Rev Irene Monroe

Complex Factors Fuel Jamaica's Violent Homophobia

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | September 12, 2013 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: hate crime, hate crimes, homophobia, Jamaica, sex workers, violence

dwayne_jones.jpgDwayne Jones, 16, was the pretty girl with the lovely long legs, chiseled cheekbones and fierce dance moves that all the boys at the party were vying to get next to. At first no one questioned Jones' gender -- until the transgender teen dressed in female attire decided to come out.

Jones's coming-out moment resulted in her being beaten, stabbed, and run over by a transphobic mob. She died from her injuries.

Jamaica has a history of assaults on its LGBTQ denizens. And in 2013, nothing changed.

Intense homophobia in Jamaica is so unchallenged that people simply speculate about others' sexual orientation or gender identity, then plot to kill them. The intent to murder is unabashedly announced without fear because the police won't protect Jamaica's LGBTQ citizens from mob-led killings and violence. Those who are supposed to protect instead incite the country's homophobic frenzy -- by either being present and inactive during these assaults or by following and watching the members of the LGBTQ community.

Human rights advocates around the world have spoken out against the violence.

Many LGBTQ rights advocates ask what fuels Jamaica's form of homophobic violence. There are at least five factors: slavery, anti-sodomy edicts, anti-gay dancehall reggae performers and music, the sex tourism industry, and HIV/AIDS.

The emasculation, humiliation, and rape of enslaved African men, who were oftentimes sodomized as a form of public punishment, has intentionally conflated same-gender sexual violence and homosexuality in the eyes of many people.

jamaican_flag.gifAnti-sodomy edicts like Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act punish the "abominable crime of buggery" with up to ten years of imprisonment with hard labor. Article 79 of the same act punishes any act of physical intimacy between men in public or private by a term of imprisonment up to two years with the possibility of hard labor.

Dancehall reggae performers and music spewing homophobic lyrics advocate and advise on how to celebrate the murder of LGBTQ people.

Case in point. Jamaica's leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was murdered in his home in June 2004. Multiple knife wounds savagely mutilated his body. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the crime, reporting that a crowd gathered after the killing.

Some in the mob rejoiced and said, "Battyman [Jamaican slang for homosexual], he get killed!" Others celebrated Williamson's murder and called for further violence: "Let's get them one at a time," one said. "That's what you get for sin," others shouted. Still others cried, "Let's kill all of them." Some sang "boom bye bye," a line from Jamaican recording artist Buju Banton's popular song about killing and burning gay men.

Also fueling the violence is the sex tourism industry's demand for male sex -- straight and gay. Sugar mommies and daddies look for young black males for sex. If the price is right, most of these sex workers will service both male and female clients regardless of their own sexual orientation.

"I prefer woman, but I try the gay thing for the money. But I'm still interested in men... The gay thing is stronger money than straight prostitute," a male sex worker told the Jamaica Observer in 2005.

According to the 2004 Knowledge, Attitude, Practice and Behaviour Survey commissioned by Jamaica's Ministry of Health, there has been an increased demand for male sex workers. In 2000, males between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for only 2 percent of the sex-worker population. By 2004, the number jumped to 6 percent, with males ages 25-49 increasing from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 15 percent by 2004. That number continues to climb as the economy worsens.

What the report doesn't say is that the increase in male sex workers is due to demand for gay sex from both tourists and islanders.

According to Wikipedia,

Gay prostitutes can be found working in hotels as entertainment coordinators. Blatant male prostitution is rare, since the homophobic nature of the country makes male prostitutes generally conduct their business in more subtle ways. Still, some male prostitutes have been seen soliciting in the streets.

gay_jamaica.jpgSince sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM) are high-risk groups for HIV/AIDS, and blamed by many in Jamaica for the epidemic, no sensible sex education and prevention programs can be introduced.

The attacks against gay and trans men are not only carried out by outsiders, but also by family members. Some attackers are motivated by shame, others by the desire to make an outward denunciation of homosexuality in order to protect themselves from future homophobic assaults.

Amnesty International reported in February 2004 that a father encouraged students to attack his son after he discovered a picture of a nude man in his son's backpack. Dwayne Jones's father, who kicked him out of the house at age 14, refused to comment on his son's death or to claim his body.

Fighting homophobia on this island country is an uphill struggle. Seventy percent of Jamaicans believe LGBTQs should not have civil rights. Most Jamaicans view LGBTQ sexual orientations and identities as a form of Western cultural imperialism. Many Jamaicans claim that LGBTQ sexual orientations and identities are antithetical to traditional Jamaican culture, religion, gender roles, and attitudes.

In April 2008, Cambridge, Massachusetts city councilor Ken Reeves, the son of Jamaican immigrants, traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to join the Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson, Presiding Elder and Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of MCC (a global denomination with now 300 churches in 28 countries) and Rev. Pat Bumgartner of MCC New York in a demonstration denouncing violence against LGBTQ citizens on the island. And in June of that year Reeves put together the panel "Jamaica: Yes, Problems--A Visit to Homophobia," held at Christ Episcopal Church in Harvard Square, to seek out solutions.

But in a country with no federal hate crimes bill, police enforcement, or churches to protect LGBTQ Jamaicans, solutions can't be found.

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