The chorus of response from church, state and constabulary to accusations of state-facilitated violence and abuse of Jamaican GLBTs has been “give us proof.” I am particularly disappointed in the Information Minister’s response to the HRW (Human Rights Watch) report (accusing the Jamaican government of systematic abuse of gay people in Jamaica and how it links to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic). Burchell Whiteman taught me to appreciate the metaphysics of Wordsworth and Blake at York Castle High School; but if anything is “unacceptably insensitive” (Whiteman’s dismissive response to the report), it is his lack of intellectual curiosity. If he is ignorant of systematic homophobic abuse or, worse, if he does have some inkling, his lack of compassion for the oppression and suffering of the GLBT community is appalling. I am also let down by the Tourism Minister and her demand for proof that Jamaica’s gay men are being slaughtered.
Aloun Wood used to tramp through the hills of rural St. Andrew evangelizing as Catholic Charismatics with her close friend, Brian Williamson, who later helped found J-FLAG and was murdered last summer. If she can no longer include him in the ambit of her Christian char-ity, the least she could do is acknowledge his victimization. Have those years of fellowship meant nothing?
But Whiteman is right to the extent that “it is the people who must set our agenda in respect of the legislation which we pass or the repeal of any existing laws.” Why should the government heed any bleeding-heart foreigners who wish to impose their standards on us? Leave aside for a moment that the laws in question are of colonial origin. While majority rule prevails in a democracy, invariably there are minority rights which need to be protected from the tyranny of that majority. The government’s own technocrats and Select Parliamentary Committee have so recommended. Even some Opposition members are beginning to make supportive noises.
But there has been no voice heard from the oppressed. We are the people too, capable of contributing to that agenda. Maybe we have been cowed into submission, silenced by fear. We have no spokesperson, instead hoping for and depending on well-meaning foreigners to speak out for us in the tradition of Wilberforce and the Abolition Society. No Nanny or Sam Sharpe insight.
Those capable of articulating our cause are dead, have fled or are lapping their tails in the safety of their closets. In their daily struggle for survival, the “downtown sports,” wielders of the ice pick and brok balk [Jamaican patois for “broken bottle”], misdirect their anger at each other instead of at the society which persecutes them for loving inappropriately. No champions there. But I shouldn’t talk; I ran. Whiteman is technically right, if abhorrently wrong. The wheel is not squeaking, so there’s nothing to fix. While they may have been working in the background, J-FLAG has been conspicuously silent. The apparent overseas initiative has not been lost on the commentators who rush to paint the EC, Peter Tatchell and OutRage!, and now HRW, in imperialist and racist colours. How would they know about expatriate Jamaicans’ involvement? We cry interference and imposition of foreign culture but puff up ourselves about leading the charge against apartheid and injustice in Haiti and elsewhere, setting examples for benighted nations to follow. When it suits us, it’s “One Love, One World,” but not when the finger points at us. Then we play the race card or the sovereignty card.
But sovereignty does not mean much when the country is in hock to the hilt and expected earnings from tourism and entertainment are based on the oppression and exclusion of sexual minorities. Brand Jamaica has a defect, and soon no one will buy. An Observer editorial grudgingly admits “a high degree of homophobia in Jamaica, which may, at times, lead to violence against homosexual men” but tries to mitigate the severity by claiming that reports are exaggerated and contextualizing it against the overall high crime rate. This perspective does not lessen the injustice, the outright denial of basic human rights, the untold physical and psychological torture that many Jamaican gays undergo. Life is hard for many Jamaicans, but it becomes for GLBT citizens unnecessarily so with government complicity. Instead of paying heed to the message, the authorities have berated the messenger for coming from abroad to interfere. Inspector Ionie Ramsay has been the only one to say she’ll look into the complaints. In my estimation, the HRW report is balanced, fair and objective, echoing my own experience and confirming reports I have received.
That’s not going to happen anytime soon.
In the meanwhile, we’ll do what we’ve always done: dissemble and survive. like the good descendants of slaves that we are. We’ll continue to be the preferably hidden, unspoken part of Jamaican life, not protesting or raising our voices but playing our not-inconsiderable role in government, business, academia, the church, the arts, services and professions.
Too bad for those who are visible by being transgender; living in the wrong place or having the temerity to stand up and be counted.