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Gay Jamaican challenges anti-sodomy laws

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Jamaican gay rights activist Javed Jaghai has decided to challenge his country's anti-sodomy laws after his landlord allegedly evicted him from his home because of his sexual orientation, according to media reports.

According to The Washington Blade, AIDS-Free World filed the complaint with the Jamaica Supreme Court on Jaghai's behalf.

“We can sit patiently while our humanity is denied and wait for the paradigm to shift in a generation or two, or we can aggressively agitate for change now. I choose to do the latter,” Jaghai says in a Facebook posting cited by The Blade.

The court is due to hear the complaint June 25.

Jaghai features in an anti-homophobia video campaign entitled We are Jamaicans spearheaded by the advocacy group Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG). 

In November, Jaghai was interviewed on Jamaican television about gay identity and the challenges gays face in the Caribbean country.

Asked by the host about the "difficult decision" to speak up about gay rights, Jaghai says that when people talk about gay identity on the island, it remains at the abstract level, with people rarely claiming the experience. "We take away the power of our stories when we make them abstract," he argues. "For my own sake, for my own rights, for my own life, it's so important to claim my struggle, to claim my experience, and to use my story to really empower others who are like me, but also challenge prejudices in Jamaica."

Jaghai says his experience of coming out to family and friends has been a good one and says it's one of the reasons he feels it's important to speak out. 

"We have this dominant understanding that Jamaicans are homophobic — and it's true, they very much are — but I think when you come out to Jamaicans and you allow them to see a very personal side of who you are, something that's so personal, that you held [as] a secret for so long, Jamaicans appreciate and respect that, and they will respect you," he says.

That doesn't mean he's not fearful. 

"I have to recognize there are potentially negative repercussions to me appearing on TV and saying, 'I'm gay.' However, I know for a fact that you don't change the world by remaining silent; you don't change the world by being preoccupied by fear. And if you're really going to change minds and hearts, you have to go out there to represent your cause; you have to represent it with conviction, and you have to represent it as who you are."

He says that what concerns him about taking on such a public role is the potential harassment and scrutiny his family and friends might face. "That hurts me," he says, but he knows that his family and friends recognize the importance of the work he's doing and will support him "no matter what."

"I'm in this for the long haul," he adds. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't love Jamaica, and I think that's something people often forget, because when we talk about homosexuals, we talk about them as if they are foreigners. We talk and we say, 'Well, if you don't like it here, you should just leave.' But the fact is, we are Jamaicans, we are here, we're not going anywhere. At some point or another, we're going to sit down together and have a frank discussion about how we're going to figure out a way to get along."

Jaghai, who says he's done a lot of research into gay identity in Jamaica, says that even Jamaicans don't quite grasp the complexity of the gay and lesbian Jamaican experience. "We're a very class-based society; we're a very status-conscious society. And you find those very same dynamics reproduced in the gay community, so because of how homosexuality is demonized in the culture at large, it's seen as a liability," he explains. 

"If you're going to progress, if you want to be seen as a member of the respectable elite and the upper class, then you have to divorce your personal life, your sexual life, from your public persona. And many people think that's completely reasonable to make that sacrifice," he says. 

"Gays and lesbians in Jamaicans go to enormous lengths to conceal their sexual identities." 

Watch the full interview on Jamaica's CVM. 





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