The island nation of Jamaica is a difficult place to be gay, but local activists scored a rare victory this week as the government barred an American anti-gay extremist preacher from entering the country.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of National Security told The Guardian that “the decision was made by the chief immigration officer because the pastor’s statements are not conducive to the current climate.”
Those statements, by “Pastor” Steven Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, include virulent anti-Semitism as well as homophobia.
In a 2015 film, Anderson called Judaism the “synagogue of Satan,” denied the Holocaust, and said “the real burnt offering is going to be when all of these Jews that don’t believe in Jesus Christ go to hell for eternity. That’s the oven that they ought to be worried about.”
In 2009, Anderson publicly prayed for the death of President Obama, but “of natural causes… I don’t want him to be a martyr, we don’t need another holiday. I’d like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”
As for gays, Anderson has preached, “If you executed the homos, like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running around.” After the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he crowed that “there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world.”
For good measure, Anderson also opposes mainstream medical science and believes that women should not be allowed to read books.
“The situation had initially seemed hopeless,” said Maurice Tomlinson, a longtime Jamaican LGBT activist, of the plight facing LGBT Jamaicans. (Tomlinson, who fled to Canada in 2011 after receiving numerous death threats, was the keynote speaker at The Daily Beast’s Quorum: Global LGBT Voices event in 2014.)
Jamaica still has one of the harshest anti-sodomy laws in the world (a leftover from British colonialism), religious and cultural leaders who regularly demean “batty-men” and other LGBT people, and a high rate of often-gruesome acts of violence against LGBTs.
Moreover, the spectacle of little-known American homophobes being treated like visiting royalty in Jamaica is a familiar one: Mat Staver, Peter LaBarbera, the “Open Bible” church, and Alveda King, a niece of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed an anti-gay rally by videotape.
Anderson had already been banned from Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom. That caught the attention of a Jamaican activist, known by the pseudonym “Jay John,” who started a Change.org petition to prevent Anderson from preaching in Jamaica.
Nearly 39,000 signatures later, the Jamaican government did just that, using the pretext of a labor law that prevents foreigners from earning money in the country without permission. (Jamaica has no hate speech law.) Anderson had been scheduled to speak at the University of the West Indies, which subsequently rescinded their invitation.
The reality is that Jamaica is changing. In 2006, Time asked if Jamaica was “the most homophobic country on earth,” following a string of murders and extreme anti-gay statements in the press.
The appellation didn’t capture the range of attitudes and experiences among Jamaican people. Nor did it address the uniquely American nature of Jamaican homophobia: how the country has been seen as a special target for evangelicals with white savior complexes.
The country is slowly evolving. Its two most recent presidents, Portia Simpson-Miller and now Andrew Holness, have gone on record against the “Buggery Law” and there has been significant support for repealing it, including from the head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica.
Montego Bay even hosted a Pride celebration in 2017, and will be doing so again in October of this year.
It is also notable that while Anderson sought to bring American-style homophobia in from outside, it was a locally initiated petition that prevented him from doing so.
To be sure, life is still very difficult. According to Tomlinson, 91 percent of Jamaicans express homophobic opinions. The repressive nature of Jamaican society forces gay men into hiding. “As a result,” said Tomlinson, “Jamaica has the highest HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Western Hemisphere: 33 percent.”
Tomlinson also noted that while Anderson has been banned, “his ‘missionary team’ is in Jamaica visiting schools.”
In sum, Tomlinson said, “the work to stop the global north’s export of religious homophobia continues. And we [activists and allies] will continue to play a significant role in this endeavor.”