This week, I joined San Francisco organizer Michael Petrelis and Box Turtle Bulletin editor Jim Burroway in launching an international boycott against Jamaica (www.boycottJamaica.org). While the island appears laid back, gays are under attack.
Forget business as usual. Instead, we should stop doing business with a country that is proud of its persecution against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Our goal is to turn Jamaica into a pariah state, as long as GLBT people live in a state of terror. This means no more subsidizing the anti-gay slaughter by drinking Myers Rum and Red Stripe Beer. It requires skipping that Carnival Cruise to Jamaica - so your money won't support murder.
If Jamaica were anymore homophobic, it would change the name of its signature music, reggae, to "ray-straight." The national song would be, "Wasting the Gays Again in Murderitaville."
Why boycott? Because Jamaica is on a downward spiral and suffers from collective cultural dementia on this issue. There is clearly a pathological panic and homo-hysteria that has infected this nation at its core. Consider that the Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.
The second reason to boycott is because traditional activism has failed. I first read about Jamaica's horrific violence against gay people in a 2004 New York Times editorial, "Hated to Death in Jamaica." In 2006, Time magazine had an article about the island headlined, "The Most Homophobic Place On Earth."
One would think that such chilling headlines would have spurred worldwide action against Jamaica. Instead, the climate has only deteriorated, with a 2008 New York Times article titled, "Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays."
A scathing State Department report on Jamaica's treatment of homosexuals reads like a horror novel:
"The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals."
Questioned by the BBC, Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding said that he would not allow gay people to serve in his Cabinet. In March 2009 he added, "We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organizations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalize the laws as it relates to buggery."
A third reason for a boycott is because we can have an impact in Jamaica. The tropical island earned $2.1 billion from tourism in 2006, with 1,025,000 arrivals from the United States. Clearly, Jamaica is uniquely vulnerable to economic pressure and thus every effort should be made to push for change.
A fourth reason to boycott is that a message needs to be sent throughout the world: "Gay people will no longer sit by passively while our people are brutalized and killed."
If we do not stop the hate in the one place we can - Jamaica - it will continue to be open season against gays across the world. There must be consequences for state sanctioned gay bashing. Such countries will not change on their own - so economic carrots and sticks must be applied.
The current, failed strategy is "treadmill diplomacy", where we send off a few letters to embassies and hope things will magically improve. It may feel like we are advancing, but we are really, at best, running in place. This explains why the news headlines about Jamaica's treatment of gay people in 2004, look remarkably like the terrifying ones in 2009. The choice is ours, we can be meek in the face of madness - or we can take action.
Finally, Jamaica is an island of self-righteous hypocrites. The Bible is used to rationalize brutality, and vigilante violence is justified with talk of virtues and values. But, the island is quite comfortable with ganja and gratuitous sex for heterosexuals. Jamaica's new motto should be, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (Unless you're gay).
If you are a bar owner, please take Jamaican products out of your establishment. Consider a "rum dump", where Myers' rum is poured down the sewer. If you care about gay people, tell everyone you know about the dismal human rights record of Jamaica. And, if a friend has booked a trip - express your disapproval and send him or her accurate information.
It is truly a crime if you spend another dime in this homophobic hellhole. If you have gay family members, neighbors, coworkers or friends, book a holiday where it is okay to be gay.
As for Jamaica, don't play, don't pay, don't stay.
ACTION: On Wednesday, April 15, 6:30 PM, we are launching the East Coast portion of the campaign with a historic "rum dump" at the famed Stonewall Inn - the birthplace of the GLBT movement. We hope you will join our action and participate in the 'rum dump'