Boycotts are very blunt instruments used to get attention. They should be used sparingly or they can do more harm than good. I only recommend them whenever there is no other way to get the intended party to take you seriously.
A boycott of Jamaica by Global North countries over our treatment of LGBT persons would be devastating. The country is right now in a very precarious financial situation and a lot is riding on the upcoming winter tourist season. That much was made clear by the Jamaican High Commissioner to Canada when I met with her yesterday.
Jamaica was the first country to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid even if our financial impact on bringing about the end of that dreadful system might have been minuscule. Yet in the past month, Jamaica has seen a spate of anti-gay violence that the government would rather we not talk about.
These include the barbaric murder of 17-year-old cross-dresser, Dwayne Jones, at a public street dance near the popular resort town of Montego Bay on July 22. A female member of Dwayne’s church alerted the crowd that Dwayne was biologically male. A mob quickly formed. They stabbed and shot Dwayne to death before tossing his body in nearby bushes. They then went on dancing. The police found Dwayne’s body at 5 a.m. the next morning.
Some Caribbean territories have been making amazing strides regarding LGBT inclusiveness and tolerance. Cuba—always a very popular destination for Canadian tourists and only 90 miles from Jamaica—has held very flashy gay pride parades. Curacao will hold its first Pride march soon. All the Dutch Islands recognize same-sex marriages, even if a few still will not perform them. The French islands now perform same-sex marriages. The British territories (Bermuda, Cayman, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, etc.) have very progressive anti-discrimination laws. And Puerto Rico is set to pass sweeping anti-discrimination legislation. All of these islands still have ways to go in terms of full LGBT equality but their governments have laid the foundation for this equality to be realized.
And then there is Jamaica.
Instead of accepting a role to eliminate homophobic violence through the active promotion and protection of human rights for LGBT citizens, the current Jamaican government thinks we are simply bad-mouthing the country when we merely repeat what the local media are already reporting.
Sadly, even some Jamaican LGBT groups think we should downplay the violence so that we can encourage gays to come out. Needless to say, I find that approach unethical. If we misrepresent the situation and gays do come out and are hurt, we would be at fault. Instead, we must provide full details about the likelihood for anti-gay attacks and allow gay Jamaicans to make informed choices.
But in fairness to the current government of Jamaica, they have made some positive statements in response to attacks on LGBT Jamaicans. However, I rather suspect that even these statements were coerced and were not a function of any genuine concern for Jamaican gays.
Be that as it may, the laws of Jamaica still heavily discriminate against homosexuals, and the government has consistently failed or refused to actively promote respect for the human rights of LGBT citizens. This reticence/refusal is out of deference to the island’s powerful fundamentalist churches.
These churches are currently compiling a petition to prove to the Jamaican Parliament that they “have the numbers” to prevent a repeal of the archaic anti-sodomy law. What is ironic is that these same churches howl in protest when other groups use their strength of numbers and resources to press for LGBT rights recognition in Jamaica.
As a sovereign country, Jamaica has every right to determine its own laws. And, as a private individual, you have the right to support a country that reflects your views.
So, would you wish to spend your money in support of a country whose government steadfastly refuses to repeal laws that discriminate against gays and whose society and economy marginalize and victimize LGBT individuals? Or would you rather your money go to support a nation that shares your own values of inclusion and respect for human diversity? This is a deliberately loaded question. How do you think we can get the Jamaican government’s attention? How can we get them to take LGBT rights seriously?