Jamaican LGBTs have criticized the ruling party for the appearance of nasty homophobic rhetoric in the election campaign which ends today. But one ruling party MP has swung back, claiming to have had death threats — from gays.
The homophobia ratcheted up following the historic pro-gay comments made by the opposition leader Portia Simpson-Miller (of the People’s National Party, PNP) during a televised debate.
Simpson-Miller said she would have no problem appointing gay ministers in her government, opposed discrimination and said she would review the anti-gay law.
The immediate reaction, as I reported, was mixed — and included some positive comments by church leaders.
However, according to Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, ruling Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) candidates have “unfortunately descended into pulling the sexuality card” in advance of today’s vote.
“It’s been disappointing that they’ve chosen this road yet again because it seems to historically be their stance during campaigning,” said Lewis, adding that his group is not endorsing any political party.
The PNP has selected a non-gender conforming candidate who has been the subject of a barely veiled homophobic campaign by the JLP.
Jamaican LGBT rights group J-FLAG wrote to the JLP complaining about this tactic.
My report on the campaign was picked up by other LGBT media and this was then reported back in the ruling party supporting Jamaican Observer. This led a ruling party candidate Daryl Vaz, citing my story, to ask if the PNP was receiving funding from “the international gay community”– a common tactic of anti-gay politicians the world over and commonly seen in Africa. He asked if Simpson-Miller had made her comments in exchange for funding — the exact same ‘wedge’ tactic used against then opposition leader in Zambia, Michael Sata.
Bizarrely, but again not uniquely, according to Vaz, he got two calls on Sunday in which the callers, he said, admonished him for “fighting against” the gays after threatening his life. Police are investigating his claim.
On Sunday, the JLP deputy leader and Mayor of Kingston, Desmond McKenzie, resorted to singing the lyrics of one of Jamaica’s notorious dancehall ‘kill the gays’ songs. “Fire bun,” he sang, from T.O.K by Chi Chi Man, which has a line “dem a par inna chi chi man car.”
At another weekend JLP meeting, candidates loudly stated their love for “boonoonoonus” women — i.e. we’re not the ‘gay’ PNP — sparking a backlash from women’s organizations. A JLP minister said decriminalizing homosexuality would ‘bring god’s wrath’ on Jamaica — more hurricanes presumably?
In a Sunday editorial, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper pointed out that words have effects and called the recent developments “not only sad, but dangerous.”
“Some might add cynical and vulgar.”
The election campaign has ended with polls showing the parties in a statistical dead heat.
Photo: Activist Maurice Tomlinson at Stand against Homophobia, Emancipation Park, Kingston, 28 July, 2011. Picture by Maurice Tomlinson.