I have never traveled in the Caribbean but it has long been one of my destinations of choice. Unfortunately the news coming out of the region in the past several years hasn't exactly been encouraging to the queer community. It may be a long while, if ever, before I feel comfortable going to Jamaica and rolling up a big fat one.
One night last month, Andre and some friends were finishing dinner when a mob showed up at the front gate. Yelling antigay slurs and waving machetes, sticks and knives, 15 to 20 men kicked in the front door of the home he and his friends had rented and set upon them.
Disapproval of gays is an entrenched part of island life, rooted, Jamaicans say, in the country’s Christian tradition. The Bible condemns homosexuality, they say. But critics say islanders are selective in the verses they cite, and the rage at gay sex contrasts sharply with Jamaicans’ embrace of casual sex among heterosexuals, which is considered part of the Caribbean way.
While some other Caribbean tourist destinations have made a point of marketing to gay travelers, Jamaica has notably not joined the trend.
The double standard on the island is reflected in the antigay lyrics of Jamaican dance hall music, the headlines of more hyperventilating tabloids — “homo” is the term most often used — and the fact that homosexuality remains illegal here, with the specific crime called “buggery.”
A nice start would be to remove the illegality of homosexuality. Sadly, even that would be a very small step in what may be a long road of education and overcoming this entrenched religious-based homophobia and hatred. And don't expect the police to provide protection.
A couple of weeks back, a local tabloid, The Jamaica Star, ran a screaming headline when a local police officer, disturbed by the attack on the dinner party guests, decided to disclose his sexual orientation to the paper. He said he had been harassed regularly by his colleagues because he is gay. He said the police did not take violence against gays seriously.
Mr. Hayden, who has since taken leave from the force, is in hiding out of fear that his colleagues might kill him.
Even a funeral was disrupted when an angry mob attacked a church during a service for a gay businessman. We're talking Fred Phelps-style hatred here.
Of course there is an easy solution for this problem. If WE would just stop acting so gay, or better, heal ourselves, the violence would stop.
The country’s public defender, Earl Witter, later condemned the violence at the funeral, but he also reinforced the common view that if only gays would be less flamboyant, there would be less violence against them. Speaking to the Mandeville Rotary Club last April, he urged Jamaica’s gays to avoid flaunting their sexual orientation.
The article concludes with a quote from a pastor who is working with a gay man to overcome his homosexuality. The pastor doesn't want his name used in the article out of fears of being attacked for "protecting" the gay man he is trying to heal of this "demonic thing."
The website VisitJamaica.com makes it sound like a pretty nice place. Notice the tagline: "No Wonder Hearts Beat Faster in Jamaica."
Yeah, when you are gay and running for your life from a mob with machetes, I suspect hearts beat plenty fast. That's not my idea of a vacation.
Print version of New York Times article.