[Singing in Patois]
Page: We've arrived in Jamaica during the highest of Rastafari holidays... the birth of Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia, and, to some Rastafari, the Messiah.
The Rastafari movement was born out of Jamaica's struggle to free itself of the cultural suppression and sl*very imposed by European imperialism.
A main pillar of its ideology is the acceptance of all people, regardless of creed or color.
So this seems a natural starting point for our exploration of q*eer culture and acceptance in Jamaica, to hang out with the preachers of "one love."
♪ Did you see them? ♪
♪ Oh, did you see them? ♪
♪ They're just walking around, yeah ♪
Daniel: Is that the bar?
That's like "Waterworld."
Page: Jamaica attracts visitors from all over the world...
... with its reggae anthems of universal love and its motto, "Out of many, one people."
Oh, there's crabs everywhere. Look at that little guy.
Daniel: Hey, man. Whoo-hoo.
But in 2006, Time magazine argued Jamaica may be the most h*m* place on Earth.
And nearly a decade later, half of all LGBTQ people surveyed still report being victims of v*olence, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Ian and I are visiting the country at what could be a turning point, as Jamaica holds its very first public Pride celebration ever.
We hope to see what real change looks like at this pivotal moment for the Jamaican LGBTQ community.
The Rastafari community makes up less than 5% of the Jamaican population, but its influence is significant, both here and abroad.
We're meeting an elder to get the Rastafarian perspective on q*eer culture in Jamaica.
"Helen" with an "H" or "Ellen" with an "E?"
"Ellen" with an "E."
"Ellen" with an "E."
Yeah, that's it. Yeah.
"Ian," with an "I."
You got it.
You nailed it.
So, can you explain what Rastafari is?
Well, Rastafari, we are the Children of His Majesty.
And it was out of the legacy of sl*very.
We said, "We are no slaves.
We were the first Children of the Most High."
Within our liberty, we look at the Christian doctrine as they put it to us through the Bible.
And when we decide for the Bible, we realized that a lot of the things are not correct as they put it in the Bible.
So we have adopted different Bible texts, and we have gone even beyond even the Bible texts.
We have adapted what we call an Ital lifestyle.
So we try to eat as close to natural as possible.
And we try to live a certain life.
And this is why we say the color of a man's skin is of no more significance as the color of his eyes.
Because it sounds like such a beautiful, very, very peaceful religion that stemmed out of ultimately ending oppression, I'm curious about the views towards h*m* and what the perspective is in your culture.
h*m*, we don't believe in, because h*m* means that you're not pro-life.
If we were created a certain way, to reproduce, to continue life, then that is the way it should be.
So, what do you think a gay person is, then?
In my youth days, we used to call h*m* f*g or batty boy.
Batty boys, we used to chase them and b*at them.
Come forward to our way, and understand that there's a problem up here.
So it's all right.
But you have a disorder.
It's hard to hear from a religion that really, the core of it, as a lot of religions are, the objective is very well-intentioned and beautiful, and then, unfortunately, all this human beings managed to do all this weird stuff.
Page: One man certainly can't speak for a whole community, but do his views come from his faith, or are they a byproduct of a cultural intolerance for h*m*?
A recent survey showed that over 80% of Jamaicans believe that h*m* is immoral.
And in 2010, 1/3 of all people successfully granted asylum on the basis of h*m* through immigration equality were Jamaican.
Those who don't leave can be faced with acts of v*olence, which have made headlines around the world. But we understand that the reality must be way more complex than what the media would have us believe.
Ian and I want to hang out with a group of young Jamaicans to get their perspective.
Hi, Ellen. Hi, Ian.
Page: We are spending the afternoon with Leighton Mullings, the director of a travel agency that caters to q*eer tourists.
So, for the most part, like, if I was to visit with my girlfriend and wanted to kiss her in a public area or something, like, is that something that's possible, or...
It really does depend on the level at which you enter the space.
What do you mean by "level"?
Like, this society is structured on classism.
So, if you're in the, you know, richer LGBT community, you have a much more enjoyable life than if you were...
Yeah, you have more freedom.
You're afforded that luxury.
You know, the courtesies and not being att*cked, et cetera, based on what you communicate to them that your socioeconomic status may be.
