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Addressing homophobia and the decriminalisation of sex work: Discussion

Working with existing opportunities

Working within universities was discussed and seen as a matter of finding possibilities for change without pushing issues so hard that people shut down. At the University of West Indies groups of gay men and lesbians who have come together and formed their own groups, but many lecturers were reluctant to focus on such issues.

Engaging the police

Engaging the police and the law presented some opportunities. One participant recounted an incident in Australia where four young men went to jail for beating a gay man to death, which led to a school education programme discouraging homophobic violence, In Jamaica, some groups had lobbied the police on that basis that they should protect all citizens. After initial reluctance, there had been some progress in appealing in this way to the police’s ‘professionalism’, but there was still a long way to go.

Finding the right language

Discussion turned to how to engage the church, and the possibility of arguing against discrimination in terms of Christian values. In Jamaica, where the Church is very strong, policy is often judged through the lens of what is ‘godly’ and religion can be moralistic and condemnatory, this could be dangerous tactic. Another example from Sydney showed that presenting Gay Mardi Gras in terms of economics and its positive contribution softened attitudes in the city. Returning to the recent Jamaican example of taxing sex work – this could be an opportunity to give sex workers a voice, but also a minefield, since arguments linked up with the strong Jamaican notion of ‘tax cheats’ and everyone has an opinion on whether or not sex workers should be taxed and arguments could easily turn. The debate in itself was a sign of progress however. Finding ways to present work for the rights of gays in a positive way was difficult in Jamaica, but a constant ongoing battle.

The challenge of evaluation

One challenge for this kind of work was evaluation. Given the work joined up different campaigns and supported different groups to share and learn from each other – in this case the sex work campaigns learned a lot from the work on homosexuality – it was hard getting donors to agree on indicators, and thus hard to present to donors.

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Key facts

This blog is part of the Spark discussion Addressing homophobia and the decriminalisation of sex work.
This discussion includes:
-Intro: Addressing homophobia and the decriminalisation of sex work
-The role of media and social change

Read more about the Spark project and other discussions