Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bay Area Reporter: Boycott Jamaica

The Bay Area Reporter's guest opinion column this week is my column about the boycott of Jamaica I'm helping to pull together. Hoping to see lots of friends and activists on Saturday, at noon, at Harvey Milk Plaza, for the official launch of San Francisco's contribution to the boycott Jamaica campaign.

My column:

Regardless of who's sitting in the Oval Office running the country or leading the State Department, every year the U.S. survey of human rights practices for Jamaica and the deadly violence and other horrific acts perpetrated against LGBT people makes for grim reading.

The reports never contain any good news for Jamaican LGBT people, and the latest report, issued in February, documents a dramatic surge in human rights violations, that too often go uninvestigated and unprosecuted. Here are some depressing highlights:

"The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals ... a fire bombing at the home of two men that left one of them with burns on more than 60 percent of his body ... Lesbian women were subject to sexual assault as well as other physical attacks ... No laws protect persons living with HIV/AIDS from discrimination. Human rights NGOs [non-governmental organizations] reported severe stigma and discrimination against this group."

Also well-documented in the Jamaican press, with gruesome photos included, are mob attacks on transgender persons, often beaten bloody, left with no protection from the police force.

The nation's prime minister, Bruce Golding, recently called for strengthening and preserving the draconian buggery law, which fuels much of the burning homo-hatred across Jamaica's political and religious institutions.

Golding boasted to parliament: "We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organizations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalize the laws as it relates to buggery."

Translation? Jamaica is happy to take gay money and do nothing to eradicate the penal code sections that criminalize LGBT citizens and marks them with heavy stigma. There is no end in sight to the hellish miseries suffered by the LGBT community in Jamaica.

But starting this weekend, at Harvey Milk Plaza, site of many actions by Milk in his crusade against Coors beer, a coalition of activists will gather to launch the boycott of Myers's rum and Red Stripe beer.

The time has come to ask all gay bars and restaurants in San Francisco to boycott Jamaican rum and beer. Switch to serving rums from Puerto Rico and beers produced in countries with enlightened gay laws and social acceptance.

The Jamaican boycott encompasses not only Myers's rum and Red Stripe beer; we are also asking travelers to avoid cruises to the country. There is no justifiable reason for gays and our allies who value the lives of LGBT and persons with AIDS in Jamaica to vacation there, or consume their alcoholic drinks.

Across the USA, gays are stepping up to create a successful boycott of Jamaican products and cruises.

In Brooklyn, Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out is developing a Web site to provide background information. He's working closely with Jim Burroway of Arizona, researcher and editor of the Box Turtle Bulletin blog. Besen and Burroway have both written extensively on the need to flex gay economic muscle and not spend our dollars in a country that explicitly hates us.

We also have Art Johnston, owner of Sidetracks, Chicago's largest video and cruise bar, pulling Myers's rum from his shelf, and working with other gay bars there to come on board the Jamaican boycott express. Across the pond, UK activists are poised to promote the boycott in their pubs and newspapers.

Small, but very important steps toward building a public relations nightmare for the county's political and religious leaders, who remain silent about the anti-gay human rights abuses.

There are several avenues of participation I ask you to consider. Personally boycott Myers's rum and Red Stripe beer. Ask your favorite bars to boycott them also. If you're a bar or restaurant owner willing to pull those products, call me to add your establishment's name to the growing list of gay venues boycotting Jamaican drinks. My phone number is: (415) 621-6267.

And deliver a pro-gay and pro-boycott message to Mr. Anthony Johnson, the Jamaican ambassador to the U.S. Send e-mails to: You can reach the embassy by telephone at: (202) 452-0660.

Our demands are simple and doable: 1) Repeal Jamaica's oppressive sodomy law, 2) Issue a statement from the prime minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against LGBT people and apologizing for past violence, 3) Implement a gay-affirming program to train police officers.

It will take many political and economic strategies to bring about the change we all want to see in Jamaica, and the one Web site to learn about those strategies goes live this weekend. Check out and tell your friends to visit the site.

Let's start the Jamaica boycott with a rousing and fabulous launch on Saturday, March 28, at noon, at Harvey Milk Plaza, that would not only make Harvey proud, but also send a powerful message to Jamaican leaders to start respecting the human rights and dignity of LGBT persons across the island country.

Join us on Saturday as we pour Myers's rum and Red Stripe beer where they belong –down the sewer.

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