Lisa Biagiotti is working on signature stories for Worldfocus on HIV/AIDS and homophobia in Jamaica. She reported with Producer Micah Fink and Director of Photography Gabrielle Weiss, both from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Their reports will air on Worldfocus later this summer. Lisa gave the below interview to Thirteen.org.
Q: Gay pride is celebrated across the U.S. every June. Could there be similar celebrations of gay pride in Jamaica?
Lisa Biagiotti: No, there could not be an openly gay pride parade on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, as in New York or San Francisco. In Jamaica, anti-sodomy laws criminalize sex between men, fundamentalist interpretations of the bible and pride in reproduction contribute to the general disdain and non-acceptance of the gay lifestyle.
The idea of a "glass closet" best describes the public's expectations of homosexuals, meaning, "We know you're gay, and we can see you, but stay in that glass closet." In fairness, Jamaica tends not to be a heavily PDA (public display of affection) culture. You don't see men and women petting each other or even holding hands in public, with the exception of the dancehalls.
One thing that was interesting was the way homophobia finds its way into the language, in the choosing (or avoiding) of certain "gay" words. When little boys call each other "sissy" names, they say "you're a battyman." "Batty" means buttocks and is a derogatory name for a gay man. Saying the number "two" — referring to the anus — is also avoided. We heard a story of a father instructing his two-year-old son to say he's going to be three. You'd say "come forward" instead of "come back." If you're ordering fish to eat, you'd say, "Give me a swimmer or a sea creature." "Fish" is another term for a gay man.
Visit the Pulitzer Center's multimedia website Live, Hope, Love, which explores living with HIV in Jamaica.