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Boycott Jamaica: Worthy Cause, or Misguided Activism?

April 14, 2009

Gay rights activists in the United States are preparing a national boycott of Jamaica, known by some as “the most homophobic place on Earth.” The boycott will officially launch on Wednesday, at New York’s Stonewall Inn, with activists dumping Myers’ Rum and Red Stripe beer (both Jamaican products) down a sewer. In addition to liquor, the boycott will target tourism — a significant aspect of Jamaica’s economy.

At first glance, this appears to be a worthy battle for LGBT activists to take on. Instead of constantly focusing on same-sex marriage legislation, why not consider those living in parts of the world where gays and lesbians are continually beaten and murdered because of their sexual orientations?

Well, there’s one significant issue with the boycott: Jamaica’s LGBT population is opposed to it.

According to a press release from Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG), the boycott would most likely hurt, rather than help, the lives of LGBT Jamaicans. From the press release:

Jamaica’s deeply ingrained antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals is a social phenomenon that will not be undone by boycott campaigns or government dictate. It requires the painstaking effort of confronting the society and talking to social actors who can bring change in the way society sees LGBT people….It is important that our international allies understand the nature of our struggle and engage us in a respectful way about it.

The organizers of the boycott have heard JFLAG’s perspective — and have decided to continue with the boycott anyway, arguing that LGBT Jamaicans are not in a position to support a boycott, as it would endanger their lives.

Now, personally, I’m uncomfortable with boycotts of this nature under most circumstances. While it’s certainly true that damaging a nation’s economy is a powerful way to communicate a message to a governing body, it’s also true that such significant economic interference can negatively affect the lives of innocent civilians. In this case, damaging Jamaica’s economy will affect the lives of the country’s LGBT citizens — a community already marginalized and faced with the reality of homophobic violence.

But in this case, I think the boycott is particularly inappropriate. To ignore the years of work JFLAG has tirelessly put into creating a safe environment for LGBT Jamaicans is to undermine the very people these American activists claim to support. Disrespecting a community in the name of activism is offensive and inappropriate. And given the history of queer persecution in Jamaica, there is no evidence that the boycott would diminish the homophobic violence that plagues the nation. Though the activism behind this boycott may be well-intentioned, it is certainly misguided.

Do any of you support this boycott? If not, what alternatives, if any, are there for helping the LGBT people of Jamaica in a respectful manner?

  1. Emily permalink*
    April 15, 2009 9:23 am

    I don’t support the boycott. I think there could be a less damaging protest (instead of pouring Jamaican products down a sewer) in New York only if their Jamaican allies participated. JFLAG makes a good point and gay rights activists in the States should respect and support that.

  2. Thomas permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:30 am

    I oppose this boycott as well. When we act in this way, it is like two parts of ourselves split and run away from each other, terrified of reaching a unison.

    (I speak specifically in an American voice here)

    We enjoy the rage of discrimination, and may in fact try to embody it, because this allows us to be A Good Person.

    At the same time, another part of us continues to benefit from America’s exploitation of Jamaica. We may have some awareness of this, but manage to effectively hide it through our rage towards the discrimination shown by the Other.

  3. mariazk permalink
    April 16, 2009 12:59 am

    I am not in support of this boycott as well. Had the Gay rights’ activists in the United States teamed up with Jamaica’s LGBT population; they might have been able to bring about some constructive change. Dumping Rum and beer down a sewer goes on to reflect how people tend to deal with issues impulsively these days without coming up with long-term solutions.

    This incident also highlights the lack of collective problem solving; despite the LGBT Jamaicans offering their support, they were deemed incapable based on a subjective and irrational decision on the part of these activists.

    Problem-solving begins with objective thinking. When will people ever realize that?

  4. April 19, 2009 11:40 am

    JFLAG’s opposition almost certainly is coerced, given the horrific level of violence in that country. The Jamaicans who attended the rum dump at Stonewall certainly supported it.

    Anytime anyone in the queer community tries to actually do something to fight heterosexism, the effort is always undermined by people claiming it is “misguided” or something like that. Sadly, many queers don’t really think they deserve to be treated as equals, or even human beings. That is the underlying internalized heterosexism that causes people to oppose the Jamaica Boycott, the Utah Boycott etc.

    As long as we behave as passive and helpless, we will be the targets of choice of bigots and oppressors. That’s life in the real world.

    • Carrie permalink
      April 19, 2009 1:02 pm

      Anytime anyone in the queer community tries to actually do something to fight heterosexism, the effort is always undermined by people claiming it is “misguided” or something like that.

      Certainly, that is sometimes true. However, I don’t think that applies in this situation. Those who are against the boycott are not necessarily in favor of heterosexism, or the violence that queer people experience in Jamaica. They are, however, opposed to the sort of privileged activism that ignores the autonomy of LGBT Jamaicans. To exercise privilege in such an authoritative way is demeaning to Jamaican queers (who are, as I say in my post, already marginalized enough as it is) and, frankly, downright offensive. A far better approach would be for LGBT activists in the United States to actively reach out to JFLAG and follow JFLAG’s lead on the best way to proceed in protest.

  5. Emily permalink*
    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm

    I think that there are other ways to protest against Jamaica’s treatment of LGBT people than boycott Jamaican goods. The bottom line is, is that you can’t apply activist strategies used in the U.S. and developed world to represent an underdeveloped country. It just doesn’t work, because of difference in culture. You need to have support from both parts and use a different approach in respect of the culture and people of that country.

  6. April 19, 2009 4:44 pm

    Great post — I very much agree. The organizers are, as you said, well-intentioned, but whenever we decide to fight someone else’s battles instead of our own (there’s plenty of heterosexism right here in the US, people), we need to listen to those folks about how we can be helpful. They know the situation better than we possibly can. Anyone from another country who wants to help LGBT Jamaicans should ask them what they need, not decide that they know better. Americans don’t understand Jamaican culture better than Jamaicans do!

    • AllTruth1 permalink
      March 29, 2010 9:04 am

      I concur with the blogger named “Daisy” who said that the organizers should ask the Jamaican Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders how they can be best helped. I think an aggressive campaign to educate the Jamaican LGBT population about safe sex has to be implemented with the cooperation of JFLAG and international LGBT organizations. Lets face it, homosexuals and bisexuals who hide their orientation in Jamaica are spreading HIV/AIDS to women who spread it to unborn children. The spreading of HIV/AIDS to heterosexuals from homosexuals and bisexuals living double lives is collatoral damage and that is a major problem in this small place. The heterosexual population doing the discrimination is as much victims as is the Gay population being discriminated against.

      Furthermore, foreigners damaging the economy of Jamaica, in order to get heterosexual Jamaicans to change their behaviors towards Gays isn’t going to work, if anything it will only deepen the hatred and violence towards Gays. In addition, there are great Jamaicans, young and old who should not suffer for the actions of those who commit violence against Gays.

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