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SFU teams with Jamaican delegation to fight homophobia

November 28, 2012
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By Amy Robertson

In the week leading up to World AIDS Day, SFU Continuing Studies is co-hosting a delegation from Jamaica for a knowledge exchange designed to promote gay men's health and fight stigma and discrimination against Men who have Sex with Men (MSM).

The exchange, which began on November 26, will culminate in a free public forum at SFU's Vancouver campus on World AIDS Day on December 1. The forum will include a screening of the Dr. Peter Diaries documentary and a panel discussion.

The Jamaican delegation includes five journalists; two policy-makers; and a representative from PANOS Caribbean, an organization that works to magnify the voices of marginalized people. They will spend the week in Vancouver meeting with Vancouver stakeholders, including members of the SFU community and the media, as well as representatives from all levels of government, the United Church of Canada, InSite, the Vancouver Police Department, the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, and other groups.

“This initiative is an important way for SFU and Vancouver to highlight and celebrate what we've done right, and to explore some areas where we're still struggling,” said Shanthi Besso, who coordinates SFU Continuing Studies’ Community Education Program.

“Homophobia still exists here in very real ways, and this knowledge exchange opens up opportunities to really explore the distance that we as an institution and a city still need to go, while showcasing some very effective strategies for strengthening responses to issues that have impacted gay men's health, especially stigma and discrimination.”

SFU is partnering with the Vancouver Initiative for the exchange, which is based on a previous exchange with SFU and a delegation from Haiti.

Jean-Claude Louis, the delegation's PANOS representative, said he hopes the delegation will see how members of Vancouver’s LGBTQ community are increasingly accepted and supported by the church, the health care system, and the government, and then share what they see via their local media outlets.

Homophobia decreasing, but still rampant in Jamaica

In Jamaica, being gay is criminalized. Gay men are routinely discriminated against, isolated, and attacked.

Gareth Henry, a Jamaican gay man who sought asylum in Canada in 2008, testifies to the dangers gay men face in his home country.

In October 2012, he told the Guardian that many of his friends have been killed because of their sexual orientation, and that on three different occasions he was beaten by police officers. He says he met with politicians and officials to complain, but got no response. The situation escalated, and Henry feared for his life.

"I was able to get out just in time, but there are many other young men who are faced with the same threats and are not able to leave home and find a safe haven,” he said.

The World AIDS Day forum on December 1 is free and open to the public, but we recommend registering online.