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 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 smooched.
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 shared smooches 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 LGBT 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 fitting 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 argument never came up again.
LGBT 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 LGBT 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 LGBTs 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 three!
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 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 LGBT 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 LGBT journey is to our own 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. I suppose 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