06 May 2007

Island Of Lost Souls (Part One)

The climate is horrible in Jamaica these days, and I'm not talking about anything related to global warming. I'm talking about the climate for justice. Jamaican LGBT folk are finding it anything but balmy and mild!

The island's heavily macho culture has mixed with virulent heterosexist theology and genocidal Pop music to create a toxic atmosphere, one where anti-Gay violence is not only tolerated, but encouraged. You've heard the old saying "the truth will set you free?" In Jamaica, the truth can shorten your life! The closet is culturally enforced with Gestapo tactics! Anyone suspected of being Gay risks getting mobbed in the streets. Anyone suspected of involvement in a same-gender relationship risks getting killed. The same goes for anyone who openly advocates for Gay Rights.

A bloody trail of shootings, knifings, stranglings, bludgeonings and stonings winds along the streets of Kingston, Negril, Mandeville and other towns; the list of hate crimes lengthens with each passing month. Within the past three years, two prominent Jamaican Gay activists have been murdered in cold blood. Unbelievable as it may seem, the deaths of Steve Harvey and Brian Williamson were greeted with cheers, raucous laughter, and even singing! A crowd of leering spectators gathered at Williamson’s home to celebrate his fatal stabbing.

According to an October 2006 story posted at GayCityNews.com, members of the assembly screamed: Let’s get them one at a time! and That’s what you get for sin! Others mouthed hateful lyrics from “Boom Bye Bye,” a popular Reggae tune that calls for the extermination of all Gay men (such recordings are common in Jamaica, as I wrote in a previous essay titled “Blood On Their Hands”). A few months ago, two women suspected of being Lesbians were executed Mafia-style and dumped in a latrine!

A new version of ethnic cleansing based on sexuality seems to be in full effect on the island. Law enforcement officials often turn a blind eye to such atrocities. Worse, some may even be abetting them! An eyewitness alleges that police in Montego Bay participated in the mob beating of a Gay man, who later died from his injuries.

Jamaican Public Defender Earl Witter probably didn’t even blink an eye when he heard about it. At a news conference last week, he stated in no uncertain terms that Gay people who "flaunt" their status deserve whatever happens to them! After delivering a plea for tolerance that was more limp than a damp dishcloth, Witter excoriated "brazen" Gay men whose public displays of effeminacy "excite violence and mayhem." Blaming the victims wasn't enough; Witter then proceeded to paint them as criminals! "Buggery (anal intercourse) is an offence punishable by imprisonment at hard labor," he cautioned, and added ominously: "Tolerance has limits." Evidently, so does human decency!

I learned about the latest outrage committed against LGBT Jamaicans at PamsHouseBlend.com, an excellent blog when it comes to current events. Someone with a cell phone camera documented a murderous mob's vicious attack on a Transperson in the town of Falmouth; Pam Spaulding was one of the first bloggers to post the horrendous scenes online. At Jasmyne Cannick's blogsite, I found this detailed news account of the crime, taken from The Jamaican Observer:

According to eyewitnesses, the man was spotted at approximately 8:30 AM in the town center, apparently waiting for transportation. He was wearing heavy make-up, high-heeled shoes, a long pair of shiny earrings, a black leather jacket over a snug black-and-white blouse, a tight-fitting pair of jeans, a black wig, a pair of sunglasses and a handbag slung over his broad shoulders. It was not clear yesterday how the alarm was first raised. However, the Observer was told that the assault began as soon as someone in the busy square shouted that the person was actually a man wearing female attire.

The news of the man's presence in the community spread rapidly, and in a matter of minutes, scores of angry residents converged on the scene and began to rain blows all over the cross-dresser's body with sticks, stones, and whatever weapon they could find. "Where is the police station at?" the frightened man screamed. During the melée, the wig the man was wearing fell off, and wads of newspaper stuffed in a brassière to lift the man's chest dislodged, while a cosmetic kit containing lipsticks of varying colors was thrown from a bag he was carrying, much to the amusement of the large crowd who stood watching. "Batty boy fe' dead!" persons among the mob shouted. The sentiments were echoed by the rest of the riled-up crowd: "Falmouth no pet no batty boy! We no want none a' them 'bout here", one woman yelled.

