Eye on Jamaica: What does their struggle say about our own?

By |2018-01-16T07:03:09-05:00May 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|

Let’s face it: things just haven’t been the same since Nov. 2. A majority of our countrymen betrayed us. They made the wrong choice. They let us down. They succeeded in solidifying our second-class citizenship in no less than 11 states, and it’s been hard not to sulk and surrender to snowfalls of self-pity ever since. But you’ve heard the old adage, “I used to complain that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet?” Well, last week Metro Detroit met a couple of gay Jamaicans who had no rights, and it made those that we do have seem that much more precious to us.
Their names were Karlene and Gareth. They gave us no last names. They allowed us no photos. Neither was safe. They spend each day in their home country in fear; afraid that someone will find out who and what they are and beat them for it, possibly even kill them. They’ve lost countless friends. They’re aware that their own days may be numbered.
In Detroit as part of seven-city tour organized by Amnesty International, their stories are compelling reminders of how far we’ve come and, yes, even of how good we’ve got it. Detroit, Michigan, the Midwest region – we often take all of these areas for granted, but our out-of-town guests sure didn’t.
“I walked them around Ferndale and they talked about how it inspired them to see a store such as A Women’s Prerogative or a Just 4 Us,” said Kimya Ayodele, the community outreach coordinator for Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center. “That really put things in perspective for me because I often complain that’s there only one such store as A Women’s Prerogative and they have none.”
In Jamaica, there’s no real place that it’s safe to be openly gay. Homosexual sex is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and police are more likely to assist in harassing and attacking gays than to protect them from such treatment. Horrible, horrific and deplorable – conditions for Jamaica’s gays are all these things and more.
So what is the lesson in Karlene and Gareth’s story for us? Well, we think its twofold. First, we’re reminded of that other and quite similar old adage: the quickest way to forget about your problems is to listen to someone else’s. Americans need to not to turn a blind eye to the despicable treatment gays face in the so-called tropical paradise that is Jamaica. We urge you to turn to page seven to find out how you can make a difference. Write a letter to Jamaica’s prime minister and urge him to take action to stop the violence, send a donation to J-FLAG, Jamaica’s only gay rights organization and help them continue their crucial work. Do both of these things and encourage others to do the same, it’s the least we can do for our Jamaican brothers and sisters.
Second – and this is equally as imperative – let Karlene and Gareth’s story be a powerful reminder of not only how much we’ve accomplished, but of how far we’ve yet to go – and how essential it is that we never, ever become complacent.
“We’re really not that far removed and this whole situation is fluid,” said Johnny Jenkins, who moderated last week’s meeting, of the situation at home. “We could fall right in line with where they are.”
Let us make a commitment to never let that happen, and to remember when we’ve achieved full equality in this country that our work will still not be done. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We won’t be finished until LGBT people are recognized as full and equal citizens in every country in the world.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.