful and surely going to hell.
In her everyday life, the open lesbian has to cope with the
same pressures as the openly gay man. However, she also has to
deal with special attention from male chauvinists.
These view lesbians as an affront to their masculinity.
The lesbian becomes a great challenge - " conquest in the making,
or she becomes persona non grata. According to these men, all
of 'this' is as a result of never bein1 exposed to a 'real man'.
Just as bad are the gay male chm-vinists, who still view
women not as individuals but as mere appendages of men - house-
keepers, child-bearers, etc.
Young people make up an integral part of the gay com-
munity. Using the island's population profile as a base, it
has been estimated that persons under 30 years of age make up
50% of the gay community.
These youths are also the most visible members of the gay
community because they tend to be more aggressive about their
rights to be themselves, more comfortable with their sexuality,
less concerned with their public image, more interested in en-
joying themselves under their terms, and less concerned about
the possible socio-ecoPomic consequences of being openly gay.
Their problems are not peculiar to Jamaica, but arise
from conflicts which occur universally between the young and
traditional family and social mores.
Gay youths invariably experience problems at home if their
family discovers their sexual preference. Pressures are
brought to bear on youngsters to conform to heterosexual values
and customs, and if he/she resists, life is made very uncomfort-
The youth may be physically punished for 'refusing to
change' or for 'being so wicked'. His/her freedom of movement
may be restricted and his/her friends/phone calls/activities
closely monitored and censored. Life may become a constant round
of verbal abuse. In one case, a youngster's clothing and be-
longings were burnt by an angry father.
Even worst, it it not unusual for youngsters to be turned
out of their homes, to survive however best they can.
At school, the same attitude holds sway. This includes
the University of the West Indies, where students suspected of
being gay have been harassed, beaten, and their belongings des-
troyed.. In one case on the Jamaican campus of the University,
a student was bombed while in his room.
Teachers have been known to point out gays to other students
as persons to be laughed at and/or ostracised. Teachers them-
selves have ridiculed gay students in front of other students.
A number of schools have expelled students and dismissed
teachers, upon finding out that they are gay - an attitude which
is also found in the workplace.
Furthermore, a high proportion of youths are unemployed.
Although the national average is 35%, the figure is much higher
among young people and those who have just left school.
Many youths are also illiterate.
Churches maintain a consistently negative attitude towards
gays, basing their responses to homosexuality mainly on the Bible.
Some of their attitude is hypocritical, because a large number of
Ministers and other supporters of the Church are homosexual.
The literal interpretation of the Bible (for example,
Leviticus XX: 13, "Their blood shall be upon them") which is gen-
erally encouraged for homosexuality, especially among Pundament-
alists, has led to a lot of the violence directed against gays.
The attitudes ard teachings of the Church in Jamaica en-
courages and promotes homophobia.
Every political party in Jamaica is afraid of even seeming
to support gay rights. Their worry is that they will lose votes
to the other parties. Nevertheless, gays are an important force
in politics at every level of leadership.
Myths in the wider society
A large body of myths which claim to describe homosexuals ,
exists within the Jamaican society. These include:
- gay men are effeminate and the women are masculine
- in relationships, one person acts the woman and the otIer acts
- the gay woman likes to wear men's clothing, the men prefer fe-
- homosexuals prey on the young and the weak
- they are oversexed...a gay woman will jump at anything in skirts
- they are promiscuous
- homosexuals actively recruit people to their way of life by
force, by enticement with money or some other reward, or by per-
- all gays are artistic, they dress very well and are well spoken
and soft voiced
- in sex between the -,men, the primary activity is anal interco-
- homosexuality is on the increase
-' it can be learned by associating with gays
- homosexuals want everyone to become like them, so that heter-
sexuality can become the exception rather than the rule, if not
- homosexual acts can result in poor health
- someone becomes gay because (among other reasons), she/he
has been hurt by a member of the opposite sex
is wicked, sinful, sick
was too close to mother or father
is somehow really a woman/man.
5. THE GAY FEDOM MOVn-'?JNT
The Gay Freedom Movement of Jamaica (GFM) is the estab-
lished voice for gays and gay rights in Jamaica.
Formed in 1977, it was at first a loosely organised body
with no formal constitution and only a small core of dedicated and
committed individuals .
It has since grown significantly in strength and has ad-
opted a constitution. Our supporters can be found in all areas
and at all levels of Jamaican society. Contacts have also been
forged with gay groups in North, Central and South America, the
Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.
The Mo-ement has also gradually gone public. Our main
thrust took place from late 1979 to mid 1980, when we had
panel discussions with several groups and were interviewed for
articles on the Movement by the daily newspapers.
