By Anthony N. Morgan, BCL, LL.B
There's been an extremely disturbing hate-motivated assault at UTech in Jamaica. On November 1, a student suspected of being gay was descended upon by an angry mob because of his sexual orientation. The young man sought shelter from the mob in a security post, only to find himself forcibly confined and beaten by security guards while students rallied, cheered at the mob justice, celebrating the landing of each homophobic blow to the young man's body and dignity. It's not that this is a unique or unheard of kind of incident. Sadly, in Jamaica, it's reported to be way more common than it should be. The difference this time is that there's a video of the incident here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tERdT-1Al9I
Anthony N. Morgan, Hons. BA University of Toronto B.C.L./LL.B, McGill University, Faculty of Law
Now, all of us would jump up quick if asked who among us stands for equality. However, I think collectively, me included, we haven't been anywhere near as vocal as we should be when equality concerns the rights and full well-being of fellow Jamaicans from the gay and lesbian community. Colonially-entrenched aspects of our cultural norms and traditions have encouraged us to engage in a violence by way of silence on such matters.
But this is Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence. With this new videoed incidence of brutality (which is a few posts away from going viral, across the world, possibly) we have an opportunity at this pivotal time in our history to rally and raise voices of the Jamaican Diaspora and Jamaicans at home, unifying us in an undeterred stance for full equality and justice for all. In other words, this horrible incident offers us a chance to work collectively and across borders to help jolt Jamaica forward and more quickly towards a new direction as it relates to this cultural cancer from which we're suffering and about which we have been silent for too long. We must seize the time!
As Jamaicans, we're proud of our widely recognized and oft repeated unofficial slogan, "One Love," and our globally renowned reggae tunes that extend the same sentiment. But seldom does it occur to us to ask ourselves seriously if this "love" extends as it should to gays and lesbians in Jamaica (or to Jamaicans abroad, for that matter).
The ignorant and intellectually lazy ones of us who share our Jamaican heritage are often heard standing against homosexuality claiming that it's a long-standing legal-turned-cultural institution of Jamaicans, legitimizing it on this basis. But we have to ask ourselves, how and when did we get these anti-buggery laws and the tradition that has followed? ... Eighteen-sixty-four (1864) is when. Imported and violently imposed by the Brits, of course. Colonization is violence, so we carry on this colonial tradition violently.
Ninety-eight years before Jamaicans had political control over its own national affairs is when this anti-buggery scourge gained its legal beginnings. In other words, this is not a genuinely Jamaican legal or cultural tradition; it's a colonial artifact of vile and violent aggression that oppresses the heart, mind and spirit of Jamaica's and Jamaicans' possibilities.
Since 1864, we've had Paul Bogle and the Morant Bay Rebellion, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, the labour movements of the late 30s, the rise of Rastafari, Independence, the Rodney Riots, and roots rock reggae, globalized by Bob Marley's calls for self-love, unity, healing, strength and justice. We are a bold and rebellious people and I think that it's fair to say that it's high time that we recall this cultural inheritance of defiantly fighting for fuller realizations of equality. We must get up, stand up!
Even Prime Minister Simpson-Miller recognized the importance of this (even if in words only), vocally denouncing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation before retaking office. She has even expressed a willingness to review Jamaica's anti-buggery law.
In light of even the prime minister's claimed openness, I recognize that we are in the minority, those of us Jamaicans willing to stand publicly and vocally in support of full equality as it relates to gays and lesbians. True, many a we granny, aunti, pahssa, daddi, fren, cuzin an' bruddah nuh like dem ting deh -- funni bizness... But freedom and full equality are not to be subject to the sways of the majority within contexts where these principles are being widely and commonly restricted and denied by that majority on arbitrary and irrelevant grounds.
Queen Cubah, Nanny, Cudjoe, Bogle, Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey, etc. did not wait for a head count to okay their fight for what they intuitively knew was right. In other words, collectively raising our voices is not a matter of democratic permission, but rather of protecting inherent human dignity, human rights and equality. This is what our fore-(s)heroes recognized in their time. Their spirits and memory call on us to dare to envision and stand for a Jamaica that's homophobia-free, in the same way that they dreamed of a Jamaica that was slavery-free, exploitation-free, colonization-free, and discrimination-free.
We have finally affirmatively, self-assuredly and unabashedly to stand up in light of this most recent expression of homophobic violence. To be sure, this is ultimately not about getting bogged down in naming and shaming individuals (though purveyors of this kind of injustice should always be prosecuted), because this latest incident is not an isolated one; indeed, it is probably only distinguishable by the fact that it was captured on camera. We have to be honest with ourselves, homophobia has infected our entire Jamaican heritage, seriously sullying everything we have to be proud of. We have to openly and determinately acknowledge this truth and vocally assert that it is wrong and unacceptable.
As Jamaicans by blood and belonging, we should join with our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora and back home to establish cross-border partnerships in the name of full equality. We should find ways to mobilize our networks, resources and relative privileges to help the country and our culture rid itself of this plague of homophobia.
Though the sights and sounds of that video are horrific, there are too many more who've suffered the same abuse and humiliation without a camera present to help capture and validate our connection to their humanity and dignity.
This is about who we are as Jamaicans and setting the course for the next 50 years of independence. Out of many, one people? We can do far better: Out of many, one voice -- for true and full equality.