Alex Blaze

The Jamaica Gleamer covers Boycott Jamaica

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 02, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: boycott, boycott jamaica, identity, Jamaica, Michael Petrelis, nationality, red stripe, tourism, Wayne Besen

Here's a bit from an article in the Jamaica Gleaner yesterday, which Michael Petrelis described as "factual and basically balanced":

J-flag deplores boycott

However, Jason McFarlane, programmes manager at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), said it deplored the boycott, particularly because Red Stripe had withdrawn support from entertainers - particularly of the dancehall genre - who promoted violence against gays.

"We had spoken to them not to go ahead with the boycott when they first contacted us last week, but they went ahead despite our response," McFarlane told The Gleaner.

It's amazing that apparently Jamaican LGBTQ people aren't allowed a vote when it comes to the gay boycott of Jamaica. It's not like they're going to be the ones primarily affected, right?

The point that I was trying to make in my other post about Boycott Jamaica wasn't that there isn't homophobia or homophobic violence in Jamaica. Homophobic and transphobic violence is awful, occurs too often, and must stop.

I was making several points, and one of them was that this action is potentially be counter-productive. I don't know of an instance in history when a foreign-originated boycott of an entire country produced any result other than giving the boycottees a foreign scapegoat for their economic woes (which I'm sure their government will appreciate in this economy), which could lead to increased violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans.

JFLAG has taken that position and asked for the boycott not to go forward. They denounced it on their website and now to the Jamaican press. And, frankly, it's their decision to make. It's not like the boycotters in the US are going to feel the backlash if there is one.

This boycott is directed at Jamaican queer people as well. There's been quite a bit of confusion on the part of supporters of this boycott as to whether Jamaican LGBTQ people are in fact Jamaican. Several comments from its organizers have suggested that they think that it's "us" and "our people" who are being attacked with homophobic violence in Jamaica.

(For instance, Wayne Besen commented here "Why should gay people subsidize their own discrimination?" A commenter on Michael Petrelis's blog said, "No, we're protesting and boycotting Jamaica because it's citizens by and large advocate harm to us." A commenter here at Bilerico said, "Our political movements, like our communities are ultimately international at their very root. The truth is that gay men in Mexico, lesbians in Egypt, bisexuals in New Zealand and transfolk in Ireland, irrespective of national and cultural differences have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens.")

It's easy to read that "us" as simply meaning LGBTQ folk, but since that vision is only being articulated by American gay activists, it's hard not to read it as an attempt to erase the Jamaican-ness of Jamaican LGBTQ people, all to make this situation a cleaner "us vs. them" conflict.

But it isn't such a clean conflict. Supposing this boycott gets off the ground and actually decreases the amount of money Jamaica has, queer Jamaicans will also feel the economic loss. Whether we're talking about a gay hotel owner, a lesbian Red Stripe factory worker, or a bisexual accountant who will be out of work as the economic effects ripple, Jamaican LGBTQ's have a stake in Jamaica's economy too.

All this is to say that the people who are ostensibly being advocated in this action stand to lose, and lose big, if this action fails. Their concerns shouldn't just be brushed off as a group of people too afraid to come out in their defense without the American knights in shining armor descending on their country - their autonomy should be respected.

But when asked, repeatedly, to show why he thought this action would generate positive change in Jamaica instead of a backlash, Wayne Besen (one of the Boycott Jamaica organizers) responded:

Um, how can I prove anything in two days - the entire time the boycott has been in effect? That's as silly as asking me to predict who will win the Super Bowl on opening day.

As for Red Stripe

The article continues:

Meanwhile, Maxine Whittingham- Osborne, head of corporate relations at Red Stripe, said the company was surprised by the gay advocates' apparent random targeting.

"Over the years, by our actions and our policies, we have demonstrated that we do not advocate any bias or prejudice against any individual or group(s)," she said yesterday.

