K Travis Ballie

Poll: 70 Percent of Jamaicans Oppose Any Rights For LGBT People

Filed By K Travis Ballie | April 07, 2009 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, The Movement

In the recent flare up about the "boycott" of Jamaica over its homophobic, transphobic policies we have seen largely progressive whites arguing with progressive whites. I don't want to state my own opinion on the debate here, because I want all sides of the debate to try and listen, even for one second, from a queer Caribbean-American.

This post is based on an old article on 365gay, which can be found here.

Let's be perfectly clear. As a person of Caribbean descent, the LAST thing I want to be in this post is condescending. I admit very upfront that I do not know much about Caribbean culture- or Jamaican culture in particular- however coming from a Guyanese family, with family members scattered throughout the Carribean, I have a vague, but proud, connection to the region.

This connection, as I continue to discover and nurture it throughout my life, encourages me to speak out against the ills existing in my ancestral homeland. As progressives, we show our love and pride for our roots by always seeking out the better in those very things which give us meaning and comfort. As I explore the highly emotional details of rampant homophobia in Jamaica in this post, I do it out of love for the Caribbean region, which has thrived despite a history of colonialism, natural disasters, slavery and the shackles of contemporary neo-liberalism.

The authorities are theoretically part of an elaborate check in fair societies to keep the tyranny of majoritarity rule at bay. The signs of societal decay are most apparent when these protections are non-existent.

[The queer people] in the house called police again and were told that the police were on the way. Approximately half an hour later, 15-20 men broke down the door and began beating and slashing the inhabitants.

The absence of protections for minority groups is not conservatism in action, it is anarchy.

Human Rights Watch, quoting local activists said that police did not arrive until a half hour after the mob had broken into the house - 90 minutes after the men first called for help.

The feeling of helplessness and isolation must have been horrifying for those men in their moment of need. In that crucial time, their community, their society, their government and their culture failed them. They were truly, in every sense of the term, alone.

I have no sweeping critique or indictment of homophobia, gender stereotypes or otherwise. I only have a strong sense of faith in the future and the inevitability of generational change and cross-cultural exchange.

The poll told us that 70% of Jamaicans opposed any civil equality for LGBT people. It also told us that 30% believe in some form of civil, cultural and political equality for LGBT people, or at least are open to form a favorable opinion.

Thirty-four percent of women would support pro-gay legislation... 20 percent of men would.

In that segment of society lies the hope for change, and as in any community, true progressives only need that small bit of hope to exist in order to commit to preserve and grow it.

One of the victims managed to flee with the mob pursuing. A Jamaican newspaper reported that blood was found at the mouth of a nearby pit, suggesting he had fallen inside or may have been killed nearby.

The police escorted the three other victims away from the scene; two of them were taken to the hospital. One of the men had his left ear severed, his arm broken in two places, and his spine reportedly damaged.

There have been no arrests.

The hope is bittersweet, since lives every day are interrupted by the societal prejudices which exist. Homophobia, gender inequality, economic injustice and global disparities are interconnected.

Those human rights activists who decry gender inequality, homophobia and other societal ills without linking them to the global disparity in wealth lack a comprehensive understanding of the issues.

Additionally, those "third world" activists whom claim that "quaint Western concepts" like women's rights and LGBT equality must be put on hold until economic issues are addressed insult people in developing nations everywhere. People understand the basic right to human dignity. No education, wealth or status teaches such an inherent trait. Along the path of life some people are treated in ways that make them forget that basic fact of human consciousness.

Furthermore, more people than not understand women's rights or LGBT rights in their own way, not in the jargon of political or academic thought. They understand that a women working as hard as a man yes still being paid less hurts the family she is trying to support. They know that physical violence against some people somewhere makes everyone insecure everywhere. Such rights are INHERENTLY economic issues, just as basic levels of economic stability can be defended as a human right.

The tragic attacks against LGBT people in Jamaica should remind us here in the states about just how far we've come, but not to forget that in any part of the country this could still happen to one of us at any given time. We must also remember not just our solidarity with the LGBT population in Jamaica, but also our responsibility to LGBT people all over the world to push U.S. foreign policy in a way that respects all forms of human rights, including LGBT rights.

On September 5, 1995, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made a speech on women's rights that ranks as arguably the greatest speech of her political career:

I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break our silence. It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights.

A decade into the new millenium, it is time once again to broaden the discussion, and proclaim in front of the world that indeed, LGBT rights can no longer be separated from human rights. Our rights deserve worldwide recognition and our strength will be joined by the women, indigenous, economically disadvantaged and others worldwide to continue the infinite struggle for equality.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

From Pico in comments:

JFLAG- Jamaican forum for lesbians, all sexuals and gays, is] doing yeoman's work in trying to change the social atmosphere towards queer people in Jamaica... If there are people around with some spare change, I'm sure they could always use the help.

Visit J-Flag Here.

Letter to Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica
February 27, 2008

The Most Honorable Bruce Golding
Prime Minister
Jamaica House
Kingston 6
Sent by facsimile

Dear Prime Minister Golding:

Letter from Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica
Letter, February 28, 2008

We write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express our concern that Jamaican police have again failed to protect individuals from homophobic violence and to investigate recent abuses against men suspected of being gay by members of the Jamaican community...

