Jamaica is possibly one of the most dangerous spots in the world for LGBT people, but public scrutiny is helping promote change.
Tourists from all over the world flock to Jamaica’s elite resorts and sandy beaches. But for LGBT people who call the Caribbean island home, it’s no paradise. Homophobia is a way of life and there’s a prominent fear of living an openly gay lifestyle.
Gay men fear violence. Lesbians fear being raped or sodomized. There are laws against anal intercourse. It’s so bad, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say Jamaica is among the most dangerous places in the world to be gay.
But, there are small signs that some of those old attitudes are beginning to fade. A lot of new hope for LGBT people is being attributed to J-Flag, Jamaica’s foremost gay rights organization.
The advocacy group recently released a video campaign called We Are Jamaicans, about LGBT identity and communities. The videos express the experiences of Jamaica’s LGBT community in a more diverse way. They can viewed at YouTube.com/EqualityJA.
South Florida resident Lucas Gregorio* was born in Jamaica and lived there until he was 10-years-old when he moved to the U.S. He lived in this country for 30 years before returning to Jamaica for two years where he saw the country’s homophobia firsthand. He moved back to Florida last year.
Gregorio recently watched the J-Flag videos and thought they were great. “The videos were well done. But when I sent the link to other Jamaicans, some flat out would not watch them. Two did and thought they were great but believed their impact would be minimal,” he said.
Gregorio said the plight of gays in Jamaica is a difficult one. And unlike the U.S., it’s one that’s based on class.
“Jamaica is a status driven country,” he tells The Mirror. “So if you are perceived to be rich then it doesn’t matter what you do for the most part.”
But that could soon change. According to a recent Reuters report, the Jamaican government said it plans to test the waters by conducting a non-binding "conscience vote" in parliament on ending the notorious Jamaican Offenses Against the Person Act, which makes anal sex a crime, regardless of gender or consent, and prohibits "acts of gross indecency" between men, in public or in private.
A vote in parliament would take place before the end of the legislative year in March, opening the door for the law to be reviewed, possibly later this year.
Gregorio said that change is long overdue. “I believe in equal protection under the law regardless of sexual orientation. I think more pressure should be placed on the government to change the laws and thus the attitudes of the masses toward gay Jamaicans.”
He feels Jamaican-Americans (and all Americans for that matter) living in South Florida can help influence what’s happening in Jamaica.
“The fact that I was considered an American even though I was born in Jamaica gave me more influence and credit when I spoke or gave my opinion,” Gregorio said. But, he said the real acceptance has to start with gays and lesbians on the island.
“The overall attitude of Jamaicans will only change when gays and lesbians in influential positions start demanding change. They should support grass roots movements life J-Flag and Jamaicans for Justice. But as long as they stay closeted, nothing will change,” Gregorio said.
*(The name is an alias)