Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lesbian bishop leads Jamaica's first 'march for tolerance'

Progress can happen in the most unexpected places.

A First for Jamaica: 100 march for gay, HIV-positive tolerance
Kilian Melloy
EDGE Media Network

Jamaica has garnered a reputation as one of the world’s most homophobic nations. But on April 7, religious and GLBT equality leaders sought to change that impression with a first-in-the-nation march for tolerance.

The march took place in Montego Bay and was led by International Movement of Metropolitan Community Churches bishop Nancy L. Wilson, who is openly lesbian, reported Radio Jamaica that same day.

The march promoted tolerance not only of gays, but also of people living with HIV, AIDS patients, and others. Wilson had just met with President Barack Obama before flying to Jamaica for the event, the article said.

"This is an amazing event," said Wilson, going on to call the march "a day of standing up with people with HIV and AIDS, their families and friends and saying all people deserve justice and health care and dignity and to be free from stigma or hatred just because of who they are or who they love and because of their HIV and AIDS status."

In recent years, news articles about Jamaica and gays have had more to do with so-called "murder music"--dance hall songs that advocate the persecution and killing of gay men--and anti-gay violence than with tolerance. Reggae star Buju Banton drew headlines with an American tour last summer--not because of his art, but rather due to the efforts of GLBT groups to boycott his performances. Banton was arrested in Florida on drug charges late last year.

Banton reportedly was involved in an incident in Jamaica in which six men broke into a house and beat the gay men living there. Charges against Banton were dropped, but the assault was commonplace in a country where gay men are attacked in their own homes and in the streets. In one town, a "Gay Eradication Day" was allegedly proclaimed in 2007, and gays and lesbians residing there were reportedly driven out. Homophobia is deeply entrenched in Jamaican society, and is reinforced in the country’s music and religious traditions. Critics of Jamaican homophobia say that government officials, including the police, do not offer gays there any protection, often merely watching as mobs attack gays or else participating in beatings and other abuses themselves.

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