playing for change

Nicely tying up my time in Jamaica with a rainbow, my final day on the island coincides with an announcement by the Jamaican LGBT rights group J-FLAG of a television campaign aimed at encouraging Jamaicans to love and support their LGBT family members. The US Ambassador to Jamaica, Pamela E Bridgewater, addressed a packed audience at the launch of the public service announcement, Unconditional Love, stating that “homophobia must be eliminated immediately, [because] as President Obama says, no one should be hated because of who they love.” Featuring Christine Straw, former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe, and her gay brother Matthew Straw, the video is a public declaration of love and acceptance – not the typically bigoted rhetoric one has come to expect publicly from the island’s leaders. As a step toward greater visibility, the effects of the PSA can’t be underestimated. For too long people have dwelt in the fear of what they don’t know: when it comes home to roost that’s no longer a valid excuse. Change, it seems, is finally coming to Jamaica – whether people like it or not.

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a very visible visitor

The phrase “mixed feelings” doesn’t do justice to my long-held antipathy toward the island of Jamaica. Ever since dancehall artist Buju Banton had a late-80’s hit with the song Boom Bye Bye, which not only incited but also openly celebrated the murder of homosexuals, the country has been at the top of my shortlist of places to avoid. Jamaican criminal code prohibits sex between men (but not women, natch) and neither of the island’s political parties shows any support for gay rights. Moreover, according to both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the country remains one of the most homophobic places on earth. What has long irked me, however, is the tourism industry’s perspicacity in the selling of Jamaica as a carefree, inclusive society – a marked contrast to the reported high incidence of anti-gay violence and a widespread social conservatism fueled by religious zealotry and the economic fallout from globalization. Yet as I mature – somewhat glacially, I’ll admit – I see in the last half of that sentence the unintentionally ironic parallels to our own social failings and am reminded of reading an interview with UK activist Peter Tachell, who claims that homophobia is a 19th-century concept brought by British colonizers and Christian missionaries and not an authentic expression of Jamaican culture. Perhaps if I stop my finger pointing long enough I’ll find out for myself. Which is why, dear readers, I am currently on a plane to a place I never thought I’d go. And feeling so very – visibly – gay.

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