The term "batty boy" is vulgar Jamaican patois used to refer to Gay men. It's the equivalent of "f*ggot" or "queer."

After the mob dispersed, the victim was whisked off in a police service vehicle, much to the disapproval of the crowd, who rushed upon the vehicle demanding the man's release. "If you ever did see him, him dress hotter than you and me", one young girl was overheard telling her friend. "Nu worry, man, we gi' him a proper (beating)", one man said proudly. The man was admitted to hospital. However, a police spokesman said last night that a group of people, who wanted to beat the man on his release, were waiting outside the hospital, which, he said, could delay his release from the health facility.

Horrendous! And lest anyone be tempted to think this was an isolated incident, the news account adds:

Yesterday's beating was the second such in a month in western Jamaica. In the previous incident, several men alleged to be homosexuals (sic) were chased, beaten and stabbed, resulting in one of them being hospitalized, during the Supreme Ventures Carnival on Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay. The men were said to have gone onto the stage and gyrated (???) on each other, angering the patrons.

What chilled my blood most when reading this news account was the attitude of these mobs. They were totally unrepentant! Shameless in their bigotry, and arrogant in their homicidal philosophy, these murderers were downright proud of their heinous acts! In their twisted minds, men "gyrating on each other" (whatever that's supposed to mean) or a Transperson in wig and high heels deserved killing. They felt justified acting as judge, jury and executioners, and in public, no less! What barbarity! What degeneracy! What a perversion of the Christian values they dared to espouse! These savage Jamaican bigots displayed no sense of morality, at least none that most sane people would recognize. It's as if civilization had passed them completely by!

Right now, it's mainly Gay bloggers who are spreading the news of this appalling incident. Over at Jerry Maneker's Christian LGBT Rights blog, you'll find a call to action from the head of the Metropolitan Community Church. The Reverend Nancy Wilson has asked all people of faith to bombard Jamaica's Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, and the Jamaican Council of Churches with emails. She's urging everyone to vigorously protest the island's genocidal climate for homosexual men and women. I really couldn't comply with her request fast enough! Here's the email that I sent:

I'm addressing this email to Prime Minister Miller, and to the leadership of the Jamaican Council of Churches. Please act to curb the horrible atrocities that are occurring in your country! Far too many times, I've read detailed news accounts of Jamaican Lesbians, Gay men and Transgender people being persecuted, brutalized and murdered. The Reverend Richard Johnson, Brian Williamson, Steve Harvey, Victor Jarrett, Nokia Cowan, Candace Williams and Phoebe Myrie were some of the murder victims. In some cases, the killings were celebrated by crowds of people singing violent Dancehall Reggae lyrics. Jamaican Reggae artists, once famous for their songs of peace and justice, are now increasingly notorious for their musical celebration of violence and anti-Gay hatemongering.

It seems to outsiders like me that contemporary Jamaican culture all but encourages these outrages. That culture must change! Public officials and theologians must speak out forcefully! You must reaffirm both secular and religious law that condemns murder. Even if you misread Bible scripture and believe that LGBT folk are deserving of misery and death (something that runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ! Read the laws for Christians that He laid down in Matthew 19), you cannot believe that people who visit misery and death upon them are blameless in the eyes of God. Before Jamaica becomes internationally known as the Capitol of Anti-Gay Violence, you must act to raise consciousness and enforce the rule of law.

It may already be too late! Jasmyne Cannick calls Jamaica "the most homophobic place on Earth" and has given up hope that the situation will ever get better. "(Bigotry is) so ingrained in their culture," she says, "and (it's) practically condoned by the government." Should the island's officials continue to let anti-Gay violence rage out of control, an economic and cultural boycott is definitely in order! If Jamaica's government is indeed a genocide government, like Jasmyne believes, then we need to give it the same treatment we gave the apartheid government in South Africa!

"Island Of Lost Souls" concludes with Part Two.