Night at the Newseum – Shame: HIV/AIDS and the Church in Jamaica

By Theo Salem-Mackall

How LGBT individuals are treated by society at large can be a direct result of Church positions on homosexuality and the family. All too often, homophobic stances by clergy have led to acts of violence and discrimination against LGBT groups, and broader discrimination in daily life.

In response to the role the Church plays in shaping public perceptions of gender identity and sexual orientation, the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute and the Pulitzer Center have created a series entitled “Faith, Freedom, Sexuality & Silence.” It brings together award-winning journalists and Pulitzer Center grantees to discuss their reporting on international LGBT issues, particularly as they intertwine with religion and public attitudes.

Seventy-eight countries worldwide still criminalize homosexuality, with seven treating it as a capital offense. In these states, voices calling for tolerance are often marginalized by their media, even when coming from prominent religious leaders. The goal of the Newseum series is to increase public awareness and to foster engagement in these countries between religious communities, LGBT rights advocates, and the general public.

This week, the series continues with a unique look into the lives of Jamaicans living with HIV/AIDS, entitled “Shame: HIV/AIDS and the Church in Jamaica.” Human Rights First is proud to be part of the event, as we present our new report, “The World as It Should Be: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in Jamaica.”

“Shame: HIV/AIDS and the Church in Jamaica” will feature the presentation of a joint project by poet Kwame Dawes and filmmaker Adam Lambertson. Dawes is a Ghanaian-Jamaican writer with over a dozen collections of verse in print, including 2006’s acclaimed Wisteria: Poems from the Swamp Country. Andre Lambertson is a photojournalist whose work can be seen in TimeNational Geographic, and other major outlets. For this undertaking, the two utilized a combination of long-form journalism, poetry, and photography to depict and convey the emotions of Jamaicans affected by HIV/AIDS.

Though the AIDS rate in Jamaica has held at around 2% over the past several years, HIV-positive Jamaicans still face ongoing social stigma and rejection. LGBT people in Jamaica experience similar discrimination, and also are HIV-positive at a disproportionately high rate of 33 percent. In Jamaica, a colonial-era “buggery” clause still criminalizes homosexuality, and those convicted of violating the law can be charged with ten years hard labor or jail time. Though the law is rarely enforced, it’s used to legitimize widespread societal persecution of LGBT people. LGBT youth in Kingston, kicked out by their families and denied access to housing, sometimes resort to taking up residence in “gullies” or sewers. Discrimination in health services, particularly against transgender people, also limits the ability of HIV-positive Jamaicans to gain access to life-saving treatment.

To see the Human Rights First presentation and learn more about the issues facing HIV-positive people in Jamaica, come to “Shame: HIV/AIDS and the Church in Jamaica,” at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum on July 16 at 7 PM. The event is free and open to the public, though an RSVP is required.

More information can be found here.

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Published on July 16, 2015

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