Sunday, 5 April 2009

‘Boycott Jamaica’ campaign launched in San Francisco over rising homophobic violence

By Paul Canning

A newly-released US State Department human rights report on increasing violence against LGBT people in Jamaica has spurred San Francisco's gay activists to organize a boycott of tourism and key exports Myers’s Rum and Red Stripe Beer.

But previous calls for boycott's have proved controversial, with Jamaica's LGBT community appearing split on the idea, and it appears to be the same this time around.

Well-known San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis said that the boycott has two initial educational goals: inform gays and their allies about the mob attacks, and; educate Jamaicans "about the power of the gay US dollar". The demands are:

  1. Publicly commit to end gay bashing on the island and improve the human rights situation
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against LGBT people and expressing regret for past violence
A 'rum dump' to kick-off the boycott was held 28 March at the Harvey Milk Plaza, where Milk staged many rallies in support of the famous Florida orange juice and Coors beer boycotts. Petrelis has persuaded several local bars to join the boycott.

The campaign has set up a website,

Last year Stop Murder Music Canada (SMMC) — a coalition that includes leading LGBT rights organisation Egale Canada and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto — called for a boycott of Jamaica if the country's government didn't take action on homophobic violence.

The boycott was called off after a response from Anne-Marie Bonner, the Jamaican consul general. She cited increased police efforts against mob attacks and violence "against any individuals or groups for any reason whatsoever".

Bonner's letter also makes reference to the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG), who came out against the boycott. "It is to be assumed that, naturally, the views of the persons whose interests are ostensibly being promoted will be respected," she wrote.

JFLAG said in a statement last year that a boycott could put the island's LGBT in even more danger. They claimed that four attacks had been linked to the boycott proposal, which was covered in the Jamaican media.

"In our battle to win hearts and minds, we do not wish to be perceived as taking food off the plate of those who are already impoverished," they said.

However, responding to this year's efforts emanating from San Francisco JFLAG said "thanks to the organizers and participants" whilst restating their concerns.

JFLAG says that the boycott call will lead to a backlash on the island, citing comments from violent attackers that "we (gays) were getting foreigners to force their nasty lifestyle on Jamaica and other derogatory remarks so the attackers felt justified in their actions".

They also pointed out that the beer company Red Stripe has withdrawn financial backing for events and artists who promote violence.

But Gareth Henry, the cochair of JFLAG until he was forced to flee the country for Canada in 2007, says that JFLAG can't be seen to publicly support a boycott. "They can't be that voice. But the gays, lesbians and queers on the ground are supportive of a boycott," Henry said

Henry says that in his years with JFLAG he tried numerous approaches and dialogues with government officials.

"They have been nonresponsive to the call. We have to hit people where it's going to hurt, where they'll feel it," he said. "In the Jamaican context talk is cheap. After 10 years of JFLAG's existence what else can we do?"


Gareth Thomas, minister of state at the Department for International Development, told in 2008 that he had been shocked on hearing of the experiences of Jamaica's LGBT at a meeting with them.

"It is a disgrace and we need the state to take action," he said.

Despite this, the minister, refused to be drawn on the situation of UK LGBT asylum seekers from the island. They are regularly refused asylum and the Home Office advice is to 'try not to act gay'.


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