The country is right now in a very precarious financial situation and a lot is riding on the upcoming winter tourist season. That much was made clear by the Jamaican High Commissioner to Canada when I met with her [Aug. 23]. I understand that Canada is Jamaica’s fastest-growing tourism market and very soon Canadians will start researching their winter vacation destinations.
The Caribbean region has certainly seen some territories make amazing strides regarding inclusiveness and tolerance. Cuba (always a very popular destination for Canadian tourists and only 90 miles from Jamaica) has held very flashy gay pride parades. Curacao will hold its first Pride march soon and all the Dutch Islands recognize same-sex marriages, even if a few still will not perform them. The French islands now perform same-sex marriages, and the British territories (Bermuda, Cayman, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, etc.) have very progressive anti-discrimination laws. Puerto Rico is also set to pass sweeping anti-discrimination legislation. All of these islands still have a ways to go in terms of full LGBT equality. However, the governments have laid the foundation for this equality to be realized.
And then there is Jamaica.
In the past month, Jamaica has seen a spate of anti-gay violence that the government would rather we not talk about. These include the barbaric murder of 17 year-old cross-dresser, Dwayne Jones at a public street dance near the popular resort town of Montgeo Bay on July 22. A female member of Dwayne’s church alerted the crowd that Dwayne was biologically male. A mob quickly formed and they stabbed and shot Dwayne to death before tossing his body in nearby bushes. They then went on dancing. The police found Dwayne’s body at 5 a.m. the next morning.
Instead of accepting its role in eliminating this sort of homophobic violence through the active promotion and protection of human rights for LGBT citizens, the current government thinks we are simply bad-mouthing the country when we merely repeat what the local media are already reporting. Sadly, even some Jamaican LGBT groups think we should downplay the violence so that we can encourage gays to come out. Needless to say I find that approach unethical. If we misrepresent the situation and gays DO come out and are HURT, we would be at fault. Instead, we must provide full details about the likelihood for anti-gay attacks and allow gay Jamaicans to make informed choices. But, I digress.
In fairness to the current government of Jamaica, they have made some positive statements in response to attacks on LGBT Jamaicans. However, I rather suspect that even these were coerced and were NOT a function of any genuine concern for Jamaican gays. Be that as it may, the laws of Jamaica still heavily discriminate against homosexuals and the government has consistently failed or refused to actively promote respect for the human rights of LGBT citizens. This reticence/refusal is out of deference to the island’s powerful fundamentalist churches. These churches are currently compiling a petition to prove to the Jamaican Parliament that they "have the numbers" to prevent a repeal of the archaic anti-sodomy law. What is ironic is that these SAME churches howl in protest when other groups use their strength of numbers and resources to press for LGBT rights recognition in Jamaica.
As a sovereign country, Jamaica has every right to determine its own laws. And, as a private individual, you have the right to support a country that reflects your views. So, would you wish to spend your money in support of a country whose government steadfastly refuses to repeal laws that discriminate against gays, and whose society and economy marginalize and victimize LGBT individuals? OR would you rather your money went to support a nation that shared your own values of inclusion and respect for human diversity? This is a deliberately loaded question. How do you think we can get the Jamaican government’s attention? How can we get them to take LGBT rights seriously?
The choice is yours. Please let me know what you will be doing this winter season, and why. Better yet, please let the Jamaican High Commission in Ottawa know. Their email address is: email@example.com.
This article first appeared in the blog Dadland Shut Up with the headline "Jamaica Boycott Or Not? A Question For Canadians."