Editors' Note: Guest blogger Dadland Maye is a Ph.D. English Literature student at The CUNY Graduate Center, a LGBT and atheist activist, and novelist seeking to publish his completed manuscript, Craft a Sun. He blogs at DadlandShutUP.com.
Jamaica markets itself as a sunshine paradise -- safe for tourists to lie on white sandy beaches, sip rum beneath umbrellas, and listen to reggae music. But absent from this storytelling are the many scenes that compel human rights activists to continue asking: is Jamaica the most homophobic place on earth?
Scenes of knives slashing my own body, a lighted torch flying through my bedroom window in the night, men firing gunshots when I rushed for safety outside, and neighbors shifting curtains and peeking in silence could be used to evaluate the question.
However, I will not focus on that question. My aim is to reiterate the need for the world to continue paying attention to the prevalence of terror in Jamaica, although I know large numbers of Jamaicans dismiss outside scrutiny as an imperialist intrusion to be resisted.
Racial undertones ground the motivation of this resistance. Many believe homosexuality is the cultivation of white men committed to driving the last stake into the black family by controlling the sexual organ of its patriarchal head.
Miseducation has made it difficult for Jamaicans to penetrate the notion of sexuality without imagining the role of the sex organs. Evidence of this is observable in the intellectual class's strong defense of buggery laws inherited from the colonial era. Additionally, the popular derogatory word for gay men is "battyman," meaning "man of the buttocks."
It is my experience that average Jamaicans imagine the gay presence by mentally coming in contact with sex organs. They cannot conceptualize the homosexual identity without assumptions of gay sex orgies.
And so the perceived historical role of the black penis, in particular, has an important symbolism. To increase field and house hands, Backra (Massa) instructed the most fit black man to lie with several black women. In many ways, the value of the black man resided in the stamina of his penis.
The abolition of slavery finally allowed black men freedom to partner with women and build families with pride. Yet Jamaicans maintain that white men continue to mentally corrupt black men, which has led our men to not only dishonor the moral function of the penis but to believe that the "buttocks" can replace the black reproductive female pelvis.
Believing that white homosexuality threatens the prolongation of the black family, Jamaicans have clung to anti-sodomy legislation handed down by British white men over 150 years ago. But constitutionality questions are currently before Jamaica's Supreme Court after gay activist Javed Jaghai was kicked out of his home in February because of his sexuality. Joining the attorney general in opposition to Javed's legal challenge were eleven prominent Christian organizations.
This vibrant coordination of churches was absent in the '80s, '90s, and the following decade when gay men were dying from AIDS because they didn't visit hospitals out of fear that their diagnosis would have revealed their sexuality. There have been many cases in which churches refused to perform funerals for "those types" of infected bodies.
And church lobbies didn't condemn homophobes who disrupted funerals with stones. The country's leading newspapers and television stations have traditionally turned a blind eye to the newsworthiness of those incidences as well.
Neither did the church condemn the 2004 murder of Brian Williamson, who remains well-known as one of the founders of JFLAG, the most respected LGBT rights organization at the time. What's less known about Brian is that for many years, his house served as a weekend club. Whenever police didn't raid the parties and arrest men for dressing in drag, I remember feeling so at home in those moments as though I belonged to a welcoming community.
The voice of the church remained absent when gunmen murdered prominent activist Steve Harvey on World AIDS Day in 2005. And in 2009 when British diplomat John Terry was beaten and strangled to death, the silence continued.
Throughout the history of the last decades that mutilated limbs, severed sexual organs, dumped pieces of body parts in sewage manholes, and bodies were riddled with bullets as reggae dancehall artist Buju Banton instructed, church pastors preached about the heaven above but not about the hell gay men were enduring below.
And for the August 6 independence celebration, days after the well-known murder of Dwayne Jones--who was shot in a public street dance and dumped in the bushes without any opposition from bystanders--reggae artist Queen Ifrica's performance spewed language such as "no faggotism." Another popular reggae artist named Sizzla rushed to the rescue, saying Ifrica's action evidenced God's work to eradicate "buggerism."
Even as droves of gay men, to this day, continue fleeing to seek political asylum in the U.S., Canada, and England--where is the voice of the church to condemn homegrown terror? I, too, received political asylum in 2009 after I fled Jamaica and lived here for eight years as an undocumented person. The space away from violence allowed me to love my memories because their intensity gives me the passion needed to engage certain advocacy issues.
However, I'm not naïve. I remain convinced the U.S. has it own criminal patterns perpetrated at the level of government--from drone warfare upon Third-World peoples to exploitative widespread surveillance upon its own people to Guantanamo Bay torture chambers. But in my view, its people (not its government) have matured to adopt a greater respect for fundamental freedoms.
Where Jamaica is concerned, both the majority of its population and the government seem determined to terrorize gay persons. Cognizant of widespread homophobia, the previous prime minister, Bruce Golding, made it clear in a BBC-TV interview in 2006 that no gay persons would have been allowed in his cabinet. Current prime minster Portia Simpson-Miller promised to revise the anti-sodomy laws during the last election campaign. Thus far, she has been silent on the issue, except for that day in September when activists confronted her on the street in Manhattan in shouting, "Gay rights, Portia! Gay rights, Portia!"
Refusing to address them, she blew them a kiss although she knew they were hoping she would have weighed in on the recent spate of violence against gay persons such as Dwayne Jones. Perhaps the prime minister considers the testimonies of victimized gay Jamaicans as less reliable than that of the Assistant Commissioner of Police, David Watkins, who continues to say no evidence exists that proves gays are persecuted in Jamaica.
This popular talking point silences gay victims and ignores the abuse faced by growing numbers of homeless LGBT youths who have been forced to starve in abandoned buildings and sewers after being kicked out by their families. It is even considered unpatriotic to condemn this kind of ongoing Jamaican terrorism in a foreign medium.
What seems most important to most Jamaicans is the task of keeping criticisms of the culture within Jamaican borders so as to keep the tourist dollars coming in while keeping the foreign values intrusion out.