Kevin O'Brien Chang
It's incredible really. Prime Minister Bruce Golding gets grilled for half an hour on the BBC on a range of critical issues facing Jamaica. And all people here can talk about is one sentence - "Sure they [gays] can be in the Cabinet; not mine."
You would think a nation with one of the world's highest murder rates and debt to GDP ratios would be focused on its leader's plans to deal with these crucial problems. But, once more, this country's inexplicable obsession with homosexuality drowned out everything else.
The response on the road was a predictably unanimous - "Maximum props to the big man!" "Not in my Cabinet" is already a street slang staple. Whatever the media talking heads might say, folk on the ground saw nothing controversial about Mr Golding's statements. As one man remarked: "Then him could say anything else and come back to Jamaica?"
proud to be Jamaican
One well-educated woman put it this way: "I've previously never been a great admirer of Bruce Golding. But he really handled himself well in that interview, and made me proud as a Jamaican. And I respect how he stood up for his principles, no matter what the international fallout."
Given the national sentiments - polls show 93 per cent against repealing the buggery law - no Jamaican politician could have answered otherwise. Indeed, Mr Golding's response was not so different from Peter Phillips' in last year's general election debates. When asked about the fundamental rights of homosexuals, Dr Phillips said he did not consider those rights fundamental.
Like most Jamaicans, I grew up scorning homosexuals as disgusting perverts who should be run out of town whenever encountered. But now, older and theoretically wiser, I believe that people are who they are. What consenting adults do in privacy is their business and no one else's.
I don't like being told how to live my life. So, how can I justify telling others how to live theirs? And anyway, the more men who like men, well the more available women for those of us men who love women.
"If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a women, both ... shall surely be put to death," says Leviticus 20:13. But what about Leviticus 20:10? "And the man that commiteth adultery with another man's wife ... the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." Enforce this as law, and Jamaica would be uninhabited.
Homosexuality likely has both genetic and environmental components. Some men would probably have been gay in any circumstance. But others might have tendencies only manifested in certain contexts.
So, while I support the legalisation of homosexual relationships between consenting adults over 18, the law must make it as difficult as possible for predatory homosexuals to seduce vulnerable teenagers into a lifestyle not of their choosing. Which parent does not view the idea of their son being cajoled into homosexuality with horror?
Now, intellectually, I'm with Mark Twain - "I think I have no colour prejudices or caste prejudices nor creed prejudices ... All that I care to know is that a man is a human being - that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."
openly expressed homosexuality
But emotionally, I'm not. Like the majority of my countrymen, I have a problem with openly expressed homosexuality. What a man does in privacy is no one else's concern. But things like men 'wining up' with each other at carnival are fundamentally upsetting to my sensibilities, and to that of most Jamaicans. Irrational and unfair? Could be. Yet, every country has its socially determined norms. In some parts of Japan, the age of consent is 13. That does not give a visiting 13-year-old Japanese girl the right to have sex in Jamaica, where the age of consent is 16. Similarly, a man walking down the street shirtless causes no stir. A woman with her breasts exposed in public is liable to be charged with indecent exposure.
That a man could find another man more compelling than the Lord's loveliest creation is completely incomprehensible to me. As the Italians say, a beautiful woman is the strongest argument in favour of the existence of God. Or in Buju Banton's words:
"Woman is di greatest thing
God ever put pon di land,
Buju lovin dem from head
Down to foot bottom." To most males, there is something special about a woman bedecked in her perfumed and bejewelled finery. To see men dress like this and react to other men as we do to women disturbs the foundations of our emotional lives. Lesbianism, on the other hand, hardly bothers anyone.
All this applies to other countries. So why is the attitude towards homosexuality so different in Jamaica as compared to, say, Britain and the US? One answer is that Jamaica's view is not so different from the majority of mankind. When people like Rebecca Schleifer of the US-based Human Rights Watch says, "Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen," well, obviously, she hasn't seen very much.
Jamaica attracts especial opprobrium from gay right groups because of the worldwide popularity of our music that expresses all aspects of our culture, including the national homophobia. Now, preaching hate against any person or group can never be justified in any circumstance. So, dancehall artistes who advocate violence against homosexuals must be condemned. But their exaggerated lyrics hardly reflect how people really feel on this issue.
For it is not so much homosexuality that really upsets Jamaicans, but rather open displays of homosexuality. There are many public figures here widely suspected of being gay, but who are still spoken of and treated with the utmost respect. And rarely, if ever, is anyone here killed solely because they are gay. Lovers' spats and 'rough trade' disagreements are by far the leading causes of homosexual murder in Jamaica.
There is no comparison between our situation and that in places like Iraq and Iran, where suspected homosexuals are often summarily executed by state militias. In April 2006, Iraq's senior spiritual leader, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, issued a fatwa calling for the execution of gays in the "worst, most severe way".
In the few instances here of homophobic mob violence - such as at Tropical Plaza last year and at the Jamaica Carnival this year - the police have always protected the besieged homosexuals when called. And when foreign human rights activists cite P.J. Patterson being taunted at Opposition rallies with 'Chi Chi Man' songs as a sign of Jamaica's 'extreme' homophobia, well, they should remember Patterson never lost a general election.
Some amateur psychologists attribute Jamaica's homophobia in part to a widespread lack of real male confidence in a society where 85 per cent of children are born out of wedlock, and the vast majority of boys grow up without full-time male role models.
There may be something to this, since a man secure in his own sexuality is not bothered by the preferences of strangers. It would be interesting to see some serious academic research on the topic.
In his BBC interview, PM Golding talked about Jamaica's values adapting over time "to changing perceptions and to changing understanding as to how people live". Well, we certainly need to get over our obsession with homosexuality and start focusing on our real problems.
Homosexuality has zero impact on my life. What I want is a safe and secure Jamaica that is a good place to raise your children. What I want to hear my prime minister talk about is not buggery laws and gays, but DNA databases, gun and sex crime registries, mandatory sentencing, three strikes you're out, and building more prisons. Forget no gays in the Cabinet. How about less crime in my country?
Buju Banton ... Woman is di greatest thing God ever put pon di land. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer