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Posts for April, 2009

Council for Global Equality’s Top Ten List “Where The U.S. Should Do More”

Jim Burroway

April 28th, 2009

Here is something that escaped our notice until now. The Council for Global Equality, in responding to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports, has identified what it calls the “Top Ten Opportunities for the U.S. to Respond” to anti-LGBT human rights abuses which are highlighted in the report. The countries identified by the Council include Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Uganda.

The ten countries weren’t necessarily selected because they are the worst countries in the world for LGBT abuses. Instead, they are identified as the ten countries in which the U.S. has the best opportunity to influence change through diplomatic, political and economic leverage. The details for each country are found at the Council’s web site (PDF: 140KB/8 pages) Here is a rundown for each country targeted by the Council, along with the Council’s recommendations:

  1. Egypt: arrests, beatings and imprisonment of men suspected of being HIV-positive. Egypt is the third largest recipient of foreign AID. “Our partnership with Egypt should extend beyond the Middle East peace process: it should require a broad commitment to human rights that includes the rights of LGBT men and women.
  2. Gambia: President Yahya Jammeh threatened to “cut off the head” of any homosexual in his country. “We should explore using USAID funds to support programs that encourage tolerance, respect for diversity, and a genuine commitment to civil society”
  3. Honduras: Identified as “one of the worst violators of gay and transgender human rights in 2008.” Police routinely round up LGBT youths without cause and Honduran security officials reportedly condone assaults and rapes on gay detainees. Multiple murders were reported, including a leading transgender rights activist. “The U.S. Embassy should offer visible support to LGBT leaders in the country, and should press for accountability within the Honduran government. It should work with Honduran authorities to offer tolerance and diversity training for police and other security forces that are suspected of complicity in human rights abuse. It also should press for a prompt and thorough investigation of the murders and other incidents noted above.”
  4. India: Police often commit crimes against LGBT people, and officials in Bangalore ordered the arrest of transgender people. “Given our increasingly close relationship with India, we should express frank concern to the Indian Government over LGBT violence and discrimination.”
  5. Jamaica: There have been numerous anti-gay mob attacks, sometimes with direct police complicity. Some attacks have resulted in murder. Homes were firebombed, and one individual was hacked to death by a machete. LGBT advocates continue to be murdered, beaten and threatened, driving some into exile. Police have been criticized in many instances for failing to respond. “Senior U.S. officials should urge Jamaica’s Prime Minister to show leadership by condemning this violence and instituting measures to bring these and any future perpetrators to justice. U.S. police assistance should be targeted toward programs that promote tolerance and the defense of vulnerable groups against mob violence.”
  6. Kuwait: Abuses against transgender individuals were cited. “Individual liberties are at the heart of our democracy, and are critical to the development of deep-seated relationships with like-minded friends and allies. We need to encourage this understanding with Kuwaiti and other authorities as part of our dialogue on human rights.”
  7. Kyrgyz Republic: The report notes “a pattern of beatings, forced marriages, and physical and psychological abuse in the Kyrgyz Republic against lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men.” The Council notes that Kyrgyzstan receives significant foreign assistance. “if Kyrgyz officials are unwilling to address the problem, we should reevaluate our assistance levels and other bilateral programs.
  8. Lithuania: Political leaders have embraced anti-gay policies and have denied LGBT groups the right to assemble peacefully. “Freedoms of assembly and of association are fundamental rights in any democracy. If Lithuania is to claim its place as a democratic state, it must be challenged to honor these principles in law and in practice.”
  9. Nigeria: Adults convicted of homosexuality are subject to stoning in parts of the country that have adopted Shari’a law. LGBT advocates have been threatened, stoned, and beaten. A proposed law pending in Nigeria’s Senate would not only ban same-sex marriage, but any “coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together …. for other purposes of same sexual relationship.” This would open the doors of arrest for those who are legally married outside of Nigeria and who happen to travel to that country for business or vacation. “We hope it [the U.S. Embassy] will work with European and other embassies in Abuja to voice strong concerns over this dangerous new bill in the Nigerian Senate.”
  10. Uganda: Homosexuality is criminalized. Police arrested members of an NGO for taking a public stand against discrimination, as well as three LGBT activist at an HIV/AIDS conference. “Uganda is one of the largest recipients of PEPFAR funding for HIV/AIDS care, prevention and treatment. In Uganda, the money has been used to empower institutions and activists that have led homophobic campaigns in the country. We need to consider whether the US government’s priority focus on abstinence funding is blunting the effectiveness of the money we’re spending, while also discouraging tolerance-based response to the epidemic.”

Writing on behalf of the council, Mark Bromley highlighted Egypt and Jamaica for special concern:

Egypt was our third largest recipient of foreign aid from USAID and the State Department last year.  I would not suggest cutting off U.S. assistance in a country like Egypt, but I am convinced that our funding should give us more leverage to speak out forcefully against the HIV arrests documented in the report.

… The U.S. government’s diplomatic response to these abuses must be strong and unconditional, and it should also be tied to our financial commitments in the country. Jamaica is a country where carefully-targeted U.S. support to gay rights or human rights groups could be effective in improving both the legal and community responses to LGBT violence.  In addition, we should use the foreign assistance funding that we have allocated over the past several years to professionalize the Jamaican police force to help respond to these attacks.

Jamaica Boycott: What Are The Alternatives?

