Political candidates in any country are known for their propensity to use provocative rhetoric to garner attention and votes, but in Jamaica, gay rights activists say that as the election season is winding down, many ruling party candidates are bulking up their anti-gay rhetoric.
"It's been disappointing that they've chosen this road yet again because it seems to historically be their stance during campaigning," said Dane Lewis, executive director of the first and only gay rights organization in the country, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
Founded just 13 years ago, J-FLAG advocates for protection from state-sanctioned and community violence, calling for “the fair and equal treatment of gays and lesbians under the law and by the ordinary citizen.”
According to reports, a Labor party candidate for West Central St. James, Energy Minister Clive Mullings, said that removing laws against homosexuality would bring God's wrath down on Jamaica. Elsewhere, cabinet minister Daryl Vaz told a crowd, "God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve," and was received with applause, and Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, used gay slur at a rally while an anti-gay dancehall song played.
Jamaica still has colonial-era anti-sodomy laws on the books, prohibiting sex between men, which has been a hotly contested issue in this election cycle as the opposition party leader Portia Simpson Miller has vowed to place the law under review if her party is voted into office.
On the whole, Jamaica has long been known to be vocal and forthcoming about its lack of tolerance for homosexuals, especially in popular culture. Beginning in the mid-1990’s, international gay rights activists began the Stop Murder Music campaign to discourage popular dancehall reggae artists to stop including violent, homophobic lyrics in their songs. In 2004, the movement saw progress as international pressure became so great that many artists endured show cancellations around the world as the message spread about the content of their lyrics.
While organizations like J-FLAG and others may have made headway in the music industry, there is still much work to be done in convincing Jamaica’s political and religious sectors that gay rights deserve a shot. Just one day before the country is set to head to the polls, popular preacher Rev. Al Miller publicly urged Jamaicans to “reject the homosexual agenda,” speaking directly about the opposition's insistence to review the sodomy laws and expressing concern that the repeal of the law would make way for the legalization of same-sex marriages.
“We therefore call on all Jamaicans islandwide to use the vote to reject the homosexual agenda,” Miller said according to the Jamaica Observer. “We also call on Jamaica’s principled church and political leadership to make heard your voices now.”
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(Photo: Courtesy jflag.org)