Javed Jaghai has spoken out. He says enough is enough. In Jamaica, that can lead to facing reprisals against him. The reason? He is gay. But for the young man who has made a name for him by being one of the few openly gay activists fighting for LGBT rights, he believes change can come.
Earlier this year, he launched a campaign to end the criminalization of sexual relations between two men.
He has been featured in numerous international media outlets for his efforts.
429Magazine sat down with Jaghai and discussed the campaign as well as the future of LGBT rights and the community in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
429Magazine: Tell us about the campaign …
Javed Jaghai: We Are Jamaicans is a participatory video campaign that features LGBT Jamaicans and allies telling their stories. Fear of stigma and ostracism prevents LGBT people from coming out, and it compels allies to downplay their acceptance. I am very proud to be one of the voices in this campaign, because if I am not willing to break the silence, then I’m complicit in my marginalization.
The campaign by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) has been a success. The organization will release over thirty videos by the end of the campaign and hopefully others will be encouraged to make and post their own videos. It is very important for young LGBT people to know that they are not alone and for anti-gay Jamaicans to learn that being hateful is not innate to Jamaican identity.
The public will always respond with hostility to increased visibility of LGBT people, but interrupting dehumanizing narratives and presenting our truths is a necessary undertaking. By showing that we are real people with insecurities, fears and dreams, we can demonstrate the impact of homophobia and challenge people to reconsider their prejudices.
429Mag: How do you view LGBT issues in Jamaica right now?
Jaghai: I think we are at a critical time in Jamaica’s LGBT movement and I am glad I returned from the United States to serve as an activist. Anti-gay sentiment is still pervasive, but more people are challenging homophobia now than ever before. The religious right is currently employing underhanded tactics to invoke deep-seated hatred and mass hysteria. However, LGBT advocates have access to media platforms that enable us to challenge the fear mongering of anti-gay Christian activists. What is needed now are more voices.
429Mag: Is there positive movement to support your rights?
Jaghai: I think there is far more support for LGBT rights now than ten years ago. Even in Jamaica, once dubbed the most homophobic place on earth, there has been tremendous progress. We may not yet have all the outcomes we are working towards, but more people are aware, more people are listening and there is a genuine sense that we are moving forward. Civil society leaders outside the LGBT communities routinely speak out against intolerance and are a dependable constituency in progressive national discourse on sexuality and human rights.
429Mag: What is the most important issue that you must deal with daily?
Jaghai: The issue that I am most interested in is internalized homophobia. LGBT people are socialized in a very homophobic, heterosexist Jamaican culture and dehumanizing narratives necessarily get lodged in our psyches. In order to come to full acceptance of self it is critical that we reject notions that we are inferior. However, most people do not have access to the knowledge and the tools they need to achieve this feat. Without self-affirmation, we allow our insecurities to control us and we abide by the rules established by those who oppress us. Big changes will come with mass mobilization, but people cannot be mobilized if they do not believe they are worthy of recognition and worthy of equality. I hope to show LGBT people that our stoicism and complicity betray our self-hatred and that we must be honest with ourselves and challenge ourselves in order to conquer it.
429Mag: How can Jamaicans become more accepting towards the LGBT community?
Jaghai: I have always said that we—LGBT people—have an obligation to play an active role in educating and re-socializing the Jamaicans we know and love. I believe it is a glaring mark of cowardice that we prefer to allow others—whether foreigners, heterosexual allies, or the US media—to fight our battles for us.
Our stories are powerful. Our existence in a culture that makes no accommodation for who we are is a powerful statement about the immutability of non-normative gender and sexual identity. Only by telling our stories will people be convinced that we are truly human. Only then will they respond to us with love and not hatred and violence.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have the wherewithal to stand up to an entire cultural and religious system, so we retreat to the margins where we are told we belong. We need to realize that preoccupation with fear limits us and prevents us from doing the work that we are obligated to do. We are the best people to teach others about what it means to be LGBT. So long as we wait for tolerance to spring from ignorance and hatred, we will continue to wait for an inclusive Jamaica that may never come.