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Jamaica’s ‘unique’ brand of homophobia

Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was walking with a friend in a town outside of Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2009 when two men robbed them.

Jackson, now 24, said during a Capitol Hill reception on May 21 that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attended, that the two men who were stepbrothers forced her to perform oral sex on them at gunpoint. The two men raped Jackson’s friend before bringing them to one of their mother’s homes two hours later.

Two female police officers came to Jackson’s home after she told her mother about the alleged incident. She said one of them told her that she “should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.”

“I looked at her,” said Jackson as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. “I was like, you mean the same night that this has just happened to me this is the response that you give me as an officer of the law.”

Jackson, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in January 2013 alongside Jalna Broderick, met with New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark and officials with the U.S. State Department while in D.C. last week. She also spoke with the Washington Blade on May 21 at the offices of Human Rights First.

“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” said Jackson.

Lesbian, bi Jamaicans face discrimination, violence

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) says the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.

The murder of Dwayne Jones last July near Montego Bay after a group of partygoers stabbed him to death after they realized the teenager was cross-dressing sparked global outrage.

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle last August. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

Jackson noted to the Blade that gay men and “butch” women are more likely to experience physical violence, in part, because of the way she said Jamaican society views male homosexuality. She said sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated against “feminine” LGBT women.

“A male being gay means that somebody’s making themselves a woman,” said Jackson. “You’re making yourself a girl; you’re making yourself less than and so the way the male relationships are looked at is different than female relationships.”

“Our culture is this melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny,” she added. “All four of them just combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”

Jamaica has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence with a third of women reporting they have been raped.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica last year conducted the first survey of LGBT Jamaicans designed to collect information about education, health care and other basic needs. Jackson said her organization is also trying to determine any possible connection between sexual violence and the sexual orientation of those who experience it.

“We know because of that, it must mean that the same thing is happening within the LB (lesbian, bisexual) community,” Jackson told the Blade. “We just don’t know what it is. We’re trying to ascertain what that figure is.”

Jackson said anti-LGBT harassment — particularly against those who live in lower-income areas of Kingston where Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is based — remains pervasive.

She noted to the Blade a group of people stoned a lesbian couple. Jackson discussed another reported incident during which a man who saw a lesbian couple walking to their respective homes in Kingston called them a “sodomite” and asked them whether it was “a good man you want” or “a good cock you want to change you.”

She said she receives “certain looks” if her hair is cut “too low” or she dresses in “a certain way.” Jackson added she has also “gotten the stares” and questions about whether she is a lesbian or a “sodomite” or “a boy” when she wears a large T-shirt or cuts her hair short.

“I’m usually more of the in-between look that people can’t figure out whether I’m butch or femme,” she said. “They kind of leave me alone.”

Jackson told the Blade she spends more money when she travels to make sure she remains safe. She said she takes public transportation only for short distances or when she is with a friend.

“It doesn’t always boil down to actual violence,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the mere fear of violence and the attack. It can cripple you or it can force you to take precautions. I prefer to be safe than sorry.”

Jackson said she used to wear a mask, hat and glasses when she attended pro-LGBT protests because she was afraid.

“When we started QCJ we decided this is not going to be the face of this organization,” she told the Blade. “There is going to be a face, and unfortunately that meant it was me.”

Jamaica is among the Caribbean and Central American countries in which same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaican Prime Minister elect, gay news, gay politics DC

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her December 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to a decade in prison with hard labor. She said she would call for a so-called conscience vote of her taking office that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.

A vote has yet to take place.

“I do not agree with the vote,” Jackson told the Blade. “I do not think that rights — fundamental human rights — should be put up for a vote.”

The Jamaica Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a complaint against the colonial-era law that AIDS-Free World filed on behalf of Javed Jaghai who alleges his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation.

The new constitution that Jamaican lawmakers unanimously approved in 2011 explicitly guarantees the right to privacy.

Jackson referenced to the Blade a newspaper account of two older men convicted under the sodomy law who were caught having sex inside their home in 1999 after police officers patrolling their Mandeville neighborhood saw them having sex.

“Jamaicans tend to forget that means male and female as well, conveniently,” she said, referring to privacy and her group’s desire to amend the law to criminalize only non-consensual sex. “So if it’s consensual sex, you leave the people alone.”

