Leader of the only gay activist group in Jamaica shares her analysis and opinion on the scope and impact of homophobia in the Caribbean country.
For more than 25 years, Dr. Peter Figueroa fought an exhausting battle against HIV/AIDS epidemic in Jamaica. Now retired, he describes the challenges that have prevented him from reaching the goal.
What does it mean when we report that a recent Jamaican government study found that nearly one-third of gay men in Jamaica are HIV positive?
Livehopelove.com feels like a plane ticket, a passport, something that helps you get from here to there. The website, a reporting project on HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting , features interviews, music, photos and poems.
Together, the story told is about living and dying with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.
"Most of my friends are dying -- the thing is, they know it, and the others are busy nursing the dying: God's cruel edits."
A public debate erupted earlier this year when graphic Dancehall music lyrics and images were banned from Jamaica's airwaves. The public responses reveal the legacy of two Jamaica's.
Jamaica, to me, is a land of deep contradictions.
On one hand, it's a lovely, lush tropical country, blessed with sandy beaches, fantastic flowering shrubs, ripe mango and coconut trees, and inhabited by a strong, proud people who clearly share a basic sense of personal dignity and a deep-seated hospitality towards strangers. I found this to be true regardless of whom I was speaking with, be they rich or poor, educated or illiterate, straight or gay.
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.
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.
Stigma and discrimination prevent people around the world from accessing the HIV prevention, care and treatment services they need. This is particularly true in areas of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, where anti-sodomy laws and concerns about violence put vulnerable populations at extreme risk.
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.
Poet Kwame Dawes provided the words for HOPE & Wisteria, two back-to-back performance pieces that explore different aspects of the black experience. But his contribution, vital as it is, is only one part of the puzzle. Each production is a multimedia piece using music, images and Dawes' poetry.
The musicians and singers, performing alongside Dawes on stage, contribute immensely to the power of the production, as do the photographers whose work is projected on a large screen behind the performers.
In an interview on The Root, poet Kwame Dawes discusses his role and shares his experience in creating the multimedia project "Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica," commissioned by the Pulitzer Center to document the human face of HIV in Jamaica, the country of Kwame's youth.
Learn more about the Emmy-winning LiveHopeLove.com