Sometime in the late hours of Saturday night the call will come in. Philbert (not his real name), like many of his Christian LGBT buddies, wait anxiously for the call in order to know the time and place of the van pickup, and where it‚Äôll drop them off to a safe and secluded place for Sunday worship. Last week‚Äôs worship service was in Montego Bay, just 50 miles from Negril‚Äôs Grand Lido, one of the flagship resorts in Jamaica, where Philbert works the night shift at the bar. This week Philbert hopes for a closer worshipping space, perhaps a safe space in Gales Valley, just 40 miles from work.
Every Sunday Philbert and his friends have to worship in a different space. The risk is too high if it‚Äôs found out they‚Äôre queer.
‚ÄúMy experience as a gay man living in Jamaica is one which is marked by periodic incidences of abuse, both verbal and physical. I have lost count of the number of times I have been verbally abused, called ‚Äėbattyman,‚Äô ‚Äėchi-chi,‚Äô ‚Äėsodomite,‚Äô ‚Äėdirty battybwoy,‚Äô‚ÄĚ an unnamed gay man shares on the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag) in 2003.
When Jamaica‚Äôs leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was murdered in his home in June 2004, multiple knife wounds savagely mutilated his body. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the crime, reporting a crowd gathered after the killing, rejoicing and saying, ‚ÄúBattyman [Jamaican slang for homosexual], he get killed!‚ÄĚ Others celebrated Williamson‚Äôs murder, laughing and calling out, ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs get them one at a time,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what you get for sin,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs kill all of them.‚ÄĚ Some sang, ‚ÄúBoom bye bye,‚ÄĚ a line from renowned Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton‚Äôs then popular anti-gay song about killing and burning gay men. (Banton has a long history of advocating the killing of LGBT people in his lyrics, yet he was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for his album ‚ÄúRasta Got Soul‚ÄĚ).
In 2005 a gay man was harassed at the beach, and a mob pursued him. To avoid the homophobic wrath of the mob he ran into the sea and drowned.
In 2007 a pastor‚Äôs church was attacked by an angry mob on Easter Sunday because of the presence of people accused of being homosexuals were at a funeral service he performed earlier in the week.
And in November 2008, Rev. Richard Johnson, one of the leading Anglican priests on the island, was found nude and stabbed 25 times, in the rectory of St. Jude‚Äôs Anglican Church in Kingston, because he was thought to be gay.
Homophobia is so intense in Jamaica and goes unchallenged that people who speculate about who‚Äôs LGBT can easily plot to kill them, and unabashedly announce their intent with impunity because the police won‚Äôt protect Jamaica‚Äôs LGBT citizens from mob led murders and violence. They instead incite the country‚Äôs homophobic frenzy by either being present and inactive during these assaults or by following and watching them all the time.
In 2010 nothing has changed. So when the van arrives on Sunday morning before the island has risen, Philbert and friends stealthily pack into it and off they go.
Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) provides most of the vans, helping these underground Christians find sacred space. Sunshine Cathedral (MCC), in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, has chartered a Sunshine Cathedral mission Church in Jamaica. The mission Church is active in several cities in Jamaica and has monthly island-wide meetings at changing locations.
Jamaican LGBT Christians welcomes MCC‚Äôs outreach ministry to them, but the church is viewed by many of the islanders as an abomination.
In a letter to the editor of the Jamaica Observer titled ‚ÄúWilson‚Äôs homosexual theology ain‚Äôt right.‚ÄĚ JM Fletcher of St. Andrew expressed his outrage:
‚ÄúI note with interest an article written by an American lesbian preacher Nancy Wilson, who is bent on crusading and promoting her chosen lifestyle. My concern about homosexuals is that if allowed to run unchecked they move from their outward recruitment drive to deliberate thrust of their lifestyle on the rest of us. This can be seen in how they are moving into every segment of the community - even the church - to try to perpetuate their lifestyle.‚ÄĚ Fletcher states.
‚ÄúIf Ms Wilson is an American, why is she so desperate to start a foundation for homosexuality in other countries? She cares nothing for the culture of other nations? She might ask us soon to allow a man to marry a pig! Because from a Christian perspective, what would be the difference? Both are an abomination to God, yet homosexuality happens and bestiality too - if one is made legal, so should the other, and the homosexual church can allow for a man to marry a dog - if he finds the companionship of a dog preferable to that of humans. For the pastors claiming to be Christians who are approving of such churches, I repeat, they are not of God.‚ÄĚ
The Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson is unquestionably a woman of God, and was the first pastor of MCC, Boston in the 1970s. Rev. Wilson is now the Presiding Elder and Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of MCC, a global denomination with 300 churches in 28 countries. Founded by Troy Perry, an excommunicated gay Pentecostal minister, MCC is a radically inclusive church opened to all people, regardless of theological background, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or ability, and is leading force in the development of queer theology. (In the 1980s MCC saved my life, welcoming me as a member of MCC, NYC).
In April 2008, Cambridge City Councilor Ken Reeves, the son of Jamaican immigrants, traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to join Wilson and Rev. Pat Bumgartner of MCC, NYC in a demonstration denouncing violence against LGBT citizens on the island. And in June of that year Reeves put together the panel, ‚ÄúJamaica: Yes, Problems - A Visit to Homophobia,‚ÄĚ held at Christ Episcopal Church in Harvard Square, to seek out solutions. .
But in a country with no federal hate crime bill, police enforcement and church to protect LGBT Jamaicans, solutions can‚Äôt be found.
So in the meantime, Philbert and his friends wait anxiously for the call on Saturday night to be told where their sacred space will be. And when the van arrives on Sunday morning before the island has risen, Philbert and friends stealthily pack into it and off they go.