Carolyn Cooper, Contributor
I suppose fundamentalist Christians in Jamaica would be horrified to discover that Tel Aviv is the most gay-friendly city in the world.
The children of Israel, whose business it is to develop tourism in the Holy Land, don't appear to take the book of Leviticus seriously, in particular chapter 20, verse 13: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
Instead of shedding gay blood, the government of Israel has invested a lot of money to attract the pink dollar. A rather successful marketing campaign has been launched to brand Tel Aviv as a gay paradise. Over the last several years, cultural ambassadors have been despatched to spread good tidings of great joy. And it has worked. Tel Aviv is the best place on earth to be a gay tourist, as reported last year by both American Airlines and GayCities.com.
The 20th anniversary of the city's Gay Pride Parade was celebrated on June 7. The event attracted more than 100,000 people, including over 20,000 tourists. The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, launched the parade, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Opposition Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, and Knesset member Dov Khenin were all in attendance. Top-level government backing!
STRAIGHT FROM HELL
Our own minister of tourism and entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill, ought to take a leaf out of the Israeli book, which, in this case, is not the Bible. Modern Israel is a secular state. Biblical abominations that threaten to undermine economic development are simply disregarded. In Jamaica, many of us take the Bible literally, word for word. And it's only the King James version that is sacred, with all its thees and thous and thou shalt nots. For many of us, the antiquated language of the 17th century is much more holy than modern English. And, as for our own Jamaican-language version of the Bible, that's coming straight from hell.
I don't expect that the minister of tourism and entertainment is prepared to launch a campaign to attract gay visitors to Jamaica. All the same, he must know that Jamaica's reputation as a country hostile to homosexuals is stopping many potential tourists, both gay and straight, from coming to the island. At the very least, the minister ought to be leading a campaign to set the record straight (and gay).
And it would be relatively easy. We just need to show the true face of Jamaica. I'm convinced that most Jamaicans know in their heart of hearts that the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of the Old Testament is completely outdated in the 21st century. The Bible-thumpers who preach hell and damnation in the language of Leviticus are in the minority, along with backward DJs and singers who foolishly disqualify themselves from getting visas to work abroad, let alone diplomatic passports.
SISTER P'S ELECTION PROMISE
Young people tend to be much more liberal about homosexuality than we might expect. A few days before the last general election, I went to Papine to collect my voter registration card. There were two young men working downstairs next to the electoral office. I had to laugh when one of them said, "Me just love p-p." Incidentally, that's another one of those words of West African origin that have become 'vulgar' in the diaspora.
I couldn't resist starting up a conversation with the youths. I asked, "Wa yu just seh?" The young man offered an apology for using the P-word. I told him it was OK. Since he was a self-proclaimed lover of female genitalia, I asked him what he thought of Sister P's election promise to free up homosexuals. His response was surprising. I can't remember his exact words, but it was close to this: "Miss, ah dem man have di money. An ah dem run tings. So wi ha fi lau dem. An from dem naa trouble mi, mi no business wid dem."
That about sums up the situation. This perceptive youth understands the economic power of the pink dollar. Indeed, if all of the gay movers and shakers at the highest levels of the public and private sectors in Jamaica were to come out of the proverbial closet, it would be a revelation to end all revelations. And many of them are already half in and half out. As I like to say, most Jamaican homosexuals are in the closet but the door is wide open!
The other key issue the young man raises is the possibility that he could be 'troubled' by a gay man. That's the deep-rooted fear that feeds homophobia in Jamaica. If we could persuade heterosexual men that homosexuals are not likely to prey on them, there would be a seisimic shift in the way the society responds to the call for gay rights. What this sensible young man's statement implies is that, as far as he's concerned, it's not his business to dictate anyone's sexual preference. Just don't trouble him.
That's where we need to get to as a society. And the Government of Jamaica must take the lead to create a culture of mutual respect. We cannot passively pray to God, asking him/her to "teach us true respect for all". We must act on our own. God helps those who help themselves. The first thing we need to do is to get rid of the buggery law. We are hanging on to a 1533 UK law that is even more ancient than the King James Version of the Bible.
In the 21st century, there can be no justification for this completely outdated law which has long been repealed in the UK. Jamaica's prime minister must keep her election promise on this contentious issue. It's not enough to say gays can be in her Cabinet. The closet of repression must be demolished. And it's not just about attracting gay tourists. We must make Jamaica a much more humane society for our own sake.
Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.