Jim Burroway

April 15th, 2009

Yesterday, I provided a quick update to the Jamaican Boycott. In that post, I noted the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays’ (JFLAG) opposition to that boycott. But as I demonstrated, JFLAG’s position doesn’t speak for all LGBT Jamaicans any more than the HRC speaks for all LGBT Americans. I also closed with this question:

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?

Today, JFLAG’s blog has joined the debate in two posts. The first is a repost of Michael Airhart’s article on Jamaican voices in support of the boycott. The second is a post which defends JFLAG’s opposition to the boycott, and ends with a re-wording of a similar question I asked yesterday:

Do any of you support this boycott? If not, what alternatives, if any, are there for helping the LGBT people of Jamaica in a respectful manner?

Jamaican Boycott Update

Jim Burroway

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:

  1. Jamaican officials publicly committing to ending gay bashing on the island and improving the human rights situation.
  2. 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?

“This is Jamaica and we are against homosexuals”

Timothy Kincaid

April 6th, 2009

The news of the boycott against Jamaica has reached the island. Naturally, being Jamaican media, the reporter placed the boycott as solely San Franciscan in extent, questioned the “specific figures on the size of the movement”, defended the targets, and dismissed the concerns as “a perceived rise in attacks”.

Today the Jamaica Gleaner printed a letter to the editor. Needless to say, it was not one expressing condemnation of the violence or a concern about the economic impact of harboring murdering homophobes. Rather, it was the usual arrogant defense of homophobia and hatred that we have come to expect from Jamaicans.

This is Jamaica and we are against homosexuals.

There is no if, but or maybe about it. Why are they forcing us to accept them? We do not have to. We are a Christian country and homosexuality is contrary to our practices, so why should we drop all our morals, values and religious standards just to please their forbidden choice?

And as for civil protections, well there are none to be expected in the Caribbean’s pit of bigotry.

Instead of simply attacking us and trying to force us to protect and accept you, how about accepting our laws and abiding by them? You are not changing your minds and becoming heterosexuals, and we reluctantly accept that. Likewise, we are not changing our minds, or our laws to please you, so accept this. In the end, if you want to boycott our country, we don’t mind.

Thanks. I believe I will.

Appearance on Michelangelo Signorile Show

Jim Burroway

March 31st, 2009

At 4:30 ET, I will be joining Wayne Besen on the The Michelangelo Signorile Show to talk about the boycott of Jamaica. You can listen on Sirius OutQ, 109 or XM 98. If you’re not a subscriber, you can get a free three-day pass and listen online.

JFLAG Opposes Jamaican Boycott

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2009

The Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG), while grateful for the support, has come out against the Jamaican boycott:

While I appreciate the support in the cause for justice and tolerance towards everyone here despite their sexual orientation, groups planning or who have planned these events must be mindful of the repercussions such actions may have on an already marginalized grouping as we are here.

Members of the public and by extension select public opinion shapers will consider this as interference by foreigners and hence push for more hatred and opposition towards gays. Not to mention the increase in violence that occurs when a situation like this becomes public knowledge. As we have seen before during the planned Canadian group EGALE’s boycott early last year many persons including lesbians suffered attacks, we saw a spike in the numbers that was never so for lesbians especially before.

I mentioned my reluctance in joining the call for a boycott, and this was one of the main reasons. It continues to give me great pause, and I do not take these concerns lightly. But when I read the State Department Human Rights Report on Jamaica, it is clear that violence against LGBT people is already at a crisis level. Jamaica is a small country. It’s estimated population of 2,804,332 is similar to the populations of Kansas, Arkansas or Mississippi. Imagine the outcry we would be hearing if any one of those three states were experiencing the scale of violence that LGBT people in Jamaica are experiencing already without the boycott.

As I see it, it’s damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t. What do you do in the face of this scale of violence, and how do you weigh taking action against the threat of more violence? Do you take the modest step of declaring that you won’t spend your money on that nation, or do you remain silent and hope for the best?

I am also cognizant of the fact that others have been calling for this very step for a very long time. Every time we post a story about a murder or attack in Jamaica, we get comments and emails asking why there isn’t a boycott already. And after looking at the situation for the past few years, I’ve come to the point of wondering the same thing.

Some anti-gay Jamaicans are already charging that we are trying to force our values onto that nation’s society. But the only value we are discussing is a decrease in violence, a value that all of us should be able to agree on. That’s why the goals are very limited to two very achievable and modest aims:

  1. Jamaican officials publicly committing to ending gay bashing on the island and improving the human rights situation.
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.

We’re not demanding that Jamaica changes its laws. We’re not asking Jamaicans to change their religious views. And we’re not asking Jamaican politicians to “embrace” anyone. In fact, there’s nothing the least bit radical or controversial in either of these goals. All we’re asking is that Jamaican officials defend the lives and safety of Jamaican people.

LGBT Americans, it can be argued, have an obligation to be informed of what LGBT people around the world are experiencing. LGBT Americans, unarguably, have the right to make informed decisions in how they spend their money. We are asking that you consider the events over the past year and make your decisions according to your conscience.

And speaking of spending money, I do think there is one more important thing you can do. JFLAG provides emergency services to LGBT citizens in Jamaica, and their needs are great. Please donate, and be as generous as possible.

