The Dark Side of Paradise

This post will offend a lot of people – and that’s okay. Sometimes people need to be offended. Having our boundaries tested forces us to rethink and reconsider some of the things we have come to accept as normal and acceptable.

My First Eye-Opening Experience

I must have been eight or nine when it happened…

My family and I had moved to a rural town in Portland, Jamaica, with virtually nothing to do. Thankfully I had always been an active and outdoorsy child, so dirt and bicycles kept me busy.

One day, while I was running wild in the backyard I noticed a group of people shouting and screaming obscenities next door. The yards weren’t fenced off, so I went to see what all the fuss was about.

People had armed themselves with rocks, sticks and machetes. They looked so angry that I thought maybe a thief was about.

“What happened?” I asked one of the adults.

He told me two batty-gyals* had been on the property. They hadn’t done anything explicitly sexual, but apparently the two had been kissing.

I was so confused. I had never really thought about gender and sex when it came to relationships, and my family had never mentioned it before, either. If they had, it must have gone in one ear and out the other.

I just couldn’t understand why it was an issue if two females shared a smooch.

My parents kissed all the time! What was the big deal?

In the end I chalked it up to cultural differences and the weird world of adulthood. When I got home I decided not to ask my parents about it. I figured they wouldn’t be able to give me a better explanation.

Out for Blood

A few weeks later, the boys were away and I was left to roam the outdoors by myself, yet again. When I tired of my own yard, I ventured next door. That’s when I saw them. They were just little girls – barely older than myself, if at all.

I don’t remember what they were doing – maybe kissing or touching. But I remember the look of fear in their eyes when they realised I had seen them.

I resolved to keep their secret and turned away, but adults appeared out of seemingly nowhere, and the hunt was on.

No one seemed disturbed by the fact that they were experimenting at such a young age. The offence was that they had experimented with each other.

One girl grabbed the other by the hand and they fled across the property into the bushes with a mob of angry adults behind them. I feared for their safety, but didn’t know how to help.

That was the day I chose sides.
I chose to side with the victims rather than the oppressors.

I never told my parents about that, either. I had the vague suspicion that they would be like the other adults and think those two girls should be hunted and hurt for their preference.

Living the Example of “Tolerance”

In fact, it wasn’t until high school that my biological father cornered me about my support for the LGBTQ movement.

At the start of tenth grade, I had made friends with a tom-boy in class, who was rumoured to be gay. I’m not sure how he found out, but someone had apparently thought it fit to tell him.

In truth, at the time, she was still struggling with what she was or wasn’t, but that meant little to me. Today she identifies as a lesbian and is in a steady, long-term relationship.

“You need to stop hanging out with that girl,” he told me.
“People are talking.”
I shrugged in response. “She’s my friend,” I told him. “I don’t care what people say.”
“People are saying you’re gay, too!” He practically choked on the words. It was almost a threat.
“I don’t get why that’s offensive,” I replied with another shrug. “People can say whatever they want. I don’t care. I’ll take it as a compliment.”
He was infuriated. “I get that you don’t want to fit in!” he bellowed at me. “But why must you always fit out?!” Then he stormed off to his room and shut the door.

The arguement never came up again.

LGBTQ Activism in College

By the time I got to college I was pretty firm in my support for the LGBT community, which pitted me against many other people my age. During that time, I made friends with three gay guys and a lesbian.

Through them I learned all the inside terror of being gay in Jamaica, and the fear of coming out. Today all three guys are still buried deep in the closet out of fear for their lives. As for the girl, she married a Canadian woman, but later ended the relationship.

One guy did come out to his parents in 2014. When I asked him how it went, he told me his mother had cried a river. But thankfully, she accepted him for who he was and eventually became a pillar of support for him.

You need that when you have the misfortune of being gay in Jamaica.

The Most Homophobic Country on Earth

For those of you who don’t understand how this could be any worse than being gay somewhere else, let me put things into perspective for you.

While Jamaica is known for beautiful beaches, friendly people, and chill music, Jamaica has also developed a reputation for being the most homophobic country on Earth.

While good old Bob sang a great deal about “One Love”, few people have put that into practice. In fact, reggae itself has become a vehicle for homophobic ideologies. Not only do artists condemn the LGBTQ community, but they also condone maiming and killing them.

