Americas / Commentary / Faith and religion

Debate over Jamaica’s anti-gay law gets personal

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson and his mother (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson and his mother (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

This is activist Maurice Tomlinson’s response to an anti-LGBT letter to the Jamaica Gleaner, in particular the section that raised questions about him and his family. 

The letter also suggested that seeking public support for repeal of Jamaica’s “buggery law” is somehow inconsistent with Tomlinson’s belief that “it is nobody’s business what loving gay men do in the privacy of their bedroom.”

The letter also implied that same-sex intimacy without government interference cannot be a human right because it has “consequences, physically, morally and spiritually” and that HIV infections are high among gay Jamaicans not because they are stigmatized and denied health services, but because of their “risky lifestyle.”

In his response, Tomlinson focuses first on the invasion of his family’s privacy:

On Saturday, Jan. 16, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper published a letter from a fundamentalist Christian, Joy Fraser, who claimed, among other things, that the reason I am gay is because my parents and brothers rejected me.

This was very unethical because Joy (or “Peggy” as my family knew her growing up) is/was a high school guidance counsellor but stooped to using private information that she gained while living in our home for many years to launch a public attack against me and my family.

This is the sort of behavior that contributed to Javed Jaghai withdrawing his case challenging the anti-sodomy law, because he was fearful not only of the attacks against himself, but also on his family.

I responded to Peggy’s letter and the Gleaner published a highly edited version as the Letter of the Day. [See immediately below.] Among other things, I am very disappointed that the Gleaner did not mention that Peggy is/was a guidance counsellor, as that underscores the plight of many of the island’s LGBT youth who are refused assistance by guidance counsellors because, ostensibly, buggery is illegal.

THE EDITOR, Sir:

This is an open letter to Joy Fraser, who demanded of me answers in her letter to the editor (‘Piercing questions for Maurice Tomlinson’) published January 16, 2016.

You sought to blame my parents and brothers for my homosexuality because they supposedly rejected me.

George "Tommy" Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Maurice Tomlinson’s father, George “Tommy” Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Before answering the points that you raised in your letter, I will just clarify that both my parents are, in fact, very supportive. My father helped to organise Montego Bay Pride last year, and my mom has attended multiple screenings of The Abominable Crime film, which chronicles my work challenging homophobia in Jamaica. She has also encouraged me to show the film across the island.

In addition, I have a wonderful relationship with my younger brother (even though he struggles to understand my homosexuality). My older brother and I were not very close growing up, but I suspect this is not an uncommon story. Whatever resistance my family had to accepting my homosexuality was because of the fundamentalist brainwashing they endured and which you so amply demonstrate.

As to the other questions in your letter, please note that in the cases I am bringing to challenge the TV stations for refusing to air the tolerance ad, as well as the 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law, I am simply trying to get the public to respect my right to private consensual adult intimacy, which harms no one. Jamaicans tolerate many things that they don’t accept for themselves personally, including fundamentalist Christianity. There is absolutely no evidence that being attracted to someone of the same gender is harmful.

HIV affects all

Please note that HIV is spread by a virus, not a sexual orientation. Therefore, if two gay men have endless anal sex and neither is infectious, no virus will be transmitted. However, if a heterosexual couple has one instance of unprotected vaginal sex and one partner is infectious, there is likely to be an infection. This helps explain why so many heterosexual women in the church have HIV.

There is no evidence that the anti-sodomy law has prevented HIV among gay men. In fact, even with the law, Jamaica has the highest HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men in the Western Hemisphere (33 per cent). Your question about the number of gays who have killed each other out of jealousy is quite irrelevant. The same question could be asked about heterosexuals. Does this mean that we should now ban straight sex?

Ms Fraser, the lack of knowledge in your letter proves why all the nation’s guidance counsellors desperately need urgent (re)training on how to handle sensitive matters such as homosexuality.

Our ally, Dr. Michael Abrahams (he spoke at the launch of my constitutional chalenge on Dec. 10, 2015), also had an op-ed published today that addresses the unethical and irresponsible behavior of high school guidance counsellors in not aiding LGBTI youth.

[Abrahams wrote, in part:

Counsel all students

The deficit in the counselling services to lesbian and gay students is ridiculous and irresponsible on many levels.

First, not all students in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community are engaging in homosexual acts. Second, if lesbians are engaging in intimate or sexual acts, our antiquated, gender-biased anti-sodomy laws do not apply to them. Third, there are many heterosexual girls who engage in anal sex in an effort to preserve their virginity. Does that mean that counselling should be withheld from them as well?

The shunning of these students is a very serious issue, and it is now apparent that several counsellors have abdicated their responsibilities to care for some of the most vulnerable among us. Children are vulnerable members of our society, and LGBT youngsters even more so. …

Persons’ religious beliefs should not interfere with their ability to successfully perform the tasks they are paid to do. In counselling gay students, one is not obliged to say that homosexuality is good, right, normal, natural or moral. But these students need help and guidance. Many suffer from guilt, shame and loneliness, experience abandonment and are clinically depressed. They know that they are pariahs in our society, often experience psychological trauma, and are at risk for physical trauma as well. It is not uncommon for LGBT youngsters to be victims of bullying. …

“Some Christians will tell you that the Bible declares homosexuality to be an abomination. The real abomination, however, is being in a position of power and authority where you are able to assist a vulnerable child, and turning your back on that child because of some religious belief. Fortunately, not all Christians behave in this manner, and there are many who welcome these youngsters with open arms, as well as their parents who often need counselling themselves. Dogmas and doctrines should not trump rational thinking, compassion and empathy.”

For more information, read Abrahams’ full commentary in the Gleaner: “Counsel all students”

5 thoughts on “Debate over Jamaica’s anti-gay law gets personal

  1. It’s a pity Joy Frazer had to stoop to invading your privacy to utter views that with time will become obsolete. This is a mere distraction from your agenda. I don’t think you should waste your time answering to, defending, or refuting these people. There will be more distractors. Stay focus on your mission and ignore the noise. I support you Maurice! Me and thousands of LGBTQ people of the Caribbean living abroad, and soon millions of educated, liberal, and people of the world who support human rights. Gay rights are human rights!

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