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
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
“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
“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
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
Besen said the situation in Jamaica has
become more “dangerous” for gay men and lesbians, and pointed to
a damaging State Department report as the final straw.
“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.