Nothing has fueled the perception of Jamaica as a relaxed getaway more than the lyrics of Bob Marley. However, the island may need to start signing its own Redemption Song if author and activist Wayne Besen has his way. Besen, author of Bashing Back: Wayne Besen on GLBT People, Politics and Culture, has called for travelers to boycott the island in light of atrocities uncovered by the New York Times and Time Magazine.
“Clearly, the answer to Jamaica’s love affair with lynching is an aggressive campaign designed to put the clamp on tourism – particularly the cruise industry," said Besen.
The New York Times highlighted several anti-gay incidents in its Feb. 24, edition. The article describes an incident where a gay man’s home was invaded; the man and his dinner guest were savagely beaten. The article goes on to tell about how a violent mob attacked a church holding a funeral service for a gay man. Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher for Human Rights Watch was quoted by the Times.
“One time may be an isolated incident. When they happen on a repeated basis across the country, it is an urgent problem that deserves attention at the highest levels," Schleifer said.
While most agree this issue needs to be talked about, not every is on board with the idea of a boycott. The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) has issued a statement condemning the violence but labeling a boycott as counterproductive. In a recent press release the IGLTA stated:
“IGLTA is in complete solidarity with Jamaica’s own LGBT leadership, J-FLAG. Therefore, like J-flag, it is not our intention to provoke reprisals or political condemnation in Jamaica by supporting a global tourism boycott.”
IGLTA’s John Tanzella explained further via email.
“We don’t feel a boycott to Jamaica would solve or change anything. Their government wouldn’t care if we boycotted them. It would be like boycotting gay travel to Iran,” said Tanzella.
While Besen acknowledges IGLTA’s positive response in acknowledging the problem, he finds their plan of action to be somewhat lacking.
“If IGLTA hasn’t noticed, reprisals are already happening on the island and political condemnation against homosexuality is frequent. Doing essentially nothing is rarely the answer. While cruising into the sunset may be good for business, it’s no way to succeed at activism,” said Besen.
The Boycott Jamaica movement is still looking for a leader, Besen is presently occupied with other activism projects. He does, however, have the rough outline of a plan that includes billboards, ads and educating the traveling public about Jamaican atrocities. Whether or not this campaign evolves into a South African apartheid campaign or not has yet to be seen, but it is likely it will be just as controversial.