September 11 each year is a somber day for Americans, but the date is seared into my memory as well. In 2001, I had only just started high school when I learned that religion can dehumanize its adherents in addition to those ostensibly condemned by scripture. How could anyone become so thoroughly brainwashed that they feel obligated to kill other humans to demonstrate allegiance to a belief system?
Post 9/11, western media encouraged an association between terrorism and so-called ‘Muslim fundamentalists’. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that Jamaica has its own brand of terrorism. Except, our ‘fundamentalists’ are Christians and instead of waging war against ‘the West,’ their target is ‘sodomites’.
In January of this year, J-FLAG launched a participatory video campaign, ‘We Are Jamaicans,’ that sought to put a face and a story to LGBT (lesbian, bay, bisexual and transgender) Jamaicans and those who embrace them as part of the human family. The videos are powerful because the storytellers are speaking from their hearts at great risk of harassment and potential violence; they are earnest but not preachy.
Last week, J-FLAG advertised five of the videos on Facebook in hopes that some Jamaicans would watch them and maybe come to recognize the humanity of LGBT citizens. Instead, many used the opportunity to lambast J-FLAG for ‘forcing nastiness down their throats’. The organization received countless aggressively-worded messages demanding that it suspend the campaign immediately because Jamaicans had a right to not see or hear the pain that they inflict upon LGBT bodies.
The arrogance and self-righteousness of those who sent messages and posted vitriolic notes on the group’s Facebook page was hard enough to process, but it is the comments on the videos that made my blood curdle. I wept as I contemplated what could lead ordinary human beings to chant, ‘burn them,’ ‘murder them,’ ‘exterminate them,’ about fellow Jamaicans.
Anti-gay Christian groups claim they do not advocate violence against LGBT people, yet every day they add coal to a raging fire that too many of us are frothing at the mouth to toss LGBT Jamaicans into. I am genuinely terrified that we have created a society that is filled with so much hate for this one maligned group that some would threaten to murder just to validate their prejudices. I used to tell myself that a majority of people couldn’t possibly reach the same conclusion and not be right. Then I studied history and realized that divine sanction has been used to justify countless atrocities.
I am a fierce defender of the constitutional right to freedom of speech; I am not threatened by the Christian understanding that homosexuality is immoral. As a human being, and as a gay Jamaican, however, I am horrified that we turn a blind eye to the most vicious among us who proclaim with impunity that LGBT persons are unworthy of life. The next time we gasp at the actions of a religious extremist in a foreign society, let us remember the Jamaican Christian fanatics whose vile words and actions we tolerate in defense of religious freedom.