“It’s not an island paradise for everyone”: Maurice Tomlinson leads a fierce battle against homophobia in Jamaica
When Maurice Tomlinson married her husband, Tom Decker, in 2011, he had no intention of saying goodbye to his home country, Jamaica. He certainly didn’t expect Jamaica to say goodbye to him. But that’s exactly what happened.
Tomlinson was not in Jamaica, a country considered by some to be one of the most homophobic in the world – that is, he had not gone out to his native country until he was out of it. When he returned to the island after his marriage in Canada to complete the process of applying for residency in Canada, he discovered that a photo of his marriage had been published in a Jamaican newspaper.
“I received a lot of death threats and had to leave Jamaica,” Tomlinson told Pride Source by phone from his home in Kingston, Ont.
“I didn’t stay away because I realized that if I did, I would let the bullies win,” he says. But going back required a “very strict security protocol.”
Keep in mind that Tomlinson is one of the lucky ones.
“I achieved something very important,” he says. “There is power in visibility. People fear what or who they don’t know.
And fear of LGBTQ + people is high in Jamaica. “Because the church got away with preaching all this nonsense,” he says, including spreading hateful lies about the gay community. In the eyes of the religious community in Jamaica, homosexuals are pedophiles who spread AIDS. Combating these stereotypes is crucial. “Without it, we will never achieve any form of freedom or equality because we will always be feared,” he says.
And so, Tomlinson has become a leading figure in LGBTQ + activism in Jamaica.
“If people don’t see who this hatred is directed at, then it’s easy for them to buy rhetoric,” Tomlinson says. “It was important to me because I had the privilege to leave if there was violence,” unlike many in Jamaica.
“I’m not naive enough to think I’ll always escape,” he admits. “I know my safety is not guaranteed. I also know that with any type of liberation movement, you have to take calculated risks.
These risks are necessary even when the stakes are high. This is why Tomlinson is embroiled in lawsuits challenging anti-LGBTQ + laws in the Caribbean and is fighting to have her marriage recognized by the Jamaican government so that he can return with her husband without their full civil rights being granted to them. withdrawn.
“If I wasn’t trying to change, then I would have to live with the Jamaica that I inherited,” he says. “I have to try to change it, or I have no reason to complain; I just have to accept it, and I can’t accept it.
One of the reasons Tomlinson would love to come back is his family. “My mom passed away earlier this year in March, and my dad is alone now,” he says.
Her mother’s death was hard on the family – the homophobia rooted in Jamaican culture made it all worse.
“A pastor actually told my mother when she was sick and dying that she was not healed because she would not deny me,” says Tomlinson. Even though her mother had been “a pillar of the church” for over 50 years, the church was initially reluctant to hold her service there. All because his son is gay.
It was hard on Tomlinson’s father, for whom the church was a great support. “He’s pretty much estranged from the church,” he says. “He doesn’t like the people around him because he doesn’t trust them anymore.
This isolation coupled with his father’s chronic diabetes worries Tomlinson a lot.
“That’s another reason I want to go back, but I want to be able to take my husband with me. Because if anything happens to me on the island, “he said,” my husband is a legal foreigner. Given his history of death threats, that’s not a risk he wants to take.
Tomlinson says one of the biggest myths about Jamaica is that it’s an island paradise for everyone, an idea perpetuated by tourists who visit and only see a small part of the island.
“I’ve been to Jamaica and it looks good for sure,” Tomlinson hears people say. “No, you went to a seaside resort. You stay behind a huge wall for seven days eating and drinking at your leisure.
Compared to the island as a whole, “This resort could be on Mars.”
He says station employees receive extensive sensitivity training. “LGBT tourists are expected to be more tolerated because they are foreigners,” he says. LGBTQ + locals, however, are not accepted.
“I get pissed off when I hear gay tourists raving about the wonderful experience they had and that they had no problem. It’s your privilege to speak, ”he says. “They feel like the Caribbean is peaceful and there’s nothing bad going on there because nothing bad is going on at their resort. It is so far from the truth.
There are two realities for LGBTQ + people in Jamaica, he says. “If you have resources, money, and privileges, you can protect yourself from violence,” for example by living in a closed community.
“Even if you have the resources, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can be vulnerable,” says Tomlinson. “Your privilege does not go any further – once you are outside of this bubble, you are vilified.”
“Then there is the reality of people without resources,” he says, for whom such a bubble does not exist. “These people are very vulnerable.
As many countries increasingly accept LGBTQ + people in recent years, Jamaica faces unique challenges, including its geography.
“I think the best way to explain to people why it is so difficult is that in the Caribbean most of the smaller islands are like the smaller towns. [but] surrounded by a moat, ”he said.
“It’s hard to get ideas in or out,” he explains. “There is a movement of ideas and people that is not happening in the Caribbean. It highlights the cultural changes due to TV shows like “Will & Grace” in other parts of the world. In the Caribbean, television stations “censor themselves”, claiming that since same-sex intimacy is illegal, they cannot and will not promote it.
On October 16, Tomlinson will be the keynote speaker for the fourth edition Caribbean Community Service Center “Forget Columbus Day Awards”, a fundraiser for projects and programs that “support, empower and defend Caribbean nationals in the Americas”. The event will take place at 7 p.m. at the Kola Restaurant & Ultra Lounge in Farmington Hills.
“Columbus was falsely presented as having discovered America, but he didn’t,” says Tomlinson. “People were there before, and his arrival was not a boon to the original residents; it actually led to genocide.
He explains that it sounds like how European colonizers wreaked havoc in places like Jamaica. “They left a legacy like anti-sodomy laws and homophobia,” he says, which is still exported today. “In Jamaica, we have seen quite a few evangelicals from America, Britain and Canada come to the country to preach homophobic hatred that they cannot preach in their own country.”
These “missionaries” have spawned a perpetual hatred that helps fuel the underlying stream of homophobia that runs through Jamaica. “They are the main reason we still have these anti-gay laws. Because we see them coming from the enlightened North, ”he explains. “Jamaica’s Books Act is still colonial law that says you go to jail for 10 years for any kind of gay intimacy.”
His opening speech will address these issues.
“What I want to draw people’s attention to is the fact that just like Columbus, the colonizers are still doing a lot of harm and we have to face the modern consequences of this,” he says, “and stop the export of homophobia from the Global North, especially from the United States.
He advises people to pay attention to the organizations they support. “Where is your missionary money going? ” he asks. “Modern missionaries keep laws in the books that drive people underground. “
Young people are particularly affected. “We have homeless LGBT youth as young as 10 being evicted from their homes,” he says. “You have children now living in the sewers, selling sex to survive. “
Homophobia is also a public health problem. “People need to make the connection between the export of homophobia from the Global North and HIV rates in the Caribbean,” he says, adding that the stigma against homosexuality keeps men away from HIV prevention in a way. where HIV rates are among the highest. in the world. “This HIV pandemic will not end until we end homophobia. “
“I really want to make it clear that the HIV pandemic in the Caribbean is the direct result of something exported from the United States: your toxic religious homophobia. And you have to stop it, ”he says. “It’s part of the evil. People have to think about the kind of modern day neocolonial evil that is happening in the countries of the South by these new Columbus stranded on the shore. “