(Photographs of event held outside the office of the Jamaican Consul in Barbados on 14 Feb, 2008)
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) – Guyana is deeply concerned over the continuous acts of violence towards Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) persons in Jamaica. The recent mob attack on January 29 in Mandeville by some 20 persons against 4 young men they believed to be gay is the latest of a repeated pattern of vigilantism towards men and women in Jamaica motivated by a disapproval of their sexual identity or gender expression. It reaffirms the perilous climate towards life and liberty that violence is creating across the Caribbean region. It also calls profoundly into question our transformation as a region, with independence, into modern, inclusive democracies, and our success in moving ourselves beyond the violence and vicious inequities of slavery, indentureship and colonialism.
The lack of response and official silence by state institutions and authorities has significantly contributed to this ongoing problem. Governments have a moral responsibility to ensure all are protected by law and none are excluded from equal protection. The absence of public policy and law reform to deal with hate crimes rooted in homophobia and to prevent all forms of violence and discrimination serves to breed these rampant homophobic attacks.
As Guyanese we know too well the ruinousness of mob violence that targets people based on diversity and the social disintegration such violence sows for everyone. It is especially heartbreaking to our vision of post-independence Caribbean democracy when such violence targets those already hated, excluded and marginalised by stigma and prejudice.
What good are our own governments if they fail repeatedly to protect citizens from mob lynching and slaughter? What good are religious leaders if they struggle to condemn killing and maiming others? The silence of both political and religious leaders in both word and action sends signals to the masses that they can be judge, jury and executioner in attacking, persecuting and lynching individuals whether perceived or known to be gay. This has fermented an unstable environment of rabid homophobia and virulent intolerance in Jamaica reflected and amplified in the lyrics of some dancehall performers who glorify the lynching and killing of homosexuals in their music.
Why does the Caribbean cling tenaciously to slavery-era laws written from the same pens as the ones that institutionalized ownership and trade in human beings? Why does a country where female sexuality is ruthlessly glorified in public imagery feel such a compelling need to police consensual sex between adult men? People use the existence of these laws to justify personal and group lynchings of those who offend their sense of appropriate sexual or gender-based conduct, and pretend this is the exercise of some moral authority.
It is past time for the Jamaican government to act like one. SASOD calls on Prime Minister Bruce Golding, all of Jamaica’s state institutions and authorities, who have by word and inaction significantly contributed to this ongoing problem, to intervene aggressively to protect all Jamaicans from violence and discrimination, particularly on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time for Jamaica’s political parties to stop electioneering over who can be more backward in promising to preserve institutional homophobia.
Violence in Jamaica is an enormous problem with the island nation stained with the highest per capita murder rate in the Americas. This epidemic of violence is certainly not limited to those perceived to be gay, and is not an easy problem for the best of governments to address. But simple acts of political will and voices of leadership can go far in reversing the neglect of the government in allowing a climate of violent intolerance towards homosexuality to persist. Send a clear message that violence against people whose sexual behaviour or gender expression you don’t like is criminal and prosecute it as vigorously as any other crime, instead of advising that they should ‘hold their corners.’ Embrace efforts to decriminalize sexual behaviours that have no victims. Even if these efforts would yield little result, a responsible and unbiased government would at least try them.
Jamaica’s people are brilliant, resourceful and play a unique role in the region’s history, politics and sports. But any claim she has to leadership of the Caribbean is excised by her growing regional and international reputation as a symbol of anti-gay violence ignored. Jamaica must reverse this disturbing trend if she is to re-gain her place as an island paradise in the Caribbean.
Signatories on behalf of SASOD:
Joel Simpson, Stacey Gomes, Vidyaratha Kissoon, Namela Henry, Jermaine Grant, Dion Small, Kelvin Broughton, Reyana Mc Kenzie, Keimo Benjamin, Kesaundra Alves and Anton Rocke.