The aims of the GFM are
to raise gay consciousness and awareness,
to provide counselling and support for our oppressed brothers and
to remove homophobic prejudice and ignorance through public educa-
to protest anti-gay oppression,
to press for the repeal of the buggery law,
to raise funds for a gay community centre ard to provide necessary
social services .
Some of these goals are now being achieved, but others can only
be worked towards,
Currently, membership in the Movement stands at 81, with
most members in their teens and twenties. An even greater nu-
mber of persons support the work of the Movement, but for various
reasons, do not want to be identified as members. Most members
of the gay community are afraid of being associated with us.
In addition to constantly monitoring the media in order to
respond to negative comments on gays, the GPM also produces the
Jamaica Gaily News (JGN), a newsletter which is aimed primarily
at the local gay community, but which also has subscribers
from overseas communities and individuals. A number of persons
outside the local gay community also reads the circular.
The Movement keeps in touch with a wide network of overseas
gay organizations, and at the local level deseminates information
to individuals and groups, in the form of ad hoc discussions and
Groups with whom we have had discussions include the Ja-
maica Psychological Association, Trainee Guidance Counsellors,
the Kingston Jaycees, Trainee Nurse Practitioners and the Gui-
dance Counsellors of Kingston.
For a number of months last year, we had access to facili-
ties which enabled us to run weekly meetings and workshops for
our members. These sessions, which had an average attendance of
40 men and women, established a number of action groups to work
on specific priorities. These are currently inactive, following
the loss of our venue for meetings.
Projects organised by the Movement have included a Prison
Outreach Programme, a Gay Youth Movement and a Gay Community
Plans for the future
Our primary objective is now to acquire a place of our own
in order to resume having regular meetings.
In addition, we intend to continue our work of raising gay.
consciousness and awareness, providing counselling and support
for members of the community and protesting anti-gay oppression.
There is a need to increase our work with gays outside
the Corporate Area (Kingston and its environs), and for more
staff, especially skilled and dependable persons, to carry out
the work of the Movement. Funds are also short.
Jamaican gays are not unique in their oppression by the
heterosexual and homophobic elements of society. These are prob-
lems which are found worldwide.
The single most important effect of this oppression is
that it forces the average gay to constantly live a double
life, due to the constant threat of condemnation and ostracism
should his sexual preference become known to family, friends or
In Jamaica, most homosexuals and bisexuals live extremely
repressed existences, added to which are the problems of fin-
ances, unemployment, low skill levels, etc., which are common
to the society at large.
Paradoxically, despite the extreme homophobia of the so-
ciety, Jamaica does provide a number of niches for gays - positions
in which the gay man is accepted.
These include two which may be survivals of our African
.culture, namely, the roles of shepherd (Ain revivalist groups)
and obeahman. Other roles in which gays are accepted are as
mampalas and higglers - basically female roles in which men are
accepted and form an integral part of their community.
No coresponding roles exist for women.
S If Jamaican gays are oppressed in any unique way, com-
pared to other societies, it is by the Church. Since the colo-
nization of the island by Europeans, the Church has been a powerful
force in shaping the minds and thoughts of Jamaicans. The speeches
of the politician are liberally sprinkled with biblical referen-
ces, Gays spend years overcoming the belief that they are evil,
which the Church instilled in them as children. The Church has
led the tide against gays.
Of course, they have had a few factors working for them,
Jamaica's high illiteracy level contributes to narrowing
the points of view of the population as a whole, and difficult
economic conditions lower the tolerance of the general public
for anything they do not understand.
In other societies, where the public has wider horizons
and an 'easier life', they are less concerned with the differ-
ences of special groups.
In addition, fear of their own homosexual feelings and
the absence cf a male identity figure during their upbringing
has perhaps contributed to the development of homophobia in many
Freedom will only come to gays in Jamaica when we, as a
community are willing to stand up to this intolerance which has
been nurtured by the Church and other agents, when we are will-
ing to show the wider community that we are not ashamed of
being gay, that in fact, we think it's wonderful!
Unfortunately,the majority of gays are grateful to get
by with what few crumbs of acceptance they can get by passing
for straight, or by playing mascot,
It is the work of the Gay Freedom Movement to awaken their
dormant consciousnesses, and make our presence felt in the com-
1. Jamaica in a Nutshell (pamphlet)
Agency for Public Irformation January 1979
2. Jamaica: In a Nutshell ( a series of five pamphlets on
Agriculture, Culture ard Media, Economy, Education and Touris,.)