This has led to music bans around the world for Jamaican artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Bobo Ashanti, Sizzla, Capleton, Elephant Man, T.O.K., Bounty Killa, and Vybz Kartel.

Ironically, these artists are some of the biggest and most successful on the island. Some are singing slightly different tunes now in order to tour worldwide, but this has done little to stem homophobia in Jamaica.

In fact, in 2006, Times Magazine called Jamaica 
“The Most Homophobic Country in the World”.

While Americans and most other nations have been fighting for marriage equality, Jamaican LGBTQs are fighting for the legal right to even be gay! Gay men have it the hardest in Jamaica. Sexual intimacy between men is punishable by law, with up to ten years of imprisonment.

This is supported by not just one law against buggery, but four!

There is no official law against lesbianism, but lesbians face their own fair share of worries. While living in the capital city, I personally knew one girl who was forced out of our neighbourhood by men, after they found out that she was gay.

I’m not sure by what means of force they got her out, but when I returned from summer vacation she was long gone. Though her best friend at the time was my roommate, I never saw her again and I was asked not to speak of her in public.

She feared for her life.

Hope for Jamaica

Since then, a lot of things have changed for the better regarding the LGBTQ movement, but still not enough for any of my male friends to crawl out of the closet. Jamaica is still considered one of the most homophobic nations in the world, and gay acts are still illegal.

Hopefully with time things will continue to change. Maybe fellow Blacks will begin to understand how similar the LGBTQ journey is to our own (yes, I said it!), and fight along with the community to help them obtain their rights.

After all, who else should understand their story better than we do? – when we were travelling the very same road, not too long ago. Or perhaps that’s all just wishful thinking.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I hope a homophobe or two might begin to reconsider their take on the community and understand how their hate crimes affect the lives of innocent people – even children.

*Batty-gyal is a derogatory term for lesbians in Jamaica.

*Originally published November 30, 2015

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83 Comments Add yours

  1. cindy knoke says:

    I had no idea. Thank you for educating me. It sounds frightening and hurtful.

    1. Yes, I’m aware a lot of people don’t know about this. It’s definitely a great place to visit, but it really needs to work on the homophobia.

  2. extremely powerful piece. I truly had no idea how about it was for the LGBT community in Jamaica… wow truly eye opening man, can’t get over how amazing this article is!

    1. Thanks so much Nicole. Jamaica really is a great place, but we really are backwards when it comes to lgbt and women’s rights.

  3. Such an interesting read! Thanks for sharing. It’s almost hard to believe that the world differs so much in other countries. I’m from the United States gay marriages were legalized in all states a little over a year ago. You may be that voice that people need in Jamaica for them to finally wake up and see that this isn’t right.

    1. Thank you. I’m not sure I’m much of a voice since I don’t live there anymore. I live in the US as well. All the same, some awareness must count for something. Thanks again!

  4. Growing up in Brooklyn, I learned firsthand what Caribbean people thought of LGBT. It’s sad that it’s 2016 and we’re still dealing with this. Thanks for such a eye opening piece.

    1. Haha. Yes, there are definitely a lot of Caribbean people in Brooklyn so I don’t doubt it. It’s getting better in Jamaica, but it’s still a long way from acceptable.

  5. Mark Miles says:

    Wonderful post. Homophobia is still alive and well in the US as well, for the record. In fact, I’ve seen something of a resurgence of it since the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. There’s still so much work to be done, but I’m glad you took the time to share this. 👏👏

    1. I’ve definitely noticed it here in the US, as well, but definitely not to the violent degree as back home.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Mark!

  6. Bum Tales says:

    While creating laws to acknowledge people is a good start, reaching their mind and their heart is another matter.

    Unfortunately every countries are equal when it comes to this and their is no need to be in Jamaica to look at act of fear and hatred.

    Laws have been voted against racism, homophobia and co. It doesn’t prevent cops killing black guys, gay being mocked and put aside, women being assaulted and the list would be long.

    I am not really fond of putting tags on a whole country saying “the most homophobic one”. It serves no purpose except to build a wall around a land who need to open its mind.

    Plus USA and other European countries should shut their big mouth when it comes to human rights cause we are thousands miles away from being Saints…

    Thanks a lot for the powerful testimony.

