Friday, April 17, 2009

Is Boycotting Jamaica The Solution For GLBT People?

image Many in the LGBT community have called for the boycott of the Island of fun and sun, Jamaica.  To state that the island nation is inhospitable to those that identify as GLBT is an understatement.  StacyAnn Chin documented her struggles coming out as lesbian and the brutal sexual assault that she endured in her book The Other Side Of Paradise.  To be openly LBTG is to risk not only rape but literally life and death.

Much of the negative attitude towards the TLBG community resides in colonial ideas, religion, patriarchy  and a hyper sexuality that is understood as normal.  Politicians have accused the LGBT community of leading armed gangs and have denied them the right to be represented in government.  Clearly this situation cannot go unchallenged but I must question if a boycott is the right solution.

For all of its beauty, Jamaica is a third world country highly dependent on the tourist industry to survive.  Much of the produce that it was able to export due to the Lome agreement has ended since Clinton fought to have it declared an unfair trade practice.  On an Island that is more than capable of producing food for subsistence much produce is imported as local farmers watch the fruits of their labour rot because they cannot compete with the food prices that western agribusiness is able to set due to subsidies it is able to procure from their governments. When you travel there on vacation, chances are that you are eating Idaho potatoes, rather than potatoes grown on native soul.

image As North Americans, we look at Jamaicans' as relaxed because they seem to lead a leisurely lifestyle; what we do not consider is that such a concept of time and leisure is imposed because of a lack of jobs that pay a living wage.   If you don’t have a job to rush off to is there a need to be running around madly trying to make use of every single spare moment the way that North Americans do? When Tommy Hilfiger had his free zone factory on the island he paid 15 dollars US per week out of which the employee was forced to buy their lunch at the company canteen, as well as pay taxes.  The dairy industry has been so decimated that powdered milk has become common. 

Poverty of the locals is everywhere you look, if you care to move beyond the luxurious resorts built to turn the island into a western playground. This means that LGBT Jamaicans are also poor.   Due to the obvious bigotry and prejudice that they face, the chance that they are able to achieve and maintain a subsistence level is even worse, if they are open about their sexuality and or gender identity.

When we call for a boycott of a place or items, we need to consider the direct and indirect consequences of action.  Tourism is the major industry in Jamaica and in boycotting the island not only are those that are homophobic punished, but the BGTL community that work in the industry as well.  Consider that when the United Nations instituted sanctions against Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, it was the population that suffered.   Cuba has been under an economic embargo since the Kennedy administration and Fidel has managed up until recently to stay in power; it is the people that deal with the poverty. Though not quite the same circumstances third world workers in Nike factories have asked that westerners not boycott their products because it will affect their ability to make even the slave wages that Nike pays.  When we choose to abstain from purchasing out of moral indignation we need to consider the consequences for all concerned.  Boycotting their major industry means that those that you wish to aid will also suffer under the economic retrenchment.

image Jamaicans are well versed in global economics and are very aware of exactly how damaging the IMF and the world Bank have been to their economy however, unlike  these institutions, the presence of TBLG peoples on the islands who are vulnerable means that they will be able to take out their frustrations directly upon those they see as making their already hard lives that much more difficult.   Forcing conformity by threatening to reduce their ability to subsist is not going to lead to any real and substantive change.  The violence may  reduce because it is highly visible but that does not mean that discrimination, which is potentially just as harmful will end.  We consider North America to be more tolerant of the GLBT community and yet we know that hate crimes continue along with various forms of discrimination. 

Targeted boycotting of music known to promote homophobia and transphobia, and placing pressure on the Anglican, Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist  Church to change their bigoted practices in support of human rights would go further in having an effect on the population than attempting to starve them into submission.   When we consider the large percentage of the population reached each Sunday and Saturday through ministry, the ability of a minister or priest to create change is large.  It must be remembered that black communities across the Diaspora have a long and lasting tradition of engagement with and on behalf of the church and therefore; if their leaders were to begin to preach tolerance, acceptance, and love, this could have the potential to lead to radical change.

Education is something that really needs to be focused on.  Unlike North America, parents must pay school fees for a child to get an education.  If the GLBT community were to subsidize some schools in which students were taught critical thinking and social justice as part of the curriculum not only would they present an image to the population of being vital to the community, they would ensure a future of potential leaders that would be sympathetic to their causes.  This is not a matter of imposing North American culture as much as it is teaching the young the correct information about all bodies and the importance of treating everyone with respect.  There are those that would accuse me of cultural imperialism for such a suggestion however, I do believe the end result would be beneficial to all parties concerned.   I will admit at first when this idea occurred to me I thought about Madonnas building of Kabbahla schools in Malawi but I don’t believe that teaching critical thinking skills and equality necessarily interrupts Jamaican culture, as much as it forces people to question why they believe what they believe. 

In the end I cannot say I have any hard and fast solutions to this issue but I do believe it needs to be multi-faceted. There is no doubt that the situation cannot continue uncontested however, we must take into consideration how the action that is taken is going to effect those very same people we are attempting to help and if it leads to more harm than good perhaps we need to consider other methods.


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