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Jamaican gay rights advocate visits D.C.

J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis attended mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle.

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Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade
Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

Dane Lewis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, was visiting a gay friend in Kingston, the country’s capital, on a Sunday night in the late 1990s when a group of men slashed three of his car’s tires.

A mob had already formed when he told his friends who were inside the house that they needed to leave. The men eventually stoned Lewis’ car — and a friend who was sitting in the backseat still has shards of glass in his arm after they broke a window.

“We took a girlfriend with us, which we thought would have been a good cover, but that clearly didn’t work,” Lewis told the Washington Blade on Sunday before he attended a D.C. Center-organized mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle. “The community already had an issue with the guy that we went to see and obviously reacted because he had friends that the others thought were gay coming to visit.”

Lewis, who has been with J-FLAG since Feb. 2008, spoke with the Blade roughly two months after he appeared in a public awareness campaign designed to promote greater acceptance of LGBT Jamaicans.

He said reaction to the “We Are Jamaicans” campaign has been “thankfully very positive,” but he has received some negative feedback. This includes a threatening note left on his car outside his Kingston home that read “Batty man for dead” or “Gay man should be murdered” in Jamaican slang.

“We are claiming space in a way that they think we really should keep our lives private and behind closed doors,” Lewis said. “That sadly has been just the way that LGBT people are expected to play to survive in a culture like ours. They would obviously find it offensive that people are being so comfortable with their orientation and the need to speak openly about their realities.”

J-FLAG has faced a number of challenges since its 1998 founding.

A man stabbed Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder, to death inside his Kingston home in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009 — they found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy.”

The State Department, Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence on the island. J-FLAG is among the organizations that have blasted Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla and other reggae and dancehall for lyrics they contend incite anti-gay violence.

In spite of these challenges, Lewis notes the country’s LGBT rights movement has seen some advances in recent years.

Jamaican singer Diana King came out as a lesbian last summer in a post to her Facebook page. Beenie Man in the same year apologized for his anti-gay song lyrics.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court in June will hear a case that challenges the colonial-era statute on grounds it violates a constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy.

“It will be a very interesting case to watch,” Lewis said. “It will give a better sense of where the courts are at in terms of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

Lewis spoke with the Blade a day before Queen Elizabeth II signed a Commonwealth charter with an anti-discrimination statement that reportedly includes an implicit reference to gay men and lesbians. He said President Obama’s statements in support of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have had a positive effect in Jamaica.

“What it has done has opened up a debate for us around the issue of rights and whether same-sex marriage needs to be on the table,” Lewis said.

Lewis remains optimistic this progress will continue in the years to come.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson in December said lawmakers should repeal the country’s anti-sodomy law. A January sexuality symposium included LGBT-specific information, but a recent J-FLAG report found only 17 percent of Jamaicans tolerate gay men and lesbians.

A video showing a mob at a Jamaican university attacking a student whom they reportedly caught in a “compromising position” with another man in a bathroom went viral last November. The clip captures two security officers beating the man while the crowd calls him “batty boy.”

J-FLAG statistics note one third of Jamaicans feel the government has not done enough to protect their LGBT countrymen. Lewis said the Nov. 2012 incident and others like it help “generate the conversation” about gay and lesbian rights in the country.

“We need to capitalize on that energy and begin to have some public discourse,” he said.

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1 Comment

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  1. Xgay Greg

    March 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I used to be addicted to men, but 7 years ago Jesus set me FREE! I made the switch from being married to my first wife by ditching her and our 2 sons to go into the gay life-choice. Today I am FREE, DELIVERED and married to a beautiful woman of God. I won't go back! ALL HAIL KING JESUS!

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Harsh anti-LGBTQ bill introduced in Ghana

Measure would criminalize LGBTQ identity, allyship

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Ghana flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

A bill that would criminalize LGBTQ identity and allyship in Ghana was officially introduced in the country’s Parliament on Monday.

The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” went to the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee after its first reading.

Eight conservative lawmakers who are from the opposition and ruling parties sponsored the bill. Thomson Reuters Foundation News reports Samuel Nartey George, a member of the National Democratic Congress party, is the lead sponsor. 

The bill, if passed, would outlaw LGBTQ identity and subject anyone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community or as an ally with up to 10 years in prison. 

A draft of the bill that was leaked online last week listed some of the punishable offenses that include “gross indecency,” which is defined as “the public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex.” This act, labeled a misdemeanor, can result in “a term of imprisonment no less than six months and not more than one year.”

Activists in Ghana and across the world have sought to raise awareness of the bill on social media with the hashtags #KillTheBill and #GhanaIsEnoughForUsAll. A Change.org petition that urges Ghanaian lawmakers to oppose the measure has been created.

Critics say the measure would violate human rights and would make LGBTQ people more vulnerable to persecution and violence. The Coalition of Muslim Groups in Ghana and other religious organizations have welcomed the bill, with Thomson Reuters reporting they say it is needed to “prevent the dilution of cultural values and beliefs in Ghanaian society.”

