Project

Glass Closet: Sex, Stigma and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica

Jamaica has the reputation of being one of the most violently anti-gay countries on earth.

Male homosexual acts are criminalized€“ and can be punished with up to 10 years of hard time in prison. While this law is not actively enforced, it is widely seen as a bulwark against immorality.

Jamaica'€™s anti-buggery law, which refers to homosexuality as an abominable crime, is a legacy of the island's British colonial past.

It is also deeply ingrained into the social fabric of modern Jamaican society.

The Abominable Crime Trailer from Common Good Productions on Vimeo.

Violent anti-gay song lyrics are standard fare in Jamaica's popular dance hall music and pastors and church leaders denounce homosexuality across the country.

These anti-gay sentiments are widely echoed across Jamaican society. A recent public opinion poll reported that most Jamaicans (85%) believe homosexuality should be illegal and many view it as morally wrong€ (82%). This study, the first of its kind ever conducted in Jamaica, concluded that strong negative perceptions and attitudes towards homosexuality cut across all social classes, gender and social groups.

This convergence of legal, religious and moral sentiment makes life profoundly difficult for the men and women who make up Jamaica's native-born gay community. The anti-sodomy law, according to activists, makes gay people un-indicted criminals€ in the eyes of the police and the local population, and legitimizes spontaneous acts of anti-gay violence.

In real terms, this means that Jamaica's gay community lives under the constant threat of harassment and violence, with victims holding little hope of seeking protection or redress from the police.

Glass Closet is an exploration of the long-term impact of this violence and the threat of violence €”on the lives of Jamaica'€™s gay community.

The first installment of Glass Closet, produced in collaboration with the PBS series World Focus, explored the connection between homophobia, stigma, and HIV, and showed how these social factors have led to a devastating increase in the AIDS rate in Jamaica's gay community.

Glass Closet was made possible thanks to support from the MAC AIDS Fund.

Editor's note: This description was updated on March 28, 2012 to reflect the ongoing reporting in progress.

Jamaica's Gays Worship In the Closet

It takes just 15 minutes to set up an underground church.

Two boxes and a white sheet make up the pulpit. The altar is a card table. Folding chairs constitute the pews. Then Rev. Robert Griffin, a solidly built gay American minister in his mid-40s, unpacks a battered cardboard box; inside is a wooden chalice, two candle holders, a communion plate and a dog-eared copy of the King James Bible. Add a pianist warming up on an electric keyboard and suddenly an empty meeting room is transformed into the Kingston branch of the Sunshine Cathedral, Jamaica's only gay church.

How AIDS Became a Caribbean Crisis

We may be accustomed to thinking of AIDS as most rampant in distant parts of the world like Africa, India, and South Asia. But these days the epidemic is flaring up a bit closer to home, in the Caribbean. Indeed, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adults there, and the Caribbean's rate of new infections is the second highest in the world, following just behind Sub-Saharan Africa.

A Deadly Cycle

Jamaica's hard-to-reach and embattled gay community has been ignored by the government's public health program for the last 25 years. Last year, a study revealed that nearly one-third of gay men in Jamaica may be infected with the virus that causes AIDS, but the island's public health response remains paralyzed by homophobia as the epidemic continues its uncontrolled spread through Jamaican society.

Transforming journalism: HOPE & Glass Closet

Award-winning multimedia reporting projects on HIV/AIDS that combine print reporting, poetry, photography, video, radio, music and an open dialogue to engage the broadest possible audience.

Tuesday, September 22
12:00-2:00 pm: Panel discussion and screening
Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
Third Floor Lecture Hall

Panelists:
Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer
HOPE Special Correspondent/Poet: Kwame Dawes
Glass Closet Filmmaker: Micah Fink
WorldFocus Producer: Lisa Biagiotti