“Threats of murder if my husband and I ever returned to the island”: Bank executive Al Ramsay reflects on his experience growing up gay in Jamaica and the return to his homeland after 10 years in Canada.
By Al Ramsay
I am a proud son of a rural district called George’s Plain in Jamaica and in 1998 I became a citizen of Canada. My adopted country has provided me with many opportunities, and I am currently an associate vice president for a major Canadian bank. My partner of 10 years is a vice principal at a school for children with autism and we are both passionate about our jobs and giving back to our communities. As a result, we have won several awards and secured multiple promotions.
But, like a true “country boy” I miss and love my homeland. I want to use my resources, influence, and access to contribute to Jamaica’s development, especially in recovering from the devastating economic fallout caused by COVID-19.
Our family home in George’s Plain would be an ideal base for my partner and I to spend extended time on the island vacationing and supporting schools, sports teams, and community projects. But we are simply too afraid to do so. You see, my partner is a man. And although we are legally married, Jamaica does not recognize us as a couple.
Not only does the country criminalize our intimacy with a possible sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment but in 2012 a constitutional ban on same-sex unions was also adopted by the nation’s Parliament. Ironically, this was “thanks” in part to the advocacy of a Canadian Christian evangelical, Dr. Janet Epp-Buckingham. In 2006 while Jamaica was considering adopting a new Charter of Rights patterned on Canada’s, Epp-Buckingham traveled to the island and advised our legislators against protecting LGBT people or allowing marriage equality.
Like most Jamaican kids growing up, I spent a lot of time at church, and it was there that I first felt condemned for liking boys.
During all my formative years I remained buried under a mountain of guilt and I was scared to share my truth with anyone.
My father was a skilled cricketer and sportsman and he instilled his love of physical fitness in me. I excelled at all types of sports, even those considered traditionally “female”.
My schoolmates teased me mercilessly for playing with girls and I was often called sissy. Only my dexterity at boys’ sports provided me with some protection and I even earned the nickname “Bravo” because of my football skills. However, when I started at Mannings High School I realized that if I played on the football team, my true identify could be found out. So, out of fear, I avoided all school sports and my athletic talents were stunted because of homophobia.
When I moved to Canada to join my parents, I finally saw a chance to be myself.
At my workplace, diversity was celebrated and my productivity soared, causing me to rise quickly through the ranks. I also rediscovered my love for physical fitness and now serve as a mentor for many persons who are pursing a healthy lifestyle.
My husband, Michael, and I have built a successful and comfortable life together and our very demanding jobs make us appreciate downtime. When we decided to purchase a vacation property we wanted somewhere where we could be our authentic selves. So, we settled on Puerto Vallarta, which we visit at least 3 times per year.
We never considered investing in Jamaica, because of the anti-gay laws and attitudes.
But I wanted to see change on the island, and so I supported Montego Bay Pride from its inception. In 2018 I decided to return home after 10 years away. And this time I took my husband. We did not know what to expect when we traveled to George’s Plain and we were blown away by the loving reception from many persons in the community. Despite the curiosity about my husband, we were embraced as long-lost family.
That wonderfully emotional experience gave me and my husband hope. But we also noticed the intense scrutiny when we stopped at a grocery store in Sav, and how petrified we felt sneaking a hug while we embraced for a selfie during one of Negril’s spectacular sunsets. I was also uncomfortable saying hello to an old family friend and well-known politician who I grew up with because I did not want to edit out my husband in any introductions.
So, even without any physical attack, we felt psychologically traumatized and were happy to return to Canada.
Recently I also shared the story of my marriage with a Jamaican social media page and an avalanche of homophobic comments were posted in response. These included threats of murder if my husband and I ever returned to the island. I did not consider myself naïve about how Jamaicans viewed LGBT people, but the intensity of the hate certainly shocked me.
As a result, I am not sure that my husband and I will visit Jamaica again anytime soon and I know of many other successful Jamaican same-sex couples in the diaspora who feel the same way. By continuing to discriminate against loving LGBT couples like us, Jamaica is rejecting an invaluable resource. Our time, talents and funds are developing other countries instead of our homeland. That is a real shame.
Al Ramsay is an associate vice president of sales and strategy and head of LGBTQ2+ Business Development at TD Wealth in Canada. He moved to Canada from Jamaica with his family in 1994 and has worked for TD Wealth for more than 15 years. Passionate about diversity in commercial and business settings, he spearheaded TD Wealth’s campaigns for gender inclusivity and racial diversity. Ramsay was awarded TD’s Vision in Action award in 2016 and Ted Rogers School of Business Management’s Trailblazer Alumni Award in 2018 for his work in diversity and inclusion.
- Jamaica’s anti gay laws costing nation $11 billion yearly (October 2019, WicNews.com)