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Wayne Bessen

U.S. must stand up against Caribbean homophobia
In flowery billboards and endearing television ads, the Jamaicans look so incredibly friendly. On the website www.Jamaicans.com, the slogan is “home away from home.” In another ad campaign, the residents plead with benign smiles, “Come Back to Jamaica.” But it turns out that Jamaica is not home if you’re a homo and you might come back from Jamaica in a body bag. For whatever reason, the locals have gone loco and gay bashing has replaced Jamaican bobsledding as the national sport.


Happy faces plead ‘Come Back to Jamaica’ — but if you’re a homo you might come back in a body bag.
An recent article in Time magazine called Jamaica the “most homophobic place on earth.” It pointed out that recently two of the island’s leading gay rights advocates, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, had been ruthlessly slain. If that was not enough, a crowd essentially danced on Williamson’s grave by celebrating over his mutilated body.
In 2004, a father learned his son was gay and went to his school to invite a group of peers to lynch his son. Now that’s family values!

Not too long after this sickening episode, witnesses claim police egged on a mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. Earlier this year, a Kingston man, Nokia Cowan, drowned after a crowd shouting “batty boy” (a Jamaican slur for queer) chased him off a dock.

“Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen,” Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) explained to Time.

Despite this record, Americans continue to subsidize this slaughter by boarding ships destined for Jamaica to cruise and booze. This is unconscionable and you can bet there would be a much greater uproar if this abuse were happening to any other minority. 
Sadly, Jamaica’s curious anti-gay fixation is spreading to other parts of the Caribbean. In St. Maarten, two producers for “CBS Evening News” were gay bashed by thugs wielding tire irons. The attack occured outside the nightclub Bamboo Bernie’s, where Richard Jefferson, 51, and Ryan Smith, 25, were first harassed for being gay earlier in the evening by the assailants. The victims were airlifted for medical treatment to Miami.

Jefferson, who has been released, said Smith was being treated for brain damage.
Additionally, Jefferson told the Associated Press that local authorities had not spoken to witnesses the night of the crime, nor had they pursued leads. Instead of St. Maarten’s CSI, the police were MIA.

“The people who harmed us are well-known punks,” Jefferson told reporters, according to the AP. “People in the community know who these guys are. They are not talking to the police. The entire island is watching something bad happening.”

Two men were finally arrested, (one was already released) but their cowardly actions seemed to win the approval of a local newspaper, Today, that derisively referred to gay people as “faggots” and “homos.” According to the unfathomable April 11 editorial:
“During and after World War II, it was considered common sport for military guys to let themselves be picked up by a faggot in a bar in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The one who was picked up would pretend to go along for the ride, only to turn around and beat up or rob the homo who picked him up, leaving him without wallet and sometimes teeth.
“All that has changed, of course, largely due to American laws that are being spread around the world. Gay bashing is now a no-no. Slurs against homos, a no-no. And beating a person over the head for flagrant public behavior that once was considered criminal misconduct is a no-no.”

In a comparatively minor, but no less telling cultural barometer, the Bahamas banned “Brokeback Mountain.” It seems Nassau must decide if it is an island chain open to the world or a palm tree-lined prison where its pristine waters are merely a mote to drown tolerance and diversity.

Unlike other homophobic hotbeds in the Middle East, our community can exercise considerable leverage over these human rights abusers. While few Americans are going to spend a holiday in Jeddah or Tehran, we are frequently visiting the Caribbean. Many of our allies would gladly vacation elsewhere if they were aware that their gay friends and family members were being brutally attacked.

It is time for Americans to reassess their relationship with islands such as Jamaica, St. Maarten and the Bahamas. Either they welcome all of us, or none of us. But these “paradises” can no longer be playgrounds for heterosexuals and hunting grounds for homosexuals.

Here is a message that Jamaica might understand: “Aloha, Mon, friend of batty boy going to Hawaii.”

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