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Angeline Jackson is a lesbian activist in Jamaica, one of 76 countries around the world where being gay is illegal. Last summer, she attended the Spirit of 76 meeting in Washington, D.C., where she came away inspired to do more for the LGBT community back home.
Jackson returned to Jamaica and founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ), which “recognizes that the concept of citizenship cannot be subjected to personal biases.”
Angeline Jackson speaks with SDGLN Contributor the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle about LGBT rights in Jamaica, what life is like for LGBT Jamaicans, and her vision for Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. She represents the next generation of LGBT activists in countries where life is dangerous for sexual minorities.
Albert Ogle: What was it like for you growing up in Jamaica knowing that to come out as a lesbian would instantly make you a criminal?
Recently while speaking with some students from Boston College, it dawned on me just how growing up as a lesbian in Jamaica has affected me. Being a lesbian isn’t criminalized in Jamaica, but so many other things happen. A few years ago I was sexually assaulted at gunpoint, an event which several other women had experienced. All of us had one thing in common: We were all same-gender-loving women; though it was never stated by the police or the court that the crimes were motivated by our orientation, I as well as the other women have come to that conclusion.
When I was younger, I suffered many periods of depression and states of suicidal tendencies, which resulted mostly in the development of cutting habits. When it seems as though the whole world is against you, you’re not considered a full citizen, and your country indirectly affirms that you aren’t deserving of being called a Jamaican or living freely in your home country. It really is a damaging feeling especially with no one to talk to. Unfortunately I still suffer states of depression.
Albert Ogle: What are the differences and similarities for gay men, gay women and transgender Jamaicans?
Gay men face more direct and regular instances of abuse, be it physical or verbal. Gay men also face greater discrimination in terms of employment, health care and housing.
Lesbians and bisexual women also face levels of stigma and discrimination. However for women, though, we face potential physical abuses, we are oftentimes more likely victims of sexual abuse, and employment discrimination in the form of coerced sexual favors for advancement in the workplace. Though J-FLAG attempts to collect information on this population, the statistics are, in my opinion, woefully incomplete.
Transgender persons also face discrimination; unfortunately the transgender community in Jamaica is not very visible and as such it is difficult to understand theirs situations.
It should be noted that though Jamaica has an anti-sodomy law on the books, which directly affects gay men, that same law is used as the basis for discrimination against the entire LGBT population, and there is no law that protects specifically on the basis of sexual orientation.
Albert Ogle: You attended the Spirit of 76 meeting in Washington last summer. How did that event help you and reshape your work in the LGBT community?
Attending the various meetings in Washington, D.C. during the summer 2012 showed me that many people were around the world supporting and working to help those of us in countries where homosexuality is illegal or where same-sex sexual activity is prohibited -- this became a reality in my mind for the first time. My meetings motivated me to be more active and more vocal in my work here at home, and gave me different perspectives and new ideas. I particularly remember one meeting, where the term “quality of citizenship” was used in speaking about the way lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender citizens of some countries are unworthy of being classified as full citizens.
Albert Ogle: Tell us about QCJ and what you hope it will grow into in the next five years?
The name Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) came out of the meeting which I spoke about earlier. The idea for QCJ came out of the need for an organization which specifically works on issues surrounding lesbian, bisexual and other women who have sex with women. QCJ will primarily be a research and education organization with scope for further activity as it develops. QCJ recognizes citizenship as a legal status, defined by civil, political and social rights, and that by virtue of Chapter Two of the Jamaican Constitution, persons born in Jamaica and persons born outside Jamaica to Jamaican parents have an automatic right to Jamaican citizenship.
QCJ recognizes that the concept of citizenship cannot be subjected to personal biases; to blatantly deny a person or group of persons their citizenship would directly violate both international treaties and the Jamaican constitution. Though human rights is part of the concept of citizenship, it can be made subject to cultural biases as aptly illustrated in Jamaica by the Attorney General’s declaration that he has no intention of abiding by the Constitutional requirement to interpret human rights according to standards found in other free and democratic societies, stating that Human Rights will “not be interpreted by international human rights norms, but rather to use Jamaican situations to determine the extent of rights.” (“Human Rights, Sovereignty and the Politics of Truth,” Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, Jamaica, World Human Rights Day Symposium, Dec. 10, 2011).
Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) is committed to improving the lives of young and aging lesbian, bisexual (LB), and other women who have sex with women (WSW). QCJ is also dedicated to working with LGBT youth. We aim to do this particularly through research into health issues, matters on sexuality, sexual violence, and sexual and reproductive health issues among our constituents. QCJ is steadfast in helping to create a health system that is responsive to the needs of the LB, WSW and general female population in Jamaica.
Our constituents are lesbian, bisexual (LB) and WSW youth (16-29) and the aging lesbian population (QCJ’s working definition of aging is 40 and older).
In the next five years I see QCJ as being the go to organization on issues of LB and WSWs within Jamaica and the Caribbean. I see QCJ providing the well needed statistical data on matters that touch and concern our constituents, training young leaders who understand themselves and who want to make the world a better place during their lifetime.
Albert Ogle: What role can religion play for good in the Jamaican situation for LGBT people?
Jamaica is a very religious society; arguably we are socialized in Christianity. Religion is one of the main driving forces behind the discrimination meted out to LGBT people, and our existing anti-sodomy laws. Religion which focuses on unity, love and tolerance can be good in the Jamaican situation. There are existing faith communities which focuses on these principles, these communities can speak up, with and for the LGBT Jamaican people. They would become a voice that does not currently exist and can help in shaping religion to play a good part for the situation of LGBT people in Jamaica.
Albert Ogle: How are you connected to other activists and organizations and what do you see as an underlying theme globally for all you are doing?
I must say, Jamaican Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays has agreed to be QCJ’s fiscal sponsor, per our request until we develop the capacity and no longer need that support. QCJ has been introduced to other local organizations all of whom has indicated a willingness to work with us; QCJ has also been introduced to Jamaican activists. Internationally I have begun informing activists I met during my visit to DC, and Bali, and also those who have visited Jamaica, about QCJ and how we may work together.
Albert Ogle: How can readers help you and QCJ achieve your goals this year?
QCJ is currently run by volunteers, and has a balance of $0. This year QCJ’s major goals are: to register as a non-profit organization under Jamaican law; participate in International Women’s Day; conduct an IDAHO event of a rainbow flash; and conduct two workshops, one with lesbian, bisexual (LB) and WSW youth, and one with the aging lesbian population.
Also, QCJ is in need of office stationary and marketing material. Finally, in our first year, QCJ would like to begin one of our pieces of researches into issues affecting our constituents. QCJ happily welcomes any and all donations, whether they are cash or kind donations, we also are happy with donations of time and online training.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.