Jamaica youth minister to develop plans for LGBT homeless youth

Edited by Denis LeBlanc

LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)
LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)

The Jamaican Minister of Youth and Culture the Hon. Lisa Hanna announced on April 15 that the Youth Ministry is in the process of developing new services, initiatives and programmes to address the needs of Jamaica’s children and youth. These groups include youth with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues.

The announcement appeared Wednesday, April 16, on the Facebook page of the Jamaican Ministry of Youth and Culture. Regrettably there was no reference to any timeline for the implementation of these plans to help Jamaica’s very vulnerable LGBT youth.  I hope this is not just another political platitude, like the Jamaican P.M.’s 2011 campaign promise to call for a Parliamentary review of the anti-sodomy law.  On April 3, the PM stated that this review would not happen any time soon as it did not affect “the majority of Jamaicans who are poor.

I suspect the April 15 meeting called by the Youth Minister and the subsequent announcement were the result of the work being done by Dwayne’s House to bring local and international attention to the barbaric conditions under which Jamaican homeless LGBT youth are forced to live.  Some of these youngsters were kicked out as young as 10 years old and are now living in the sewers of the capital city, Kingston, where they sell sex to survive.

The Chair of Dwayne’s House, Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, gave a presentation to the Minister and others at Tuesday’s meeting and provided an update on what Dwayne’s House is doing to assist the homeless LGBT youth.  These interventions include providing food and clothing as well as, arranging for basic medical care and coordinating legal assistance (e.g., finding legal aid lawyers, paying some small fines and posting bail).

The following was posted April 16th on the Facebook page of the Jamaican Ministry of Youth:

Youth Ministry to develop programmes to address LGBT youth, homeless, destitute and vulnerable children

Kingston, April 15, 2013: The Minister of Youth and Culture the Hon. Lisa Hanna has disclosed that the Youth Ministry is now in the process of developing new services, initiatives and programmes to address the ever- changing and complex needs of today’s children and youth. This, she says is necessary, if the Government is to adequately and effectively address the challenges, concerns and needs of the different types of youth the Ministry serves.

These groups include, but are not limited to, Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender(LGBT) youth, Men who have sex with Men (MSMs) and youth with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues.

The Youth Minister was speaking at the Panos Caribbean Stakeholder Conference held at the Terra Nova Hotel this morning, April 15, 2014.

” As the Minister of Youth and Culture, I’m responsible for all children and this is not to dismiss the individual and specific challenges of any grouping but to make it clear that we will have to do away with the hypodermic needle approach and develop and implement targeted interventions for each grouping”

Minister Hanna explained that given the lack of data on LGBT youth, the stakeholder consultation is  not only timely but necessary as it will provide the Ministry with a better understanding  of what the issues are. Additionally, the consultation will identify workable solutions and best practices on how to care and protect those young people who are homeless, destitute and vulnerable especially those belonging to a sexual minority or who are viewed as ‘different’ in any way.

“Jamaica has to now understand the issues facing our children. It is not only our duty provide shelter and protection for those children who have been abandoned and abused but to also provide the therapeutic intervention to address the physical and psychological harm they have suffered.”

Minister Hanna says given the diversity of our youth population, it is clear that the Government will not only have to rethink how they plan, develop and implement programmes geared towards youth development but there will also have to be a ‘resetting’ of the mind and of the way in which we treat each other.

The Stakeholders Consultation was sponsored by Panos Caribbean in collaboration with the World Learning Organization and USAID and was attended by members of the Ministry and the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Children, Panos Caribbean, UNICEF, the Child Development Agency, OCR,Ministry of Health, Ministry of  Justice, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Education, Board-chair of the Maxfield Children’s Home, JFLAG, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network.

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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 [email protected]

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