After a year of struggling, the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) and the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) agreed to close the country’s only LGBT drop-in shelter.
In August 2011, JASL director Ian McKnight proposed the creation of a shelter for young gay people who, struggling with their sexuality and rejection from their communities, were engaging in high-risk behaviors on the streets of Kingston.
But last Thursday, at a meeting with unsympathetic city officials, organizers announced they’d be shuttering the shelter: “We have tried to conduct a drop-in center on a number of occasions, but we don’t have the skills set and resources to deal with it,” J-FLAG’s Dane Lewis said. “What we have decided is that we have to stop it, because we don’t have the staff capacity to manage it.’
LGBT activists and the center’s young visitors were despondent at the news: “The schooling is not going to be enough [for us],” said one member. “We need meals and a drop-in centre. Some of them don’t have clothes. Where are they gonna sleep and get food?”
“We are on our knees,” said one of the young people served by the drop-in shelter.
Community leaders and politicians, who have complained about the antisocial behavior of LGBT youth, are unfazed by their plight: “‘[The] raucous behavior of the homosexuals, which includes fighting and flamboyance, in the neighborhood had to be addressed,” said MP Julian Robinson. “Many people in Jamaica face similar challenges and don’t behave in the same disruptive manner.” City council member Kari Douglas told the young men “to take responsibility for themselves.”
Even Kingston Angela Brown-Burke chastised the boys as “lacking a sense of responsibility.”
Tomilson doesn’t deny there are behavioral problems, but says that was the point of the center. “J-FLAG and JAS have been struggling for years to develop an appropriate protocol to deal with the steady stream of homeless LGBT youth living on the streets of the nation’s capital. Many them come from very challenging areas and have poor conflict resolution skills,” he told Gay Star News. “Expecting these homeless youth to rehabilitate themselves is ridiculous.”
Newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller advocated equality for Jamaica’s gays and lesbians during her campaign, and is considering reviewing the country’s antiquated anti-sodomy laws, but until the government takes solid action Tomilson and his colleagues believe the crisis in HIV/AIDS, homelessness and anti-gay violence will only get worse: “Simply put, while the Jamaican government dithers on the issue of human rights for LGBT [people], they are presiding over a public health tragedy. Truly, we sow to the wind and we reap the whirlwind.”
Below is J-FLAG’s pro-tolerance PSA featuring former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Christine Straw and her brother, Matthew. It was rejected by Jamaican television stations, for fear it would encourage homosexuality.