I was proud and elated to witness the first same-gender weddings in the U.K. last week. The historic event got me thinking about what Britain could/should do to help its former colonies achieve full recognition of the rights of LGBT people. It is my thesis that the U.K. has an ethical responsibility to address Jamaican anti-gay animus, but not for the usual reason of the homophobic colonial legacy.
Like most former British colonies, Jamaica is still grappling with the “alien legacy” of imposed anti-gay laws. And although the UK has long jettisoned these perverse edicts to the dustbin of history, while (almost) granting full equality to homosexuals, Jamaica seems defiantly stuck defending ancient Victorian morality as a sign of Jamaican nationalism! The whole situation would be quite hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.
However, the real tragedy is Britain’s continued export of homophobia to Jamaica.
Two years ago, fundamentalist Christian barrister Paul Diamond visited the island to speak at a conference put on by the conservative group Lawyers Christian Fellowship. The meeting was attended and enthusiastically endorsed by the country’s former Attorney General, Ransford Braham, Q.C. Mr. Braham is now the lead counsel for one of the religious groups opposing the constitutional claim filed by AIDS-Free World that seeks to overturn the anti-sodomy law.
During his rambling presentation Diamond trumpeted that Jamaica’s 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalizes all male same-gender intimacy, was a vital bulwark against the encroaching “gay agenda.” In his fear-mongering fantasy world, Mr. Diamond feels that allowing consenting adults to engage in their private acts of love-making would lead to the destruction of Christians’ “rights” (read “privilege”), including the seemingly essential need to publicly condemn gays. So, in order to preserve fundamentalists’ right to hate, gays must remain criminals.
I was astounded as I listened to this very skilled Queens Counsel weave his hysterical tale of impending doom.
I was shocked at one point during Diamond’s presentation when he admitted that he really does not care what two people do in the privacy of their bedrooms! “So, why oppose the repeal of the anti-sodomy law?” I wondered. By his logic (a misnomer if there ever was one) the right to privacy of LGBT people has to be sacrificed on the altar of religious expediency. The resultant harassment, abuse and murder of gay Jamaicans was just unavoidable collateral damage in an almighty righteous crusade! Clearly, Diamond also viewed the horrendous 33% HIV prevalence rate among Jamaican men who have sex with men (MSM), which is the highest in the western hemisphere, as God’s “punishment.” However, as recently as yesterday, UNAIDS again reiterated that anti-gay laws drive the HIV epidemic by forcing MSM underground, away from effective HIV prevention interventions. And many of these men also have sex with women to mask their true orientation, allowing HIV to bridge between the two populations.
Despite these awful and well-documented facts, another gay-hating British barrister washed up on Jamaica’s shores to spread her toxic message. Andrea Minichiello Williams made the hazardous trek as part of her missionary purpose to “save” Jamaica from the treacherous gays who were intent on “destroying families.” Using utterly discredited “evidence” she claimed that homosexuals were made that way because of absent fathers. She declared that British Olympic swimmer Tom Daley became gay because his own father died when he was quite young. She also theorized that we gays had suffered sexual abuse, which effectively recruited us into the “lifestyle.” Ms. Williams therefore urged the large audience to constantly remind Jamaicans of the (totally false) notion that gays are all pedophiles. This elected lay leader of the Church of England is clearly out of touch with reality. I am one gay man who was raised in a nuclear family with two loving parents and two very straight brothers. I have also never endured any sexual abuse. Ms. Williams is also out of step with her own church’s teachings on homosexuality! Anglican theology has repeatedly affirmed that homosexuality is just another form of human diversity, even though the church [the Church of England] still refuses to perform gay weddings.
Recently, I had a discussion with a senior British lawyer who was horrified to learn how his colleagues were helping to fuel the savage gay-bashings and homophobic abuses for which Jamaica has become infamous. He wondered aloud what Britain could do to prevent this continued export of homophobia. He suggested that the UK should treat these hate-mongers in the same way that it does “child-sex tourists,” namely, strip them of their right to travel. He felt pretty certain that their passports could be revoked.
I am not sure how effective this strategy would be, however, I do know that the export of homophobia by British legal luminaries is particularly insidious in the context of Jamaica. This is because the font of Jamaican jurisprudence is the British common-law. Therefore, the opinions of British barristers carry a lot of weight on the island. It is for this reason that I think UK-based LGBT activists and their allies should seriously look at how they can first educate their more conservative colleagues about the serious harm being caused by their deliberately bigoted diatribe. Unlike Britain, reducing anti-gay animus in Jamaica is often a matter of life and death. This is because misguided Jamaican parents are kicking their LGBT kids out on the streets as young as 10 years old. These parents have been brainwashed by (imported) fundamentalist religion into thinking that their offspring are devilish “abominations.” The now homeless kids have been forced to live in sewers, sell sex to survive, and are paid extra by their often married clients to have condomless sex. This situation compounds the already dreadful HIV prevalence rate described above.
If British fundamentalist lawyers are confronted with these and other devastating facts about Jamaica’s deadly homophobia, and they still refuse to halt their reckless and irresponsible anti-gay global advocacy, then they should be sanctioned. First, their funders should be alerted to the harm they are causing, and, if necessary, their professional associations should also be formally notified of their patently unethical behavior. Finally, if it is in fact possible, these persons should be denied the right to travel anywhere in the world where they can do further harm.
A similar approach to what I have just outlined was successfully pursued against Jamaican musicians who performed anti-gay “murder music.” Indeed, the successful Stop Murder Music campaign received vigorous support from that indefatigable British human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who in no small way helped to secure marriage-equality for England and Wales. It would only be fair if Peter and other UK-based LGBT human rights campaigners now fought as hard to halt Britain’s own export of toxic homophobia, as they did to prevent Jamaican murder music reaching the UK’s shores.
- Jamaican PM reneges on promised review of sodomy law (76crimes.com)
- Transgender teen murdered in ongoing anti-gay violence (sfltimes.com)
- Gay Jamaicans launch legal action over island’s homophobic laws (repeatingislands.com)
- Protest adds to Jamaican debates about homosexuality (76crimes.com)
- Jamaica’s deadly homophobia also kills heterosexuals (76crimes.com)