Guest editorial

We didn’t need the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) to tell us that there is an economic and psychological cost to the discrimination that the Jamaican society practises against a not-insignificant portion of its members who happen to be gay or do not conform to what self-assigned cultural apparatchiks, the religious right and demagogues deem to be sexual norms.

What CAPRI has done is to actually quantify the impact, which turns out to be great. In other words, it’s expensive to be wrong, and that cost, in the case of Jamaica, is borne not only by the zealots, but by all of us.

The rule of thumb is that around 10 per cent of a society is likely to be gay, or have preferences other than heterosexual relationships. In Jamaica, such persons, especially gay men, if they come out, are shunted to the margins of society, where they suffer discrimination and stigma, and, possibly, punishment by the law. For anal sex, a primary form of intimate relationship between men who have sex with men, is a crime, for which persons can get long jail terms.

Discrimination and stigma, with the fear of legal jeopardy, push many gays underground. They are unlikely to, at the rate of the general population, know their status for sexually transmitted disease, like HIV/AIDS, and are therefore less likely to get treatment, with the danger of passing the virus to sexual partners. That adds to the cost of treating the disease and its wider economic impact.

It is increasingly claimed in Jamaica that discrimination against gays is more perception than fact. But CAPRI found that more than half (54 per cent) of employers wouldn’t hire an openly gay person, while a third (35 per cent) said that discovery would be reason for dismissal. It is not unreasonable to assume that talented, qualified persons either remain in the closet for the sake of their jobs or find themselves in ­positions where their skills are underutilised. Some ­emigrate and are lost to the economy.

It is not surprising, in the circumstances, that CAPRI found that 69 per cent of the LGBTQ community suffers from mental-health issues, which is more than triple the rate of the general population. So, not only do a higher proportion of gays need mental-health treatment, when they get it, it’s mostly more ­expensive private care.

The cost of anti-gay discrimination isn’t just what LGBTQ people have to fork out for services. It is also the opportunity cost of the misalignment of resources, of not having people doing the jobs they are capable of, and of gays and their sympathisers shunning Jamaica as a tourist destination for fear of discrimination. Even without a complete toting up of the full impact, CAPRI estimates that anti-gay discrimination costs Jamaica about J$11 billion a year, which is around half of one per cent of the value of total economic output.

But there is an even greater cost – that of a diminution of our humanity. In diminishing others, we diminish ourselves. There is no elevation in claiming direction from a vengeful, Old Testament God, or hiding behind anachronistic laws left by colonial powers, who have themselves dispensed with the venality of the State as voyeur, peeping into people’s bedrooms to, as the fundamentalist Christians and fellow travellers presume is commanded, determine sexual practices.

It is right for human beings to love who they will and to express that love, physically or otherwise, as they will, without the commissars of virtue attempting to dictate their behaviour in the privacy of their bedrooms.

That is why Jamaica should repeal Clause 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act that makes buggery illegal, followed by an amendment of the section of the Constitution that limits marriage to being between one man and one woman.

—Courtesy the Jamaica Gleaner

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