Whittingham-Osborne said Red Stripe had not had any consultations with the group, but did not rule out engaging them in discussions. She declined comment on whether the company was considering legal proceedings against the boycotters.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding earlier this year said his government would not repeal its buggery laws. Attempts yesterday to contact local police about whether attacks on gays had increased were unsuccessful.

Red Stripe is front-and-center in this action, with their logo being used at the top of While this action is targeting tourism, Myer's Rum, and Blue Mountain Coffee, Red Stripe is taking the most heat from this as boycotters are trying to get it taken out of bars in San Francisco.

It doesn't make much sense, though. Red Stripe pulled out of sponsoring two concerts last year because they didn't want to endorse the homophobic and misogynist lyrics. They took a lot of heat in Jamaica for their decision:

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.

Usually a company will engage in something we don't like, we talk with them, threaten boycott, take action if needed, and then, if they concede to our demands, we provide them at the very least cover after the fact because they're likely to piss off someone else by supporting us.

Again, to clarify, I'm not asking that anyone buy Red Stripe or any of the other boycotted items on the list. And I'm very much in favor of people learning as much about the products the buy and make an informed decision (especially going beyond sensationalistic headlines).

But Red Stripe here seems to have been targeted only because of its national origin, not because of anything the company did. In fact, Michael Petrelis says pretty much just says it:

The boycott has targeted Red Stripe beer, mainly because of the product's international prominence, Petrelis said. The group is bidding to cut sales of Red Stripe beer in gay bars and restaurants in San Francisco within 30 days.

Well, there ya go. It's the boycott of an entire people, regardless of the fact that there are many people in Jamaica who oppose this sort of violence. If they're Jamaican, they're part of the problem, not the solution.

The organizers of Boycott Jamaica defend their choice of Red Stripe as a target. Michael Petrelis blogged:

I wish to point out that it is nice of a Red Stripe spokesperson to offer a general condemnation against violence of all kinds, but notice that the word "gay" is missing from the quote. It's not enough for the beer company to occasionally cancel sponsorship of a music festival featuring singers who advocate murder of homosexuals, as it did last year. Red Stripe officials must start issuing statements opposing violence and stigma against gay Jamaicans that actually say "gay" or homosexual.

Well, what a very helpful demand! Because so many American beer companies are releasing statements with the word "gay" in them asking for homophobic hate crimes to stop. In fact, I can't even think of a single beer company that hasn't.

Wayne Besen said:

As for Red Stripe, they pulled out of one [sic] concert after pressure. Your expression of their support is greatly exaggerated.

Isn't that the entire point of this action, though? To apply pressure? If Jamaica accedes to Boycott Jamaica's demands, will this be the thanks they get?

Then again, they don't have any specific demands against the companies they're boycotting, which is another reason this probably won't be effective: they're targeting folks who aren't the source of the problem.

I'm just going to guess here, though, that they didn't even bother to look up the corporate history of any of the companies they're targeting. Because that would assume that some Jamaicans aren't homophobic, and we know that can't be true.

Thankfully LGBTQ Jamaicans have been excused from being Jamaican, or people's heads would be exploding at this point.

(I sent off a few questions to Boycott Jamaica yesterday afternoon, but they haven't responded by the time I posted.)

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Didn't EgaleCanada get criticized when they tried this about a year or two ago during the Stop Murder Music campaign?

Alex Says: "It's amazing that apparently Jamaican LGBTQ people aren't allowed a vote when it comes to the gay boycott of Jamaica"

Reply: Unfortunately, Alex confuses American notions of "voting" with that experienced by GLBT people who live in countries where it is dangerous to be gay. In short, they can't "vote" for a boycott because it is too risky.

On my website, one homophobic Jamaican wrote in and accurately said: "We have the few gays here in Jamaica (J-Flag), there is a reason that they are not supporting your boycott; they know their place."

Thanks to people like Alex - and his fundamental misunderstanding of the danger dynamic - they will continue to know "their place."

