Gay Jamaicans give graphic description of anti-gay violence prevalent in their country

Jason A. Michael
By | 2018-01-16T16:32:07-04:00 May 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|

DETROIT – One website promoting tourism in Jamaica calls the Caribbean island “a country of sun-drenched beaches, warm tropical breezes and rich cultural heritage.” But if this description makes the former British colony sound like some sort of dreamy island paradise, for the gays and lesbians that call Jamaica home, life there is a nightmare of hostility and a hotbed of homophobia.
Last week, Detroiters heard firsthand of the anti-gay violence that’s a part of everyday life in Jamaica from Karlene and Gareth. Co-chairs of the Jamaica Forum of for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, the two spoke Feb. 9 at an open forum at Wayne State University. Fearing for their personal safety, they permitted no photos and asked that their last names not be used.
“It’s crazy,” said Karlene, 35. “LGBT people live in a sense of fear for their lives. We have been able to track these offenses and they’re numerous. We have no one to defend us. Our government does not even admit these offenses are happening much less defend us.”
It is reported that as many as 30 gays have been killed in Jamaica in the last seven years.
“The whole environment we live in in Jamaica is one we can describe as a soldier being at war,” said Gareth, 27. “We have to be constantly on our feet and constantly on guard. You can’t take for granted even if the person who is walking beside you is walking with a stick that you’re safe.”
In Jamaica, you can’t even assume that you’re safe in your own home. Last February, when a father in Kingston found photographs of nude men in his teenage son’s room, he drove to his son’s high school and encouraged his classmates to beat him. They did, brutally.
“They were intent on killing him,” the boy’s teacher told The Jamaica Observer. “They were like a pack of wild animals who had smelled blood and if it wasn’t for a staff member who jumped on top of him, you would be reporting on a mob killing.”
Gareth recalled another more personal incident that took place last summer.
“When one of our main activists died last year in June, at the murder scene there was a celebration,” he said. “People passed by and sang and rejoiced.”
For Jamaican gays, there is no protection. Homosexual sex is illegal in the country, and the police do little to protect gays from violence. A few years ago, Gareth’s neighbors told him they believed him to be gay and warned that if he didn’t leave the community that night his home would be torched.
“When I went to the police station to report the matter I was laughed at,” he said. “Gays and lesbians receive less of everything that is in a society. We do not get the same kind of service from the police department as everyone else.”
Karlene agreed.
“The police are not supporting us,” she said. “They, themselves, are the offenders.”
The government, which refuses to change the laws against gays, also offers no support, not even when pressured by outside agencies such as Amnesty International, which has been advocating on behalf of gays in the country for the past several years.
“When we attempt to speak to our politicians about these issues they don’t listen to us,” Gareth said. “And when we collaborate with international organizations our government says foreigners are trying to dictate to our sovereign nation what we can do.”
JFLAG has been trying since 1998 to improve matters for Jamaican LGBTS, but their options are limited. Last year the organization tried to place an ad in a Kingston newspaper but was refused on the grounds that the ad promoted illegal homosexual conduct. In literature the group produces, they must refrain from advertising their address, and callers must be heavily screened before receiving that information for fear their headquarters, which they share with a reputable HIV/AIDS organization, will be descended upon by would-be attackers.
“We get death threats on our telephone,” said Gareth. “The phone rings and you don’t’ know should I answer it.”
Gareth and Karlene both feel strongly that something must be done, but determining just what that something might be is the tricky part. Jamaica is a small country of just 2.6 million. Tourism represents 60 percent of the country’s gross national product and many of the gays and lesbians in the country depend on the tourism trade to put food on their tables. So an economic boycott of the country would likely have a negative impact on the very people it was aimed at protecting.
Regardless, on this point Gareth is clear.
“The bottom line is that something must be done,” he said. “Because I believe in what I’m doing, I’m not going to stop. What we’re now saying is enough is enough. We can’t take it anymore.”
He has seen many of his friends die throughout the years, and if his own life must be surrendered in the pursuit of justice for Jamaica’s lesbians and gays, Gareth said he is willing to give it.
“If it means that I have to die in the fight, I just have to die in it,” he said. “No one has the authority to me to dictate what I must be.”
Karlene is also willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause.
“There must be martyrs among us,” she said. “Whatever it takes, we’re going to do it.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.