Human Rights Watch has documented an atmosphere of homophobic intolerance and violence in Jamaica in the past, as well as a pattern of indifference or reluctance on the part of the police to investigate such violence. This latest Incident confirms that serious gaps in protection of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community remain. It is also clear that the conditions for violence continue to fester. Active investigation of such violence and prosecution of the perpetrators is essential to send a message at home and to the international community that all Jamaicans are equal and enjoy equal rights.

The Jamaican Constitution recognizes the right to life as a fundamental right. Jamaica has also ratified international and regional instruments that enshrine this protection, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). In the 1994 case of Toonen v. Australia, the U.N. Human Rights Committee held that sexual orientation is a status protected from discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We urge you to ensure a full and impartial investigation of this case and the disappearance of XXXXXXX, and that any persons responsible are brought to justice. We urge you to speak publicly and strongly against violence and in support of diversity and equality. We urge you as well to work closely with groups representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Jamaica, both in pursuing investigations of possible homophobic violence and abuse, and in building relationships of trust with their communities.
Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your reply.


Rebecca Schleifer
HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program

Scott Long
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program

Cc: Hon. Dorothy Lightbourne, Minister of Justice
R. Admiral Hardy Lewin, Commissioner of Police
Mark Shields, Deputy Commissioner of Police

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

This is a really confusing post. First, the original article you refer to, doesn't show up on when I click the link to 365gay.com.

Second: What's this poll you refer to, in your title and the article? Who conducted it? Where? Why?

Third: Am I missing something? Where are the first four quotes from?

Fourth: Why are you using bits and pieces from a 2007-2008 campaign? Every issue and situation is different, and you can't formulate a transhistorical analysis to fit everything that happens in Jamaica - or anywhere else. It's bordering on unethical to use a February 2008 letter in this context - have those same groups had something similar to say about the current issue of the proposed Jamaica boycott? Is there something going on in *Jamaica* right now that people should know about?

Fifth: To the best of my knowledge, J-Flag is against the current call to boycott Jamaica. Alex Blaze's post, which yours links to, points that out. Why doesn't your post reflect that?

On the whole, this is a really, really confusing post. It needed to be contextualised and clarified. Right now, it's a patchwork of bits and pieces which don't cohere into a logical whole. The blogosphere has a bad habit of rehashing incomplete and often misleading information as news; bilerico d.c. should know better.

Ditto on what Yasmin said about source citation, etc. Polling is very much context-specific, so it's hard to know what those numbers mean without a little context.

Although I do understand the 365gay.com issue - their articles have a very short shelf-life.

n the recent flare up about the "boycott" of Jamaica over its homophobic, transphobic policies we have seen largely progressive whites arguing with progressive whites. I don't want to state my own opinion on the debate here, because I want all sides of the debate to try and listen, even for one second, from a queer Caribbean-American.

I find your use of race in this paragraph incredibly problematic.

First, the "flare up" is mostly a group of mostly (but not entirely) white people boycotting and calling for a boycott, and a couple of people of various colors criticizing said boycott while generally being ignored.

The only people who I know who have come out against it publicly in the blogosphere are me and Yasmin (I may be missing other people, if so, sorry). There have been several black people who have called for a boycott. Yasmin isn't white, and my relationship to the white identity is, let's say, complicated.

(I haven't blogged about this, actually, after 1700 posts on Bilerico, but I've made the rare comment that I don't identify as "hispanic" but rather as "latino," mostly based on a distinction that I think only I am making between those terms because I don't see the Central American/Mexican/Caribbean concept of "La Raza" as extending all the way down to the south of South America. Perhaps its because of the ethnic nature of "latino/a" versus the racial nature of "hispanic," or maybe it's just me not liking the idea of rolling the immigrant and non-immigrant inhabitants of two continents all together into one racial identity to make it easier for North Americans to talk about them.)

Long story short, tho: saying that it's a debate with "white progressives" on one side and "white progressives" on the other is erasing of a lot of people participating. Also, that doesn't get into the term "progressive," since many of the boycotters are libertarian, centrist, and conservative, not progressive or progressive-identified.

But I also think it's problematic that you are implying that you can speak for Jamaicans here because of a common "caribbean/carribean" identity. Maybe that's not the spirit in which you meant it, but I have to wonder why you want everyone to acknowledge the Caribbean-ness of your opinion (if an American of Thai descent were speaking, would s/he say that s/he wants everyone "to try and listen, even for one second" to a Thai-American? While discussing Jamaica?).

Which is entirely the problem here. The boycotters aren't listening to actual Jamaican people's opinions, even the ones who they say they are acting for. Implying that "Caribbean-American" is a substitute for listening to Jamaican citizens and residents only furthers that silencing, because there's a whole lot of privilege that comes with the "American" part of that identity.

But I take it that you're favoring a boycott, which this post doesn't go to prove. No one is saying that there's no homophobic violence in Jamaica. What we're saying is that there are larger issues that make this boycott problematic and likely counter-productive.

And I've yet to hear a response from any of the boycott organizers about why they think this boycott will help Jamaican LGBTQ's, even a bare-bones explanation of how it could work and why there wouldn't be a backlash greater than any change they think they can extract from the Jamaican government, so I'm thinking that they just don't have it.