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“Keeping it to Themselves” and the Defense of Homophobia

April 5, 2013

by Jaevion Nelson

Jamaicans often purport, in defense of their homophobia, that as long as gays and lesbians keep “it” to themselves, they have no problem with homosexuality. According to this logic, if a gay person affirms and accepts his or her sexual orientation, he or she is forcing “it” on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing” is quite subjective, and barely anything can be deemed as such.

As a consequence, the vast majority of gays and lesbians in Jamaica live their lives in secret for reasons that include fear of discrimination, violence or harassment, fear of unemployment or eviction from their homes, or even the fear of simply  “offending” someone with their homosexuality.

The ironic thing is that these gays and lesbians (many of whom finally decide that being open about their sexuality is not necessarily important) are routinely scrutinized and policed as they go about their daily lives—by the very same people who asked them to keep “it” to themselves.

The whispers among neighbors, co-workers and church brethren are deafening as they chit-chat in the most disparaging ways about their LGBT colleagues. But it doesn’t stop there. They can’t keep it to themselves, so they marvel and make use of every opportunity to ask: “Why do you dress/walk like that?” “Why are you so soft spoken and/or eloquent?” “Why are so many girls (or boys, in the case of a man) visiting you?” “Do you have a girlfriend (or boyfriend, in the case of a woman)?” “Why don’t you have a child?”

Why are people so preoccupied with policing gays and lesbians? Of what relevance are the private lives of others to them? Even when LGBT people try to go about their business privately—in deference to heterosexual privileges and prejudices—their neighbors make it their duty to be informed about gay peoples’ daily lives. Wherever a gay or lesbian person goes, there are eyes piercing and chatter tip-toeing behind them to find out their next move.

It is important to note that Jamaicans often use the word “it” when they are talking about homosexuality, as though using the word “homosexuality” somehow acknowledges or indirectly endorses gay and lesbian relationships as a natural feature of human existence.

A homosexual person has very little right to privacy and there is no respect for his or her space and personhood, yet political and religious leaders fail to recognize the desperate need to address rampant prejudice. Lawmakers must recognize the important role they have in facilitating this.

One can only hope that at some point along the trajectory of our next fifty years of independence, Jamaicans will recognize the importance of respecting their LGBT neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends.

Tags: Jamaica, LGBT Rights

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