Over the weekend, Saturday to be precise a small group of LGBT persons launched a public demonstration against Jamaica's human rights abuses against its gay citizens. The "Rum Dump" as it also named was successful as outlined on
boycottjamaica's site and http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/
While I appreciate the support in the cause for justice and tolerance towards everyone here despite their sexual orientation, groups planning or who have planned these events must be mindful of the repercussions such actions may have on an already marginalized grouping as we are here.
Members of the public and by extension select public opinion shapers will consider this as interference by foreigners and hence push for more hatred and opposition towards gays. Not to mention the increase in violence that occurs when a situation like this becomes public knowledge. As we have seen before during the planned Canadian group EGALE's boycott early last year many persons including lesbians suffered attacks, we saw a spike in the numbers that was never so for lesbians especially before. The stories told to us by many victims included hints that we (gays) were getting foreigners to force their nasty lifestyle on Jamaica and other derogatory remarks so the attackers felt justified in their actions.
I ask you our friends to be mindful, JFLAG is slowly working on the ground to reach several objectives which include on going dialogue and other strategies which I am not at liberty to reveal now that I am aware of. Also to consider are the limited resources available for any action that may need to be taken in crisis intervention cases.
Let us remember too that it was Red Stripe, one of the targets of this ban campaign that withdrew financial backing for events and artists who promote violence of any sort against Jamaicans some time ago, we wouldn't want to erode that small gain now, small as it was it was a step in the right direction.
Thanks to the organizers and participants however for showing concern and for taking the steps to bring the matter(s) to public light but let us communicate before any other drastic actions are taken, I know that there are passionate persons out there to our cause and I am grateful personally and by extension I know the JFLAG team and gays here are thankful too.
That's a very clear "Thanks but no thanks" to American gay activists. From the statement, we garner that:
- LGBTQ activists in Jamaica weren't consulted,
- LGBTQ activists in Jamaica think this boycott will be counter-productive, and
- gay activists in America picked their targets without looking much into them other than finding Jamaicanness in the US (except they appear to be endorsing Bob Marley in their site's banner).
Jim Burroway is the only boycotter who has responded so far:
I mentioned my reluctance in joining the call for a boycott, and this was one of the main reasons. It continues to give me great pause, and I do not take these concerns lightly. But when I read the State Department Human Rights Report on Jamaica, it is clear that violence against LGBT people is already at a crisis level. Jamaica is a small country. It's estimated population of 2,804,332 is similar to the populations of Kansas, Arkansas or Mississippi. Imagine the outcry we would be hearing if any one of those three states were experiencing the scale of violence that LGBT people in Jamaica are experiencing already without the boycott.
As I see it, it's damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't. What do you do in the face of this scale of violence, and how do you weigh taking action against the threat of more violence? Do you take the modest step of declaring that you won't spend your money on that nation, or do you remain silent and hope for the best?
I'll preface my response by saying I like Jim Burroway and Box Turtle Bulletin. He runs a thought-provoking blog and has always been open-minded in the comments when I or others wanted to engage him on various topics. And the work he and his site are doing promoting awareness of the homophobic and colonialistic abuses of PEPFAR funding in Uganda is great. But....
But it's wrong to say "It continues to give me great pause, and I do not take these concerns lightly." "These concerns" are the lives and safety of other people on whose behalf he is supposedly acting. The "me" who's having "great pause" in that statement is someone who won't have to live with the consequences of these actions, who I doubt has much knowledge about Jamaican history, politics, and culture, and who, well, isn't Jamaican. Whether he has thought this over and over again isn't really that important since he's not the one who should be thinking and deciding what actions to take to improve Jamaican LGBT people's lives.
And it isn't "damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't." It's "damned if you do, but you can stop just mindlessly 'doing,' contact an organization like JFLAG or another LGBTQ activist in Jamaica if you're concerned for their safety, and find out how you can help them on their terms."
At least Jim responded to JFLAG's un-endorsement of the boycott. None of the other boycotters, to my knowledge as of the time of posting, have acknowledged the fact that Jamaican LGBTQ people can have an opinion on what we do to help them.
