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Jamaica not as homophobic as portrayed

Published:Thursday | July 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Jaevion Nelson

Two senior journalists - Gary Spaulding of The Gleaner and Karyl Walker of the Jamaica Observer - made some salient points at the press conference which was held last month by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition about the portrayal of Jamaica as a rabidly homophobic place.

We supposedly come from and live in "the most homophobic place on earth". However, while there are scales to measure the people's negative attitudes towards non-heterosexuals, there is no real or accepted way - as far as I know - to determine if or how homophobic a country is.

What makes a country the most homophobic? Is it the murder of LGBT people (in one of the most murderous countries worldwide)? The impunity perpetrators enjoy (which is not uncommon to any one incident)? Is it the number of LGBT people who have had to seek refuge abroad? Is it the stories they tell (this is really what Karyl was getting at)? Is it the existence of an antiquated legislation that peers into the bedroom of consenting adults or the strident activism of an anti-gay movement that seeks to limit the rights and dignity of LGBT Jamaicans?

Unfortunately, what many people know about Jamaica is violence and that is often limited to homophobia. In 2012, I met a young man in York, England, who was terminally ill and had not been out of his house much in the last few years. He felt empowered to apprise me of how, in Jamaica, there is nothing but machete-wielding mobs lynching gay men. I tried desperately to convince him that there is another reality - not for everyone - but I was seemingly inept at doing so. Apparently, I didn't know what I was talking about. I've met so many others like this young man man who believe being LGBT in Jamaica is a death sentence.


I am not denying that many Jamaicans who are or perceived as LGBT are not subject to hostility on a daily basis. I'm not denying that many have had to seek refuge abroad or that a great many living in Jamaica aren't dying for an opportunity to escape. Many LGBT Jamaicans I know are imprisoned with fear and extremely anxious about being a victim of anti-gay hostility or violence. However, there are many who do not identify with the horrific stories that are told every day. I wish foreigners could hear this reality, too.

It doesn't help that we have been inundated with news reports and documentaries of people who have been harassed, beaten, displaced, made homeless, and murdered, among other things, over the last 10 years or so. There is a large community of LGBT people living in the gully in New Kingston. Almost a year ago, a homeless young man, Dwayne Jones, was murdered for not dressing as a biological male. This year, Tiana Miller, who is transgender, was denied entry into a soca party because the security said, "No cross-dressers are allowed".

However, in the middle of the hoopla, there is growing resistance - a fascinating resilience that shows Jamaicans are committed to working towards engendering the kind of society we want to live in and enjoy as human beings with dignity and with rights.

Many people have been enlisting themselves in a protest; are actively engaged in a movement that sees everyone as equal - that says sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression does not determine how we treat each other.

There is progress and we must acknowledge it. We must promote this as a sort of passive resistance to the stereotype about Jamaica. There is value in ensuring that LGBT people, especially those who are young, are not victims of our insatiable appetite for the most horrific of gay experiences. And I am not saying there is no value in sharing these stories, but they can be inimical to our efforts, in that they can further imprison people and keep them in the shadows. I am not suggesting homo-negativity is a thing of the past in Jamaica, but proffering that there is a complexity; a multifaceted process that requires our appreciation to move forward with dignity and right.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.