Complex Factors Fuel Jamaica’s Violent Homophobia

Dwayne Jones

Dwayne Jones

Dwayne 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—the transgender teen dressed in female attire finally coming out.

But Jones coming out moment resulted in her death, caused by being beaten, stabbed, and run over by a transphobic mob. Jamaica has a history of assaults on its LGBTQ denizens.

And in 2013 nothing has changed.

Intense homophobia in Jamaica is so unchallenged that people simply speculate about peoples’ 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 murders 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 query 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, sex tourism industry, and HIV/AIDS.

The raping of enslaved African men who were oftentimes sodomized as a form of public punishment, emasculation and humiliation during slavery has intentionally blurred and blamed same-gender sexual violence as homosexuality.

Anti-sodomy edicts like Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act punishes 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 a crowd gathered after the killing, rejoicing and saying, “Battyman [Jamaican slang for homosexual], he get killed!” Others celebrated Williamson’s murder, laughing and calling out, “Let’s get them one at a time, “ “That’s what you get for sin, “ and “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.

But also fueling the violence is the sex tourism industry’s demand for male sex—straight and gay. Sex, sand, sugar mommies and daddies look for young black males. If the price is right, most of these sex workers will service both male and female clientele regardless of their own sexual orientation and preference.

“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 2008.

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 increase jumped to 6 percent, with males’ ages 25-49 increasing from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 15 percent by 2004 and it continues to climb as the economy worsens. But 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.

Today, “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, Wikipedia reports.

Dwayne Jones

Dwayne Jones

With sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM) as HIV/AIDS high-risk groups, and blamed for the epidemic, no sensible sex education and prevention programs can be introduced.

The attacks against gay and transmen are not only done by outsiders. They are also done by family members. Some attackers are motivated by shame and some as an outward denunciation of homosexuality (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’s father kicked him out of the house at age 14, refused to comment on his son’s death and 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 views LGBTQ sexual orientations as a form of Western cultural imperialism. Many Jamaicans will contest that LGBTQ sexual orientations is antithetical to Jamaicans being themselves with their traditional culture, religion and gender roles and attitudes.

irene monroeIn April 2008, Cambridge (Mass.) 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, NYC 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 crime bill, police enforcement and church to protect LGBTQ Jamaicans, solutions can’t be found.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on September 12, 2013
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”