THE EDITOR, Sir:
In The New York Times op-ed 'Who is Jamaica?', published on August 5, 2012, Professor Carolyn Cooper argues that our motto 'Out of Many, One People', "marginalises the nation's black majority by asserting that the idealised face of the Jamaican nation is multiracial".
While the motto is brandished as a slogan for our pluralistic national foundation, Cooper suggests it also speaks to an attempt to undermine the majority status of Afro-Jamaicans.
I would like to take the argument further, however, because I believe the emphasis on racial diversity privileges race as a marker of identity at the expense of other identifiers, such as gender and sexuality, religious background and social class.
My work as a researcher centres on the positioning of homosexual identity at the periphery of discourse on what it means to be Jamaican. The assumption that all Jamaicans are heterosexual, or should be, is implicit in conversations about homosexuality.
Desire for 'homo'-genuity?
People often say that if gay and lesbian Jamaicans don't feel they can live freely here, they should migrate. It is homosexuals who are expected to compromise, so our conception of Jamaican identity as heterosexual-only can be preserved.
While analysing public discourse on homosexuality, I found that gay-rights advocacy is often framed as an imposition, a crusade and a barefaced neocolonial attempt to force Jamaicans to be tolerant of homosexuality.
But tolerance for homosexuality has never been a foreign concept. Across our island, there are families and friends who never turned their backs on the homosexuals in their lives. They challenged their assumptions about homosexuality and eventually abandoned the intense hatred they were socialised to feel for gays and lesbians. They would be open about their experiences, too, if being tolerant of homosexuality wasn't so taboo.
As an openly gay Jamaican, my experience with the public and my experience with my family and friends are worlds apart. While I have endured harassment because of my sexual identity, every Jamaican I have come out to has been enormously supportive. People ask tactful questions and are never scornful or violent.
My sister was harassed in my hometown recently and one of the comments launched at her was, "It's bad enough your brother is gay, but it's worse that you support his nasty lifestyle."
You see, homosexuals are moral lepers. We are not to be tolerated or loved. Our malediction is of an alien sort, and some Jamaicans don't want it here.
But where are we to go? Jamaica is our home. And since Independence, we have played our part in the deve-lopment of this country.
Fifty years into Independence, we must pause to reflect on the national motto and what it means today.