The latest State Department report backs up my point quite clearly. According to the report:

“The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals.”

And one can "vote" under such a threat? Please.

The real problem is, Alex has major issues with Americans doing anything proactive in the world. He is, in essence, a gay isolationist opposed to almost all American activism beyond our shores.

For example, on March 11, 2009, he dismissively brushed off the Council for Global Equality as an organization that advocates "the US take on a stronger role in scolding other countries into respecting LGBTQ people's basic human rights."

It is disappointing that Alex has elected to couch his real agenda (anti-internationalism)in the guise of protecting Jamaicans. I urge him to be more forthright and just flat out say that Americans have no place or no voice beyond our shores. At least that would be more honest.

Isolationism? Really, Wayne, that's your understanding of international relations, a spectrum between libertarian isolationism and neoconservatism? Where does the left enter that framework?

What about approaching this from a position of mutual engagement? What happened to learning as much as we can about our neighbors and engaging them as autonomous nations?

Because that's really what a progressive foreign policy framework depends on: respect for other nation's autonomy and other people's right to self-determination first and foremost, with engagement, understanding, and cooperation coming from that.

"Anti-internationalism" isn't even a word, so I doubt it's my hidden agenda.

Unfortunately, Alex confuses American notions of "voting" with that experienced by GLBT people who live in countries where it is dangerous to be gay. In short, they can't "vote" for a boycott because it is too risky.

It's just that savior complex that I'm arguing against here in this post. It's a rather convenient way to ignore Jamaican LGBTQ voices, since they're always suspect.

My question to you is: if JFLAG and/or Jamaican LGBTQ's in general opposed this boycott, is there any way they could express that opinion without you finding a way to dismiss it?

Thanks for stopping by and having this conversation on both posts. I think it's enlightening for readers to see as many sides of an issue as possible.

But why not head on over to JFLAG's posts against the boycott as well and argue with them? Their site is open for comments as well. I don't see why I'm the only person who should be having all the fun.

Brad Bailey | April 2, 2009 8:44 PM

Behavior is maintained by its consequences. Doing nothing at all sends a clear a message to the Jamaican government that the murder of gay people is ok; that continued violence against homosexuals and repressive laws targeting them are ok. No sir, I'd rather take my chances with a less that perfect plan of action than do nothing at all. Every time I purchase a Jamaican product, I'm casting a vote for the current status quo of this country. I choose not to.

Chitown Kev | April 3, 2009 9:51 AM

To a large extent, this is my position. For all of Alex's concern about Besen and the American gay community marginalizing their "Jamaica-ness," that is exactly the purpose of the state-sponsored terrorism by the Jamaican government; to marginalize their "Jamaica-ness."

So I guess I get my black card revoked again. (sigh!)

My only question for Besen and Petrelis is what else do they plan to do other than boycott?

colored queer | April 2, 2009 9:41 PM

Alex, Your analysis is so excellent in pointing the flaws in organizing efforts of gays in the US to impose their own agendas and understandings of how battles in other countries should be fought for gay rights.

How can some of these arrogant white gays impose their imperialistic attitudes on other countries without even consulting or getting people in those parts of the world on board? And no we should not have those people just "vote" but they should be the "leading" voices in this and actually they are doing just that in Jamaica in the face of such intense violence.

JFLAG does exist and despite whatever Wayne B says they are in a position to not only "vote" but dictate how and when any boycotts should be organized. That argument is so ludicrous that they can't "vote" as they are all in hiding. I wonder for how long these activists have been involved in gay Jamaican issues or why suddenly all this interest in other countries that every other day we see a new group popping out claiming to represent people in other countries. It is funny how most of these folks are whites with no understanding of colonist past of so many of these countries and how they would be viewed by people who were once "colonized" by westerners with very such attitudes that they know what is best for them and ruled and exploited those cultures and people.

And as someone responded yesterday these little boycotts or even US based economic sanctions are totally useless and particularly when JFLAG does not even support such actions.

