KINGSTON, Jamaica — When Angeline Jackson and a friend were ambushed at gunpoint and sexually assaulted on a wooded trail outside the Jamaican capital, police initially seemed less concerned about the attack than the fact she is a lesbian.
“The first policewoman I spoke to told me I should leave this lifestyle and go back to church,” Jackson recalled of the 2009 attack, shaking her head in frustration.
It is an attitude all too common on the island, where gay rights activists say homosexuals suffer pervasive discrimination and occasional attacks. Activists say some LGBT people have even been the victims of brutal sexual assaults intended to force them into becoming heterosexual or punish them for not fitting societal norms.
Jackson says she was targeted by a small group of anti-gay rapists who posed as lesbians on an Internet chatroom and lured the two women to the remote footpath. The response to her attack inspired Jackson to take action. Now, the 25-year-old woman directs Jamaica’s only registered organization for lesbians and bisexual women.
Jamaica has long had a reputation for intolerance of male homosexuality, with many on the island seeing it as a moral perversion imported from abroad. But the stigma against Jamaican homosexual women and the underreported crime of targeted sexual assault of lesbians is receiving growing attention.
Last year, Vice President Joe Biden mentioned Jamaica’s struggle with “corrective rape for lesbian women” while speaking about global gay rights. The phrase emerged years ago in South Africa where attacks targeting lesbians have occurred again and again in predominantly poor neighborhoods.
Article continues belowEarlier this month, President Barack Obama singled out Jackson’s advocacy during his 24-hour visit to Jamaica, telling a crowd that she courageously chose to speak out even though “as a woman and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side.”
With a population of less than 3 million, few incidents of sexual attacks are reported to LGBT activists. The island’s main gay rights group, J-FLAG, has documented several cases over the years and Jackson’s burgeoning organization has heard of about a dozen.
The scope of the problem is impossible to gauge with accuracy in Jamaica. There’s no clear definition of what constitutes a hate crime and police do not specifically record threats or sexual attacks targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.