Michael Abrahams | Gay pride? What the hell is that?
This week, members of Jamaica’s LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community are celebrating Pride Week.
Many years ago, before the term LGBT became fashionable, and the focus was mainly on gay members of that community, I would hear about gay pride, and my reaction would be “What is there to be proud of? Why be proud of being a weirdo? A deviant? An outcast?” That was then, before I began to understand the struggles members of that community face.
Now, after years of befriending, looking after and working with members of the LGBT community, I get it. Not only do I get it, but I support it. Living a happy life can be a challenge for members of that community in Jamaica.
Firstly, they live in a country that does not even begin to understand the meaning of human rights. In 2008, during an interview with Stephen Sackur on the BBC programme Hard Talk, then prime minister Bruce Golding openly stated that he would not tolerate any gays in his cabinet. By saying this, he legitimized job discrimination against gays in this country. His statement suggested that sexual orientation took precedence over attitude, aptitude, qualifications, competence and experience. It was an asinine and bigoted thing to say. What I also found to be disturbing, was the fact that there was no public outcry. Most Jamaicans appeared to be okay with what the prime minister said, and life went on.
I recall speaking with a Christian lady in a café about Mr Goldings remarks, and she fully supported him, using her religious beliefs to bolster her argument. During our discussion, I asked her if she had ever had a conversation with a gay person about their sexuality and she replied, with a scornful look on her face “No! Why would I want to do that?”
Which brings me to another point. Jamaican LGBT folks live in a society that is obsessed with human sexuality, but does not understand it, or even try to. Many people insist that queer folk choose to be the way they are, when research will tell you otherwise. They will insist that “nobody is born gay” when they really do not know. They will also insist that prayer will cure homosexuality and that the “affliction”is the result of demon possession, which is utter nonsense.
The ignorance and lack of empathy is glaring, even among the educated. I recall attending a session at a Medical Association of Jamaica symposium a few years ago. The topic for discussion was HIV and ethics, and the panel consisted of a medical doctor, a Roman catholic priest and a lawyer. I arrived during the priest’s presentation, during which he said that he disagreed with the LGBT community being referred to as “a vulnerable community” because “we are all vulnerable”. I was disappointed that he posited that opinion, despite knowing that LGBT persons in our country are marginalized and discriminated against.
The medical doctor, an outspoken Christian who heads a coalition for a “healthy society”, and is obsessed with anal sex and its risks, used the opportunity to embark on a rant and insult and denigrate the LGBT community, at one point claiming that “the society has a vested interest in a penis in a vagina”. During the question and answer session, the denigration continued. A surgeon went up to the mic and spoke about a woman delivering an 8lb baby through her vaginaand asked us to “imagine that coming through an anus”. There was laughter from the gathering. Another gave us some “homework” and told us to go home and stick a finger in our anus, and then in our mouth, adding “that is what homosexuals do”. Again, there was laughter from sections of the audience. The ballroom at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel was filled to capacity, mainly with medical practitioners, but only me and one other colleague approached the mic to challenge the homophobic and insulting comments being spewed from the bully pulpit and defend our LGBT brothers and sisters.Based on the large number of attendees, I knew that there must have been several LGBT persons in the crowd, and I wondered how they must have felt. Interestingly, not long after the symposium, the priest was attacked and injured by a man who caught him having sex with his wife, demonstrating that a penis in a vagina can be risky as well.
I feel it for LGBT folks in Jamaica. Many of our teachers and lecturers, chefs, fashion designers, entertainers and members of our security forces are queer, and we do not even know it.They educate us and our children, prepare our food, design and make our clothes, entertain and protect us, and we turn around and debase, reject and abuse them.
For LGBT people, pride is not just about being proud of who they are. It is about not allowing others to cause them to be ashamed of their orientation or who they identify as. It is about not allowing others to define them based on their sexuality. It is about validating their relationships as being as legitimate as those of cisgender heterosexuals.
Happy Pride Week to the Jamaican LGBT community.