Shunned by families, gay teens face rape, HIV on Jamaican streets

Services for gay teens are few, says St Rachel Ustanny, chief executive of the Jamaica Family Planning Association  (Photo by Napthali Junior courtesy of Jamaica Observer)
Services for gay teens are few, says St Rachel Ustanny, chief executive of the Jamaica Family Planning Association (Photo by Napthali Junior courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

An LGBT rights activist comments about Jamaica:

Jamaican LGBT youth are being evicted as young as 11 years old. Some engage in sex work to survive. Many contract HIV and other STIs. And still there is a deafening silence from the state about this growing problem.”

The problem is explored in a heart-breaking article in the Jamaica Observer of Nov. 3 entitled “Homelessness, rape and HIV.”  These are excerpts:

Homelessness, rape and HIV

Abandoned by their families, gay Jamaican teens — some as young as 13 years old — end up on the gritty streets of the capital city where they are sexually abused by older men who expose them to various sexually transmitted diseases.

A group of young gay men who recently spoke with the Jamaica Observer painted a horrific picture of the physical and sexual abuse they face on the streets and the emotional scars they still bear from those experiences.

With no other means of survival, some have turned to prostitution, either by selling sex on the streets or soliciting clients on gay websites, despite being infected with HIV.

Life on the streets, the young gay men say, is not an option they willingly chose, but one they were forced into after family members turned them out of their homes when they suspected them of being gay. …

“Some of the boys are as young as 13 and 14 years old and when you call the CDA (Child Development Agency) to get them somewhere to stay, them don\’t come, so there is nowhere else for them to go,” [one gay teenager] explained.

Many of these young boys, the gay teen said, are themselves abused by older men who have sex with men (MSM) who often rape them on the streets. …

Chief executive officer of the Jamaica Family Planning Association, St Rachel Ustanny, [said] that services for gay teens are limited.

With the conflict between law and policy preventing the wider youth population from accessing contraceptive services such as condoms, Ustanny said the problem must be large within the sub-population group of MSMs.

Ruth Chisholm, country programme manager for Population Services International/Caribbean, said the current environment makes it very difficult to provide information and counselling to these gay teens.

There would be less demonisation if dialogue started in the home as this is a key solution to some of the challenges,” she said.

Dane Lewis, president of J-FLAG, on YouTube video in the "We Are Jamaicans" campaign.
Dane Lewis, president of J-FLAG

But this dialogue has not started in the homes for gay teens, as the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) Executive Director Dane Lewis said it is becoming an increasingly common practice for some parents to turn out their children when they self-affirm or are suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

“Every month we intervene in about 10 cases involving young persons, most of whom are young male adolescents, whose families have put them out because of their real or perceived sexual or gender identity,” Lewis said, adding that J-FLAG’s crisis intervention officer reports that there has been a significant increase in the number of cases since 2011. …

For more information, read the full article in the Sunday Observer: “Homelessness, rape and HIV.”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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