Jamaica Boycott Kicks Off In San Francisco

Jim Burroway

March 28th, 2009

There will be a rally today at noon on San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Plaza in the heart of The Castro to kick off a boycott of Jamaican products and travel:

But starting this weekend, at Harvey Milk Plaza, site of many actions by Milk in his crusade against Coors beer, a coalition of activists will gather to launch the boycott of Myers’s rum and Red Stripe beer.

The time has come to ask all gay bars and restaurants in San Francisco to boycott Jamaican rum and beer. Switch to serving rums from Puerto Rico and beers produced in countries with enlightened gay laws and social acceptance.

The Jamaican boycott encompasses not only Myers’s rum and Red Stripe beer; we are also asking travelers to avoid cruises to the country. There is no justifiable reason for gays and our allies who value the lives of LGBT and persons with AIDS in Jamaica to vacation there, or consume their alcoholic drinks.

Several bars and restaurants in San Fransisco have pulled Jamaican beverages from their shelves.

Oh yeah, I’m in there somewhere:

In Brooklyn, Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out is developing a Web site to provide background information. He’s working closely with Jim Burroway of Arizona, researcher and editor of the Box Turtle Bulletin blog. Besen and Burroway have both written extensively on the need to flex gay economic muscle and not spend our dollars in a country that explicitly hates us.

Actually, BTB’s Timothy Kincaid has done the lion’s share of reporting on events in Jamaica. Earlier this month, he called on Americans to avoid traveling to Jamaica after that island nation’s Prime Minister announced that “we are not going to yield to the pressure … to liberalize the laws as it relates to buggery.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, where it carries a ten year prison sentence. According to the U.S. State Department, Jamaican LGBT people are subject to “arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals. Police often did not investigate such incidents.”

After much debate and with some reluctance, I too join the call for a boycott. My reluctance stems from concerns about the impact this boycott may have on LGBT Jamaicans. But in the end, I cannot recommend that American dollars be spent in such a hostile environment. I believe consumers have a right to know what’s happening there and make their spending decisions accordingly.

The goals of the boycott are modest and easily achievable:

  1. Jamaican officials to publicly commit to end gay bashing on the island and improve the human rights
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.

These modest goals aren’t difficult for anyone who values basic human rights. They shouldn’t be difficult for Jamaica’s policy makers. You can learn more at the Boycott Jamaica web site.

Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Laws Lead to Increased HIV

Timothy Kincaid

March 20th, 2009

Jamaica, perhaps the most homophobic spot in the Americas, still retains anti-”buggery” laws. And, unlike some countries who have laws that are more for message than for punishment, Jamaican society enforces these prescriptions by means of mob violence and murder.

Needless to say, fear of exposure is not conducive to steady, monogamous, mutually-supportive relationships. Instead, those societies that threaten the lives and freedoms of gay persons lead to hidden individuals furtively seeking sexual release and then fleeing into the shadows. Many seek to hide behind a public heterosexual front and live a double life.

This is healthy for neither the individuals nor the society. And Jamaica is a prime illustration. According to a 2008 study by the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance (CHAA) (Jamaica Gleaner):

31.8 per cent of gay men in Jamaica are living with HIV. Another 8.5 per cent were found with chlamidia, 2.5 per cent had gonorrhoea and 5.5 per cent had syphilis.

These are shocking rates of infection. And the reason for them does not lie solely in the secret, furtive, shameful nature of the brief liasons. Rather, they are compounded by a society in which seeking medical care in an honest fashion can gat you killed. As a UNICEF worker reported in 2007,

Beaten, stoned, thrown out and even killed are the prices some people face just for being HIV positive in Jamaica.

CHAA lays the blame for the shocking rates of HIV and other infectious disease at the feet of homophobia and mistreatment. Not only are MSM frightened to seek medical care, they are fearful of HIV/AIDS groups that seek to help them. This leaves gay men, in particular, at great risk for transmission of a potentially life threatening disease (MedicalNewsToday).

Devon Cammock, the targeted intervention coordinator at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, said that MSM tend to hide their sexuality even from other members of the MSM community, which makes it difficult to conduct programs that are needed in the community.

Should there be among you some so callous as to think that this is just a “gay disease” and that they are just getting what they deserve (an attitude that is not limited to places like Jamaica), you may wish to consider that homophobic laws and culture are a danger to everyone.

In Jamaica, only those who are most brave (or most suicidal) dare identify as gay. So to track health issues they use the term “men who have sex with men (MSM)”. And CHAA has found that MSM are indeed living a double life – and a dangerous one :

Some 27.7 per cent [of MSM] reported having two or more sexual partners in the last four weeks; 25.9 per cent had a new partner in the past four weeks; 28.8 per cent had a female partner in the past four weeks; 15.9 per cent live with a female partner; and 33.8 per cent had two or more female partners in the past 12 months.

But Jamaica’s culture of violence and hatred is not softened by unknowing victims. Rather, their homophobia is so strong it spreads to non-gay persons who have become HIV infected. Take the story of 20 year old Katie.

In the year and a half she has known she’s infected, Katie has struggled through a lot. When she discovered her status, the boyfriend she was living with threw her out along with her daughter, who is currently four and whose father tragically died the same year she was born.

After being thrown out by a boyfriend she went to live with her father, where the situation got worse. There, her step-mum spread rumours that she had AIDS and would point her out on the streets, a very dangerous act considering the destructive discrimination she could face.

