Tue | Aug 11, 2020

Ghenete Wright Muir | Same-sex couples deserve the same rights

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2020 | 12:07 AM

A person wears Pride-themed boots as they await the start of a queer-liberation march for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality on Sunday, June 28, 2020, in New York.
A person wears Pride-themed boots as they await the start of a queer-liberation march for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality on Sunday, June 28, 2020, in New York.

I had a long and challenging journey to acceptance and would love to see Jamaica embark on that journey. As a teenager growing up in Jamaica, I had similar sentiments to many reading this article.

I believed it was wrong to be gay.

I was disgusted and angry about anything to do with what we referred to as homosexuality. After learning that my close friends were gay many years ago, I finally opened my mind to the possibility that I was wrong, that gay people were just like anyone else and deserved the same rights — which include consenting adults being able to marry the person they love, regardless of gender.

I was five years old when my parents decided to return home after decades of living abroad. They packed up our home in the Bronx, New York, and made Jamaica my new home.

Growing up in Hope Pastures, I was a typical tomboy — climbing trees, playing football with the boys, and riding my bicycle on the road. At school, I wanted to be on the football team, and I didn’t want to do ballet — the horror! And, even though I cannot claim victory, my parents strongly supported me. Those gender-based battles were my first experiences with any form of discrimination. My parents, however, faced a great deal of racial discrimination while in the US.

I was about eight years old when I told my dad I wanted to return to America. He firmly pointed out that America wasn’t the best place for me. He explained that America will never truly embrace me, that Jamaica is my home and will always love and welcome me.

It was also around that age that my parents told me that our close family friend, Aunt Adriana, was a lesbian and that there was nothing wrong with it. Meanwhile, at school, we teased and accused children of being gay, or ‘funny’. When I became a teenager, dancehall music made it clear that everything was wrong with being gay. And that was the last thing any of us wanted to be.

I returned to New York at 15, where I finished high school and later attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. It was there that I had to defend the homophobic beliefs I adopted in Jamaica. When I reached for religion, it wasn’t logical, especially since I had absolutely no concerns about other sins in the Bible, like fornication or adultery. But this one ‘sin’ was singled out, and my culture was consumed by it. Why were we spending so much energy on hating this group of people?

I was about 20 years old when my close friends, twin brothers, Jamaicans as well, came out as gay. I was confused and angry and felt betrayed, but I loved them both, and their sexuality could not allow me to stop loving them. That started my journey to acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Before leaving Jamaica, I had attended Campion College, where I met David I. Muir and we fell in love. Years later, he joined me in New York, where we got married and started our family. When I discovered that I was attracted to women, it threatened my whole existence. Here I was, a law student, a wife to a man I love, mother to a baby boy ... and a lesbian. How could I reconcile these conflicts? For a while, I didn’t. I told David but remained his wife. Our marriage thrived for years; we had a second son and eventually moved to Fort Lauderdale. When the boys were teenagers, our marriage began to shift, and we agreed to end it. Through this tumultuous journey, David remains my greatest ally.

FIRST CONVERSATION

My first conversation about same-sex marriage was with a girlfriend. We actually wondered why it was even necessary. I attended a panel about LGBTQ rights and became aware that the fight for marriage equality was not just about love — it was also about all the protections and benefits that come with the marriage. Many people don’t even think about the benefits being able to marry affords them, such as the right to make health decisions for each other, hospital visitations, access to family health insurance, pensions, inheritance rights, and more.

Jamaica’s Constitution specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. Section 18 (2) of the charter provides, “No form of marriage or other relationship referred to in Subsection (1), other than the voluntary union of one man and one woman, may be contracted or legally recognised in Jamaica.” Attorney and LGBTQ activist Maurice Tomlinson has petitioned the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) as the ban violates articles of the American Convention of Human Rights. Tomlinson has asked IACHR to recommend that the Jamaican Government repeal the ban and allow Jamaican same-sex spouses to be recognised under the law.

This ban denies same-sex couples in Jamaica the fundamental human right of marriage. It also presents a great challenge to married couples living abroad who would like to come back to Jamaica. Tomlinson, himself, wants to move from Canada with his husband and return home to help take care of his elderly parents. A major deterrent is that his marriage will not be recognised there.

In addition, we are very aware of the hostility and danger the LGBTQ community faces in Jamaica — the sweeping discrimination, the verbal and physical abuses, and the violence that often goes unchecked. We remember 16-year-old Dwayne Jones, brutally murdered by a mob, no justice served. We know Angeline Jackson-Whitaker, who became an LGBTQ activist after being viciously raped by a group of men, no justice served.

I travelled to Jamaica twice with my girlfriend for Montego Bay Pride. Within the confines of the event, we felt safe. But otherwise, we had to be careful and conscious of ourselves as lesbians. I present masculine, so a friend suggested I opt for blouses rather than my handsome button-down shirts. I couldn’t compromise on that, but I ensured that we didn’t show any signs of affection in public.

I have several friends who refuse to visit Jamaica — the lack of rights, the lack of respect and love for our community tell us we are not safe, we are not protected.

I ask Jamaica to open your mind, work on learning more about your LGBTQ community, and speak up to stop discrimination against your fellow Jamaicans. We need to be treated with respect and dignity and have equal rights. I know it’s not easy to go against what you’ve so passionately believed. But that belief is hurting people unnecessarily. I want Jamaica to be the country that my late father had such unwavering faith in, a country that will always welcome me, love me, and give me the equal rights I deserve.

Ghenete ‘G’ Wright Muir is a law professor, LGBTQ advocate, and writer living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Send feedback to mobaypride@gmail.com.