From the church to the dancehall, LGBT+ Jamaicans are faced with violence, homophobia and oppression.
By
Stephanie Marie Anderson

30 Nov 2016 - 5:18 PM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2017 - 6:35 PM

1) Jamaica is a deeply religious country, and as a result, over 80% of Jamaicans believe that homosexuality is immoral.

Jamaica’s Rastafari community does not believe in homosexuality, because it’s not “pro-life”. Ellen and Ian speak to a Rastafarian leader, who says that “if we were created a certain way, to reproduce, to continue life, then that is the way it should be". He goes on to say that while they used to beat and berate homosexuals, they’ve now come to understand it as a mental disorder.

Aside from the Rastafari community, though, it’s been claimed that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world, and according to Bishop Alvin Bailey, of the Portmore Holiness Christian Church “all Christian denominations in Jamaica teach that the practice of homosexuality is sin."

When asked if there is any possibility for the LGBT+ community and the Christian communities to make progress, Bailey replies: “It is never likely that any church is going to be aligned to any homosexual group to the point where we become synchronised.”

2) Remnants of colonialism still significantly impact the LGBT+ community

Despite becoming independent from Britain in 1962, there are still old laws in place that hinder the queer population. The crime of “buggery”, for instance, criminalises “any act of gross indecency with another male person”, for which the punishment is 10 years of hard labour, or imprisonment.

Mark Golding, Jamaica’s Minister of Justice, calls the law "a hot potato", telling Ellen and Ian that lawmakers feel that it would be "counter-productive" to try to repeal it now, because the result would only be a reaffirmation of the ancient law from the 1800s.

With that said, he says that he does think it will be repealed eventually. “One thing I would say is that I believe people need to respect countries and societies feelings on these issues, you know? America, for example, only recently got to the point where gay marriage has been held by its highest court. They have evolved at their own pace. So, countries like ours, there’s a resistance to that. We don’t really see it as the role of other countries to tell us at what pace we must evolve."

3) An estimated 32,000 Jamaicans are living with HIV, with as many as half being unaware of their status.

Life is difficult for those who know they’ve been infected, as the influence of church, the laws prohibiting sex acts between men, and the culture of violence can be enough to keep people from seeking out treatment.

The Jamaica AIDS Support For Life organisation aims to increase awareness about prevention and treatment, as well as offer care and support services, but Kandasi Levermore, the Executive Director of the organisation says that there are many roadblocks in their way.

Aside from the fact that "any kind of conversation around understanding homosexuality and sexual orientation is seen as ‘pro-gay’ and ‘putting forward a gay agenda’," Levermore also notes that they "cannot work with young people".

"I would have to report when someone under the age of 18 comes to my clinic," she says, noting the "disparity" between the age of sexual consent, which is 16. "They can come, it’s just that they have to come with their parents. It pushes people away from the service, they don’t want to come out."

Aside from that, she says that the main roadblock is the "stigma and discrimination" for people living with HIV. This sentiment is echoed by an anonymous Jamaican man living with HIV, who says that the perception around HIV in Jamaica is that “it’s for gay people and that’s what God sent out to kill off the gay people.” He likens the stigma and discrimination to “a physical attack”.

4) Dancehalls are where young people go to party, but dancehall music is notoriously homophobic.

There isn't a single openly gay bar in Jamaica, so the only real options for young people who want to party are at dancehalls. Dancehall is movement and an influential culture that first emerged in the ‘70s, and isn’t as idealistic as reggae. Described by Ellen as an “unfiltered expression of life for many Jamaicans”, she goes on to note that “at its most extreme, it projects raw sexuality, masculinity, and infamously, homophobia.”

Some of dancehall's biggest hits of the ‘90s and ‘00s include lyrics such as “Boom bye bye / Inna batty bwoy head / Rude bwoy no promote / No nasty man, dem haffi dead”, or: “we don’t like gay men, they have to die”. As a result of this, dancehall has been labeled “murder music”.

After international protests made headlines, one dancehall artist named Beenie Man was forced to stop performing two songs from early in his career.

When Ellen and Ian meet with Beenie Man, he says that dancehall is “social commentary, what is going on in the country”, noting that Jamaica has "no gay rights" because Jamaicans "believe in generations" and "are the most religious country in the world".

Beenie Man goes on to say that generally, Jamaicans "don't understand the lifestyle", but adds that "if it is consensual, you cannot argue with someone over that". He says that this is what dancehall music has "been trying to say" all along. "Until the gay people decided they are going to fight against our music," he adds.

As Ellen and Ian point out the harmful effect of the lyrics, Beenie Man replies: “Do not judge us for our beliefs. Do not. Please. We beg the world."

Ellen notes that the LGBT+ community is suffering violence, shame and oppression, which Beenie Man heatedly disputes. 

“Seriously? No. They only tell you that. No. Stop it,” he says. “No, no. It’s a lie. Lie. Lie. Lies. Lies.”

Ellen responds that she doesn't think it is a lie, and Beenie Man says that she should tell the LGBT+ community that "the gay people in Jamaica need to respect Jamaica."

5) Queer homeless youths are hit hardest by the violence and homophobia of Jamaica

Often referred to as the “gully queens” because they would squat in the gullies or storm drains of New Kingston, they are the most visible LGBT+ people in the country. Recently, they made international headlines when Dwayne Jones was murdered by a mob after attending a dancehall night.

Living in an undisclosed location, an anonymous man points out locations where people have tried to burn down their camp, lighting gas bombs and throwing them toward the tents. As a result of this, the people living there stockpile rocks and homemade gas bombs, ready to go when they find themselves under attack.

Noting that it’s only for “if they come with violent force,” his friend agrees: “we’re not hostile to people unless they give us that approach.” 

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