The University of the West Indies last week terminated the contract it had with Dr. Brendan Bain to direct a program that uses a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to train doctors and other health care providers throughout the Caribbean to work with groups at risk for HIV after he testified on behalf of religious groups defending Belize’s anti-sodomy law. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s Kingston campus on Monday to protest the decision as the Associated Press reported.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society in 2011 hosted a symposium at the University of the West Indies in Kingston at which Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Paul Diamond, a British lawyer, spoke about what Jackson described as the need to keep the sodomy law in place.

Brian Camenker of MassResistence spoke at a Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society rally that took place at a Kingston park last December. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, and Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern in the U.K. are among those who spoke at a conference the group organized alongside the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship earlier that month in the Jamaican capital.

“Keep your crazies at home,” Jackson told the Blade when asked whether the U.S. government has done enough to address anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica. “Keep the fundamentalist people at home; the people who have the crack science that you know has been discredited here or has been discredited in their respective countries.”

She also urged LGBT rights activists in the U.S. and other countries to work directly with Quality of Citizenship Jamaica and other advocacy groups on the ground.

“It’s a problem, this savior complex,” said Jackson. “These white people come in with a savior complex to save LGBT people and tell Jamaica what to do. And it doesn’t work well because then it backfires.”

28
May
2014

Jamaican LGBT advocates condemn murder of cross-dressing teenager

Montigo Bay, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

A street in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Photo by D. Ramey Logan via Wikimedia Commons)

Jamaican LGBT rights advocates have expressed outrage over the reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the resort city of Montego Bay.

The radio station Irie FM reported the 17-year-old was dancing with a man at a party on July 21 while dressed as a woman when someone realized the teen was cross-dressing. A second man reportedly discovered the teenager was actually male.

Irie FM said a group of party-goers stabbed the 17-year-old to death either late on July 21 or early Monday morning before dumping the teen’s body in bushes on the side of a road.

The Jamaica-Gleaner reported earlier today that police officers found the teen, whom they identified as Dwayne Jones, with what it described as “multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound.”

“We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the teenager who was slain,” the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT rights group, said in a statement it issued on Tuesday. “We call for a thorough investigation into the murder of the teenager in Montego Bay and hope that the family and loved ones of the slained teen will find the justice they deserve.”

Jones’ murder comes against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean nation.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004.

A man stabbed J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson to death inside his home in Kingston, the country’s capital in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009. They found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy,” a derogatory term used against gay men in Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in 2012 after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade from his home in upstate New York that there have been nine reported anti-gay murders on the island so far this year. He added there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of reported attacks against LGBT Jamaicans since 2009.

Tomlinson said this spike in the number of reported incidents could be the result of the work advocates have done to document human rights abuses against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last month heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor.

“The rhetoric is getting much more toxic,” Tomlinson said, noting brutal attacks against gay Jamaicans has become more common. He said they are no longer confined to just Kingston and a handful of other areas. “We’re not sure if the increase in attacks is a function of that or the reporting.”

The State Department, Amnesty International and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

AIDS-Free world has challenged Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. It has also asked the group that is housed within the Organization for American States to formally respond to the ongoing persecution that homeless men who have sex with men and other vulnerable groups of gay Jamaicans face.

Tomlinson’s group also plans to ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to formally condemn discrimination and violence against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Organization of American States, of which Jamaica is a member, last month adopted an anti-discrimination resolution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression during its annual meeting that took place in Guatemala. Jamaica declined to accept the protocol’s LGBT-specific recommendations.

Tomlinson, who appeared on the National Public Radio program “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin on Monday to discuss the documentary “The Abominable Crime” that examines anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, told the Blade the government has been “absolutely silent” on the issue.

Former J-FLAG staffer Nico Tyndale’s cousin was murdered in Jamaica earlier this year because his assailants thought he was gay.

Tyndale told the Blade earlier on Tuesday that many people continue argue the country is not homophobic – and gay Jamaicans are actually “the ones killing ourselves.”

“We can’t even be who we are,” Tyndale said. “Being who we are only leads to a mob and a slaughter.”

24
Jul
2013

Gay Jamaican man challenges country’s anti-sodomy law

Javed Jaghi, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Javed Jaghi is the first person to challenge Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law from within the country. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

A Jamaican gay rights activist last week filed the Caribbean island’s first domestic challenge to its anti-sodomy law.