Boycotting an entire country... really?
I'm also more than a bit weirded out by the idea of boycotting an entire country. It assumes that everyone in that country is doing whatever horrors we hear about here in the US (which isn't true, there are many Jamaicans who are against this violence). It also assumes that the chosen country is the worst out there, which also isn't true. Other countries people buy lots more from have far worse human rights violations than what's going on in Jamaica. Do we only care about violence if the victim is LGBTQ?
As JFLAG wrote above, Red Stripe isn't exactly the target that should be picked for a boycott because they've already been nudged in the anti-homophobic violence direction:
In a bold and possibly controversial move, brewing company Red Stripe has announced its decision to withdraw sponsorship of live music events which its says facilitate "violent and anti-social lyrics".
In a statement issued yesterday, the company said that its main sponsorship beneficiaries, the annual Reggae Summerfest and Sting stage shows will no longer have its support.
"Over the years, however, a very negative trend of glorifying violence has crept into some of the music, causing much consternation among well thinking Jamaicans and others at home and abroad. This has far-reaching and damaging implications for the industry and for the country as a whole," the release stated.
"While our most recent efforts through the Coalition of Corporate Sponsors have met with some measure of success, some performers continue to propagate, through their live performances, violent and anti-social lyrics. Red Stripe will not be party to this, and thus we have taken the very difficult decision of withdrawing sponsorship from live music events. Consequently, Red Stripe will not renew our contract for title sponsorship of Reggae Sumfest and Sting. We will, however, ensure that our brands are made available whenever and wherever our loyal consumers enjoy premium alcohol beverages."
"Murder music" is one of the targets of the boycott, earning an entire page on Boycott Jamaica's website. Red Stripe made a bold move to pull sponsorship from a popular event attended by its key market specifically because of the violence advocated on-stage.
One columnist for the Jamaica Gleaner at the time explained why Red Stripe's move was bold for the company:
The fact is someone had to take a stand, and I hope all well-thinking Jamaicans will express solidarity with Red Stripe. Dare I hope that other corporate giants will follow? It could not have been an easy decision since the concert environment provides a ready market for the sponsors' products. But a sponsor must feel comfortable that what is being acted out on stage fits its own corporate objectives. Obviously, dancehall lyrics which mostly denigrate women and promote violence do not blend with Red Stripe's corporate image.[...]
My only question to Red Stripe is this: What took you so long? Politicians, planners and parents are wringing their hands in anguish about the coarseness in society, and it is obvious that the breakdown in standards and decency can be traced to the dancehall culture. Images of artistes posing with high-powered weapons or reports about artistes being arrested for rape and violent behaviour are par for the course. The mode of dress, the disrespect for elders are all associated with this culture.
So why are we being asked to boycott Red Stripe? And why is their logo right on the top of the Boycott Jamaica website and appearing on lots of posters for the boycott? The company is on the right side of one of the biggest issues being discussed in the gay boycott of Jamaica. Shouldn't we support our allies instead of boycotting them?
Oh, wait, I forgot: all backwards, violent Jamaicans are the same. This company might have done the right thing at one point, but, in the end, if it's Jamaican, we don't want a part of it.
A healthy dose of sanctimony
Michael Petrelis wrote a blog post entitled "Jamaican Fear of Gays = More Prostate Cancer," to show just how homophobic those Jamaicans are (via the Boycott Jamaica blog):
There are many ways in which hatred of homosexuals harms a civilized society. First, there is the violence and stigma directed at same-gender loving persons. Then there is the rippling damage that strikes at the well-being and good health of heterosexuals.
The Jamaican press recently reported on the country's world ranking as a top spot for prostate cancer, and that the high level of disease is directly attributable to the fear of homo-sex and being tagged inclined toward same-sex attractions.[...]
Seems to me the Jamaican Cancer Society could do a lot to save the lives of all Jamaican men, from both prostate cancer and homophobic violence, through social marketing campaigns addressing both problems.