Although it’s still a mystery how she got infected, it’s one Katie is in no hurry to solve, “it really doesn’t matter to me anymore because I have my daughter and it would really hurt me and her if I started searching for who I got infected by”.

Katie gets little sympathy in Jamaica. Those persons who are gay and invested with HIV get none.

Unless the Jamaican leaders – be they civil, religious, cultural, or community – become willing to let go of their own fear and hatred and say, “enough is enough”, this nation will continue to wallow in crime and disease, clinging only to its animus and self-righteousness, until the freedom-loving nations of the world want nothing to do with her.

Two Charged in Gay Jamaican’s Murder

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2009

The Jamaica Star is reporting a rare occurrence in that country: two men were charged in the murder of a gay man:

Two men charged with the murder of a man whose decomposing body was recently found in Havendale, St.Andrew, are accused of killing the man because it was believed that he was gay, the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate’s Court heard.

Charged with murder are Dwayne Gordon, 23, and Andy Williams.

The allegations are that Gordon was being interviewed by the police as a possible witness to the crime. His statement however turned into a confession. He reportedly told the police that on February 23, he and Williams stabbed Dane Harris several times.

There is one element in this case worth watching: the possible introduction of the “gay panic” defense. There also appears to be an element of possible wrongdoing on the part of the police:

The body of the deceased was found on February 26. Gordon told the court that Williams was just a contractor he had met through a relative. When asked if the statement he gave to the police was false, he told the court that the police told him to sign a document and then he saw them writing.

This appears to have been a particularly grisly murder. According to an earlier report, Dane Harris’ decomposing body was discovered with multiple stab wounds. Both hands had been severed from his body and were missing.

State Department Report On Jamaica’s LGBTs: Arbitrary Detentions, Mob Attacks, Stabbings, Harassment and Targeted Shootings

Jim Burroway

March 17th, 2009

jamaica-flag.bmpTwo weeks ago, the U.S. State Department issued its annual Human Rights Report for 2008. Jamaica, a favorite holiday destination for millions of Americans, was singled out for extensive official and unofficial abuse of LGBT citizens of that country.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The law prohibits “acts of gross indecency” (generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy) between men, in public or in private, which are punishable by 10 years in prison.

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. Police often did not investigate such incidents.

J-FLAG members also suffered attacks on their property, home intrusions as people demanded to know the number of persons and beds in a home, and in one instance, a fire bombing at the home of two men that left one of them with burns on more than 60 percent of his body. In addition homosexuals faced death and arson threats, with some of these directed at the J-FLAG offices. J-FLAG did not publicize its location due to such threats, and its officials reported feeling unsafe having meetings with clients at the organization’s office.

In February a mob broke into the home of four presumed homosexual men, killing three of them. The fourth was missing and presumed dead. The men had reported being harassed for their perceived sexual orientation prior to the fatal attack. Police made some inquiries in the case but did not conduct a full investigation or make any arrests by year’s end.

The trial of six suspects arrested for the 2005 robbery and murder of Lenford “Steve” Harvey, initially begun and then postponed in 2007, was scheduled to recommence in January 2009.

Male inmates deemed by prison wardens to be homosexual were held in a separate facility for their protection. The method used for determining their sexual orientation was subjective and not regulated by the prison system, although inmates were said to confirm their homosexuality for their own safety. There were numerous reports of violence against homosexual inmates, perpetrated by the wardens and by other inmates, but few inmates sought recourse through the prison system.

Homosexual men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well-being. Lesbian women were subject to sexual assault as well as other physical attacks. Human rights NGOs and government entities agreed that brutality against homosexuals, primarily by private citizens, was widespread in the community.

We reported on the mob killing last February. The situation in Jamaica has continued to deteriorate, with high-ranking Jamaican officials shrugging off anti-LGBT violence. Calls for “tolerance” in the popular media have remained decidedly one-sided by advocating tolerance only for those who espouse homophobic hatred. Courts in the United States, Canada and Europe have been providing asylum to LGBT Jamaicans who fear for their lives if they are forced to return. Meanwhile, support for boycotting Jamaica continues to build. Stay tuned.

Travel Warning – Stay Away From Jamaica

Timothy Kincaid

March 7th, 2009

jamaica-flag.bmpSailing in a cruise liner has always been an economical way to vacation. You are fed great food, pampered by courteous staff, entertained, and your accommodations move themselves each night to a new beach or breath-taking jungle, all for a set price lower than what you would expect to pay at a decent hotel.

With the economy tanking, cruise lines are offering huge discounts to lure those who still have a job into a fun, romantic week at sea. And those sitting today in freezing weather in Midwest states no doubt find the promise of warm Caribbean breezes to be tempting.

But if you are planning a cruise in the Caribbean, please be warned. Avoid Jamaica.

This impoverished island nation has long been known to be violently hostile to anyone perceived to be gay. BTB has reported before on mob killings and public beatings. The culture of this country prides itself on its intolerance and hostility and loudly proclaims acceptance – if not encouragement – of violence towards gays. All of the voices of authority, be they community, political, media, or religious, are virtually unanimous in defense of the abusers and in condemnation of gay victims.

This has led to strained relations with Jamaica’s protector, the United Kingdom. But the local people are resolved that they will not accommodate the attitudes of Europe or the Americas and tolerate their gay children. This week Bruce Golding, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, reiterated their stance.

