To travelers, Jamaica is known for its promise of relaxing vacations on sandy beaches with crystal clear waters, as the ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ legacy of reggae performer Bob Marley remains an international anthem about living care-free. And yet to dive deep into the country’s politics and lack of equality, one begins to understand how its LGBTQ community faces ongoing discrimination.
For Jamaican badminton player and gay rights activist Gareth Henry, the fight for equality is a personal endeavor. As a gay man of color, the Kingston native shoulders a history of being beaten by police officers due to his sexual identity in 2007. While assisting homeless homosexuals find refuge in his home and experiencing thirteen of his friends be killed because of their sexual identity, Gareth Henry was lucky to walk away as a survivor. However, the same cannot be said for other members of LGBTQ community who continue to face persecution. The ignorance towards the LGBTQ community in large part stems from the top of the political chain, as politicians use their powerful positions to ignore the harsh realities that to be gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. in Jamaica, is a life or death issue. The list of victims grows, revealing disturbing cultural norm against homosexuals, where openly gay individuals are attacked or brutally murdered.
In 2008, the daily act of fearing for his life became too much to bear. Gareth Henry eventually applied as a refugee to Canada to start over. His opportunity at a second chance in life continues to shed light on Jamaica’s cultural disparity, where a proportion of the gay community still experience homelessness, poverty, and violence. The former co-chair to the Jamaican LGBTQ rights organization J-Flag has given aid to refugees escaping their homelands, and works with organizations such as Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and the Rainbow Railroad. Gareth Henry’s platform as a vocal LGBTQ activist is one that strives for political change so that all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.
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