On Int’l LGBTQ Human Rights Abuses, White Gays Take Center Stage–Again

It’s because they’re white. It has to be. That was the only reasonable conclusion I could come to when I read the headline in Friday’s Los Angeles Times, “LGBTQ Ukrainians fear worst.” followed by the subheadline, “They worry about harsh laws under Russian occupation.” There are queer people being murdered in other parts of the world and they don’t get their stories told in the Los Angeles Times much less on the front page. But then again the people I am thinking about are Black. What I know for sure is that I can always depend on a white journalist somewhere to be looking out for the (white) gay angle in every single news event–even the Russian invasion of Ukraine–and to find a way to center the voices of white gay people next to their heterosexual counterparts. Always.

Be careful not to choke yourself to death while clutching your pearls.

I can’t believe she said–the nerve of her–who does she think she is?

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before.

Two words. Unapologetically. Black.

Look, I’m not arguing that queer Ukrainians aren’t scared of being under Russian rule. It’s no secret that neither Ukraine nor Russia are leaders when it comes to LGBTQ rights, although it’s much worse in Russia I hear. I am also not going to argue that gays in Jamaica or Africa have it worse than the gays in some European countries. I just want to offer that if we really want to, the American news media can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Mad as you may be, this might be the only time you pay attention, so I’m going to say what I need to say.

Many countries with colonial pasts (that means independent countries that were taken over by other countries) –specifically in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean–have been historically poor. I don’t mean American poor. I mean no paved roads, indoor plumbing, food to eat, or clean water to drink poor. This has been caused directly or indirectly by the U.S.’s own actions. We’ve been involved in the replacement of so many foreign governments or “regime changes” around the world, both overtly and covertly, that we have an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to our select interference.

Jamaica is a former British colony and was a center of the slave trade, first with the Spanish, then the British, forcibly transporting Africans to Jamaica to work on plantations of sugar cane, bananas, and other crops that created fortunes for many of their owners.

It wasn’t until 1962, that Jamaica became independent. However, the country still operates under many old British colonial-era laws.

Sexual relations between two men are illegal in Jamaica and can bring prison sentences of up to 10 years with hard labor for those convicted under Article 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act, also known as the “buggery” statute. 

So on top of the poor thing, queer Jamaicans also have to contend with living in a society that punishes their very existence.

While the Los Angeles Times is focused on the futures of queer Ukrainians, 7,000 miles away from Russia in Jamaica, the top vacation destination in the Caribbean for Americans, LGBTQ people continue to be murdered in what has been deemed one of the most homophobic countries in the world.

We don’t vacation in Ukraine or Russia, but we do soak up the sun in Jamaica every chance we get. American dollars are the cornerstone of the tourism industry in Jamaica. For that reason, we’ve turned a blind to anything happening beyond the carefully curated tourist corridor. We just don’t want to know. It’s bad for the American tourist agencies, it’s bad for the airlines, it’s bad for the tourist that just wants a guilt-free jaunt in the Caribbean.

You know who else it’s bad for? It’s bad for the teenager who was robbed, set on fire, and nearly had his penis severed. It’s bad for the trans man living in a secret safe house praying for asylum to leave Jamaica after being raped multiple times and then testing positive for HIV. It’s also bad for the two lesbian women who were stabbed to death and their bodies dumped in a septic pit. It’s bad for the thousands of queer people afraid to leave their homes because they’ve been warned they will be murdered for being gay if they are caught in public. So, yeah, I know it’s bad.

Jamaica is not Ukraine. Jamaica is not under attack from Cuba, one of its closest neighbors. So it’s unfair to compare the struggle of the queer communities in these two countries but it is perfectly alright for me to challenge the progressive liberal American news media to extend its LGBTQ human rights international coverage beyond that of white gay people. And when I say extend coverage, I don’t mean send Jill or Jack Journalist to Jamaica, I mean have Black journalists in a position to elevate, center, and tell Black stories–just like you have Jill or Jack Journalist in place for white gay folks. That I can and will do.

Some may say it’s too soon to draw these parallels or have this conversation. After all, the conflict is still in progress. Fact. The murders and human rights indignities faced by Jamaica’s queer community have been going on for decades. Long before Putin became president–the first time, long before the Soviet Union became known as Russia.

On a recent trip to Jamaica for my Ring the Alarm podcast, a special series I am producing in partnership with the Advocate magazine that centers the voice of Jamaica’s queer community, I was asked what Americans are going to do about the mistreatment of the queer community Jamaica. It was a fair question. A question I didn’t really have the answer to. What are we going to do? Keep vacationing with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” attitude where it concerns the murders of LGBTQ Jamaicans?

It’s never too soon or inconvenient to call attention to someone being murdered for their gender identity or sexual orientation. The right time to have that conversation is whatever time it is where you are right now.

Tick. Tock.