By Jaevion Nelson
FOR SOME strange reason we have concluded that retaining the buggery law can prevent people from being born homosexual. On top of that, we want nothing to do with homosexuality but talk about it, usually expressing disparage, at every waking moment in songs, political speeches, and sermons. In Jamaica, your (gay or lesbian) sexual orientation is an axis on which grave discrimination and even violence occurs but the commonplace homophobia is often denied.
In a contribution in the Winter 2010 edition of Americas Quarterly Magazine, entitled 'The Advocate', I highlighted that "the dominant heterosexual culture [in Jamaica] continues to breed intolerance, revealed in inadequate public policies" and laws to all sectors of society including educational and religious institutions.
Notwithstanding the antipathy which exists, more and more Jamaicans are becoming open about their sexual orientation. Many people see persons they think are homosexual - usually effeminate males and 'masculine' females - and conclude that we are not homophobic. People who are opposed to constitutional provisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seemingly think their brothers and sisters who are non-heterosexual are not deserving of being called Jamaican.
Nothing could be more ludicrous. How can this be so when so many LGBT people are active participants in the development of Jamaica. As my friend Javed Jaghai, an openly gay Jamaican, said, "if every gay person working in mass media, law, government, banking and insurance, tourism and the performing arts were to take a year-long leave of absence tomorrow, their sudden departure would send tremors through the various sectors."
Regrettably, LGBT people's contribution to our national vision to make Jamaica a developed country by 2030 will never truly materialise with the distinctions which currently exist in our society about the respect for one set of people over another. The majority of a subsample of businesspeople in the 2012 National Survey on Homophobia revealed they would not readily hire a gay or lesbian person. It is my hope that all Jamaicans will recognise and appreciate that a country is enriched when it reaches out to all its citizens, enshrines the dignity of all and celebrates diversity. A contrary approach, which criminalises those who do no harm to others, makes outcasts of some and narrows the definition of who is truly Jamaican.
It is my firm belief that more must be done and can be done to achieve our national vision to ensure that the "Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just" by promoting tolerance and respect for human rights and freedoms, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, disability or health status.
Contribution to development
Importantly, despite what appears to be widespread fear of and dislike for homosexuals in Jamaica, many respondents in the National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions to Same-sex Relationships, conducted in 2010 by Professor Ian Boxill, readily point out that persons who are homosexual make an important contribution to the society. Most Jamaicans believe that homosexuals are and can be productive members of society. They conceded, on some level, that many homosexuals are 'normal' and that they may be interacting with us every day and not know our sexual orientation.
As Jamaicans, we should all lend our support to human rights advocacy so our Government can demonstrate leadership and protect members of the LGBT community. Already, a third of Jamaicans believe they aren't doing enough in this regard. We must take important steps to make Jamaica the country for people to live, work, raise families and do business. We should ensure that the Jamaican law is based on the concepts of inclusivity and dignity, and on an appreciation of contemporary science on human sexuality, not on prejudice, fear and misinformation.
This is achievable given that the Government has on more than one occasion committed itself to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity from human-rights abuses at the regional and international levels. These commitments encourage us to condemn, and take steps to address, all areas of human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We have already articulated the need to address human rights violations throughout Vision 2030, the national development plan.
As J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, has said, "We must commit to rebuild this great nation on the principle of understanding ourselves and fellow men and women. Each of us should invest in promoting equality ... Gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian, JLP or PNP, let us use our talents and resources for the betterment of our country."
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.