I Promise to Love You for the Rest of My Life: A Jamaican Lament for a Son Who Cannot Live There


A fellow blogger, Diana McCaulay (also a well-known environmental activist and award-winning novelist), is a Jamaican living in Jamaica. She wrote this post yesterday evening on her blog. It is about love and family, hatred and bigotry. It is very personal, and painful – and sad. Do read, and share. The link is at http://www.dianamccaulay.com/apps/blog/show/19730499-i-promise-to-love-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life

Two male students from the University of Technology (U-Tech) were said to have been caught in a ‘compromising position’ in a bathroom on the evening of November 2nd, 2012 – it is not known what they were doing and all a mob needs is a rumour. A growing crowd of other students chased the young men across the campus. One of the students escaped. The other sought refuge in the security guard post on Hope Road and what happened next was filmed by a cell phone camera. It is dark and the figures are shadowy, but it is clear that a crowd of hundreds is gathered shouting anti gay curses, demanding blood. There is laughter and an air of salacious excitement, what happen, some voices ask? One voice asks to be let in on the fun. The video camera steadies and the inside of the security post can be seen through the glass. The three security guards seem unsure what to do, but soon two of them beat the clearly terrified young man. The crowd roars. There is the sound of breaking glass.

It seems to me a Pontius Pilate moment, if I remember my Bible correctly. An innocent man delivered up to a judge of sorts, a baying mob outside. The judge seeks to appease the crowd with a beating but it is not enough. And we know the end of that particular story.

Other facts emerge. There had been car thefts the night before, a recurring problem on the U-Tech campus, leading to a horrific mob killing in 2003. Some people seem to have thought the man being chased was a car thief, as did the security guards, at least initially. Students found the young man’s photo and plastered it all over the Internet, destroying any hope he can continue to live a normal life in Jamaica, at least for the foreseeable future, and jeopardizing the continuation of his education. The guard company, Marksman Ltd., fired two of the guards the same day, the fate of the others is still under investigation. U-Tech issued a statement condemning the attack. YouTube took down the video, only to have it reposted over and over again. Social media erupted with blogs and comments. Petitions were started.

The title of the YouTube video I reluctantly watched was “Beat the Fish 2!!!” (sic) “Fish” is one of many odious Jamaican slang terms for a homosexual. The day after the attack, Friday, I was utterly unproductive at work, constantly refreshing the Facebook pages and blogs I follow, to see what was being said. There were no public comments following the articles published in Jamaica’s two daily newspapers. This was highly unusual. I wondered if, at long last, the editors of our mainstream publications had decided not to give hate speech any oxygen. But the lack of comment was short lived.

It’s personal for me. My son is gay. Every hateful, bigoted, violent remark is flung directly at him. I miss my son every day of my life, but I am so glad he does not live here. The question is: Why do I?

I had my Jamaican passport with me on Friday, because I needed to make a photocopy. I noticed it on my desk and I held it. I felt, still feel, deeply ashamed to be Jamaican. I felt complicit in this attack because of my long ago decision to remain here, to claim my Jamaican nationality, my Jamaican identity. Now, too late, I want to rescind that decision. I don’t want to be identified as part of a nation that defends and supports an anti gay stance as being cultural, as being Christian, as being an aspect of our sovereignty, our right.

It occurs to me this is why the separation of Church and State is vital. It seems harmless, even positive, when people say: Jamaica is a Christian nation. Public prayer at virtually every function seems relatively innocuous – oh sure, there might be people of other faiths in the room, but Jamaica is a Christian nation, right, they’ll understand, they must adapt to the majority’s wishes. But it is not innocuous. As they always have been, religious beliefs are being used as justification for the abrogation of the human rights of some. Religious beliefs belong in places of worship among those who share such beliefs and nowhere else. They must not have the weight of the State behind them.

In an interview with Cliff Hughes on Nationwide News Network on Friday, I heard the Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, strongly condemn the U-Tech attack. Well and good, Deacon Thwaites. But it was you who recently pandered to the mob in the withdrawing of educational materials trying, however clumsily, to deal with the issue of respect and tolerance for gay people.

See Annie Paul’s post Gay Bashing in Jamaica a National Policy? for more on this issue: http://anniepaul.net/2012/11/03/gay-bashing-in-jamaica-a-national-policy/

I am tired of pretending that all aspects of our culture are defensible. They are not. There is much about being Jamaican to be ashamed of – our violent and bigoted speech and action towards gays and lesbians tops the list.

