Saturday, April 04, 2009

Gay Jamaican Exile Endorsed Boycott in 2008

There was much talk last year in the USA and Canada about boycotting Jamaica because of the atrocities committed against gay Jamaican in 2008, but the boycott call fizzled.

One gay Jamaican, Gareth Henry, who was forced to flee Jamaica and now lives in Canada, told Xtra! newspaper why he supports a boycott, and understands the reasons Jamaica's only gay advocacy group must oppose it:

But Gareth Henry, the cochair of JFLAG until he was forced to flee the country for Canada last year, says he supports the boycott. He says JFLAG can't be seen to publicly support a boycott.

"They can't be the ones to call for the boycott," he says. "They can't be that voice. But the gays, lesbians and queers on the ground are supportive of a boycott."

Henry says he's tried talking to the government.

"We have tried numerous approaches, numerous dialogues with government officials," he says. "They have been nonresponsive to the call. We have to hit people where it's going to hurt, where they'll feel it. In the Jamaican context talk is cheap. After 10 years of JFLAG's existence what else can we do?"

This heroic gay Jamaican was profiled last year in the Toronto Globe and Mail because of his high prominence in the city's gay pride event. The paper gave a succinct introduction to this young man and the violence he's seen take the life of friends, and strike at his own safety:

On June 19, 2004, Gareth Henry - the man I'm talking to in the easy safety of the more or less 100-per-cent gay Church Street Starbucks, the man who will be grand marshal at this weekend's Gay Pride Parade in Toronto - stood with a handful of friends mere metres away from a crowd in Montego Bay, Jamaica and watched that crowd "beat and chop and stone to death" a friend of theirs, a gay man called Victor.

They had first watched Victor being beaten by three Jamaican police officers. They saw a crowd gather. They saw the cops tire and turn Victor over to the mob. They watched the crowd kill him.

"It hurts," he says. "We couldn't do anything. We were helpless."...

This past January, he fled to Canada. He is only 30, but 13 of his friends in Jamaica had been murdered. He is awaiting a decision on his application for refugee status.

He is not an effeminate man and he does not dress extravagantly. It may seem Jamaican thugs must have a more highly developed gaydar than most gay men, but it's more likely that it isn't easy to keep secrets in a small island society. ...

In his teens he befriended an older man who turned out to be gay, who became something of a mentor, and then, Mr. Henry remembers, the rumours started. It was whispered that the older gentleman was a "batty man" (a patois insult for gay). The whispers began to mention Mr. Henry, too. Though his family was far from supportive at the time, they decided, for his own safety, he should move to Kingston. He was 15.

He continued his schooling, got a college degree in social work, slowly discovered the underground that is gay life in Jamaica and saw the birth, in 1998, of J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays. He began volunteering for the organization; would eventually become its co-chair (after the 2004 murder of its first public figure). ...

Over all, Mr. Henry says, life in Jamaica was "miserable, with happy times, until the end of 2006. Then, in 2007, it became miserable with the absence of happy times. The worst I've ever seen homophobia in Jamaica. There were over 10 gay murders. Over 43 mob attacks. I received 8 to 10 threats from the police, turning up at my apartment and threatening me. Four lesbians raped that year alone. It was a total nightmare." ...

How many such reports must we read before full gay economic pressure is brought to bear on Jamaica, and the country's leaders and business learn there is a price to pay for homophobic laws and mob attacks on gay persons?

No comments: