As far as I can determine there’s nothing gay about being homosexual. It seems to be a sad fate, made even more melancholy by an abiding hostility embedded in most cultures. How can anyone be gay when he or she is constantly held up to hatred, ridicule and contempt? How can anyone enjoy being the target of slurs, verbal assaults and physical violence – sometimes so severe as to be fatal? How can those too timid to acknowledge their homosexuality tolerate having to live a lie, cowering in shame and fear of exposure?
And there can be no cause for gaiety in America’s relentless denial of homosexuals’ civil rights. On Tuesday night, Maine became the 31st U.S. state to vote out same-sex marriage. Yet, compared with most other societies, America is fairly tolerant. At least, gays are reluctantly permitted to have “civil unions” in this country.
I often contrast Jamaica’s racial tolerance with pervasive American bigotry, but when it comes to homosexuals, Jamaica is one of the least tolerant countries in the world. Growing up in Jamaica, I heard many whispered horror stories about “batty men,” and my mother told me approvingly of the cruel punishments handed out to those who were caught practicing this “abomination.” Lesbians were rarely mentioned, and saphism was shrouded in mystery and wide-eyed awe.
Yesterday, in Salon, I came across this item, attributed to the Digital Journal:
Homophobic residents of the McGregor Gully community in East Kingston, Jamaica, are vowing to take action after a two week notice given to all gays and lesbians to flee the town ended over the weekend. Yes, that’s right. The residents declared they were fed up with gay behavior, and ordered all gays to leave by 30 October. Those who did not leave, the residents warned, would “suffer the consequences.”
According to the residents, the main problem is a local hangout that is frequented by lesbians who ‘kiss, hug, and even touch each other.’ And the community’s anger is directed mostly at those lesbians, though any gay men who reside in the area are also expected to leave. The residents say they will not stop until their community is “gay free” and are not afraid of resorting to extreme measures, though they would not explicitly say what those measures might be.
Such extreme bigotry. And, I don’t understand how so many people continue to spend their tourist dollars in the homophobic haven a.k.a. Jamaica and turn a blind eye to flagrant human rights violations.
Trying to verify the report on the web, I found a reference that indicated the item may have been from 2007 and was picked up in error by a careless reporter. But no matter. It still helps to illuminate the Jamaican fear and loathing of homosexuality. Jamaicans are by and large homophobes. Through the years, any attempt to modify laws criminalizing sodomy has been overwhelmed by public resistance. And tourism boycotts organized by gay rights groups have had no impact on the island’s attitude.
I am no psychologist, so I can’t explain the horror that so many feel toward homosexuality. From my own upbringing I still harbor distaste for aspects of homosexuality and feel somewhat uneasy in a room full of homosexuals. Back in the early Sixties, when I worked for the Toronto Star, I wrote a series about middle-class homosexuality (which was then illegal in Canada), and visited the underground haunts frequented by the gay community. I can still recall the shock I felt when I first saw two men in business suits slow-dancing together, the shorter man’s head cradled on the taller man’s shoulder.
But I hope I’m reasonable enough to recognize that people whose tastes differ from mine should have the same rights as I have. Actually, “taste” is not the right word for it because I am sure homosexuality is not a matter of preference but of biology – at least for the vast majority of gay people. Over the years, I have come to accept the fact that sexuality is a very complicated matter, and we humans attempt to categorize sexual behavior at our peril.
I have also come to the conclusion that God would not condemn his creatures for feelings that come to them unbidden, that presumably were instilled in them at their creation. I have no patience with people who quote the admonition in the Biblical book of Leviticus against men “lying with a man as with a woman.” Leviticus also decrees that we don’t let cows interbreed, don’t used mixed seeds, don’t wear two types of fabric at once, don’t have relations with slave women, don’t eat fruit from trees for four years, don’t practice magic or astrology, don’t get tattoos, etc. And the Biblical book of laws calls for stoning to death both partners in adultery, but I don’t hear any public clamor to enforce that decree.
I welcome the progress being made in America toward the acceptance of gay men and women as normal members of society, and I applaud recent federal legislation making violence against gays a “hate crime.” Perhaps, Jamaica, too, will one day realize the injustice of persecuting homosexuals. But I fear that’s still a long way off.