Learn to listen to those you are trying to liberate from oppression as they will know how they wish to be liberated.This is an email I received from Gareth Henry, former Program Manager and Co-Chair of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG), regarding the San Francisco based Boycott Jamaica campaign.
Last year when I heard the horror stories of what was happening to the LGBT community as a result of a boycott that i was in full support of, I was really hurt and devastated. My intentions were to help my brothers and sisters but my actions were doing the opposite. Since then I have acknowledged where I went wrong, the boycott was called off and i have since apologized to the commuinty that I was once a leader of within.I have been reading the emails going back and forth on the issue of the boycott called by the group in San Francisco, and what is evident is that is; all parties have a genuine concern about the state of violence against the LGBT community in Jamaica. However, the challenge is , the efforts to creat that needed change has not been properly organized, hence the divide.In 2008, I was in full support of a boycott called by groups and organization in Canada, and there were some lessons learnt, by both the organizers and JFLAG. What we realized from the attempt was; in order to create the change we all so desire we have to be working together as a team, communication is essential and we need to have a clear startegy in place and JFLAGmust be on board. We will not always agree at all times, but the important thing is that we are all working together for the greater of the community.The group in San Francisco has stated taht they have consulted with JFLAG. What i will say to that is yes contact was made via email, however, taht doies not consitute an alliance or collaboration. If there was proper consultation wiuth JFLAG I believe we would have been in a much different situation just now, not one with this divide on the efforts but one that is been supported in a meaningful way.I believe the boycotters had a set agenda, it was a do or die tactic, and that is the wrong approach. I know that there is a desire to help LGBT people in Jamaica, but amidst this passion, supporters and allies must be willing to engae the group on the ground and develop a collaborative effort.Despite JFLAG opposing the boycott from the onset, the fruop in San Francisco still went ahead and did what they wanted to do. I am still asking the big question, who is this boycott in suport of? Whose interest is being represented? Certainly not that of the gay and lesbian community in Jamaica. I guess this place me in the category of those Jamaicans who claim to know what is best for the LGBT community, and that is rightly so, I have lived the experience.JFLAG and the LGBT community is not opposing international support and solidarity, what is been said to the international community is that they MUST be willing to engage, form alliances and also be practical and realistic in there efforts.This call for a boycott would have been a great success if they had the suport of the Jamaican LGBT community. And I am not talking of LGBT community members who do not know what it is like to live in fear, treated as an outcast by family, being raped and being the victim of homophobic violence. Any successful action will need the voice of the Jamaica LGBT community behind it.The perception is that the group in San Francisco care not what happens to the LGBT communty in Jamaica. This I believe is not the intention of the boycotters, but your actions are creating more harm than good. What is clear to me is that the boycotters do not clearly understand the complexities and harsh realities of LGBT life in Jamaica. Just a few days ago, two lesbians were raped; this is the most recent case i am aware of. The men who carried out this vicious act said to the women that they and there American friends want to mash up Jamaica with ther boycott, so they are going to mash them up. Last year, when i heard of the horror stories of what was happening to the LGBT community as a result of a boycott that i was in full support of, I was really hurt and devastated. My intentions were to help my brothers and sisters but my action was doing the opposite. Since then I have acknowledged where I went wrong, they boycott was called off and I have apologized to the community that I was once a leader within.I really do want to see change in Jamaica, I was forced to leave because of increase threats on my life, been beaten by the police, having to be living in hiding, my family having to endure homophobic comments and have to deal with in the isolation in there community and church. I have seen my friends beaten, killed and chased out of ther community. I believe that action must be taken but it must be a coordinated effort by international groups/organizations and JFLAG.Finally, JFLAG opposition to the boycott is in the interest of the community and has not been directed by Scott Long, Human Rights Watch, MCC or any other groups or organizations. It is insulting of the boycotters and others who are seeking to justify there inappropriate actions to think so. Individuals and groups who take the stance that JFLAG is taking, against this boycott do have the interst of the LGBT community at heart and have sought to work in collaboration with the community instead of telling the community what they want to do.I strongly believe that groups, organizations and individuals who want to see action taken against homophobia in Jamaica should do so in dialouge with the commuinty and should stay away from any activity that will cause more blood shed and discomfort to the lives of persons in Jamaica.What is needed now is for Americans and others to say to the boycotters, let us call off this boycott, let us try to help the LGBT community in a more constructive way. Let us start engaging with JFLAG, talking about the issues and developing strategies as we move forward, let us form an allaince, engage, develop a plan/strategy and then whatever that plan is, we then act collectively.Gareth HenryFormer, Program Manager and Co-ChairJamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays