Press Release – No to Boycott in San Francisco 12.04.09

Please see letter sent to our international allies from JFLAG, friends and supporters below indicating that we do not support the boycott in San Francisco.

April 12, 2009

Dear Friends and Supporters:

We thank our international allies for their continued interest in the state of LGBT affairs in Jamaica. Your support over the years has strengthened our voice and made it possible for us to make progress where we hardly thought it possible. One of the most significant ventures in which our international allies have collaborated with us was the SMM campaign that started in 2004, and which culminated in a local debate about the appropriateness of violence and hate in Jamaican music played in public places. Despite the occasionally homophobic rant by rogue deejays, we have seen a general decline in the level of homophobia coming from new Jamaican artistes and in new music from Jamaica. We have also seen corporate sponsors withdrawing their support from music that promotes violence or discrimination against any group.

It is with this in mind that we find it unfortunate that a campaign has been launched calling for the boycott of two Jamaican products, one marketed by a company that unequivocally distanced itself from the hostility and violence typical of Jamaican music towards members of the LGBT community. In April 2008, Red Stripe took the brave and principled stance to cease sponsorship of music festivals that promoted hate and intolerance, including that against members of the LGBT community. The naming of Red Stripe, therefore, as a target of this boycott is extremely damaging to the cause of LGBT activists in Jamaica.

In the global arena in which we operate today, events in one place can and do have repercussions in another. Concomitantly, information about occurrences in different places across the globe is easily accessible everywhere. We believe that any overseas entity or organisation seeking to agitate for change in a context with which it has only passing familiarity should first do its homework to ensure that it does not do harm to its credibility and ultimately to the cause of the local community whose interest it seeks to defend.

It is unfortunate that the organisers of the current campaign to boycott Jamaica have failed in the key area of fact finding. The misguided targeting of Red Stripe does tremendous damage to a process of change that we began almost 11 years ago. The boycott call has now left us not only with our persistent day to day challenges but with a need to engage Red Stripe and attempt damage control as a result of actions that we did not take. Against this background, we would like to reiterate that while we appreciate the support given by our international allies, and understand their impatience for change, we who live in Jamaica best know and understand the dynamics of our situation. We also know that change is a slow and tedious process and those who engage in it must be patient.

Jamaica’s deeply ingrained antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals is a social phenomenon that will not be undone by boycott campaigns or government dictate. It requires the painstaking effort of confronting the society and talking to social actors who can bring change in the way society sees LGBT people. We have been doing this through a small but growing group of increasingly aware opinion leaders who are concerned about the damage homophobia does to our society. We need those ears to continue being open to us and we need the relative safety that some of us have been given to speak to them.

It is important that our international allies understand the nature of our struggle and engage us in a respectful way about it. Unless they are willing and able to lead the struggle in the trenches as we have done, it is important that they be guided by us. To do otherwise would be to act in a manner that destroys the space for dialogue that we have managed to create over the past decade and to set back our struggle. It is for this reason that we urge those in the international arena who seek to act in our name and on our behalf to do so not only with the utmost care and responsibility but also with due consideration for our efforts and concerns as members of the local activist community.

Sincerely,

Jason McFarlane
Programmes Manager
Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays – J-FLAG
Tel: (876)754-8704
Website: http://www.jflag.org
Blog: http://jflag.blogspot.com/
email: jflagoffice@gmail.com, admin@jflag.org

Gay rights activists clash over tackling Jamaican homophobia

By Mathew Hywel of PINK NEWS

US gay rights activists have launched a campaign encouraging the boycotting of Jamaican products and services as a protest against the island’s treatment of gays and lesbians.

However, a Jamaican LGB organisation has said the campaign will damage their cause as one of the products targeted, Red Stripe beer, is openly supporting the anti-hate movement.

A campaign website, http://www.boycottjamaica.org/ was set up by former Human Rights Council Spokesman Wayne Besen, along with prominent LGB rights activists Jim Burroway and Michael Petrelis, and campaigns for Jamaica to become a pariah state until social attitudes on the island towards homosexuality change.

Jamaica is considered to be one of the most homophobic countries in the world, where gay sex between two men can carry a ten-year jail sentence or hard labour. Sex between two women is currently legal.

Mr Besen told the Huffington Post: “Why boycott [Jamaica]? Because Jamaica is on a downward spiral and suffers from collective cultural dementia on this issue. There is clearly a pathological panic and homo-hysteria that has infected this nation at its core.

“Jamaica is an island of self-righteous hypocrites. The Bible is used to rationalise brutality, and vigilante violence is justified with talk of virtues and values. But, the island is quite comfortable with ganja and gratuitous sex for heterosexuals.”

The website calls for boycotting of specific of Jamaican products sold in the US, including Myers Rum and Red Stripe beer.

In an open newsletter, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) responded to the website’s demands:

” … we find it unfortunate that a campaign has been launched calling for the boycott of two Jamaican products, one marketed by a company that unequivocally distanced itself from the hostility and violence typical of Jamaican music towards members of the LGBT community.

“In April 2008, Red Stripe took the brave and principled stance to cease sponsorship of music festivals that promoted hate and intolerance, including that against members of the LGBT community.

“The naming of Red Stripe, therefore, as a target of this boycott is extremely damaging to the cause of LGBT activists in Jamaica.

The letter added: “Jamaica’s deeply ingrained antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals is a social phenomenon that will not be undone by boycott campaigns or government dictate. It requires the painstaking effort of confronting the society and talking to social actors who can bring change in the way society sees LGBT people.”

Last month, it was revealed that gay men in Jamaica were at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to discrimination.

The prime minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, also recapitulated his government’s attitude towards homosexuality:

“We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organisations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalise the laws as it relates to buggery,” he said.