Gays in US 'Boycott Jamaica'

Published: Wednesday | April 1, 2009


Sonia Mitchell, Gleaner Writer

A gay-rights lobby last week launched a Boycott Jamaica campaign in the United States city of San Francisco, discouraging patronage of the island's exports - particularly Red Stripe - to put pressure on government and private-sector interests to rein in a perceived rise in attacks on sex minorities.

The move was launched in the Harvey Milk Plaza - named after a gay-rights activist whose characterisation won Sean Penn the Best Actor Oscar in February.

Michael Petrelis, campaign organiser, told The Gleaner Monday that the catalyst for the campaign was a US State Department report, published in February, citing an escalation of violent attacks against homosexuals in Jamaica.

Petrelis said neither the Govern-ment of Jamaica nor the police had exhibited a commitment to protect gays or encourage tolerance of sex minorities.

Aims to spread message

Though not providing specific figures on the size of its movement, Petrelis said the group aimed to spread its message in other US cities such as New York and Chicago.

The boycott has targeted Red Stripe beer, mainly because of the product's international prominence, Petrelis said. The group is bidding to cut sales of Red Stripe beer in gay bars and restaurants in San Francisco within 30 days. Twelve such establishments have assented to the boycott, Petrelis said. The Gleaner could not immediately verify if Red Stripe products had indeed been pulled.

Petrelis said his group would also dissuade Americans from holidaying in Jamaica. Tourism is one of the island's foreign-exchange gold mines.

A meeting between the lobbyists and Dr Newton Gordon, honorary consul of Jamaica for San Francisco, has been scheduled for next Tuesday.

J-flag deplores boycott

However, Jason McFarlane, programmes manager at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), said it deplored the boycott, particularly because Red Stripe had withdrawn support from entertainers - particularly of the dancehall genre - who promoted violence against gays.

"We had spoken to them not to go ahead with the boycott when they first contacted us last week, but they went ahead despite our response," McFarlane told The Gleaner.

Meanwhile, Maxine Whittingham- Osborne, head of corporate relations at Red Stripe, said the company was surprised by the gay advocates' apparent random targeting.

"Over the years, by our actions and our policies, we have demonstrated that we do not advocate any bias or prejudice against any individual or group(s)," she said yesterday.

Whittingham-Osborne said Red Stripe had not had any consultations with the group, but did not rule out engaging them in discussions. She declined comment on whether the company was considering legal proceedings against the boycotters.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding earlier this year said his government would not repeal its buggery laws. Attempts yesterday to contact local police about whether attacks on gays had increased were unsuccessful.

sonia.mitchell@gleanerjm.com