J-Flag, the Jamaican lesbian and gay rights group, has rejected calls for a tourist boycott in protest at homophobia on the island.
Canadian newspapers have been focusing on the prejudice and violence gay people face in Jamaica since a leading activist sought asylum there, and some have called for Canadians to refuse to holiday in the popular destination.
In a statement released yesterday, J-Flag, Jamaica’s Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, said it shared the frustration at the “slow progress towards transforming the social climate that makes it difficult for gays and lesbians in Jamaica to lead lives free from homophobic violence.
“Yet, because of the possible repercussions of increased homophobic violence against our already besieged community, we feel that a tourist boycott is not the most appropriate response at this time.
“In our battle to win hearts and minds, we do not wish to be perceived as taking food off the plate of those who are already impoverished.
“In fact, members of our own community could be disproportionately affected by a worsened economic situation brought about by a tourist ban.
“The concern and support of the international community has been critical in focusing attention to our situation.
“We are open to further engaging with you in pursuing constructive interventions that both make our case for human rights protection and minimise risk to our physical and material well being.”
Sex between men in Jamaica is illegal, and punishable with up to ten years in jail, usually with hard labour.
Hatred for gay people is often publicly expressed by political and religious leaders in Jamaica.
Opposition leader Bruce Golding vowed in 2006 that “homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him.”
A World Policy Institute survey on sexual orientation and human rights in the Americas said:
“In the Caribbean, Jamaica is by far the most dangerous place for sexual minorities, with frequent and often fatal attacks against gay men fostered by a popular culture that idolises reggae and dancehall singers whose lyrics call for burning and killing gay men.”
Gareth Henry, a prominent member of J-FLAG, claimed refugee status in Canada earlier this month.
He spoke at Pride London last year about the plight of lesbian and gay people in his country.
Mr Henry told the Toronto Star that the situation is getting worse.
On Valentine’s Day last year he was one of three gay men stoned by a huge mob in a homophobic attack.
Police eventually escorted the men from a pharmacy in Saint Andrew Parish, where they had been hiding for almost an hour.
An angry crowd had gathered outside the pharmacy, hurling insults and threatening to kill the men. Officers dispersed the crowd with tear gas. As many as 2,000 people were involved in the attack.
Mr Henry, 22, told CBC:
“When you find police officers who are leading mob attacks, turning up at people’s home like myself, pointing guns at my window, with civilians with them, and saying that I need to leave or they’re going to kill me, it reinforces homophobia.”
Last month two men were hospitalised, one with serious injuries, while another man is still missing and may be dead.
The men were attacked at a private home in Mandeville by an angry mob who had days before threatened them if they did not leave the community.
Despite repeated calls for help, police 90 minutes after they were first called and half an hour after the mob broke into the house and attacked the men.
That most recent attack echoes another incident in the same town on Easter Sunday 2007.
Approximately 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man.
According to mourners, the crowd broke the windows with bottles and shouted, “We want no battyman [gay] funeral here. Leave or else we’re going to kill you. We don’t want no battyman buried here in Mandeville.”
Several mourners inside the church called the police to request protection. After half an hour, three police officers arrived.
But instead of protecting the mourners, police socialised with the mob, laughing along at the situation.