After years of debate on the issue, gay activists have begun a Jamaica boycott.
Jamaican liquor – Red Stripe beer and Myer's rum – was poured down the sewer last month in San Francisco and again last week at New York City's famed Stonewall Inn. In New York, the city is prepping itself to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which began in the Greenwich Village bar. Forty years ago, patrons, mostly drag queens, rebelled against police harassment; rioters violently fought back against officers over the course of several days. The riots are often credited with sparking the modern gay rights movement.
Gay activists are asking GLBT people to cross off the island nation from their vacation itineraries and avoid Jamaican goods, mostly liquor. Bars are being encouraged to stop serving Jamaican booze; better yet, they say, flush it down the toilet.
Three prominent bloggers – Michael Petrelis, Wayne Besen and Jim Burroway – are behind the protest. The activists say Jamaica retains the title of “the most homophobic place on Earth.”
“Gay people have the right to live free of violence everywhere in the world,” Besen told 'On Top Magazine'. “We have to stop excusing the inexcusable and serving as apologists for those who would brutalize and kill our people. I don't care what your culture is, your history, or your religion – there is no excuse to persecute GLBT people. Period.”
Jamaicans living in the U.S. called the action outrageous.
“Who are they to be imposing their beliefs on us and boycotting Jamaican products?” Ann Walters, a Jamaican native, told CWNN in response to the boycott. “How is that going to change how people in Jamaica view homosexuality? Isn't there homophobic people in the U.S. so why not attack 'Made in the USA?'”
“There are conservative Christian groups in the U.S. who are very anti-homosexuality and anti-gay so why aren't they going up against them,” New Jersey resident Sharon Gordon said.
The growing uproar over Jamaican gay rights has been festering for years and gay activists in the U.S. say they have not acted out of deference for Jamaican gay groups that argued the effort would ultimately hurt gay men and lesbians living on the island.
Anti-gay sentiment in Jamaica, however, continued to surge.
In February, Ernest Smith, a Jamaica Labor Party parliamentarian, described gay men and lesbians as “abusive” and “violent,” and called for tightening of Jamaica's law that outlaws being gay. Smith said the law should impose sentences of up to life in prison.
Smith also told a Jamaican newspaper that J-FLAG, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, a gay rights group, “should be outlawed.” Smith said, “How can you legitimize an organization that is formed for the purposes of committing criminal offenses?''
(In the past, J-FLAG has not supported a call for a Jamaica boycott and told gay weekly the 'Bay Area Reporter' that the current action was “unfortunate.”)
Violence against GLBT people in Jamaica is at near epidemic levels, fueled in large part by the openly homophobic remarks of its leaders.
In the town of Mandeville on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, about 100 men attacked 150 people attending the funeral of a gay man. The men became violent, breaking windows and threatening to kill the mourners. Police officers called to the scene neither restrained the mob nor detained members as they escaped, Human Rights Watch reported.
In another 2007 incident in the town of Kingston, a vicious mob of at least 200 demanded the death of four men because they were gay. This time police officers joined in the violence – they verbally abused the men and struck one in the face, head and stomach.
Much of the rest of the Caribbean also has a long history of anti-gay sentiment. Most outlaw being gay. In March, a man from the Bahamas who had admitted to killing a gay, HIV-positive man was set free after a jury agreed the murder was induced by the threat of rape. That lethal threat: The man allegedly touched his killer's crotch.
Jamaica also is at the heart of a violent reggae music scene that incorporates homophobic lyrics. Stars such as Buju Banton, Elephant Man and Bounty Killer have topped the charts with their violent anti-gay songs, which are exported around the globe. In one Bounty Killer song, the Reggae star urges listeners to burn “Mister Fagoty” and make him “wince in agony.”
“The status quo had failed and it was time to consider new options to catalyze change,” Besen, president of the gay rights group Truth Wins Out, said. “Instead of business as usual, it was time to stop doing business in Jamaica.”
On the Net: Learn more about the boycott at www.BoycottJamaica.org.
Source: On Top Magazine