In a place most people associate with relaxation and gorgeous scenery a sizable minority live in constant fear! To be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Jamaica is to take your life in your hands. I had no idea about this reality until I spoke to Leslie Foster, independent filmmaker, and director of "Until We Have Faces," a feature-length documentary about violent homophobia in Jamaica. Nine months ago he and his small crew traveled to Jamaica to document the stories of suffering and to expose this oppressive culture.
In talking with online magazine, The Wild, Foster said, "[Jamaica has] the kind of mutilations you'd find in the old American South, where people are lynched, having their genitals cut off and stuffed in their mouths."
To hear Foster describe the violence taking place in Jamaica as lynching, and to hear accounts of beatings, draggings, dismemberment and hanging, simply reveals that discriminatory violence on the order of the antebellum South is still alive in our society.
In his recent book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Union Theological Seminary professor, James Cone, reveals the surprising truth that American theologians have by and large missed the obvious connection between the execution of Jesus on the cross and the lynching of black people in the South. As I revisited these harrowing accounts of racial violence in America's recent past, I couldn't help but think of the violence directed toward LGBT Jamaicans. This is modern day lynching taking place in a democratic country. This reality recently led Amnesty International to endorse "Until We Have Faces."
It is easier to be courageous after the fact -- easier to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2012 than in 1964. Acting with courage in the moment of crisis requires courage grounded deeply in moral values. It is from this place that Foster tells these painful stories, which he hopes will put pressure on the government of Jamaica to change the laws and make this beautiful country safe and free for all people. But will this help, I asked him; will changing the laws really solve the problem when law enforcement already turns a blind eye to this violence? Foster says,
The question of whether civil rights activists should pursue changing laws or changing hearts and minds is a pretty old question -- Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison parted ways over this (Douglass supported political action). I think both are necessary approaches, but I think, at least initially, political action is absolutely necessary and more effective. The shift in laws in the United States with regard to race may have not fully evened the playing field, but it gave blacks and whites a chance to work and study side by side and helped start the dissolution of fears and prejudices, though we still have a long way to go.
The situation in Jamaica is similar. If Jamaicans who fear an LGBT-friendly nation were given the chance to interact on a regular basis with LGBT Jamaicans (who could be more open because of protective laws) I believe we would begin to see a shift in attitudes.
Foster and his team are now in post-production on their film, raising funds to cross the finish line. You can be a part of telling these stories and working for the freedom of LGBT Jamaicans through your donation.
Here is the most recent teaser: