Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was walking with a friend in a town outside of Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2009 when two men robbed them.
Jackson, now 24, said during a Capitol Hill reception on May 21 that U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attended, that the two men who were stepbrothers forced her to perform oral sex on them at gunpoint. The two men raped Jackson’s friend before bringing them to one of their mother’s homes two hours later.
Two female police officers came to Jackson’s home after she told her mother about the alleged incident. She said one of them told her that she “should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.”
“I looked at her,” said Jackson as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. “I was like, you mean the same night that this has just happened to me this is the response that you give me as an officer of the law.”
Jackson, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in January 2013 alongside Jalna Broderick, met with New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark and officials with the U.S. State Department while in D.C. last week. She also spoke with the Washington Blade on May 21 at the offices of Human Rights First.
“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” said Jackson.
Lesbian, bi Jamaicans face discrimination, violence
A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) says the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.
The murder of Dwayne Jones last July near Montego Bay after a group of partygoers stabbed him to death after they realized the teenager was cross-dressing sparked global outrage.
Jackson noted to the Blade that gay men and “butch” women are more likely to experience physical violence, in part, because of the way she said Jamaican society views male homosexuality. She said sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated against “feminine” LGBT women.
“A male being gay means that somebody’s making themselves a woman,” said Jackson. “You’re making yourself a girl; you’re making yourself less than and so the way the male relationships are looked at is different than female relationships.”
“Our culture is this melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny,” she added. “All four of them just combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”
Jamaica has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence with a third of women reporting they have been raped.
Quality of Citizenship Jamaica last year conducted the first survey of LGBT Jamaicans designed to collect information about education, health care and other basic needs. Jackson said her organization is also trying to determine any possible connection between sexual violence and the sexual orientation of those who experience it.
“We know because of that, it must mean that the same thing is happening within the LB (lesbian, bisexual) community,” Jackson told the Blade. “We just don’t know what it is. We’re trying to ascertain what that figure is.”
Jackson said anti-LGBT harassment — particularly against those who live in lower-income areas of Kingston where Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is based — remains pervasive.
She noted to the Blade a group of people stoned a lesbian couple. Jackson discussed another reported incident during which a man who saw a lesbian couple walking to their respective homes in Kingston called them a “sodomite” and asked them whether it was “a good man you want” or “a good cock you want to change you.”
She said she receives “certain looks” if her hair is cut “too low” or she dresses in “a certain way.” Jackson added she has also “gotten the stares” and questions about whether she is a lesbian or a “sodomite” or “a boy” when she wears a large T-shirt or cuts her hair short.
“I’m usually more of the in-between look that people can’t figure out whether I’m butch or femme,” she said. “They kind of leave me alone.”
Jackson told the Blade she spends more money when she travels to make sure she remains safe. She said she takes public transportation only for short distances or when she is with a friend.
“It doesn’t always boil down to actual violence,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the mere fear of violence and the attack. It can cripple you or it can force you to take precautions. I prefer to be safe than sorry.”
Jackson said she used to wear a mask, hat and glasses when she attended pro-LGBT protests because she was afraid.
“When we started QCJ we decided this is not going to be the face of this organization,” she told the Blade. “There is going to be a face, and unfortunately that meant it was me.”
Jamaica is among the Caribbean and Central American countries in which same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her December 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to a decade in prison with hard labor. She said she would call for a so-called conscience vote of her taking office that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.
A vote has yet to take place.
“I do not agree with the vote,” Jackson told the Blade. “I do not think that rights — fundamental human rights — should be put up for a vote.”
The Jamaica Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a complaint against the colonial-era law that AIDS-Free World filed on behalf of Javed Jaghai who alleges his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation.
The new constitution that Jamaican lawmakers unanimously approved in 2011 explicitly guarantees the right to privacy.
Jackson referenced to the Blade a newspaper account of two older men convicted under the sodomy law who were caught having sex inside their home in 1999 after police officers patrolling their Mandeville neighborhood saw them having sex.
“Jamaicans tend to forget that means male and female as well, conveniently,” she said, referring to privacy and her group’s desire to amend the law to criminalize only non-consensual sex. “So if it’s consensual sex, you leave the people alone.”
The University of the West Indies last week terminated the contract it had with Dr. Brendan Bain to direct a program that uses a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to train doctors and other health care providers throughout the Caribbean to work with groups at risk for HIV after he testified on behalf of religious groups defending Belize’s anti-sodomy law. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s Kingston campus on Monday to protest the decision as the Associated Press reported.
The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society in 2011 hosted a symposium at the University of the West Indies in Kingston at which Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Paul Diamond, a British lawyer, spoke about what Jackson described as the need to keep the sodomy law in place.
Brian Camenker of MassResistence spoke at a Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society rally that took place at a Kingston park last December. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, and Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern in the U.K. are among those who spoke at a conference the group organized alongside the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship earlier that month in the Jamaican capital.
“Keep your crazies at home,” Jackson told the Blade when asked whether the U.S. government has done enough to address anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica. “Keep the fundamentalist people at home; the people who have the crack science that you know has been discredited here or has been discredited in their respective countries.”
She also urged LGBT rights activists in the U.S. and other countries to work directly with Quality of Citizenship Jamaica and other advocacy groups on the ground.
“It’s a problem, this savior complex,” said Jackson. “These white people come in with a savior complex to save LGBT people and tell Jamaica what to do. And it doesn’t work well because then it backfires.”