3 min

Scared silent

Gay Jamaicans need foreign advocates, refugee status

Last month a Jamaican teen was beaten unconscious by his fellow students after his own father stirred them up by claiming his son is gay. The students also assaulted a teacher and police officers who were trying to rescue the teen.

I was recently granted refugee status in Canada because of persecution in Jamaica due to my sexual orientation. This is a chilling reminder of what I escaped.

In Jamaica, a gay man or lesbian faces terror on a daily basis. Survival depends on how well you camouflage yourself and hide your identity. Every day you face potential violence by doing things that would normally be considered routine activities. A visit to the supermarket could result in serious injury or death for a gay person. Anyone who suspects a person of being a homosexual can at any time publicly denounce them, causing a mob to gather and beat him or her. It is literally terrifying just to exist in Jamaica as a gay person.

There is absolutely no relief from the onslaught of negativity that surrounds you. This negativity is experienced through popular songs on the radio and television and screamed from church pulpits. A gay person is considered a more heinous offender than a rapist. The sexual act between people of the same sex is illegal and attracts a penalty of 10 years hard labour in prison. Jamaica’s poor human rights record is reflected in the fact that on numerous occasions people suspected of being gay have had their homes invaded by the police. Not even in your home can you feel safe.

The worst part is that regardless of the oppression you experience, you cannot voice protest. In 1997 there was a television program where gay people were trying to educate the population about who they are. No faces were shown but the voice of a young lesbian was recognized. This resulted in her being gang-raped by her neighbours and chased out of her community. In Jamaica the gay population is faceless, voiceless and terrified.

The response to the recent bashing of the gay student in Jamaica is generally one of hurt and hopelessness among my gay Jamaican friends in Canada. I am surprised that the police even responded. I would speculate that they probably did not know that the attack was on a young gay boy, as attacking a gay man is considered a civic duty and intolerance to homosexuals makes Jamaicans feel morally superior to countries where such “nastiness” is accepted.

The majority of the population in Jamaica is poor and uneducated and mostly concerned with providing for their basic needs. Generally, it takes some degree of education and access to resources to learn how to think and not just to be concerned with survival. There have been instances in Jamaica where neighbours have killed each other over a stolen mango. In Jamaica, homosexuality is viewed as a disease and gay people are rendered powerless. In a country where people feel desperate we are the easiest and the most acceptable target for attack. A gay person being killed in Jamaica is considered a good thing.

The hostility toward gay people in Jamaica can only be understood by experiencing it and, having experienced it firsthand, I personally have no idea how these attitudes can be changed. There is talk of trying to establish a boycott of Jamaica as a tourist destination; I do not agree with this tactic. I feel it would be more effective to pressure powerful foreign governments to allow gay people in Jamaica to seek asylum from within Jamaica. Currently to seek asylum in Canada you have to first get a visa allowing you to enter the country and then claim asylum at a port of entry or within Canada. A Canadian visa is very difficult to obtain in Jamaica.

Jamaicans feel it is their moral duty to adhere to their Christian values and resist immoral forces that would pressure them to change their fundamental beliefs. Jamaica will have to be forced to change its policies by powerful foreign governments. It would probably take the murder of a gay ambassador from the US or Canada to make Jamaican politicians consider changing the law.

The US, Canada and the UK all have embassies in Jamaica. Any gay person walking into these embassies should be given asylum. Putting this into practice would send a message to the Jamaican government that it is ignoring basic human rights by allowing the slaughter and maiming of gay people to continue and might embarrass it sufficiently to prompt action.

If homosexuality were to become legal in Jamaica there would be some hope of gay and lesbian people having avenues to exercise their rights to live as human beings. Although the political system is so very corrupt that trying to appeal to the politicians’ sense of justice is a waste of time.

Ultimately gay Jamaicans will always need foreign advocates. Gay and lesbian people in Jamaica are powerless and unable to even speak up for themselves.