Oh, yes! How silly to avoid a digital rectal exam because it's gay! What kind of people would so homophobic and backwards as to be afraid of a simple medical procedure?
According to a lawsuit he later filed, Mr. Persaud was then told that he needed an immediate rectal examination to determine whether he had a spinal-cord injury. He adamantly objected to the procedure, he said, but was held down as he begged, "Please don't do that." As Mr. Persaud resisted, he freed one of his hands and struck a doctor, according to the suit. Then he was sedated, the suit says, with a breathing tube inserted through his mouth.[...]
"Psychologically, it changed his life completely," Mr. Marrone said of the episode. "He hasn't been able to work. He has absolutely no trust in the system at all: doctors or the police. He has post-traumatic stress syndrome." Mr. Persaud has been under the care of a psychiatrist who made the diagnosis, Mr. Marrone said.
Well, maybe it's just New York City. I'll go boycott the other salsa from the Pace Picante commercials.
The point here isn't that the US is "just as bad." The point is that the boycotters aren't looking at what Jamaica's doing with a self-reflexive, critical lens. We're demonizing them as backwards, unenlightened people (and, if you doubt that, go read Wayne Besen's recent column on the boycott) when we could be a bit more mindful of our country's own actions, both when it comes to homo/transphobia and when it comes to human rights abuses. Especially since we're a country that just got out of its mini-Pinochet regime and is refusing to make amends or even end many of the policies that led us there.
In turn, that makes me question their motives and their chances for success. It's easy to say "Look at how horrible that group is!" but it's a lot harder to say "Look how horrible that action is!" and stick with it no matter who does it. But if they aren't able to do that, they risk coming off as arrogant colonialists instead of peaceful protesters seeking justice.
Ultimately, this should come down to the best way for Americans to help LGBT people in Jamaica. Boycotting a corporate ally they made isn't the way to do it. Acting without even consulting them isn't the way to do it. They have by far the biggest stake in this and if we were truly concerned we would start by looking to them for guidance.
I'm still waiting for an official response from Boycott Jamaica to JFLAG's un-endorsement, and I'll update when they release one. I fully expect it to repeat the numbers of LGBTQ people attacked in Jamaica and ask us to do something, meaning their strategy. I wouldn't be surprised if they pat JFLAG on the head and thank them for having a cute little opinion as well.
Update (7:33 PM): Michael Petrelis sent me a link to this interesting article from April 2008 when Stop Murder Music Canada was threatening a boycott of Jamaica, pointing out that Gareth Henry, former cochair of JFLAG now in exile in Canada, supporting a boycott:
But JFLAG said in a statement in March that a boycott could put the island's queers in even more danger.
"Because of the possible repercussions of increased homophobic violence against our already besieged community, we feel that a tourist boycott is not the most appropriate response at this time," said the statement. "In our battle to win hearts and minds, we do not wish to be perceived as taking food off the plate of those who are already impoverished. In fact members of our own community could be disproportionately affected by a worsened economic situation brought about by a tourist ban.
"JFLAG believes that there are a number of avenues which can be explored to bring pressure on our government to respect, protect and ensure the human rights of LGBT people in Jamaica. We have called on the prime minister and influential leaders of industry to both renounce homophobic violence and commit to a course of action that will stem this scourge that plagues our island."
But Gareth Henry, the cochair of JFLAG until he was forced to flee the country for Canada last year, says he supports the boycott. He says JFLAG can't be seen to publicly support a boycott.
"They can't be the ones to call for the boycott," he says. "They can't be that voice. But the gays, lesbians and queers on the ground are supportive of a boycott."
Henry says he's tried talking to the government.
"We have tried numerous approaches, numerous dialogues with government officials," he says. "They have been nonresponsive to the call. We have to hit people where it's going to hurt, where they'll feel it. In the Jamaican context talk is cheap. After 10 years of JFLAG's existence what else can we do?"
I'm glad Michael took the time out to email, since the more information we have, the better. From my earliest contact with him, he's only been motivated by a real desire to improve queer people's lives, so I don't doubt his sincerity here.