You're not only able to afford a good life here...
... You're also able to escape, you know, to travel and have the vacation experiences that you're having overseas in another country.
So, before coming to Jamaica, our research and everything is that it's really difficult to be gay in Jamaica.
A lot of the sentiment, I feel, that, you know, in terms of the h*m*, is the result of heavy patriarchy.
It's that heavy, heavy hand that colonialism dealt us.
You know, we're still hemorrhaging from that experience, I believe.
But at the same time, though, the narrative has to be balanced, coming out of here.
I'm not negating the horror stories that you guys hear.
But it's more complex, and there's more beneath the surface than does appear.
The point is, in that kind of culture and society, that it certainly must be dangerous to be an openly gay person.
It always is, yeah.
Page: Considering there is not one publicly open gay bar in the entire country, Bloom offers a safe space for the gay traveler, and throws some of the most sexually open parties in all of Jamaica.
And while Ian and I are out, we aren't in the open, as we hang out on this beautiful but very secluded beach.
Daniel: Can you share your personal experience of what it's like to be gay in Jamaica?
Puts me in a lonely place.
So, what is a day like in your life in Jamaica, then?
There is a feeling that you get every day when you wake up.
Something might happen. Hopefully, nothing does. But...
Like, something specific has happened to you?
Um, I was riding home from work one day.
I went by the football park, and there was this crowd.
I just felt something inside of me say, you know, like, "Get... Get... Get ready. Get wary." You know, "Be wary."
And I heard a girl shout, "Make way for the batty boy!
Make way for the batty boy!"
And I heard a clink and another clank.
People were throwing rocks at me.
And "batty boy," is that what she said?
Is that... That's a term?
Yeah, they said, "Make way for the... "
It's a h*m* slur for... for... for gay people in this country.
I made my report.
Getting justice doesn't work so well in this country if you're a h*m*...
... because they don't care.
Daniel: We heard that Jamaica is having its first Gay Pride parade.
Do you know anything about that?
This is how I feel about it.
People are not ready for that.
Right. You think there will be retaliation toward that?
There are many people who are accepting, but there is a group of people who are very...
They can retaliate like this.
And they're not afraid to retaliate.
The story we just heard seems to be in line with... pretty much everything I was kind of expecting to hear.
Daniel: All we can do is, like, hear that in the news media, come here and talk to people.
So we're still at the beginning of the trip, and we don't...
I'm still feeling like I don't know.
Page: It's late here in Jamaica, but for some, the night is just getting started.
If you are young and not a tourist, chances are you're headed to a dancehall night.
[Air horn bl*wing]
[Reggae music playing]
The dancehall movement emerged in the 1970s, and like the idealistic messages associated with reggae, dancehall is an unfiltered expression of life for many Jamaicans.
But more than just music, dancehall is a highly influential culture.
At its most extreme, it projects raw sexuality, masculinity, and, infamously, h*m*.
This is demonstrated most prominently in some of dancehall's biggest hits of the '90s and early 2000s...
... with lyrics translated to mean, "We don't like gay men.
They have to die."
"sh**t a gay man in the head."
Or "Hang a lesbian with a long rope."
Some have labeled it "m*rder music." You're batty boys! We don't like you!
Condemnation and protests from activists abroad has helped push back against some of these messages.
And in 2012, Beenie Man, known as the King of Dancehall, known as the King of Dancehall, was forced to publicly address certain songs from earlier in his career. known as the King of Dancehall, I have nothing against no one. I respect each and every human being.
Regardless of sexual preference, including gay and lesbian people.
Do not fight against me for some song that I sing 20 years ago.
Page: We're meeting with Beenie Man to learn more about dancehall culture and its relationship to the LGBTQ community.
How's it going?
Hey, I'm Ian.
Hey, I'm Ellen. Nice to meet you. Obviously, so many people are very familiar with reggae.
I think they're less familiar with dancehall.
Did the themes of the music change from, like, the... the message of, like, compassion and social protest and...
Some of the issues about it, being able to be played around the world, though, have had to do with a lot of the LGBT, sort of anti-gay lyrics.
Yeah, but. Yeah...