Naa Seidu Fuseini Pelpuo, the overlord of the Waala Traditional Area, and other traditional leaders have condemned the LGBTQ+ community as “unnatural and [perverted].” Pelpuo has also banned activities between LGBTQ individuals in the Waala Traditional Area and warned of “firm and swift” punishment if found engaging in “such acts,” according to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

The bill’s introduction comes after the May arrest of 21 activists and paralegals who attended a conference on how to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

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Hundreds participate in first-ever Cayman Islands Pride parade

Territory’s governor, premier among marchers

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Upwards of 600 people attended the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands on July 31, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation)

Upwards of 600 people participated in the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands that took place on Saturday.

Caymanian Gov. Martyn Roper, Premier Wayne Panton and opposition MP Barbara Conolly are among those who participated in the parade that the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, a local advocacy group, organized.

Caymanian authorities required that all participants were vaccinated against COVID-19. Noel Cayasso-Smith, founder and president of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, on Monday told the Washington Blade on Monday during a WhatsApp interview that his group did not allow alcohol in the parade and “discouraged” public displays of affections “in order to maintain a respectful event.”

“This is the first time in history the Cayman Islands has ever been able to put on a Pride,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I’m excited because we had no protesters. We had no negativity throughout the entire parade.”

Cayasso-Smith said he and members of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation decided to organize the parade, in part, because the pandemic has drastically reduced travel to and from the Cayman Islands. Cayasso-Smith noted hotels, condominium associations, restaurants, bars and local businesses all supported the event.

“Pride month came in and you know for every year I got really tired of seeing our Cayman people leaving to go to Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Canada to enjoy themselves for Pride,” he said, while noting the travel restrictions that remain in place because of the pandemic. “We thought it would be great to have our Pride here since we’re in our own little bubble.”

The Cayman Islands is a British territory that is located in the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba.

The Caymanian government in 1998 refused to allow a gay cruise ship with 900 passengers to dock. Religious officials in the British territories pressured authorities to prohibit an Atlantic Events vessel from visiting the territory.

Cayasso-Smith, who was born in the Cayman Islands, told the Blade that “growing up here has been very difficult for me as a gay person.” Cayasso-Smith lived in the U.K. for 13 years until he returned to the Cayman Islands to help his family rebuild their home after Hurricane Ivan devastated the British territory in 2004.

“I decided to stay because I thought, you know, I should be able to live in my country as a free gay man where there’s no laws restricting me from being who I am,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I feel that as a gay man contributing to the island I should have the right to live free.”

Caymanian Grand Court Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2019 struck down the territory’s same-sex marriage ban. The Caymanian Court of Appeal a few months later overturned the ruling.

The territory’s Civil Partnership Law took effect last September.

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Gay man who live-streamed anti-government protests in Cuba detained

Yoan de la Cruz taken into custody on July 23

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Yoan de la Cruz is a gay man who live-streamed the first videos of the anti-government protests in Cuba that took place on July 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

A gay man who live-streamed the first anti-government protest that took place in Cuba on July 11 has been detained.

Luis Ángel Adán Roble, a gay man who was once a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, in a July 28 tweet wrote Yoan de la Cruz used Facebook Live to livestream a protest in San Antonio de los Baños, a municipality in Artemisa province that is just outside of Havana.

The San Antonio de los Baños protest was the first of dozens of anti-government demonstrations against mounting food shortages, the government’s response to the pandemic, a worsening economic crisis and human rights that took place across Cuba on July 11. Many of those who participated in the protests chanted “libertad” or “freedom.”

Cubalex, a U.S.-based Cuban human rights organization, confirms authorities detained De La Cruz on July 23. The Blade has not been able to confirm De La Cruz’s current whereabouts.

“Yoan is the man who live-streamed the July 11 protests from San Antonio, nothing else,” tweeted Adán. “They took him from his house a few days ago and he is being accused of ‘incitement of the masses.’ Free Yoan, he did not commit any crime!”

The Washington Blade has confirmed De La Cruz is gay.

Vida Bohemia, a drag queen who is De La Cruz’s friend, also demanded de la Cruz’s release.

“If he didn’t throw a stone, (if) he didn’t break glass, (if) he didn’t hit anyone, (if) nobody yelled down with the government, please let him go,” Bohemia told 14ymedio, a website founded by Yoani Sánchez, a journalist who is a vocal critic of the Cuban government. “He has a mother, a grandmother, a family and thousands of friends suffering.”

Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during the July 11 protests. The New York Times reports that De La Cruz is among the estimated 700 people who remain in custody.

Thousands Cuban Americans gathered in front of the White House on July 26 to demand the Biden administration do more to support the protesters on the island. They later marched to the Cuban Embassy.

The White House under the Global Magnitsky Act has sanctioned Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR), the Interior Ministry Special Brigade, Defense Minister Álvaro López Miera, PNR Director Oscar Callejas Valcarce and PNR Deputy Director Eddie Sierra Arias for their role in the government’s crackdown on the July 11 protests. Yotuel Romero, a Cuban singer who co-wrote “Patria y vida!”, a song that has become an anthem for anti-government protesters, is among those who met with President Biden at the White House on July 30.

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