Jamaican Boycott Update
April 14th, 2009
The Jamaican Boycott continues to stir controversy in Jamaica and here in the U.S. On Wednesday, Wayne Besen will host a Rum Dump in front of the historic Stonewall Inn in New York at 6:30 p.m. This follows a similar Rum Dump held in San Francisco by Michael Petrelis. Meanwhile, the Jamaican LGBT advocacy group J-FLAG continues to voice strong opposition to the boycott.
Just as our own Human Rights Campaign doesn’t speak for all LGBT people in America, J-Flag doesn’t speak for all LGBT Jamaicans. But for whatever reason, the idea is percolating among some LGBT advocates that Jamaicans are united against the boycott. But try telling that to Jamaican blogger Dave, or some of the Jamaican commenters here at BTB. Just under a year ago, exiled Jamaican LGBT advocate Garth Henry who was co-chair of J-FLAG until he was forced to flee to Canada, had supported calls for a similar boycott there.
There is another argument that goes like this: Because we’re Americans, we have no right to advocate for human rights outside of our borders. Well if we really believe that, then I guess we should stop tutt-tutting any of the violent threats that we see around the world. Uganda? I guess you’re on your own now. Too bad American anti-gay extremists have no compunction whatsoever in observing the niceties of international boarders in exporting their rhetoric.
But the strangest argument against the boycott seems to go something like this: anti-gay violence in Jamaica is bad and getting worse. If you boycott Jamaican travel and products, anti-gay violence in Jamaica will be bad and likely get worse. As I said, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, and its eerily reminiscent of a classic hostage standoff. Go away or we’ll shoot. And when you do go away, we’ll probably shoot anyway if history is a reliable teacher.
Yes, we can sit on our hands and watch the situation in Jamaica continue to spin out of control, but that just reinforces the old adage which points out that doing the exact same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome is madness. But it appears that this is precisely what our critics would have us do.
This action isn’t being taken to completely remake Jamaican society. In fact, the goals are very limited to two very modest aims:
- Jamaican officials publicly committing to ending gay bashing on the island and improving the human rights situation.
- A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.
Notice what’s missing from the goals. We’re not demanding that Jamaica repeal its sodomy law, simply because we don’t believe Jamaican leaders should be held to a standard our own legislators would fail to meet. And for similar reasons we’re not asking the Jamaican people to change their religious views, nor are we asking Jamaican politicians to “embrace” anyone. Because of this, many who support a boycott might argue that the aims are too milquetoast. But all we’re asking is that Jamaican officials defend the lives and safety of Jamaican people.
And what we’re doing is not all that groundbreaking. Many LGBT Americans have been engaging in a quiet unofficial boycott for quite some time, and they’ve been involving their friends, families and other straight allies. BoycottJamaica.org merely puts a highly visible face on top of what had already been taking place informally.
So for me, the reason I continue to support the boycott comes down to this: We all have an obligation to know what is happening to LGBT citizens around the world, and we all have a responsibility to decide how we want to spend our money. I know how I want to spend mine, and I encourage everyone else I know to avoid Jamaican products and travel. I’m no different from many countless other LGBT people who have been doing precisely the same thing for quite a long time — except, of course, that I have a blog. And so I am simply saying publicly what I and many others have been saying privately.
And I will continue to do so. The only way to expect a different result is to do something different. To those who are against the boycott, I have one thing I’d be interested in learning: what do you think ought to be done differently from what has been tried before — assuming you really want a different result?