It wasn’t a gay march!

JASL clears air on inaugural tolerance walk for People Living with Aids

BY HORACE HINES Observer West reporter

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Westmoreland– The Jamaica Aids Support for Life (JASL) organisation has come under fire following last week’s staging of its inaugural tolerance walk in support of People Living With Aids (PLWAs).

Initial reports that the walk from Montego Bay’s Howard Cooke Boulevard to the Dump Up Beach was successful turned ugly hours later with news that anti-homosexual elements were abusing and harassing the participants.

“It is alleged that some houses between St Ann and St Mary where some of the persons came from, were stoned. But we are yet to get more details on that. There were persons from Mandeville and the St Ann area who were verbally abused. Some of our sex workers have been harrassed… they say people have accused them of marching in support for gays,” said Devon Cammock, prevention, treatment and care co-ordinator and chapter manager for Jamaica Aids Support for Life, Montego Bay.

According to Cammock, the prevailing stigma that the JASL is a gay organisation, ” is going to hurt persons especially those who need help”.

“Our major focus is minority groups because they are the most vulnerable to HIV and Aids and based on the feedback we are getting from the number of persons coming in to us, it was evident we had to do something. Part of what we needed to do in our ongoing campaign about stigma and discrimination was atolerance walk”. JASL works with members of the marginalised communities. We work with sex workers, we work with men who have sex with men, we work with hearing impaired, we work with we work with people in general,” he said adding that the participants were ‘marching for their own rights’.

Among the groups that participated in the walk were:

* The Jamaica Red Cross;

* The Sex Workers Association of Jamaica,

* The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians and Gays (JFLAG);

* Women for Women (WFW) and persons living with HIV.

Nancy Wilson, the openly gay leader of the Metropolitan Community Churches also participated.

Sharlene Kessna Duncans who also works with JASL told the Observer West that persons are now reluctant to visit the JASL office in Montego Bay to be tested, for fear of being accused of being a homosexual.

“They think they are going to a gay organisation, people don’t want to come no more. They think that Jamaica Aids Support is not just HIV, it is a gay thing, but JASL is for everyone,” she said.