“Rowdy Gays Wreak Havok”
Editor’s Note: The views expressed below are not my own. Javed Jaghai makes his debut on Veritas discussing the burden of homophobia on gays and lesbians in spite of their contributions to national development. Read. Reflect. Comment.
As described in a recent front page Gleaner report (“GAYS WREAK HAVOK”), a small group of maladjusted gay men in New Kingston are now infamous for their lawlessness. “Well-thinking Jamaicans” commenting on the issue are alarmed for “If Jamaica becomes more tolerant of homosexuality, THEY will wreak havok on OUR nation because this is how THEY behave.” This “us” versus “them” dichotomy implies that all gay men are miscreants. Furthermore, it discursively locates ALL gay Jamaicans at the periphery of the boundary of citizenship.
“Well-thinking Jamaicans” are unaware that many of the New Kingston residents who are troubled by the behavior of the homeless men are gay, as a disproportionate number of gay people live in Kingston’s wealthiest districts. This is not surprising to those who believe the “gay lifestyle” is lucrative, but actually, gay and lesbian professionals are simply paying a (high) price for privacy, security, and peace of mind. Educated and economically secure Jamaicans are less hostile to diversity so the communities in which they live are safer. Those who do not (have the means to) imprison themselves behind electric gates, security posts and the windscreens of chartered taxis tell varied stories of spontaneous evictions, persistent harassment and threats of mob violence.
Many Jamaicans agree that violence should never be used to register dislike for gay people. However, most are unconcerned by the economic and psychological impact of anti-gay animus on gays and lesbians. Blackmail and extortion are often levied against gay people who are scared to disclose their sexualities. I know of situations where police officers, co-workers, family members and even online dating partners (some heterosexual, others gay) demand money or outrageous favours in exchange for safeguarding the explosive secret.
Heterosexual Jamaicans will never experience the crippling anxiety induced by the threat of being outed. Gays and lesbians are not allowed to forget, even in their own homes, that their bodies are marked as deviant and foreign, and that, without notice, they could be expelled from their communities, lose their jobs, or their families might excommunicate them.
There is a pervasive and perverse hypocrisy at the heart of our treatment of non-heterosexual people. We cling to stereotypes and myths to justify our bigotry while many upstanding gay citizens are denied basic constitutional rights to dignity, to security, to privacy and to equality. We know most gays and lesbians are not the freakish caricatures depicted in Clovis cartoons. We know that instead of being violent, uncouth, and sexually uninhibited, many gay people are mild-mannered, educated, and in search of love.
The ranks of Jamaica’s most respected professions are filled with gay and lesbian people. If all gay doctors and nurses were to stay home next week, healthcare delivery at the island’s hospitals would be seriously compromised. If all gay and lesbian teachers quit their jobs tomorrow, thousands of children would go without instruction while school boards scramble to find inferior replacements. If every gay person working in mass media, law, government, banking and insurance, tourism and the performing arts were to take a yearlong leave of absence tomorrow, their sudden departure would send tremors through the various sectors.
Many gay and lesbian children move to Kingston for university and stay to work. If they should withhold funds from their salaries, thousands of Jamaican parents from Grange Hill in Westmoreland to Golden Grove in St. Thomas would struggle to make ends meet. Gay people are active participants in the development of Jamaica. To say otherwise is to disregard the blood, sweat and tears of the gays and lesbians who work hard and pay taxes. Despite paying taxes, they do not have access to and are thought to be undeserving of the full rights of citizenship.
While I can afford to imprison myself from harm in an uptown bubble, I know the vast majority of gays and lesbians do not have the means to protect themselves from the daily torment of heightened scrutiny. They endure emotional and physical abuse, and are perpetually conscious of the threat of estrangement from family and displacement from community, school or work.
For their sake, let us lower the self-righteous lenses that blind us to injustice and acknowledge that all Jamaicans, both heterosexual and gay, are deserving of the rights enshrined in our constitution. And for heaven’s sake, let us stop stereotyping gay Jamaicans. It is dehumanizing, offensive and ignorant.