Gay bashing in Jamaica is so prevalent that in 2006 Time Magazine wrote an article about the island headlined, "The Most Homophobic Place On Earth?" The New York Times this week showed that the anti-gay climate has only worsened, with the island caught in a downward spiral of outright psychosis. It is time to hand an ultimatum to Jamaica's public officials: Stop allowing rampant abuse of gay people or your economy will be crippled.
The Times story is downright chilling. It details how last month five gay men were having a dinner party when a mob appeared at the front door - kicking it in and attacking the men. While screaming homophobic epithets, between 15-20 thugs beat the victims senseless with sticks and cut them with machetes. One man is still missing, but police found blood at the mouth of a deep hole near the yard.
This was not an isolated incident. The Times went on to report a shocking attack on a gay man's funeral last year, where hooligans trashed the church with rocks and bottles as the service was in session. Of course, this unholy barbarism occurred in the name of God. Interestingly, Jamaicans have turned their sex-fueled island into a heterosexual bathhouse and ganja den, but seem to get sanctimonious and discover the Bible when it comes to homosexuality.
Prior to these incidents, two of the island's notable gay advocates, Steve Harvey and Brian Williamson, were murdered. Time Magazine reported that a crowd celebrated over Williamson's disfigured body. Time also recounted an incident in 2004 where a teen was nearly killed when his father learned his son was gay and urged a mob to lynch the boy at his school. In the same year, it was reported that police heartily cheered on another mob as it stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. In 2006, a Kingston man drowned after a horde screaming "batty boy" (a Jamaican slur for gay people) chased him off a high dock.
On American docks, six hundred miles west of this homophobic hellhole, tourists regularly line up to board massive luxury liners destined for Jamaica. The tropical island earned $2.1 billion from tourism in 2006, an increase of 24 percent over 2005. More than three million people visited Jamaica in 2006, with 1,025,000 arrivals from the United States.
Clearly, the answer to Jamaica's love affair with lynching is an aggressive campaign designed to put the clamp on tourism - particularly the cruise industry. The goal should be to strangle Jamaica's economy and force the island to change or suffer severe consequences. With tourism Jamaica's second largest source of revenue, such a campaign could have a powerful impact that achieves tangible results.
It appears that four major cruise lines are the main conduits in which people infuse Jamaica's economy with blood money. They are Carnival, Costa, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. The ports where the ships leave are Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral and Galveston.
It is imperative that one of the GLBT international groups or a major U.S. gay rights group create a campaign to shame these corporations and the passengers that travel on their ships. With so few ports, it would be relatively simple to call for a boycott and picket, while handing hand out informational flyers to cruisers. A "Boycott Jamaica" advertising campaign would greatly strengthen these actions. Billboards would need to be strategically placed along I-95 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the bold headline: "JA-MURDER."
Undoubtedly, there are many passengers with gay friends and family members who are unaware of Jamaica's sickening and immoral violence against GLBT people. Once informed, many individuals would opt to vacation elsewhere. There is no doubt that with a concerted effort, Jamaica could be brought to its knees.
To lift such a boycott, Jamaica would have to abolish its "buggery" law. Public officials would have to undergo sensitivity training. The police would be required to set up daily undercover stings - where officers would dress in stereotypically gay clothing and arrest would-be attackers. Finally, Jamaica's public officials would have to openly welcome gay and lesbian travelers and offer enthusiastic support for homosexuals living within the country.
It is time we stopped vacationing from our responsibility and started holding Jamaica and its corporate enablers accountable. Until anti-gay atrocities are no longer the norm, Jamaica must be seen as an international pariah, rather than the faux paradise it presents itself to the world.
Note: Of course, there are other parts of the world, particularly Middle East countries, which treat gay people at least as poorly as Jamaica. There are also nations in Africa and Eastern Europe where homosexuals are marginalized and stigmatized. However, there is little leverage to facilitate change in these remote parts of the world. America is not going to jeopardize its oil supply over gay people. And, if most Americans are not going to pay attention to famines and genocide in Africa - they certainly are not going to concern themselves with the treatment of homosexuals. Anti-gay activity in countries like Poland or Russia is more the purview of the European Union. Jamaica is the one place where Americans can make a difference - thus we should.
Originally published on Wednesday February 27, 2008.