AIDS-Free World on Feb. 7 filed the complaint with the Jamaica Supreme Court on behalf of Javed Jaghai, who said his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation. The Dartmouth College graduate talked about his case in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“It is a reminder that there is much more work to be done to achieve equality for gay Jamaicans,” Jaghai wrote. “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.”

Those convicted under Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, which dates back to 1864, face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis are among the 11 English-speaking Caribbean countries that continue to criminalize homosexual acts.

The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Jamaican lawmakers in 2011 unanimously approved a new constitution that explicitly guaranteed the right to privacy for the first time. Although the anti-sodomy law remains in place, Jaghai’s lawyers maintain it’s now impossible to enforce it.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade the eventual outcome of Jaghai’s case could reverberate throughout the region.

The Dutch island of Saba remains the only jurisdiction in the Caribbean that allows gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten do not allow same-sex marriage, but the Netherlands requires them to recognize those performed within the country.

Tomlinson said Jaghai’s case could potentially have an impact on relationship recognition of same-sex couples in the Caribbean.

“That would be a long-term effect we expect,” he said. “Right now it’s to get the courts to acknowledge that at least in private same-gender loving individuals have the rights of everyone else.”

The court is expected to hear Jaghai’s case on June 25.

12
Feb
2013

Saba becomes first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage

Saba, Glenn Holm, gay news, Washington Blade

Saba Tourist Bureau Director Glenn Holm (Photo courtesy of Glenn Holm)

The Dutch island of Saba earlier this month became the first jurisdiction in the Caribbean to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Xiomar Gonzales Cedeno Ruis and Israel Ruis Gonzales from Aruba and Venezuela respectively exchanged vows at the island’s courthouse on Dec. 4. A same-sex couple from Curaçao married in Saba on Tuesday.

The Netherlands, which has allowed gays and lesbians to marry since 2001, gave its Caribbean territories more time to implement the same-sex marriage law. Observers expect Bonaire and St. Eustatius, which were formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles that formally dissolved in 2010, will follow suit.

Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, which have greater autonomy from Amsterdam, do not allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. The three islands, along with Bonaire and St. Eustatius, must recognize same-sex marriages performed within the Netherlands.

Glenn Holm, the openly gay director of the Saba Tourist Bureau who worked with Cedeno and Ruis, told the Washington Blade he plans to promote “gay weddings on the highest point of the Dutch kingdom” while in the Netherlands next month.

“There are of course some people who are against it, but they will just have to get used to it,” he said, referring to Dutch euthanasia and abortion laws that will soon take effect on Saba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius. “It simply means that the choice is there should it be necessary, the same for same-sex unions. If it’s not your bag you don’t have to let it concern you. Live and let live, love and be allowed to love whosoever you choose to.”

Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to consider the issue next year as French lawmakers debate a same-sex marriage bill. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians, but LGBT people still face systematic discrimination and even violence throughout the region.

Jamaica and several other English-speaking Caribbean countries still have colonial-era sodomy laws on the books that criminalize same-sex sexual acts. The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Puerto Rican advocates have repeatedly criticized outgoing Gov. Luís Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal 2009 murder. The Puerto Rico Senate late last year approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.

A 2011 Justice Department report that blasted the Puerto Rico Police Department cited an inadequate response to hate crimes as among its numerous deficiencies.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, described same-sex marriage in Saba as a “toehold where we can advance LGBT human rights in the Caribbean.”

The Supreme Court of Jurisdicture of Belize in May is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy laws. AIDS-Free World has also challenged laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago that prohibit gay people and those with disabilities from entering the country.

A Trinidadian newspaper on Dec. 18 reported Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote in a private letter to the head of an international LGBT advocacy group in the United Kingdom that she would support a ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

“As a human rights activist, I think it’s excellent because it’s a way to get up the laws and two it provides evidence for the courts to say there is absolutely no negative impact within this entire region of these rights being recognized for LGBT,” Tomlinson told the Blade, referring specifically to Saba. “Its evidence that even within the Caribbean you have forward-thinking legislators who are willing to push the envelope and take the political risks that are necessary to advance human rights of all citizens.”

19
Dec
2012