Why is it so hard for folks to understand the points Alex is trying to make through this and yesterday's post on Jamaica:

1) let Jamaicans take the lead in deciding how to fight violence -- after all it is them bearing the brunt of the violence and not "us" in far lands sitting in our comfy living rooms and just signing on to something that those affected by violence don't endorse. Having grossly committed human rights violations the US is absolutely in no position to dictate to other countries on any issues whether human rights or not.

2) the comments of US based gay folks are insensitive with full disregard to the cultural and other complex dynamics at work in other countries.

3) if US based folks are so energized to help let's then pledge financial, tactical and moral support to Jamaican gay groups and by that I don't mean "international" gay rights group operating in the US. Remember, just the salary of one staffer at a gay org in the US would most probably be enough to support the budget of a gay org in another country and let us just stop there and not dictate how they (Jamaicans in this case) should fight their fight.

Finally, though average gay person is genuinely concerned about the conditions of LGBT folks in other countries but what people find most troubling is the response from gay institutions in the US as they only get involved in these incidents for their own political, fundraising and fame gain. We all know the politics of gay orgs and it is just pathetic when they try to exploit a very vulnerable group of people abroad for above mentioned self-interests.

And for activists looking to do some good or a cause for mostly LGBT persons of color abroad I suggest to do some good for LGBT people of color in the US by speaking out against racism in LGBT community and first lets take our "leaders" and deeply seated racism in gay orgs to task and bring equality to our own community in the US before preaching it to people in other countries.

Sigh. I do wonder about that too. Both Boycott Jamaica and JFLAG ask for donations, and I'm sure that they could both use the money. But isn't one's publicity here in the US taking away attention (and money) from the other?

I didn't even get into that in the post, because that's another can of worms....

K. Travis Ballie | April 2, 2009 10:30 PM

Hey Alex,

I'm digging up a post about LGBTQ issues in Jamaica I wrote a good while ago but which I still think applies given the current flare up. I hope you can cross post it here. I'm submitting it do dc.bilerico right now.

colored queer | April 3, 2009 10:50 AM

Alex, I think it is important to discuss why would a US org founded to help Jamaicans would be asking for money (if they are asking for donations) to support their operations. Shouldn't they be volunteering to do this work if they are so passionate? JFLAG deserves funding to fight this violence as it is their members who are suffering and not a US-based org run by mostly whites looking to pay themselves to scream from the safety of their homes/offices while also disrespecting other cultures. It is sort of a pervert form of oppression.

Anthony in Nashville | April 3, 2009 10:55 AM

As I stated in another thread on this subject, I support this boycott.

While it's true that no group of "outsiders" can advocate for somebody better than members of the affected group, there are some instances in which the people are too scared or unwilling to do anything. At that point, I think someone either has to step up or we're letting the chips fall where they may on those people.

If J-Flag has a proposal for action beyond "don't boycott," then I apologize. But from what I've read and my experiences with gay Jamaicans, they are content to accept their poor treatment in Jamaica.


And... you're basing this on....? A rich sociological exploration of gay Jamaicans? An extended stay in Jamaica (and I don't mean spring break/vacation)? The millions of gay Jamaicans you've met in the course of your life, a number sufficiently large enough for you to make such a sweeping statement and provide at least a semblance of statistical probability?

This reminds me of the other Anthony in Nashville I once met on a trip through Tennessee years ago. Based on that... well, you don't want to know.

As a Jamaican gay activist living in Jamaica, I find the approach of these boycott organisers offensively paternalistic. Certainly it is well known that Jamaica is a violent and hostile place for gay people. But gay people here have been resisting that violence for some time. And as difficult as it is to see or as unsatisfactory as it seems to outsiders, everyday that there is one fewer homophobic attack or that we are able to speak in a forum about our challenges is a day of progress for us; everyday a group of gay men can go to a concert or play and be safe is a day or progress for us; everyday an obviously effeminate and feminised actor can go on stage unharmed and be the lead in the most popular plays in the country is progress for us. Our aim is to expand those small spaces. Some of us here prefer to frame our struggle as being about social transformation, not particularist rights.

