18 December 2005

The Voice of Jamaica

When you grow up in a country and have lived and breathed its very essence, it's hard not feeling a strong sense of attachment. I guess that's what patriotism is all about. You either have it, or you don't. I was born and raised in Jamaica but have been residing in the US now for over a decade. I'd love to return to my island in the sun to sip on coconuts and write to my heart's content. But, there is one thing that keeps me from going back - homophobia.

I knew I was gay from the moment I became aware of sexuality. I was also very conscious of society's view of same sex attraction. It was sinful, demonic even, and something to be exorcized or beat out of any individual possessed of it. So, being the young and naieve boy that I was, I tried to walk and talk as masculine as I could. After all, who really relishes being a social misfit. That was then. But even today, Jamaica still has an international reputation as one of the most homophobic places on earth. Yet, ironically, we hold a spot in the Guiness World Book of Records as the island with the most churches per square mile than any other place on the planet. The issue of homophobia in Jamaica is not one with a simplistic solution. "Coming Out" in Jamaica is like signing a death warrant, it's only a matter of when.

So what can we do? Well, I propose that for Jamaican gays living outside the cradle of homophobia, we do everything within our power to make our stories and our voices heard. I recently published a book of poetry that beckons its readers to celebrate their uniqueness. Now, I am working on a novel that explores the issue of homosexuality along with other topics relevant to life in Jamaica. It's a small contribution, but one nonetheless. You may have all heard the story of Terry McMillan and her Jamaican ex-lover. Though the circumstances were a bit convoluted, Jonathan made millions aware of the issue of homophobia in our country. We also need to share our stories with the world. But let these stories not be riddled with scandal and negativity. We need positive stories and in great numbers. I know some of us are still not comfortable in our skin. That's ok. But for those of us who are comfortable, we have a responsibility to serve as the voice of Jamaica. We are as much a part of the social fabric of this island as anyone else. Our voices need to be heard. One of my dearest friends is a LGBT educator and activist. He lives in Jamaica but is considering a move to Trinidad. Violence against gays seems to be a non-issue with local authorities and so he is genuinely concerned for his safety. It pains me that he would have to consider such an option. But I would rather see him alive and well in Trinidad than fearful and paranoid in Jamaica. We have to find a way to break the chains of ignorance. It's the only way for us to achieve true freedom. The power to effect change is in us.

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