Agency for Public Information 1980
3. Gay Freedom Movement (brochure)
Gay Freedom Movement of Jamaica 1980
4. Facts on Homosexuality (brochure)
Gay Freedom Movement of Jamaica 1980
5. Data collected for
Profile of the Jamaican Homosexual 1980
(unpublished study done in parti-l: fulfillment of a
Certificate in Social WJork at the University of the West
Indies, Mona, by Mrs. Elvena Reittie)
6. Jamaica Gaily News , Volume 5, October 28 1977
"The Law and You" (article)
7. GFM presentations at various Discussions with
Jamaica Psychological Association, Feb. 1980 and Nov. 1980
Trainee Guidance Counsellors, Feb. 1980
Kingston Jaycees, April 1980
Trainee Nurse Practitioners, 1980
Guidance Counsellors of Kingston, June 1980
8. Laws of Jamaica, 1978
9. GFPl Clippings file
November 1979 - April 1981
10. Adolescence in Jamaica
A.S. Phillips 1973
Jamaica Publishing House
8. APLP EnrI - JAMAICA
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, with
an area of 4,411 square miles. It lies, at its nearest points,
90 miles South of Cuba ard 100 miles West of Haiti. Its capital
is Kingston and English is the official language.
The Jamaican landscape is dominated by mountain ranges
containing an abundance of minerals,. mostly limestone, but also
much gypsum, marble, silica, alabaster, shale and sandstone.
Annual temperatures vary from about 270C (800�) to
320C (900F) on the coast. Average rainfall is about 80 inches
The island falls within the earthquake and hurricane belts
of the Caribbean, though it has not experienced a disastrous
earthquake since 1907, nor a direct hit by hurricane since 1951.
Jamaica's population was estimated in 1980 to be 2,500,000.
A disproportionate amount of these live in the island's major
metropolitan area, which centres on Kingston. Among the population
are persons whose origins are African (76.3%), Afro-European (15.1%),
East Indian and Afro-East Indian (3.4%), Chinese and Afro-Chinese
(1.2%) and European (0.8%). Jamaicans of other ancestry make up
3.2% of the population.
The oldest known inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawaks,
Indians who migrated to the island from South America around
Christopher Columbus' arrival in the island in 1494, was
followed by Spanish settlement in 1509 and the enslavement and
decimation of the Arawak population.
Sugar plantations were established in the island in 1690.
Between this time and the 19th century, sugar was the main money
earner of the island and/'enriched the Spanish and the British
who captured the island >from them in 1655.
Simultaneous with the rise of sugar, yest African slave la-
bour was imported by the Spaniards, to work the plantations. This
practice was continued by the British. Slavery was officially
abolished in 1834, as a result of local resistance and agitation
Before the abolition and during the first half of the 18th
century, certain runaway slaves forced peace treaties with the
British settlers, by a process of constant harassment. These run-
aways and their descendants became known as the Matoons.
After abolition, former slaves and their descendants found
a large peasant class working mainly in agriculture on marginal
Socio-economic conditions led to a brutally suppressed
peasant rebellion in Morant Bay in 1865. Similar conditions again
resulted in riots and general unrest in 1938.
It was these latest upheavals that led to the emergence of
Jamaica's existing trade unions, political parties and universal
adult suffrage, which was introduced in 1944.
East Indian and Chinese elements were added to the populat-
ion after the abolition when the ruling class introduced these
peoples as indentured servants in an effort to maintain the levels
of sugar production. A significant number of Chinese, and peoples
of the Middle East - Syrians, Lebanese, Jews, have also come in
as peaceful immigrants.
Historically, Jamaica's economy has been based on the pro-
duction of one agricultural crop -sugar, for export to Europe.
This provided most of the island's income from the end of the
17th century to early 19th century when -the industry declined.
This decline was hastened by the end , in 1838, of the appren-
ticeship system which replaced slavery in 1834.
Since the 1920's, the sugar industry has revived ard has been
an important economic sector and a main source of foreign ex-
Today, sugar, bananas and citrus are the most important
crops with coffee, cocoa, coconuts and spices contributing sub-
stantially to export earnings. Production of food crops for
domestic consumption, such as roots and tubers, peas and beans,
fruits and vegetables has been increasing. In addition, Agri-
culture is the largest employer of labour.
Other developments in the island's economy began in the
The mining of bauxite (an aluminium ore) began after 19529
and Jamaica is the second largest exporter of this mineral. A
tourism boom took place in the 1950's and 1960's and tourism is
now the second largest earner of foreign exchange for the island.
Manufacturing got a major boost in the 1950's and by 1959
surpassed the contribution made by agriculture to the Gross Do-
These four - agriculture, bauxite and aluminium, tourism
and manufacturing, form the cornerstone of the Jamaican economy,
Per capital income in 1978 was U$ 981.00.
Unemployment is currently 35%