Creating safe space for sexual minorities: pioneering a formal approach to LGBT student peer-support and advocacy at a Caribbean regional university based in Jamaica
Issues: The Caribbean is second to Sub-Saharan Africa in HIV infection rates, with HIV-risk being highest among 15-29 year olds. Sexual minorities in Jamaica face isolation, stigma, discrimination and violence, and mal-adaptation to such continuous psychosocial stressors increases health risk, including HIV risk. We share the experience of an LGBT support and advocacy group at the Jamaica campus of the University of the West Indies, a Caribbean regional university. Despite recently developed policies on HIV/AIDS and sexual harassment, the university is yet to develop specific policies addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Description: The group started in October 2006, to provide a positive, self-affirming, safe environment in which sexual minorities can share their concerns, views and creative ideas. The aim of the group is to combat prejudice, stigma and discrimination through dialogue and education, facilitating greater inclusion of LGBT issues in the university curriculum and policies. By December 2007 the initial group of 4 had grown to 25 staff and students (about 90% males), and has the support of a staff advisor.
Achievements: Members are also active participants in HIV/AIDS and Human Rights related initiatives outside the university, an important asset in forming useful networks, including other campuses. The group has been providing important peer-support to the campus’ LGBT community, who report frequent interpersonal conflicts over sexuality issues within and outside the university.
Lessons learned: Meetings are held regularly, despite security concerns, which are partially addressed by alternating venues. The group has also met with the University’s leadership, seeking support to formalize its establishment, however, this was not recommended.
Next steps: The group will continue to provide peer-support and promote wellness among its target group, including HIV prevention initiatives. It will also seek to reduce stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including lobbying for policy change.
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