Yesterday a small group congregated outside the famed Devon House, the home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire. In one way, it was fitting, in another way, ironic. Devon House is a gathering spot for Jamaicans from all over to come and relax and enjoy a feeling of safety. It is also a busy intersection (at Hope, Trafalgar and Waterloo Roads) no matter the time of day, but especially at rush hour. Traffic was slower than usual as the afternoon light was waning and it had started to rain.
The event was called “Even in Private” and was meant to condemn a recent rash of home invasions of LGBT people in Jamaica. It was organized by AIDS-Free World and Quality Citizenship Jamaica. Organizers chose this location and time of day strategically, as it meant high visibility yet low risk of physical harm. The event was kept short to reduce chances that dissenters would be able to organize themselves to respond in time. In addition, police were not contacted as previously, they have chosen to remain far away at these types of events, thus rendering them less than effective. (Thank you Maurice for info.)
So this group appeared all of a sudden, holding signs talking about human rights, equality and acceptance, and carrying rainbow banners. They stood, silently for the most part. They cannot walk or march unless they get a permit. Several years ago, they used to get permits, but the bureaucracy and excessive amount of time and hassle it took to secure said permit means they now remain immobile. A permit is not required for this. It should be noted that the bureaucracy seems to miraculously ease up to grant permits for marches hosted by the church that promote a rejection of homosexuality.
Here’s a brief description of the values said church group will be marching for this Sunday, from their Facebook page:
1) The protection of our children from sexual exposure
2) Keeping the buggery law and other family friendly laws
3) Sexual purity: virgins, rings, no flings
The family structure is the basic unit of society, we must protect it. We must stand in love, prayer and boldness for the Jamaica that is best for our children and all Jamaicans.
Obviously, this message is the polar opposite of that which was promoted by those at yesterday’s event, of tolerance for everyone. And when it comes to lack of tolerance, these people know of what they speak. They have been attacked, verbally and physically, for who they are, on a regular basis. Some have been kicked out of their homes and rejected by their communities. So grave is the situation for some that they must migrate as they cannot safely support themselves financially and otherwise. Take, for example, lawyer Maurice Tomlinson (who flew in for roughly 48 hours just for this event), who has migrated because of threats to his safety, among other reasons. Tomlinson is currently challenging three Jamaican television stations over their refusal to air an ad that promotes tolerance towards homosexuals. Tomlinson is also involved in Javed Jaghai’s challenge to the Jamaican government’s buggery law. Both men are claiming a violation of their charter rights.
So this group gathered and held up signs. They talked to the media as well, as a small group of reporters attended this event. This included both film and radio reporters from the BBC, who will carry the message internationally.
Despite being a dark and rainy afternoon, this small group stuck it out. Passersby were mostly silent, save for a few homophobic taunts. A few cars honked their horns. A acquaintance of mine (Jamaican), who was working at Devon House, asked me what was going on. “Are these the gays?” he asked. I said yes. He sort of sneered and said he’d see me later and walked away.
Roughly half-an-hour after this group started congregating, they dispersed. The media, these individuals of a persecuted group here in Jamaica, all went back out to their lives. Some will tell this story, some will live the story. Some will challenge the country on its ability to uphold its guiding principles and rights. Let’s hope they are successful.