Living in Sodom's Shadow: Essays on attitudes towards gay men and lesbians in the Commonwealth Caribbean

UoM administered thesis: Unknown

  • Authors:
  • Mahalia Jackman

Abstract

Over the last few decades, there has been a significant increase in the political and public acceptance of gay men and lesbians. However, this trend of acceptance is not a global phenomenon. Currently over 70 countries still criminalise private consensual same-sex intimacy, among which are 11 of the 12 independent Commonwealth Caribbean states. It should be noted that the anti-gay laws of the Caribbean are rarely used to police consensual private sexual activities. Thus, if private same-sex conduct is rarely penalised, why keep the laws in place, especially in the age where such bans are considered a violation of basic human rights? Many policy makers in the region have cited public opinions about homosexuality as a significant barrier to law reform. However, while a common view is that these laws are anchored by public support, very few studies have emerged to test whether the attitudes and behaviours of the general population are in line with this view. Against this backdrop, this thesis analyses attitudes towards lesbians and gay men and their legal rights in the Commonwealth Caribbean.The thesis begins with an analysis of support for the anti-gay laws in Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. The analysis revealed that a majority of the sample supported the maintenance and enforcement of the laws, but did not want same-sex couples to be penalised for having sex in private. This suggests that attitudes may not be as stark as policy makers suggest. The descriptive statistics also show that a significant share of individuals think that the laws (1) reflect moral standards; (2) stop the spread of homosexuality; (3) are important from a public health perspective, and (4) protect young people from abuse. Support for the laws are thus related to beliefs that homosexuality is a 'threat' to the fabric of society. The empirical analysis of support for the laws revealed that religiousness, interpersonal contact and beliefs about the origin of homosexuality were the most reliable predictors of public support. However, age and education were only statistically significant in a few models, and there was no evidence that attitudes varied across religious denominations. This is a contrast to the findings of studies in the West. It was hypothesised that macro-level factors - such as the large share of Evangelicals, anti-gay laws and level of socioeconomic development - could be exerting an influence on attitudes that is stronger than that of these personal characteristics. As such, the study conducted a cross-national analysis of attitudes towards same-sex marriage in 28 countries in the Americas, 6 of which were members of the Commonwealth Caribbean. In general, countries with higher levels of development, smaller shares of Evangelicals and more liberal laws on homosexuality were more approving of same-sex marriage. The results also suggest that the impact of age and/or religion is less prominent in countries with restrictions on same-sex intimacy, lower levels of development and a strong Evangelical presence, confirming the hypothesis that contextual factors could mitigate the impact of some of the individual-level variables. Finally, to get a nuanced view of anti-gay prejudice in the region, a thematic analysis of anti-gay speech in dancehall and reggae - music originating from Jamaica but popular in the region - was presented. The thematic analysis revealed that homosexuality is presented as 'sinful', a 'violation of gendered norms', 'unnatural', a 'threat to society' and a 'foreign lifestyle'. The presentation of homosexuality as a 'foreign' lifestyle suggests that anti-gay prejudice could be related to fears of neo-imperialism and could be a means of rejecting ideological intrusions from the West. This is not surprising, as currently, the fight for the advancement of gay rights is being headed by activists in the West. Based on the thematic analysis, efforts to remove the anti-gay laws should be (or at least appear to be) home-grown to limit public backlash. 

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2017