Golding told Parliament on Tuesday that gay rights advocates are ”perhaps the most organized lobby in the world” and he vowed to preserve the country’s 145-year-old anti-sodomy law that prohibits sexual acts between men.

“We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organisations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalise the laws as it relates to buggery,” he said.

This language is not simply a stance taken by a politician; it represents a deep and pervasive homophobic culture. Gay men and women are in real danger in that country. A friend of mine, a Jamaican man whose orientation has been the subject of significant media discussion, told me that he fears to return to visit his family.

Nor do Jamaicans seem to feel any shame for their culture of violence and hatred.

It has been nearly a year since I last posted about Jamaica. Yet it is seldom that two weeks go by without someone of Jamaican descent commenting. And while none expressed a desire to work against homophobia in their community, many indignantly demand that I cease criticizing their culture. A typical comment might be this one which was posted today:

Jamaica is a safe place to visit just that we do not support the immoral and sadomistic behaviours of gays,and we will not let litttle tourists dollars erase our culture- wasnt slavery enough for u people.If u are STRAIGHT its safe to come on the island in the sun-jamaica.u gays need Jesus.

I do feel compassion for the people. The poor are always the hardest hurt in an economic downturn.

But these people joyously cling to traditions of violence and religions of hatred and, frankly, you just aren’t safe in their country. There is no safety for you because “u need Jesus”.

But even if you aren’t gay and think that this may not really affect you, please recall that those who can justify the murder of me can quickly find a justification for mistreatment of you. No doubt you too are a proudly wicked abomination in the eyes of those who justify their own evil.

So if you are considering a cruise that includes a stop in Jamaica, please reconsider. While the island has great physical beauty, its soul is seething with hatred and you are its target.

Jamaican Objects to the World’s Impression

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

August 12th, 2008

jamaica-flag.bmpOccasionally I’ll remind you why gay people, their friend, neighbors, family, and folks in general that are not fond of an atmosphere of homophobic violence and hatred may wish to avoid the island of Jamaica. It’s time for another reminder.

In an editorial in the Jamaica Observer, Lloyd B. Smith is indignant that the courts in the States and in Europe are providing asylum to gay and lesbian Jamaicans that fear returning back and facing barbarism from their neighbors. He thinks it is the result of “the picture being painted of Jamaica by the international gay lobby”.

However, no one can challenge the fact that many gay men and women in Jamaica are generally ignored by the populace. In fact, the cases of violence directed at homosexuals are far fewer than the gay lobby would have the world believe.

And in many of those cases we have found that it was the public display of homosexual men and their physical response to public criticism that led to them being attacked.

Then Mr. Smith goes on to justify specific incidences of violence.

Mr Carr, the executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, in relating an incident in Half-Way-Tree when gay men were mobbed, chose to ignore the reported fact that the mobbing took place after one of the men splashed liquid on a woman who found their behaviour distasteful and said so.

Perhaps Mr. Smith thinks that in civilized nations a splash of liquid justifies a mob beating and police participation. Perhaps he is unaware that most Americans and Europeans find his attitude nearly as offensive as the violence itself.

And then he offers what he thinks is an acceptable solution.

We’ll repeat a suggestion we offered to the gay lobby three months ago. Instead of trying to sully Jamaica’s name, allow Jamaicans to adapt to changing perceptions of people’s lifestyles and the fact that individuals of all kinds can coexist.

Mr. Smith, let me respond on behalf of “the gay lobby”: If by “coexist” you mean beatings and murder, we reject your offer. If you believe that “public display of homosexual men” justifies a mob attack, we reject your offer. If you think that “people who regard homosexuality as sinful and repulsive” are of more value than peace-loving gay and lesbian men and women, we reject your offer.

We will continue to seek to remove Jamaican Murder Music from our communities. We will continue to protect those gay men and women who have escaped in fear and who seek asylum among modern nations. We will continue to warn our fellow citizens who may be lured by your country’s advertising that you are a nation that celebrates violence and that tourism is unsafe among people who are so eager to coddle their own bigotries.

We will refuse to reward you for your self-justified hatred and incivility and reject your arrogant suggestion.

Rather, let me offer a suggestion to the people of the island of Jamaica. Instead of trying to justify your mob behaviors that civilized people find abhorent, repent of your murderous ways. Rather than congratulate yourselves on your recent “higher level of tolerance for homosexuality among women”, recognize that you have far to go.

Decriminalize homosexuality. Provide civil equality. Commit to protecting all citizens regardless of orientation. Cease finding homosexuality as repulsive and instead place that revulsion on the small minded attitudes that plague your people. And then perhaps the world will cease viewing you as a ignorant, violent, and hateful people.

Almost Getting It

This commentary is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the opinion of other authors at this site.

Timothy Kincaid

April 17th, 2008

I can’t report every homophobic rant that comes out of Jamaica. We’d hardly have time and space for anything else.

However, one letter to the editor illustrates not only the mindset of this island nation but also the thinking process of a great many anti-gay Christians in the United States as well.

I am replying to a letter by one Patrick Harding in which it was stated that one did not choose to be gay. I cannot conceive how a loving God would create someone with a gay gene and then have it stated in the Bible that it is an abomination.

I once came to the same question as Elaine McDonald wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner. But my questioning came to a different conclusion.

