Being gay in Jamaica means criminalization and violence.
I was born in Jamaica in 1971. I taught law there, and now I’m a senior policy analyst. I came to Canada in 2012. I moved because I married my husband. I was planning on moving to Canada eventually, but I had to leave rather abruptly because I received some death threats when my wedding was put on the front page of a Jamaican newspaper.
The law in Jamaica criminalizes same-gender intimacy with up to 10 years, and in 2012 we made it worse. You must register as a sex offender if convicted of same-gender intimacy, and have to carry a pass, and there’s a J$1,000,000 ($10,365) fine, or up to 12 months in prison, for each offence of not having your pass. This is due to the religious intolerance being whipped up by activists from the global north, who lost the culture war at home, and have now moved south.
My husband and I met at a conference in São Paulo in 2009, and connected professionally first. We got married in August 2011, the day after Jack Layton was buried, in Canada. By January 2012 a Jamaican newspaper had found one of our wedding photos and made it their front page news.
The newspaper came out on a Friday. Under the article, a former student of mine posted my schedule and my car. My husband is an ex-cop, and discovered with Interpol that my home was also known. They recommended I leave the house right away. I went into hiding. In a friend’s place. My passport was at the U.K. embassy that weekend, awaiting a visa to England, so I didn’t have a way to get out. The embassy reopened on Monday and I flew out the following day.
After a month, I decided I wanted to finish teaching my semester at the university. I didn’t want the homophobes to think they’d won. So I flew back to Jamaica every week to teach.
When the semester ended, I didn’t go back for a while. Then, I started doing work to challenge anti-gay laws in Jamaica. So I go back for that work, but with a security protocol. I also go back to visit my mother, who is unwell. I now try to go back at least once a month. But it’s like being a prisoner in your own country. I can’t go to social events. Once I was at a stop light in a car, and someone recognized me and was trying to call a crowd. I was able to get through just as the light changed. So I try to ensure my whereabouts are not known to the public.
When I came to Toronto, I discovered that I suffered from PTSD. I was afraid of being attacked. Every time I heard a Jamaican accent, I tensed, tried to “butch up.” I still don’t like to go out without my husband. After some time, though, I did get a little more comfortable. At least there’s redress here. Something happens, there’s redress.
Immigrants of Toronto is a weekly feature celebrating Toronto’s diversity as a vibrant city of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers, as told to Stephen Thomas.