A month ago, I went to England, where my son lives, to attend the celebration of his civil union with his long standing partner, another man. The registrar who conducted the ceremony began with a simple statement about relationships between gay people. She said these unions had existed for centuries but only now was it possible for them to have legal status. My son and his partner had written their own vows and the last one was a simple one: “I promise to love you for the rest of my life.” Two honest, productive, fine young men, one Jamaica’s loss, promising to love and honour each other, to walk with each other through life. I thought there should be a banner above where they stood, something huge, big enough to be visible all the way across the Atlantic in my homeland asking this simple question: WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

Also Sticks and Stones by Petchary: http/petchary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/40922utechbeating20121101c.jpg and https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/sticks-and-stones/ 

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10 thoughts on “I Promise to Love You for the Rest of My Life: A Jamaican Lament for a Son Who Cannot Live There

  1. The problem is that the legal system, the religious beliefs of some of its citizens and the pervasive Dancehall culture of Jamaica are consistently being used as validation for the lack of human rights of gays and lesbians, specifically, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, belief and observance of political doctrines and expression. [vi] At the core of the Charter is the ideology of tolerance of all Jamaicans, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation or age; and the state should not be allowed to remove these rights to comfort a few.

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    1. You are absolutely right, of course. I wrote a blog post quite a while ago now noting that the Jamaican Charter of Rights does NOT protect gay rights. I might revisit it and even re-post it. I wrote it soon after the Charter was passed in Parliament. It seems to me seriously flawed, although I am far from an expert on the law. Thank you so much for your comments…

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  2. I can’t help echoing Patrick here when I say, Oh Emma! This post was so moving. This is the first I’ve heard of the incident at U-Tech but Jack’s right, it’s no different to the Taliban in that unwavering inability to accept anything other than what’s decreed by some small-minded bigot somewhere.
    Mob mentality – when will people grow confident enough to think for themselves?
    The despair in Patrick’s comment and your post make me think of Pakistan – it’s so hard to see how a country this far down the morality ladder can ever climb back up.
    Still, the one thing you can count on is change – we have to cling to hope. What else have we got?

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    1. Thank you SO much for your comments, Aisha. I understand that Pakistan is another country where this issue is of major concern, along with Uganda and others. “Accept” is a word some Jamaicans seem to have trouble with – along with “tolerance.” You don’t have to be gay to tolerate gays in our society. When are we going to embrace diversity for its own sake and for the health of our society as a whole? The national motto “Out of Many One People” often rings hollow to me. These are my fellow-blogger Diana McCaulay’s words. I will share all the comments with her.

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  3. Oh Emma… why are you doing this to me ? Why are you making me cry ? A big 47 year old man, shedding tears. Tears for a country I see spiralling downhill with NO HOpe. Crying for a true love story you share and one of tolerance but so far from home. Crying cause I always believe that in my heart, the Jamaica I left 27 years ago would change but is becoming so hopeless. Tears of Joy also that finally after this recent attack, I will NEVER return – ever and spend my hard earn $$$ on the most homophobic island /country in the world. Tears that I can say Good bye until REAL Change comes along. Thanks so much for sharing and I live for your blog – everyday. Dont ever stop!!!

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    1. Oh my dear Patrick… I am so sorry to make you cry. I am almost in tears myself, sometimes. You left Jamaica three years before I moved here, and I can understand the pain you must feel for the country you are now separated from. We are always hopeful for change, and in a strange way I feel that the blindly bigoted person who posted the video on YouTube may have even done us a service, as it exposed the real (everyday) face of homophobia in Jamaica. Of course, this is not an isolated incident. I was happy to hear on the news earlier, however, that the University’s security officer is taking a strong stance against at least some of the students involved. They have been positively identified through surveillance video, which also showed them attacking the student and they will be seeking prosecution. The security guards will face an identity parade today in police custody. I hope that following that, they will be charged. Yes, we need REAL change. Our political leaders, and the church, have so far remained silent… But if there is any way that our blog posts can help to create what the Gleaner editorial today calls “a kinder, gentler society”…then it is worth doing! Thank you SO much for your kind words about my blog. I appreciate it so much. Please feel free to share with anyone who may be interested…

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  4. Congratulations to your son and his partner on their civil partnership. It’s wonderful that you got to be there and I’m sure your blessing meant everything to him. The nasty Jamaican incident has hit the headlines all over the world. It’s so very sad and makes Jamaica look ignorant and primitive – no different from the Taliban.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Jack. I know you are a great believer in marriage equality. I will pass on your comments to Diana, who wrote this piece. Yes, it DOES make Jamaica look ignorant and simply barbaric – not a nice picture, is it? A little different from the sun, sea and sand/Usain Bolt/One Love/happy reggae music image that we seek to promote. And there is very little difference in the blind bigotry, intolerance and sheer hatred of the Taliban, who seek to destroy everything they don’t “believe” in. And as I mentioned earlier, this is NOT an isolated case. It has happened before…

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