Elaine, like so very many Christians, believes that her religious beliefs define the world around her. If “God said it”, or more realistically, if her prejudices are confirmed by her interpretation of Scripture, then it really doesn’t much matter what is factual; she’s already knows what is “true”.

But this statement of hers has three assumptions: 1) God is loving, 2) homosexuality is stated in the Bible to be an abomination, and 3) a loving God would not create someone only to declare them abominable. From this she concludes that God didn’t create someone gay.

McDonald, in her unwillingness to look at all of the variables of her logic, comes to the wrong conclusion. But at least she sees the inconsistency.

I agree with her point 3 as a matter of definition. Although some religious folk believe that God predestines some to eternal torture, I cannot fathom that such a deity could be described as “loving”. Such a god, though an object to fear, would not be worthy of adoration or praise.

Thus either God is not loving, gay people become so of their own volition, or the condition of being homosexual is not an abomination.*

I knew, unquestionably, that neither I nor other gay people made a conscious decision to be same-sex attracted. God had, whether by means of genetics, environment, or some other method, created us irrevocably gay.

So I then had to determine whether or not He condemned me for the way he created me, thus earning my eternal derision and scorn. As I began to study, it became clear to me that being homosexual is not in any place condemned in scripture.

This is where I think much anti-gay and ex-gay theology falls apart. There is an insistence that recognizing or accepting one’s attractions is sinful. But the rather simple-thinking Elaine McDonald has put her finger on the logical inconsistencies of their argument. In order for a “homosexual identity” (which is, of course, nothing more than a recognition of the direction of ones own attractions) to be “a sinful lifestyle”, then one must believe that God is capricious and cruel.

And sadly, reorientation is not the answer. In almost no instances do same-sex attractions change, leaving those who continue to struggle with little hope of redemption. All that the anti-gays and ex-gays can do is to play semantics games about “identity” and “change”.

As for whether specific sexual acts are universally condemned, that is a matter of great debate between various theologies. And I do respect those who, for religious reasons, live celebately and yet dismiss both the games and the condemnation as contrary to gospel.

Personally, I believe that it’s rather unlikely that the correct interpretation of Scripture is one that condemns a specific subset of the population to a life without love. This seems rather odd from a God that places little importance in the distinctions of race, sex, personal situation or political power.

But, as McDonald clearly illustrates, there is no practical distinction in society or the church between those who are same-sex attracted and those who express such an attraction with a partner of the same sex. Rampant anti-gay discrimination and homophobia do not distinguish between the two.

So the next time you hear someone insisting that “there is no gay gene”, just realize that they are acting out of their understanding of the nature of God. And as the preponderance of evidence as to the biological basis of orientation becomes more evident, their internal dissonance will become stronger.

And although some may then argue their newfound distinction between orientation and behavior, they all know that this is a losing argument so most will either become ever more shrill or will quietly go away.

So although the ‘no gay gene’ers may seem the most hateful, it’s probably because they really almost get it. And it’s tearing them apart.

* The atheists among us could argue that another alternative is that God does not exist. I concede that logic but this does not add much to the point of my commentary and is not a subject of this thread.

More Homophobia Spewing out of Jamaica

Timothy Kincaid

April 14th, 2008

jamaica-flag.bmp
It is not surprising that there is more rhetoric coming out of Jamaica’s religious community about the evils of homosexuality. Here’s a little sample from Donald Rubie with something called Green Light Ministry.

Rubie does not like the notion of a boycott

All economic boycotts are of the devil, regardless of the apparent nobility behind it. People must submit to truth not to money; for you cannot serve God and mammon (riches).

No economic boycott shall stand against Jamaica; for the Lord does not require any nation to support homosexuality. The Lord shall judge Jamaica for her wickedness; but judgement shall turn into blessing as Jamaica submits to the truth.

But Rubie does not stop at objecting to economic sanctions.

It’s only in pride that people practice immoral lifestyles; essentially saying we will do what we want. This is why the Lord hates the proud; so He abases them (cuts them down).

The homosexual movement in Toronto centres around “pride week”, where homosexuals parade half-naked (and fully naked) along Church Street; bidding the world to join them. This parade is akin to the carnival festivals in the Caribbean and Caribana in Toronto. It’s a feast of the flesh. What people are saying at these “pride parades” is that they are proud to be an abomination to the Lord (regardless if they are frolicking in the whoredoms of carnival or abominations of gay pride). However, the time has come for the Sovereign Lord to judge the wickedness of the people. Those who want a way out of homosexuality can find a way in Christ Jesus; however those who operate by pride will be cut down in the day that the Lord judges Toronto.

Should there be any surprise when others are inspired by his words to go “cut down” the proud wicked homosexuals? They are, after all, “hated by the Lord”.

The reason that Jamaica is considered one of the most homophobic places on the planet is because of the attitudes illustrated by Rubie. As the rest of the civilized world objects to violence and murder, Jamaica’s voices of religion seek to defend and justify their own society’s inhumanity and to instead blame the victims.

Jamaica Gleaner Continues Its Hate Campaign

Timothy Kincaid

April 12th, 2008

The Jamaica Gleaner published another letter to the editor today. And, not surprisingly, it offered the obligatory “don’t beat them” statements while seeking to justify just such action.

This thing about gays and the rights they have and the rights they want is downright ungodly. If they want to be that way, it is their business; why make it everyone else’s? Has anyone thought about the rights of the people who do not want their children exposed to that kind of nastiness?

