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Jamaica’s violence forced me into exile

COMMENTARY: I am Sean, one of the petitioners who successfully challenged Jamaica’s deadly anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The homophobic violence that I experienced before and after filing this petition forced me to seek asylum in the United States.


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Sean (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Now, more than a decade later I wish that I could reveal my full name and show my face. But my family who are still on the island would suffer serious backlash if my identity was exposed.

I grew up in the tourist mecca of Montego Bay, which Jamaicans call the “friendly city.” But that was far from my reality. The archaic anti-sodomy law effectively marked me as an “unapprehended criminal” and I regularly suffered humiliation, abuse, and violence at the hands of citizens and police.

School was a nightmare as teachers turned a blind eye to the daily torment that I faced from classmates. I was never “man” enough no matter how hard I tried to “butch up.” I loved learning but I dropped out of high school because I knew that the escalating bullying would one day kill me. I could not bring myself to tell my mom why I dropped out and so I let her believe that I was illiterate. Out of frustration she kicked me out of the house, but even that was better than the hell on earth that was school. Thankfully, my grandmother took me in, and she never asked why I was home all day and only left the house at night, but I suspected that she knew. It was easier for me to hide in the dark.

Even so, I was still attacked by people in my community. One evening in April 2011 two men blocked my path as I was walking home. They began pushing me while calling me “batty man” (Jamaican derogatory term for gay). As their shoving became more aggressive, they threatened to kill me. I was terrified and thought that I was going to die right there. Thankfully, the owner of a nearby store intervened and shouted at the men to leave me alone. He told me to go home and I ran all the way.

A few days later I was again walking home when a man who was washing his car saw me and threw all the dirty water on me. He yelled that no batty man should walk around him.

In May of that year one of the men who had ganged up on me in April saw me walking home and barked that I was not welcome in the area. He then threw a stone at me, which I dodged and sprinted home. After that assault I was scared about remaining in that community and so I called my friend, gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson. Maurice told me to go to the nearby Barnett Street police station to report the attack, but I said that I was petrified to leave my home alone. He decided to go with me to the station but when we got there the recording officer refused to take my report. Instead, the police said that what happened to me was not an attack but just a “stone throwing.”

After that humiliating experience at the station, Maurice advised me that the homophobic attitudes of most Jamaicans would not change until the anti-sodomy law was repealed. I told him that I wanted to fight the law in court if it meant that I could finally live in peace, but I had to remain anonymous. Maurice had received a similar request from another LGBT Jamaican, Tina and together we filed the IACHR petition with the support of AIDS-Free World. Unfortunately, after the filing I continued to receive vicious homophobic threats and so, through the help of the HIV organization where I volunteered, I finally fled to America.

I was ecstatic when Maurice told me about the IACHR’s recent ruling as it looked like I could soon return home. But, sadly, Jamaica’s Minister of Justice said that the country does not have to listen to the IACHR. Thankfully, Maurice also has a case before our Supreme Court seeking to strike down the law and that decision will be binding on the government. The next hearing of Maurice’s case is March 8, and he is up against the government and 10 extremist homophobic Christian groups. Like the decade long IACHR petition, Maurice’s case will take a long time to resolve, and will cost a lot. You can support Maurice by DONATING HERE and writing “JAMAICA CASE” in the comments section.

I miss my homeland and my grandmother. I hope that this recent decision by the IACHR and Maurice’s case will one day make it possible for me to finally go home and live in peace.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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