Well, because you have to understand that dancehall has extreme... Well, it has very extreme influence.
No, it's... it's... it's influential.
No, I'm not... you know... Yeah? No, it's actually not judgment, I swear to you.
It's about... No, no, no. It's not judgment.
It's about... We're gay, right? So when we come to a place and we meet gay people and they're suffering greatly.
They're suffering v*olence, depression, shame.
I know, but we heard lots of stories that, you know...
I don't think... That's... That's fine.
I don't think it's a lie, but...
It seems to be, you know, really hard for people who are gay or lesbian here.
Really hard. And would you like to see that, you know, change for people?
You'd love her, right? Yeah. But wouldn't you hope that she could... could love someone, hold their hand walking down the street, marry them.
Yeah. And I understand that, as a protective father, to not... to not want your daughter to be hurt. I'm saying, wouldn't you just wish that for her, for her life?
I know. It's hypothetical.
Two women together is very hot to me.
There. We agree there. Yeah. Cool.
As a response to the media backlash, perhaps for purely commercial reasons, or because some may actually have become more accepting, in the past few years, most major dancehall artists have stopped writing anti-gay lyrics.
The one thing possibly more influential than the music here is religion.
First brought to the island by the Spanish over 500 years ago, the power of religion reaches far here.
It's even been claimed that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world.
So we want to speak with Bishop Alvin Bailey of the Portmore Holiness Christian Church to help us understand the religion's perspective on being q*eer.
Daniel: So, how does the Church feel about h*m*?
All Christian denominations in Jamaica not feel the Bible teaches that h*m*, the practice of h*m*, is sin.
But the h*m* person is God's divine creation, like every one of us, to be redeemed by the power of God, and we believe that God can do that.
Is your belief that people who are... who... who are gay aren't born gay?
We have no evidence in Scripture to suggest that God created any person a h*m*, in pretty much the same way that He has never created anyone an adulterer.
Have you... Do you know some other practice, for example, of some of the gays?
Do you know about things like fisting and *** and those kinds of behaviors that are not human, that are not normal for most persons?
I would actually say there are straight people...
... that, also, for sure fist, and I would say there's a lot of gay people who don't.
What was the other term that you said?
I'm sorry, you said something after fisting, I've never heard that word before.
Yeah, what's ***?
What is that?
*** is... is... is... is discharging in the anus and then suck it from the anus of the individual.
Like, oh, with your mouth?
We are not used to that kind of practices for two men.
Even the whole business of French kissing in public might be okay for a heterosexual couple.
In our society, we are not totally used to that kind of thing, maybe as yet.
So, then do you think at some point the LGBT community could potentially align with your church?
It is never likely that any church is going to be aligned to any h*m* group to the point where we become synchronized.
Page: Jamaica may have gained independence from the British in 1962, but remnants of colonialism still significantly impact the q*eer community.
Most notably, the so-called "buggery law" is still in place.
It's a set of articles which deems sodomy illegal, carrying a punishment of 10 years' hard labor or imprisonment.
To this day, the law has not been overturned, despite the best efforts of human rights groups and an appeal by the United Nations.
We are meeting with Jamaica's Minister of Justice, Mark Golding, to find out more.
We're just wondering, from your perspective, how you see the buggery law, because it's a symbol that there is some sort of government-sanctioned form of discrimination.
It's a hot potato to attempt to touch it.
And the feeling is that it would be counterproductive to have a debate like that if the result would not be to move forward...
... you know? It would be sort of like 2016, a reaffirmation of an 1861, I think it is, Victorian statute.
Do you think that the buggery law will ever be repealed?
I do think it will be.
One thing I would say is I believe people need to respect countries' and societies' feelings on these issues.
You know, America, for example, only recently got to the point where gay marriage has been held by their highest court.
They have evolved at their own pace.
So countries like ours, there's a resistance to that.
We don't really see it as the role of other countries to tell us at what pace we must evolve.
Is there any controversy against the Pride events that are happening, and what do you think will happen when...
Um, it's the first time Jamaica is having this done.
I'm a little nervous, I must tell you.
But I would like it to go through smoothly, without incident.
I'm cautiously optimistic that it will go quietly.
