Hundreds of my dear friends, family members, and acquaintances, sent me warm and heartfelt birthday wishes yesterday. But, hands down, the one that I treasure the most came from Jamaican lesbian activist Angeline Jackson.
She said: “Happy Birthday Maurice! Also a day when this young activist you believed in got recognition from the ‘leader of the free world’. A good and fitting gift I think, on the celebration of your day.”
Angeline was singled out for her courage and creativity by President Barack Obama in his speech to youth leaders in Jamaica during his short visit to the island on April 9, 2015.
President Obama said of Angeline:
“And I’m going to just single out two remarkable young leaders who are here today because I think they’re an example of what is possible, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“So Angeline Jackson is here today. Where is Angeline? There she is, right there. (applause)
“Several years ago, when Angeline was 19, she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted. And as a woman, and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side. But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, and get them treatment and get them justice, and push back against stereotypes, and give them some sense of their own power.
“And she became a global activist. But more than anything, she cares about her Jamaica, and making it a place where everybody, no matter their color, or their class, or their sexual orientation, can live in equality and opportunity. That’s the power of one person, what they can do.” (Applause)
As part of the team at AIDS-Free World, I was pleased to have coordinated financial and technical assistance for Angeline to establish her organization, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. This is the first, and so far, only, registered organization on the island that is dedicated to researching, reporting on, and responding to human rights abuses against lesbian, bisexual and Trans* women. I have also been proudly acquainted with Angeline as a collaborator on many public visibility campaigns, as well as other initiatives to raise the profile of LGBTI Jamaicans.
So, Angeline’s acknowledgment was much appreciated. And it made up for the acknowledgment I was seeking, but was denied, from Obama.
Some of you may recall that my birthday wish for President Obama to publicly accept the role of exported (American) evangelical homophobia in poisoning the minds of Jamaicans against each other. This is incredibly important to destroy the myth that homophobia is endemic to our culture. It is not. A local newspaper also spoke about the possibility of the US “shaming” countries, like Jamaica, about unjust laws. However, I wish to caution that before the US tries to shame the global south into changing anti-sodomy statutes, it should acknowledge the role of its own citizens in spreading anti-gay animus, and offer to dialogue on how to clean up its toxic export.
Jamaica will only start to heal the rift between gays and straights when we are reminded that the source of the hate is external to us. Our motto: “Out of Many One People” demands that we start this process, and foreign leaders can help by demonstrating humility, not hubris on the issue of LGBTI human rights.
I still hope that one day Obama, or another American President, will have the courage to concede that country’s role in fomenting global homophobia. Until then, Obama’s publicly highlighting the work of brave Jamaican LGBTI activists, such as the indomitable Angeline, will have to do.
- Advocates Reach Out to President Obama Before His Caribbean Visit (hrc.org)
- Op-ed: Obama Must Stand Up for LGBT Jamaicans (advocate.com)
- Obama addresses lack of LGBT rights in Jamaica, cites Angeline Jackson’s advocacy UPDATED! (SDGLN.com)
- Obama applauds LGBT advocate during Jamaica speech (Washington Blade)
- HRC Commends President Obama for Including LGBT Advocates in Jamaican Town Hall (HRC Blog)