People need to understand that we are not starting from the same place the boycotters are. This is why their context-devoid analysis is so puzzling. In one breath they castigate Red Stripe for not being strong enough in their support yet they claim that homophobia prevents gays from speaking out in the country. If homophobia has an impact on who speaks, it is more likely to be on those entities that are not specifically into the promotion of gay rights. Gay rights advocates have been speaking out, albeit, anonymously (and increasingly confidentially) but we are the gay rights activists, not Red Stripe. Red Stripe has more reason to be fearful about the repercussions of supporting gay rights than gay activists do.

Look guys, the last time we had foreigners calling for a boycott, there was a spike in homophobic violence in the island. When that happened, there were no foreigners around to help us deal with the fallout. Will the principals involved in this call be here this time around when those of us who are activists and who are becoming increasingly visible are the targets of a backlash? Will they help the gay community here when its voices are silenced?

Let me end by stating that there is a clear difference between martyrdom and victimhood. If we become martyrs in our own cause, very well. But we do not wish to be turned into victims of the excessive goodwill of others.

But from what I've read and my experiences with gay Jamaicans, they are content to accept their poor treatment in Jamaica.

Supposing they are truly content to accept violence, which I doubt they are, then what's the point of playing savior here?

I mean, if they're really content, then there's no problem, right? And if they aren't, then we should be looking to them for ideas.

Because if it's not about helping Jamaican LGBTQ's, then it just looks like a bunch of Americans who are mad that other countries aren't doing what we want them to do.

Mary Johnson | April 3, 2009 5:14 PM

"JFLAG has ... denounced it on their website and now to the Jamaican press. And, frankly, it's their decision to make."

Wrong. Where and how I spend my money is MY decision, and if I choose not to support state-encouraged gaybashing, that's when I'm the Decider.

Thanks for the GWB opinion, but don't worry, no one's telling you how to spend your money except for the boycotters.

Thanks for your insight and principled stand Alex. As someone who is a gay Jamaican a lot of this is just grossly condescending. If anyone wants to stay away from Jamaica that is their personal business. This is something else, however. This is declaring to speak in the name of GLBT Jamaicans because they are "too weak" in your eyes so you are so "generous" you're dedicated to saving them from themselves. To declare you are speaking for GLBT Jamaicans because they have not reported to you satisfactorily is not just arrogant, it is imperialist, racist and playing dolly house with people's lives.

Paige Listerud | May 5, 2009 4:58 PM

I suppose what disturbs me more than the call for a boycott of Jamaican products is the call for it without any type of organized, coalitional exchange between Jamaican LGBTQ and US LGBTQ. Are liaisons between Gays Beyond Borders or others and Jamaican groups exchanging info and strategies with each other? Are there ANY liaisons between our communities and theirs?

Should we be supporting the grassroots formation of Jamaican LGBT before declaring something that has international sweep? How do Jamaican LGBT want to be supported? I have no idea--I personally am not acquainted with any queers from Jamaica.

Who's talking to who about this? Could we learn something here that could be a blueprint for ending anti-queer violence in other countries, like Iraq? These questions matter if we intend to have actions, like IDAHO, International Day Against Homophobic Oppression, coming May 17, be anything other than meaningless gestures.

Finally, buying or using products from other countries because their manufacturers have taken a pro-queer stance, while boycotting other products or services because they don't, would be an excellent way to twist the arms of both foreign corporations and governments. Should we start making lists and making them public, loudly, annoyingly public? As in, "Hey, Jamaicans, we drink Red Stripe because it's anti-queer violence. Hey, Red Stripe, we'd drink a hell of a lot more of Red Stripe if you were more vocal about anti-queer violence."