Page: I can understand that a country can only change at its own pace, but until then, it isn't just the buggery law.
It's the complete absence of legal protection for q*eer citizens that renders them invisible in the eyes of the government.
It's been estimated that 32,000 Jamaicans are living with HIV and as many as half of them are unaware of their status.
And of those who know they've been infected, the power of the church, the laws that criminalize sex acts, and the thr*at of v*olence is often enough to keep them from seeking treatment.
To learn more about this issue, we are visiting Kandasi Levermore of the pioneering organization Jamaica AIDS Support for Life.
Our focus is bringing the information for HIV to everyone, from HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services.
But any type of communication around understanding h*m* and sexual orientation is seen as pro-gay and putting forward a gay agenda.
And the challenge that we have is that we cannot work with young people.
I would have to report when someone under the age of 18 comes to my clinic.
So there's a disparity.
Because age of consent is 16, but the age at which they can access services on their own is 18.
They can come.
It's just that they have to come with their parents.
Now, what that does, it... it pushes people away from service.
They don't want to come out.
So you're are young and having sex.
That alone is a challenge.
But then you're having sex with same sex, whoa, it's just very difficult for them.
And I imagine, even, just the thought of coming to get treatment, that's a risk unto itself.
So, we call it the double stigma.
We call it a catch-22.
What is so horrific is potentially a young man here would tell his, you know, parents and be kicked out of the house.
In some instances, it's not just the parents that force gay people to leave. It's the community.
The stares, the... the... the... the... the shouts, the... the name-calling, the bullying activities that we see.
I think, really, the biggest stumbling block in our way as our country is stigma and discrimination for persons living with HIV, but of course for our communities that are more vulnerable.
Page: Thanks in part to funding from international partners, this clinic provides affordable treatment to anyone.
But unfortunately, it must keep a very low profile in the community.
Michael is a 24-year-old HIV-positive gay man who receives treatment here.
He stopped going to state clinics after the discrimination he faced from health workers.
He has agreed to speak with us, with his identity hidden, at an undisclosed location.
Hi. I'm Ian.
Nice to meet you.
Page: How are you? Yeah? So, what is it like to have HIV and live in Jamaica?
Mm-hmm. I mean, you seem to have found some hope in the situation.
And you're getting some sort of treatment.
Page: Arguably, those h*t hardest by the effects of poverty, v*olence, and h*m* in Jamaica are the q*eer homeless youth.
They are often referred to as the gully queens because they used to squat in the gullies or storm drains of New Kingston.
They are some of the most visible members of the local LGBTQ community here and recently gained international attention when one of their own, Dwayne Jones, was k*lled by an angry mob after allegedly attending a dancehall night.
Since the att*ck, human-rights organizations around the world have called for q*eer protections under Jamaican law.
But ironically, the youth have been left even more vulnerable.
For their safety, we have been asked to not film outside their compound.
[Radio playing, dog barking]
Daniel: How many people live here?
Mm. How long have you been here?
And how does it happen?
Someone just lights something on f*re, or they throw, like, a...
It'd be great if you'd share your story about, like, growing up.
You're running the show?
And people will hurt you and yell...
Oh, my God.
Someone threw acid on you?
Wait, where were...
And just... The b*llet went in and out, or...
Page: What would you like to do?
Sort of, what are your dreams and your ambitions?
Mm. Mm. So, what about your personal story?
Mm-hmm. Why do you think it bothers people so much when a boy wants to wear girl clothes?
Are you here mostly? Do you leave much, or...
What does a better life look like for you?
What's your relationship like with your family?
Page: In Jamaica, there aren't any well-established homeless shelters to provide long-term housing for the q*eer community.
Yvonne McCalla Sobers is a prominent human-rights activist who is trying to raise money for shelter and job training for these young people.
There's just so much anger towards anyone who's LGBT, and I'm just wondering, what do you think causes that?
There's a culture that says, "Normal is straight."
There's also the Bible-based organizations...
... which justify hate of the LGBT community based on certain writings in the Bible.
A lot of the venom is recent.
And it comes from right-wing conservative, Pentecostal U.S. churches.
And they come here and they preach the hate.
Now we're insisting on holding onto British colonial heritage.
So I'm trying to say that there is a nuance situation.
