Jamaica, according to many published reports is known as one of the most homophobic societies on earth, save maybe for the Middle East. As a matter of fact, in referring to Jamaica’s homophobic stance, Rebecca Schleifer from Human Rights Watch said that “Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen.” This quote was taken from a 2006 interview published in Time Magazine.
Homophobia is widely defined as “the fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. It can also mean hatred, hostility, or disapproval of homosexual people, sexual behavior, or cultures, and is generally used to insinuate bigotry…” The Meriam Webster Online Dictionary also gives an almost identical definition, stating that homophobia is the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.”
While even the most outspoken people do not generally express a “fear of homosexuals or homosexuality”, they do have an aversion to homosexuality. To understand the average Jamaican’s stance on homosexuality calls for an understanding of the cultural and historic background of the island. This understanding will also help to reveal why the Caribbean as a whole is seen as being homophobic to extremes.
To begin with, Jamaican law is based on English law where buggery, the sexual act between two men is a crime and is still on the law books. Also part of Jamaica’s ‘hatred’ or ‘perceived hatred’ of homosexuality could be based on the country’s historically Christian culture. It is a common occurrence to find among the contents of a gunman’s pockets, a small Bible.
Jamaican religious leaders will never agree for homosexuality to be accepted in the Jamaican society. I have often heard and read articles from such leaders who contend that they do not hate homosexuals, but they do condemn the act of homosexuality itself as going against the Words of the Bible. There are many Jamaicans like myself who have acquaintances or friends, or even relatives who are known to be homosexuals. While not accepting of the lifestyle, they quietly accept the person for who they are.
It is true that Dancehall is blamed for much of the anti-homosexual sentiments in the country, because many songs condemn the act and encourage taking action against homosexuals. However, it is not every Jamaican, and I believe that it is a minority who advocate physical retaliation against homosexuals, but as happens in most cases, the actions of the few are used to brand an entire group.
While most Jamaicans will speak out against homosexuals when in large groups, private conversations are sometimes a completely different matter. When having a one-to-one with persons it is not uncommon to hear this statement frequently uttered, “I don’t care what they do in their bedrooms, but I don’t want them to take it to me or my children.”
There is also a quiet acceptance by many persons for lesbians; Jamaican men are not immune to the fantasy of seeing two women getting it on. In fact, I have often heard both men and women state that they can see two women together, but the thought of too hairy men together is unimaginable.
A few weeks ago I saw two men talking on the streets of Kingston. They were in the Three Miles area and I observed that one was holding the fingers of the other while they chatted. I commented to my husband, that if we were truly as homophobic as the media claimed those young men could not have been holding hands while talking – especially in one of the rougher areas of the capital.
I also wonder if we are such homophobes, why is it that so many of us migrate to countries where homosexuality is legal and have to live, eat and work with homosexuals. Truly homophobic persons would not be able to live in such environments. Our cultural and religious belief has ingrained the idea that homosexuality is a sin and should not be accepted.
I must confess to not being totally convinced that in some cases homosexuality is a learnt practice as is said by some Christian leaders and psychologists. I have known two persons who even as children growing up were considered unusual. The young man was a former classmate and even when we were six or seven he was just different from his brother. He was more delicate and more inclined towards doing what girls did – I was not surprised years ago to learn that he is a homosexual.
I also knew a girl who was branded a homosexual from an early age. She was always drawn to masculine activities, and even her physical mannerisms were masculine in nature. Eventually she had to migrate many years ago in order to escape the taunts – but the point is, as a child, she was not surrounded by only men or homosexuals. My question has always been how did these children learn to be homosexuals? They didn’t have homosexual role models.
Finally, years ago I had a coworker who also happened to be a friend, and he confided in me that he was gay. When I asked him why, he simply said that even as a boy he tried to like girls in that way, forced himself to date and have relationships but he was never physically attracted to women. He prayed about it, but nothing changed.
Recently there has been an ongoing debate in the media regarding police recruits undergoing sensitivity and diversity training so that they can relate to homosexuals. It is believed that the police are generally slow to investigate crimes against alleged homosexuals. If this is actually true then I do support the call since all Jamaicans should be protected and assault is a crime regardless of the sexual orientation of the victim.
-Jessica McCurdy Crooks
*For more sex related topics and articles, look out for The Coup Magazine's Sex Issue via www.thecoupmagazine.com on March 1st