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"Terrifying ‘side-effects’ of homophobia in Jamaica"
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"Terrifying ‘side-effects’ of homophobia in Jamaica"

Craig DixonWhile Jamaica’s politicians debate laws related to homosexuality, the county’s culture of homophobia is taking a devastating toll on children and youth of all orientations, writes Craig Dixon, aka Juleus Ghunta, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Jamaica.

Jamaicans’ revulsion for the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ has long achieved worldwide infamy. The recent constitutional clashes surrounding the buggery law is a case in point. 

But while the nation debates the legitimacy of homosexual unions, far more sinister occurrences than those invoked by legal scuffles and attacks on gays and lesbians – here defined as ‘the side-effects of homophobia’ – are causing major sub-cultural conflicts, stigma and social strain. 

Normal heterosexual Jamaicans, particularly children, are being swept up and victimised in the whirlwind of homophobic hysteria. 

Seldom discussed, but no less urgent, are our now culturally entrenched and irrational gay prevention rituals; the unjustified suss and labelling of random citizens as ‘gay’ by anti-gay crusaders; the denigration of the speakers of ‘the language of queers/English’ and, the lynching of heterosexual sympathisers by enraged mobs. 

Although I have always been secure in my identity as a straight man, some adults needed to make sure.  I’ll have the culprits know that the gay prevention rituals to which I was subjected as a child were immoral, illegal and indefensible. 

A blasphemous number of Jamaica’s children, including infants and toddlers, are being forced through gay prevention rituals: initiation into sex acts by frenetic adults who are determined to eradicate any ‘latent’ homosexual urges in them. 

Four-year-olds are being instructed to ‘do it’ while adults cheer them on. Some adults go as far as to volunteer themselves while designing sexual scripts for children.

According to the Inter‐American Commission on Human Rights, of the 563 known child victims in 2009, 480 were either raped or sexually assaulted. The percentage of children who were abused as a result of homophobia is not clear.   

What is clear though is that forced child-to-child sex acts have been, for decades, a rite of passage into heterosexuality in many families and communities. 

This side-effect of homophobia has incinerated the innocence of thousands of children and is one major reason why so many pre-teens voluntarily participate in sexual activities way below the lawful age of consent. 

Trapped in these appalling realities, distraught children, particularly boys, remain on guard, careful not to be seen in close-knitted male groups (except gangs or corner crews) lest they be sussed and labelled. 

Consider the three who came to me crying recently. Random residents and family members have labelled them gay, defining their closeness as unnatural and are urging them to “get girlfriends”. None of them was more than ten years old. 

Jamaica’s homophobic outrage is causing an identity crisis among our male population.  

Expressions of affection among fathers and sons, brothers and male friends are viewed, by many, with suspicion. Coarseness, emotional indifference and polygamy among males are widely esteemed and espoused.  

And it gets worse. Is there a connection between homophobia and some male students’ non-mastery of English? Apparently, yes. 

In some high schools, English is defined by rough talking teens as the language of queers/gays.  Those who excel at English are seen as misfits with homosexual propensities.   

Some male students refrain from speaking standard English for fear of being ostracised and bullied. Others are deliberately flunking English exams, including the Caribbean Secondary Education Council’s (CSEC), because of the subject’s perceived link to males’ effeminacy and queerness. 

In 2011, the USAID published a report on masculinity and educational performance in Jamaican high schools in which it states that “…some boys believe that doing well academically is incongruent with being men.” 

National Council on Education member Merris Murray, who participated in the study, remarked that “Jamaican boys have increasingly resisted schooling as ‘girlish’. This ‘hard’ image…is directly linked to the Creole language…this practice has placed the boys in a disadvantageous situation given that English is our instructional language”.   

The creators of sex education texts and teachers would be wise not to circumvent comprehensive and balanced classroom discussions on homosexuality and this notorious phobia. Too much is at stake, including the further destruction of our prescriptive norms, as well as males’ proficiency in English. 

And it gets much worse. Rabid lynch mobs have concluded that those who are not ‘with them’ are ‘with gays’ and, that some heterosexual sympathisers deserve the gay treatment. 

The step-father of an alleged gay-man received the gay treatment in Trelawny last year. He was chopped to death by a mob, for harbouring his son. 

Unsatisfied, the bloodthirsty rabble chopped his daughter, who barely escaped alive, and still unsatisfied, they set his house alight. There were no reports of arrests and media coverage was fleeting. 

In some homophobic enclaves in Jamaica, heterosexuals who sympathise with gays are regularly targeted for mob justice. 

I affirm gays’ continued pursuit of their civil liberties and human rights, but no more is this pursuit ‘a right’ than ‘moralists’ right to resist. This, I think, is the democratic way. But it would appear that some Jamaicans do not want to think, they just want to kill. This, too often, is the Jamaican way. 

Wherever and whenever homophobia rears its head, there is an outpouring of hate and violence draped in linens of socio-religious morality. 

Against their best intentions, Jamaica’s anti-gay activists are maligning and marginalising heterosexuals. 

Their actions have contributed to early sexual initiation of children, sexual abuse and violence, early pregnancies, poor socialisation of males and heightened risks of children contracting STIs. 

In their discussions on human rights and the buggery law, members of the Love March Movement, the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and others must widen their discourse to include the terrifying side-effects of homophobia, and perhaps, what novelist George Lamming calls, “the education of feeling”.

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About me: I am a youth motivational speaker, dreamrighter and poet, and the creator of the D.R.E.A.M.R.I.G.H.T concept. I have delivered moving presentations at numerous organisations in Jamaica, across the Caribbean and in Africa. In 2013 Ireceived the Prime Minister’s National Youth Award for Excellence as a youth advocate. My poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bim: Arts for the 21st Century (Barbados), Bookends (Sunday Observer) and Poetry Pacific (Canada). Email feedback to juleusghunta@gmail.com

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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