After the most strongly h*m* people think our youth are too open and too overt and they're not following the rules, which are "don't ask, don't tell... "
... and, you know, really stay in the closet.
So they've been traumatized, re-traumatized, and traumatized 10 times on top of that.
The same story is repeated many times among the youth, like we have just seen.
And I'm not sure how I would act in their place.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Page: We've seen just how difficult it is to change hearts and minds on the issue of LGBTQ acceptance in Jamaica.
But there are some bold young activists looking to push q*eer rights forward.
Angeline Jackson recently received international attention for her work in the community.
Wah gwaan, Jamaica?
[Cheers and applause]
Page: Last year, during President Obama's visit to the country, he acknowledged her work as a young leader.
Several years ago, when Angeline was 19, she and a friend were kidnapped, held at g*n, sexually as*ault.
And as a woman and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side.
But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her and get them justice.
But more than anything, she cares about her Jamaica and making it a place where everybody, no matter their color or their class or their sexual orientation, can live in equality and opportunity.
Page: We're meeting with Angeline to learn more about her work and her experience being a lesbian in Jamaica.
Thanks for having us.
This is your pad, huh?
Life, work, and everything happens in this space.
All in here?
I feel safest at home.
If I go in the streets, then I'm a little bit more concerned about my safety.
Over the last few days, we've, you know, been hearing these stories and experiencing how hard it is just to be gay and live your life... let alone to be someone like you who's really, really pushing things forward. It's like, I couldn't imagine having that strength.
In 2009, when I experienced sexual v*olence, it was targeted because of my sexual orientation.
And so I, you know I started saying activism is the rent I'm gonna pay for my time here.
And so that decision led to everything else that has happened up to this point.
Do you mind to tell us the actual story about what did happen?
Sure. I had met a few persons on a Caribbean network for LGBT people.
And then, deciding to meet this particular woman.
You know, I always suggest you go and meet persons, you do it in public, carry a friend.
I didn't do the public, but I did the carry a friend part, which is what I thought, you know, at least I was safe in that way.
We went to meet the the... the woman.
We got to her community, gave her a call, and she says she's gonna ask her stepbrother to come for us.
So her stepbrother comes.
And I remember turning around at one point and seeing this person running along the path towards us.
He has a tam on his head and a handkerchief up to his eyes and a g*n in his hand.
And I stood there and I was like, "Jesus Christ."
"Okay. Life is done" kind of thing.
And so I was forced to do oral sex on the g*n, on the stepbrother, and on my friend.
She had to do oral sex on the g*n and on the stepbrother.
And then I had to watch as she was r*ped by both men.
When I got home, I went into the house and I called the police.
And I said, "What do I do if I've been r*ped?"
The first response I got from the police was, "You should leave this lifestyle and go back to church."
And because that was the response, my dad helped me and we got to the police in the parish where the r*pe actually happened.
And that was where the process went forward.
What were the consequences that your attacker faced?
Out of 20-something years, only two to four years for violating my body... only to realize in 2013 that the case was appealed and he was not... he was not serving time.
This person's out on the streets.
I was mad. And so I wrote a note on Facebook, as a survivor of sexual v*olence.
When you shared your story, was there any backlash?
It was, "Thank you for speaking up, regardless of your sexual orientation."
That was the conversation.
What do you see happening?
Like, how do you see change moving forward and say, potentially, like, five-year mark?
Five years, I see us having a comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation, something that protects all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
10 years, I mean, I'd love to say marriage, but that will probably be another 50 years.
Who knows, 20?
But I see us changing society getting persons to the point of, at the very least, let's just respect gay people.
Let's not k*ll them.
I'm actually, too, also interested in the work and everything you're doing.
In 2013, I started Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, QCJ.
It's about education, research, activism.
So we've done self-defense training, because the research said that women wanted to know how to defend themselves.
And then activism for us is silent protests.
Put a rainbow flag, a Jamaica flag in the middle of Kingston.
So it's activism in any way that we can do it.
We're trying to build up individuals within the community to be their own activist. So they may not be doing a Vice TV interview, but they may do a small talk with somebody on the street corner who they can then impact, who then impacts five other people because that's how we have to do activism in our different ways.