And if you're wondering why Henry didn't sign on to endorse this boycott, it's because Michael doesn't have his contact information.
Henry was speaking to EGALE's proposed boycott of Jamaica because of its homophobic concerts (from which Red Stripe pulled its ads). That boycott never happened because:
However, earlier this week Egale, while promising to continue its campaign, refrained from advocating a boycott.
"We have a responsibility to continue to educate the Canada LGBT (lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transsexual) community on countries which criminalise same-sex acts and we also have a responsibility to LGBT Jamaicans who have sought refuge in Canada to tell their story of persecution and violence whilst in Jamaica. Every Canadian citizen can then make an informed choice whether to travel to such countries," the release stated.
Egale's decision had come after Bonner had sent an official response to the group last Thursday. In the response she stated that the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians All-sexuals and Gays (JFLAG) did not support a boycott of Jamaica's tourism and trade. She added that the Government has taken action to reduce incidence of violence by the security forces and condemns all forms of violence.
I think the solutions EGALE went for instead of boycotting are reasonable: increase awareness of what's going on in Jamaica and make it easier for refugees to gain asylum in the US or Canada.
I'm still not understanding how a boycott works to LGBTQ people's benefits, though. They have less money, a few hotels and restaurants close down, those newly-out-of-work people know that American gays were responsible, so.... they lobby their government for legislation to protect LGBTQ people?
If we're thinking that there's a history of boycotting entire countries and exacting positive reforms from their governments, there simply isn't. The most that the Boycott Jamaica folks were able to site was a boycott of Coors that was successful in the 70's, but a boycott of another country is something else entirely.
Queerty recently likened a boycott of a country to economic sanctions, which is a model closer to what Boycott Jamaica is trying to accomplish: deprive a country of money and hope that its government changes whatever laws we want them to. It's a strategy that hasn't had much success in recent history, as we saw with US sanctions towards Cuba and (pre-war) Iraq, because it makes an enemy out of the country that withholds its money, and, in this case, could make LGBTQ people even more a target if they're seen as responsible for other people's financial troubles (and with the economy continuing to worsen in the US, there will most likely be a decreased number of American tourists in Jamaica anyway this summer, meaning that whether anyone signs on to this boycott or not LGBTQ Jamaicans are likely to get blamed).
And none of this really answers the question of Red Stripe. I don't see why we should be boycotting an ally, especially after all the shit they took from homophobes last year because of their support for LGBTQ people:
Thumbing their noses at gay rights groups, some Jamaican dance hall stars have offered to perform for free at events boycotted by a local beer giant called Red Stripe.
Red Stripe withdrew its financing last month from the major live shows Sting and Sumfest, which it has sponsored for six and seven years respectively. The company said it launched its sponsorship boycott in response to the continued use of violent and anti-social lyrics during performances. The boycott stopped short of a total withdrawal of Red Stripe products from the events.
"We have noticed that there is a negative trend that has been creeping into some of the music. ... This is very damaging to our culture, the music and to our country as a whole," corporate relations director Maxine Whittingham told reporters.
Now some performers are portraying Red Stripe's action as an attack on dance hall reggae, dubbed "murder music" by gay rights activists for its explicit references to killing homosexuals. O'Neil Bryan, popularly known as Elephant Man, accuses Red Stripe of having a "hidden agenda."[...]
In the past few weeks, several well-known artists, including David Brooks, who performs under the moniker Movado, and dub poet Mutabaruka (formerly Allan Hope), have voiced their opposition to Red Stripe's decision during performances and interviews. Now, they say, they taking their displeasure to another level.
Anthony Moses Davis, also known as Beenie Man, and Bryan are among those artists who media reports say have begun lining up to give free performances.
Davis, who originally planned to perform free at the upcoming Reggae Sumfest, said he will now host a free dance hall show himself. "Jamaicans should stand firm together and let [Red Stripe] know we don't like what they are doing," he said.
If we don't stand by our allies, who will?