In Jamaica there has been a strong link in the public mind between HIV and homosexuality. This is probably because when the epidemic first hit in the United States it was seen as a gay disease. While it did first emerge within the white, middle class gay community there, and many of the early advocates for care and prevention were gay men, the virus is not limited to the gay population. This is evident from the fact that in the United States today, the epidemic of new infections is largely concentrated among heterosexual African-Americans and Latino Americans.The stigma of homosexuality that lingers in Jamaica however continues to undermine efforts to control the spread of infection. Many who feel it is a homosexual illness refuse to be tested or reject messages about the importance of practicing safer sex behaviors and practices. When someone tests positive, especially a man, they run the risk of being subjected to scrutiny about the sexual orientation that can lead to the disruption or breaking of important ties with family and community.
Homophobia, like other forms of hateful discriminations divides society and turns one group against another, creating a climate in which the virus can spread unchecked. Homophobia prevents the communication that is vital to stemming the tide of the epidemic. This affects not only men who have sex with men, but also the larger society of which we are all a part.
HIV combined with homophobia means that:
Some heterosexual men refuse to be tested or practice safe sex because they believe HIV is a homosexual illness
Some heterosexual women may not ask the men to wear a condom because they think that would mean their man is sleeping with other men
Some bisexual men may refuse to wear a condom because the fear being accused by their female partners of being gay
People testing positive may be shunned and gossiped about because they are assumed to be MSM
People who are MSMS are terrified to come forward or access safer sex information that is appropriate to the types of sex they have.