But I think we've made a lot of noise for an organization with five full-time volunteer employees.
And I'm beyond existing.
I'm ready to live in Jamaica, because it is my Jamaica, too.
Yeah, that's pretty amazing.
It's a big deal. Yeah.
So, thank you.
Thank you so much.
Daniel: So, we're on our way to meet Riri and Trina, two of the homeless youth that we met the other day.
We found out that the police raided their camp and they have to move out of that situation, and right now they're looking around for a new home.
So we're gonna go catch up with them and see what the situation is like and get the update.
Ah. We know who that is.
I mean Trina Boss.
Trina Boss. Nice to see you.
So, maybe just tell us what's been going on since we saw you last.
So, on Monday, where do you go?
What did he do? What is that?
What did he do?
So, are you all staying together?
Page: Tonight is the kick-off party for the first Pride in Jamaica's history.
And after a week of filming in undisclosed locations and disguising people's identities, it feels amazing to be at a party where people are free to be who they are.
Pride Jamaica is being coordinated by J-FLAG, the biggest q*eer-rights organization in the country.
Simone Harris is the co-chair of this week's events.
Would you say this is the first LGBT specific party that's happened in a long time, or...
Oh, no. No, no, no.
It's... It's... It's something that happens in the shadows.
So, Tonight's, like, the pre-launch party.
Pre-launch party, yes.
And everybody is just... it's like Christmas.
Yeah. Everyone's having a good time.
You know, personally... Yeah.
I'm... I am so excited in a way that I can't even explain.
I can't even explain.
I was living in the States, and I had this urgency to come back to Jamaica to be a part of something bigger.
You know, my country.
So that it's... it's no longer that as a human being, we're just "them."
We're just like everybody else.
We just want equal rights.
That's all it's about.
Can you tell us about what's gonna happen tomorrow?
So, tomorrow at 10:00 in the morning, which is so early...
So early, yeah.
Yeah, we organized this flash mob.
And people had concerns about it being filmed and all of those things.
But we still got a good amount of people to learn the choreography, and we're kind of gonna go to this particular space in Kingston... and where freedom, mm, is represented.
That's where we're going.
And we're just saying, "We're here.
And we're celebrating freedom, too."
Based on what we know...
... we are a little bit concerned that there might be a backlash or... or some sort of violent att*ck.
But tell us the truth about how you feel about it.
You cannot be afraid for all your life.
I'm a lesbian.
[Laughs] I have to be myself.
Everyone who has agreed to participate in the flash mob, they have made peace, and they're okay with where they are.
We're all about, you know, just being free, and we are here.
We're here. We are Jamaicans.
Harris: Um, okay, so are there people here who are not going to be dancing?
Because we need some people on the side to hold some balloons.
Page: In roughly an hour, this crew is going to unleash their pride in the nation's capital.
Harris: All right, come now. [Speaks indistinctly]
Man: When I say "Jamaica," you say "Pride."
When I say "Pride," you say "up."
Page: This might seem like a small busload of people, but they are the fearless few who are bringing the underground into the light of day.
Something like this would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
Let's do this.
Here we go.
Woman: Let's go!
♪ ... to start defecting ♪
♪ I love my country ♪
♪ You know we love to party ♪
♪ ... up high, up in the sky ♪
Page: At this moment in time, there are no threats.
There is no anger.
And a few curious onlookers.
And it's humbling to witness.
[Cheers and applause]
Woman: That's a wrap.
That's a wrap.
That's a wrap.
Page: Over the past week, we've encountered some profound intolerance.
But I have to believe this is a turning point for Jamaica.
And this is how revolutions start... not with a big bang but with a small victory.
And it might take years of hard-fought activism, but something has started that can't stop.
I know that the many brave people we have met this week are among those who will make sure that Jamaica can one day honestly say, "Out of many, we are one people."
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01x03 - Jamaica
Episode transcripts for the TV show "Gaycation". Aired: February 2016 to April 2017.
"Gaycation" follows Ellen and Ian as they set off to explore LGBT cultures around the world. From Japan to Brazil to Jamaica to the USA, the two meet some fascinating people during their travels and hear their stories.
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1 post • Page 1 of 1