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Monday, October 29, 2007

Homophobia in Jamaica

Homophobia in Jamaica highlighted on Oprah

When I saw the previews for this show last week of course I immediately felt two emotions: expectancy and anxiety. I really wanted to see it because for one, I'd seen the young lady that Oprah was interviewing, Stacyann Chin, on Showtime At The Apollo one night doing a poetry reading in which she had mentioned enjoying eating mangoes as well as something else that I will leave to your imagination. The crowd kind of chuckled and gasped and I just picked my mouth up off the living room floor while asking myself, "Did she just say what I think she said????". I mean yeah we are all grown but dang I wasn't even watching cable, so I wondered what bombs she might drop on Oprah. Secondly, I knew it was going to be yet another television event highlighting Jamaica in a disturbing but unfortunately true manner.

The show highlighted the experiences of gay people around the world and Staceyann Chin, a poet and playwright who fled Jamaica shortly after being almost gang raped by 12 boys for being a lesbian, was one of the three guests. When asked why she felt homophobia was such a big taboo in Jamaica she responded, "There's a culture of braggadocio. We don't like people telling us what to do," she says. "Couple that with religion and poverty and the intense lack of knowledge. I mean, half the people I know in Jamaica confuse pedophilia with homosexuality. They don't know the difference." Stacey also stated that her grandmother (who raised her after she was abandoned by her mother and father (who was Chinese and never acknowledged her)) did not seem to mind her sexual preference as she brought home women all the time but her brother struggled with accepting her lifestyle. She was quite moving as she explained through tears that her grandmother had recently died and she'd attended the funeral but knew that she could not live in Jamaica again for fear of her life and never being able to have a family. I found her story interesting and thought-provoking and really sad. I always thought that lesbian women in Jamaica had it somewhat easier from what I'd heard and seen of women openly being gay in Jamaica.

This distinction that Jamaica has gotten as being extremely homophobic has my mind reeling in a million directions. I must admit that if there was something that has been made clear to me about Jamaicans from Jamaicans, is that many of them don't like gays, point blank. I remember on a trip from Kingston, my taxi driver explicitly stated that if he found out that one of his friends was gay he didn't want them anywhere around him and didn't want anything to do with them! I asked my husband last night if he thought that Jamaicans were really "that homophobic" or if the media coupled with the reggae lyrics of homophobia were intensifying this perception? I don't think I ever got an answer, but what I do know is that the issue is real and I think it stems from a couple of issues. The first being that I think that Jamaica is a society where manhood is vital. If you are not strong, hardworking, and able to provide for your family you are nothing. Now this sentiment is true all over the world in theory but in Jamaica it's on a whole 'nother level. You must take care of your responsibilities in order to earn respect as a man and you also must be a "manly" man.

The second issue is the music. Yeah we've heard the songs and I'm not going to even delve into them because I do believe that the artist are now seeing that the music typecasts Jamaica as a country and hurts their industry and most importantly to them, their pockets. Many shows are being canceled and protested across the world by gay rights group who are offended by the homophobic lyrics and they are winning, the only problem with this is that many artists who don't have anything to do with the issue are suffering because the entire shows are being canceled. It's like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Nothing hypes up a stage show like dissing another artist and any phrase mentioning a "batty bwoy", it's just the way it is. People say sex sells well unfortunately so does hatred.

No matter what you feel about the gay lifestyle this perception of Jamaica being a country of "violently homophobic" people is not a good one. When people hear these stories some won't be open-minded enough to think, well it's just some people and not the entire country that feels this way. They will only hear violence, hatred, and Jamaica and marry the three together. I don't think you have to accept another's lifestyle if that's not what you believe in, but you definitely don't have to hate or kill them either, just live your life to the fullest and let them live theirs.

What do you think???

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