Jamaica on alert for anti-gay pastor's visit

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday January 17, 2018
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Jamaican officials are facing international pressure to either block or monitor an anti-gay American pastor who plans to visit the Caribbean island country later this month.

Pastor Steven Anderson of the Phoenix-based Faithful World Baptist Church announced his forthcoming visit to Jamaica on a "Mission Trip" January 28 through February 4, via a YouTube video in late December, reported the Southern Poverty Law Center, the anti-hate watch-dog organization.

Anderson's trip is posted on his church's website and lists dates as January 29 through February 3.

Upon learning the news, Jay John, a 24-year-old gay Jamaican man, sprang into action, launching two petitions to block Anderson from entering Jamaica.

One petition was directly with the Jamaican government and the other was posted on Change.org, he told the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month via Skype.

John uses a pseudonym to protect his family and his privacy for safety reasons.

The change.org petition urges the Jamaican government to "denounce terrorism and violence against marginalized groups."

Father Sean Major-Campbell, rector of Christ Church in Vineyard Town, Jamaica, and an ally, agreed.

"We have no interest in him bringing that brand of hate here to Jamaica," wrote Major-Campbell in a January 9 statement from Human Rights First.

Jaevion Nelson, acting executive director of J-Flag, wrote in a statement to the B.A.R. that LGBT Jamaican activists are "deeply concerned."

"As a society, our motto celebrates diversity and respect, and so we are mindful of the impact this can have on our efforts as a country to promote respect," wrote Nelson. "We hope that the relevant authorities will take the necessary steps to monitor his visit and ensure that messages which promote hate, disrespect and violence are not tolerated."

As of January 16, the change.org petition has garnered international media attention, pressure from global human rights organizations, and statements from the State Department and LGBT tourism officials. It had 28,207 signatories.

Case against Anderson

Anderson rose to public notoriety following his comments after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, when he said, "The good news is there are 50 less pedophiles in this world." During the rampage, gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

It was suspected, but never confirmed, that two gay Jamaicans were victims of the shooting, according to media reports, and the incident affected Jamaica's LGBT community.

"That also had a direct impact on us here in Jamaica," John said. "His statement at the time, which celebrated the murders of those people, is just too much for us to bear as a country."

Anderson has been banned from entering Botswana, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom for hate speech and inciting violence.

The Change.org petition also noted Anderson's attacks on women.

Anderson didn't respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment.

LGBT rights in Jamaica

Homosexuality is criminalized under the country's colonial-era "buggery laws," where individuals charged for consensual same-sex relations face up to 10 years in prison. Politicians' promises to strike down the law haven't materialized.

The Christian country's court of public opinion is harsher. Jamaica is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be LGBT. Headlines often describe brutal killings of LGBT people by mobs in broad daylight and others slain in their own homes. None of the murderers have been brought to justice.

A February LGBT history cruise by Pride of the Ocean plans to stop in Jamaica during its trip next month. However, John Scagliotti, a gay man who is program director and co-founder, told the B.A.R. this week that they plan to boycott Jamaica by encouraging the estimated 125 LGBT guests to stay aboard the ship for a day of education instead of disembarking.

Scagliotti told the B.A.R. in November that the company was aware of potential security concerns.

A 2015 report by HRF, "The World as it Should Be: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in Jamaica," documented the struggle and progress of Jamaica's LGBT movement.

In recent years, Jamaica's queer community has had hope. LGBT Jamaican activists have been speaking out against the violence and for the past three years the country has hosted two Pride events, Pride JA in Kingston and Montego Bay Pride. Last year, both events reported no incidents, but they are held amid a high level of secrecy and security to protect participants.

"Things are changing in Jamaica, we are making slow progress," said prominent Jamaican activist and attorney Maurice Tomlinson, 47, who spoke to the B.A.R. via Facebook from Ontario, Canada.

Tomlinson lodged a constitutional challenge against the country's buggery laws last year, pressuring Jamaican officials. The case is currently proceeding through Jamaican courts.

"The last thing we need is American murder preacher," said Tomlinson, referring to Anderson. He noted that Jamaica's murder rate is one of the highest in the world, including LGBT homicides. "We don't need a murder preacher coming from America at this spot where we're making these tentative steps to kind of whip the people up into a frenzy again."

Even with recent small advances made by LGBT activists they remain skeptical the Jamaican government will heed their warnings about Anderson.

"I'm not too optimistic on the government's leadership," said John, who hopes to warn Anderson that he will be watched.

"I can hope to achieve as a national discussion a discussion that puts him on his toes if he does come," said John, whose broader hope is for a national conversation about foreign influence, hate speech, and LGBT rights in Jamaica.

Tomlinson noted that with President Donald Trump's win the radical right has been emboldened.

"They realize that America, the American government, will not be trying to quell this kind of homophobia as it had been under another president," he said.

A statement from a State Department spokesperson and a response from a representative at the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica confirmed Tomlinson's concerns.

"We were told that the embassy does not comment on the speech statements of private citizens. They encourage the idea of free speech," said Tomlinson.

A State Department spokesperson responded similarly to global LGBT rights activists' concerns about Jamaica, telling the Washington Blade that "the most effective antidote to offensive speech is more speech," noting that the petition is an example of public debate, which is "critical to the health of a vibrant, pluralistic democracy."

The representative also cited U.S. human rights policy that includes protecting LGBT people.

The State Department's response was a "step in the right direction," said Shawn Gaylord, advocacy council for the organization, but it wasn't strong enough. Gaylord urged the department to condemn Anderson's homophobic rhetoric ahead of his trip to Jamaica.

"Pastor Anderson's hateful and violent language needs to be met with strong and specific condemnation. It is not enough to simply say what we believe in, we must denounce those who would advocate for the persecution of vulnerable communities," said Gaylord. "Anderson would have Jamaica's LGBT community eradicated, the United States needs to clearly let the Jamaican people know that he does not represent American ideals."

Jamaica's response

Late last week, Jamaica's Ministry of Labor and Social Security issued a warning to Anderson in an indirect response to the country's LGBT community.

The ministry made it clear that Anderson will need to observe Jamaican laws by obtaining a work permit or be sponsored by a government-recognized religious organization to conduct missionary work, the Jamaican Observer reported January 13.

Without the permit or authorized sponsorship, Anderson will be barred from entering Jamaica on an official religious mission.

Anderson stated on a radio show last week that he didn't have a work permit, reported the newspaper. He said that he would practice "street evangelism on a one-on-one basis." He also emphasized that the purpose of his visit wasn't to discuss homosexuality.

If Anderson enters Jamaica and breaks the law, he faces a fine up to half a million Jamaican dollars or prison time, the minister stated.

"We want this man on the radar of the government. We don't want him to come, but if he does come we want him to be on their radar and make sure that he's heavily watched. Anytime he incites violence, he is promptly dispatched," said Tomlinson.

Ultimately, John hopes the change.org petition and Jamaican officials' response sends a message to others like Anderson and to the LGBT community.

He hopes it "deters fundamentals from seeing us as a place where they can spread their seed of hate," he said.

"We are moving forward," John said. "We're willing to have this discussion. There are people here who are willing to stand on the opposite side of fundamentalism."

To sign the petition, visit http://www.change.org/p/government-of-jamaica-stop-american-hate-preacher-from-entering-jamaica.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or [email protected].