    1. You make a good point, but I think the aim of tagging Jamaica was to raise awareness and inspire change. And it did work to some degree as Jamaica has its brand as a haven to protect. Musicians gave their apologies and international artists have since toned down the homophobic ranting, though purely local artists continue to do it.

      I can agree that even the US has issues with LGBT but having lived in both countries, America is a saint when it comes to LGBT and even women’s rights, compared to Jamaica.

      Of course this is no excuse for America and other countries to stop progressing, but just putting things into perspective.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and sharing your opinion. I hope to see you over here again soon!

      1. Bum Tales says:

        Haha this is just me overreacting a bit. There are so many smart human rights activists working all around. I am just scared when some politics takes control of the debate cause they reach so easily the Godwin point and slow down the process. Even though this is a great way to catch people attention and raise awareness.

      2. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of the Godwin point. Care to explain?

      3. Bum Tales says:

        This a theory. It is when a debate reach a point where a side start to compare the other one to nazis. Most of the time everybody starts to shout and scream and there is no debate anymore hehe. Here is a Wikipedia link. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

      4. Haha. Well I wasn’t at all headed in that direction. Thanks for explaining.

  7. I had no idea Jamaica was so judgemental about it all. Having gay/lesbian/bisexual friends, I know how hard enough it is for them to just be themselves in places like Europe or the States. I can’t quite imagine it being worse, but I guess it can be…I am rather sad about it all. I pondered on it on a fiction post of mine, in love with your soul. I don’t really get all this gender judgement, it makes so little sense, we are all humans, souls…if only we could love our differences more or at least respect them and getting on with our own businesses…Powerful words as always Alexis, thank you.

    1. Thank you Isabelle. Always a pleasure when you drop by!

      It is indeed sad. And things are getting better, but barely. I think my generation is much more open to LGBT unions, but as you know, we aren’t the generation that governs and makes the laws. Unfortunately, we don’t have an Obama.

      1. Always a pleasure to drop by Alexis 🙂 I know, I so agree but it is great that there are those like you who dare to raise awareness on such delicate topics. It all counts.

      2. Thank you. That really means a lot and I hope it does help. 🙂

  8. Shandean™ says:

    Love this piece. I’ve has people disregard friends of mine as threats to my sexual maturity because they were effeminate and considered gay and it’s a hurtful undertaking to listen to the jokes and to see the behaviours of a lot of Jamaicans regarding the LGBT community. That being said, we have come a very long way and I believe steady progress is being made. More people are accepting, more people are indifferent to it. In my eyes, that’s progress. Slow yet perpetual progress.

    1. Thank you! So happy to see a fellow Jamaican commenting. I’m following your blog now!

      Yes, we’ve definitely come a long way and made some progress. The problem is though our generation is more accepting of the LGBT community, it’s still the generations before us governing and making the laws, and having the most say in the media. So the laws are no longer reflecting our collective beliefs.

      At the same time, it provides an excuse for the homophobes to persecute others.

      I find it funny that people thought your effeminate friends would negatively affect your sexual maturity. Did they explain that??!!

      1. Shandean™ says:

        Thank you for following. I agree wholeheartedly regarding our lawa and I’m a very vocal advocate for a millenial approach to our politics and politicians to more accurately reflect us young folks in our laws and policies. Unfortunately it would come down to their being gay and as such would not be ‘knocking me up’ so they were considered less than ideal but ‘safe’ conpany or encourage me to try my hand at the lifestyle. I recall being disgusted then and I continue to be about the hateful

      2. That’s a shame, but welcome to Jamaica I guess. I moved last year, so I’m no longer in touch with the culture and where it’s at with regards to certain things, but hopefully it gets better.

      3. Shandean™ says:

        Insensitive behaviour by some among us.

  9. sargondorsai says:

    It’s interesting how our perception of a place is colored by the information we’ve been presented about the place. Previous to reading your blog my only knowledge of Jamaica was what I’d seen in the movies, which is always that it’s such a happy place. Sad to know that there is such a dark underbelly to the shiny paradise.

    It’s sad that so much hate still exists in the world. Passing laws isn’t what’s needed. It’s changing the culture acceptance of things that are different.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. It’s definitely a happy place…when you’re straight. When you’re not, then the island life is a little less kind.

  10. K. Hules says:

    How awful! I’m glad you brought it to light though. Maybe it will help some people reconsider their intolerance.

    1. I hope it does Katta. 🙂

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