I wonder if the cruise ships that stop in Jamaica know that they are placing their gay passengers – or those who might be mistaken for gay – in danger.

Jamaica Gleaner Calls for “Dealing” with Homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

April 10th, 2008

In an article by contributor Thomas Phinemann, the Jamaica Gleaner takes on the issue of homosexuality. Initially it appears as though it is a call for reason, but it quickly devolves into blaming gay Jamaicans for the violence enacted against them:

How can we coexist in peace? We need to start talking to each other. Tolerating homosexuals does not mean condoning or accepting homosexuality. It means that heterosexuals need to accept that there are homosexuals in this world and as human beings they have a right to be in the universe. Homosexuals need to understand that heterosexuals find the lifestyle of homosexuals objectionable, and homosexuals should not flaunt their lifestyle in public and provoke heterosexuals.

After talking about “battle lines” and “no compromise, no middle ground” for those who believe the Bible, Phinemann expresses his views which are, sadly, the predominant views on the island:

In my view, changing the law to accommodate ‘buggery’ is the precursor to changing the law to accommodate bestiality and incest. Men, we agree to disagree on the issue of homosexuality. Let us be respectful of each other as we deal with this issue.

Phinemann and the Gleaner no doubt pride themselves that they are calling for peace. He does end his article with “Let there be no hunting and no flaunting.”

But their peace speaks only to their own desires – the justification of violence and the villification of those they dislike. Under the “peace” of the Gleaner and Phinemann, gay men and women – or those who “flaunt” their existence – continue to be beaten and murdered. And what kind of “dealing” can there be for those who must remain invisible or suffer the consequence of “provoking” heterosexuals?

But now the Gleaner and others in positions of influence can wash their hands and claim that they tried.

Jamaican Tourism Minister Shrugs off Violence Against Gays

Timothy Kincaid

April 7th, 2008

bartlett.jpgTourism is vital to Jamaica’s economy, with about one third of every employed Jamaican working in a tourism related industry. With their “Come to Jamaica and feel alright” campaign, the island nation seeks to present itself as a paradise for vacationing Americans.

But sadly, the Jamaican society does not seem to believe that reality need live up to their media image.

Recent attention has been given to the violence against gay persons in the country. And resulting from the attacks on gay men, MCC has called on the country to repudiate such violence and to take steps to ensure the safety of the gay men and women who live there.

Now Jamaicans in position of influence have given their response.

Today Radio Jamaica reports that the Tourism Minister is not concerned about the efforts of MCC or other “homosexual groups”:

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett [pictured, top] has brushed off calls by homosexual groups for a tourism boycott of Jamaica and Jamaican products.

But at least one Jamaican business recognizes that anti-gay violence does not sell well outside of a homophobic culture.

Brewing company Red Stripe says it will not sponsor several upcoming concerts in Jamaica because of increasingly violent lyrics.

The company has withdrawn thousands of dollars (euros) in sponsorship from the popular “Reggae Sumfest” and “Sting” reggae show. Musicians are glorifying violence in what has become a worrisome trend, the company said in a statement Friday.

But the actions of Red Stripe did not sit well with Jamaican media. In an article entitled Long live reggae/dancehall, the newspaper contrasted the views of gay activists and the “Jamaican position”. The article quoted the Box Turtle Bulletin as it’s source for the attitudes of such activists and Jamaican religious leaders.

miller.jpgSaw an interesting article on the Internet recently dated February 18, written by a Timothy Kinkaid stating that the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay-welcoming denomination, has started a protest against the Jamaican government’s inability – or unwillingness – to crack down on anti-gay violence. …

The article continued, “One might suppose that a call for the cessation of violence was a campaign which all Christians could support. One would be wrong. Not only were MCC’s requests reviled in the Jamaican media, but Jamaica’s Christian community did not take well to being told that they ought not murder gays.

The Rev Dr Merrick ‘Al’ Miller [pictured], pastor of the Fellowship Tabernacle in St Andrew, said that Jamaicans generally deem homosexuality wrong. He said the demands of gay activists who are attempting to force their beliefs on society will in no way influence Jamaicans to change their views.”

Need we say more?

And the Caribbean net news ran a letter to the editor last Saturday expressing indignation that outsiders would consider making purchasing decisions based on Jamaica’s abuse of their gay citizens.

It fully angers me to hear that this group of foreigners think they can dictate the policy and laws of another sovereign nation because they trade products and services with them. It was selfish, shortsighted thinking like this that led to Haiti being in the state it currently is.

I always thought that the laws of a nation were dictated by what that society decided was right and wrong and that we were in a world where, if my countries laws and polices were not the same as yours, we could agree to disagree.

What is missing from the conversation in Jamaica is the voice of reason, the voice of non-violence, the voice of decency. When confronted with murder, the response is, “How dare you criticize me?” and no one seems to find this concerning.

There are many factors that go into the decision of whether to engage in a boycott. One has to consider whether your efforts will be effective and whether the end result will be better or worse conditions for gay Jamaicans. And I’m certain that MCC is more responsible and forward thinking than, say, the AFA.

But whether or not there is a boycott on Jamaican goods, I am certain that I would be afraid to visit there. The physical danger is not minor and I fear that should there be a threat to me, neither the government, the church, or the society would come to my rescue. Further, I would discourage anyone whom I love from vacationing on the island. Those who champion violence against some can champion violence against many.

Perhaps Minister Bartlett shares the homophobia that is rampant in Jamaican society. Or perhaps he fears the condemnation he would receive as a result of being perceived as inadequately hostile to homosexual activists such as me. But if he cares about the future of his nation’s economy and stability, he might be better concerned that his nation not come to be seen by the American public as a hostile and violent place and he might wish to consider that the tourists he seeks to draw do not often share his culture’s fear and revulsion of gay men and women.

NYT Reports Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Violence, Ex-Gay Efforts

Timothy Kincaid

February 25th, 2008

jamaica-flag.bmpThe New York Times has an article today on the dangerous atmosphere in Jamaica.

Being gay in Jamaica is not easy. For years, human rights groups have denounced the harassment, beating and even killing of gays here, to little avail. No official statistic has been compiled on the number of attacks. But a recent string of especially violent, high-profile assaults has brought fresh condemnation to an island otherwise known as an easygoing tourist haven.

In times past, I have criticized the ex-gay movement, particularly members of the Exodus Global Alliance, for what I perceived as encouragement of hostilities towards gays. This article sheds light on what might well be the motivations of this branch of the Exodus family.

Since the attack, Andre said, he has been trying to undo his gayness, following a common view here that it is an acquired behavior that can be dropped if only one prays more and pays more attention to the opposite sex.

He fled Mandeville after the attack and found refuge at the home of a pastor, who now delivers at-home sermons to him on how he must change.

With the pastor standing over him, Andre said he would try to be attracted to women, if only so he would never be beaten again.

I am still waiting for those who rail against the “sin of homosexuality” to weigh in on the sin of murder. At times I wonder if the Church has spent so much effort on combatting the “immorality” of others that they haven’t completely lost their authority for fighting what is truly evil.

Jamaican Church all but Endorses Violence Against Gays

Timothy Kincaid

February 18th, 2008

jamaica-flag.bmpAs we have reported before, Jamaica is a violent, homophobic, dangerous place and ought to be avoided by all persons who care about civil rights. We were not alone in our observations.

The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay-welcoming denomination, has started a protest against the Jamaican government’s inability – or unwillingness – to crack down on anti-gay violence.

Rev. Nancy Wilson, MCC’s leader, and a contingent of religious leaders from the MCC’s Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale met with Jamaican Consulate General Richard Allicock and three top staff members for more than an hour in the consulate’s office in downtown Miami.

“We were encouraged,” Wilson told a group of about 25 protesters who came to Miami for the protest from Sarasota, Boynton Beach and Fort Lauderdale. “We had a frank honest discussion. We’re engaged in a long-term discussion and were not going to stop until gays and lesbians are protected in Jamaica.”

Rev. Wilson’s demands were neither extreme nor unreasonable

that the government launch an educational campaign to decry anti-gay violence in Jamaica, and that the Jamaican police begin sensitivity training regarding the GLBT community

One might suppose that a call for the cessation of violence was a campaign which all Christians could support. One would be wrong.

Not only were MCC’s requests reviled in the Jamaican media, but Jamaica’s Christian community did not take well to being told that they ought not murder gays.

The Rev Dr Merrick ‘Al’ Miller, pastor of the Fellowship Taber-nacle in St Andrew, said that Jamaicans generally deem homo-sexuality wrong.

He said the demands of gay activists who are attempting to force their beliefs on society will in no way influence Jamaicans to change their views.

“Homosexuality is wrong from every possible angle,” said Miller. “It’s immoral from a physical, social and spiritual standpoint.” He said that despite this, the Church was willing to help and support those homosexuals who are in need of counselling or assistance to change their lifestyle.

“I have no problem in supporting and helping someone who sees that he is going the wrong way and wants help in changing his life, but where I draw the line is when you say that it is OK and want to force others to accept your abnormal behaviour,” he added.

and

The Rev Dr Lloyd Maxwell, of the AGAPE Christian Fellowship in Portmore, said that Scripture takes a very clear stance on the matter of homosexuality and, as such, the Church would not sanction nor encourage the lifestyle.

Rev Maxwell said the idea of conducting a public awareness campaign to sensitise Jamaicans on the issue is ludicrous.

With the media and the church openly endorsing homophobia and refusing to condemn the murder of gay men, I have little hope that violence against gays will diminish in Jamaica.

Conditions Remain Frightening for Gays in Jamaica

Timothy Kincaid

February 1st, 2008

jamaica-flag.bmpHuman Rights Watch reports:

On the evening of January 29, a group of men approached a house where four males lived in the central Jamaican town of Mandeville, and demanded that they leave the community because they were gay, according to human rights defenders who spoke with the victims. Later that evening, a mob returned and surrounded the house. The four men inside called the police when they saw the crowd gathering; the mob started to attack the house, shouting and throwing bottles. Those 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.

Human rights defenders who spoke to the victims also reported that police arrived half an hour after the mob had broken into the house – 90 minutes after the men first called for help. 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.

A Warning – this is not a place that is safe for anyone to visit. Those societies that encourage violence seldom stop with a single victim. One should not assume that you may not be the next target.

A Question – do those media outlets that run advertisments singing, “Come to Jamaica and Feel Alright” yet which refuse to report the ongoing campaign of terror against gay persons on the island have any responsibility should a gay tourist be hurt or killed?

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