This Monday, February 16th THE ABOMINABLE CRIME will be broadcast on public television in the US as part of the seventh season of AfroPoP: The Ultimate Exchange! The film will air on WORLD Channel on Monday, February 16, at 8 pm ET/10pm PT as the final episode of the innovative documentary series on contemporary art, life and culture in the African Diaspora. AfroPoP is hosted by actress Yaya DaCosta, executive-produced by National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) and co-presented by American Public Television (APT).
To find out how to access the WORLD Channel in your area, enter your zip code here for local listings.
If miss the broadcast on the 16th, the film will also be rebroadcast in select cities on February 17th. Be sure to check your local WORLD Channel for more information. After the broadcast, THE ABOMINABLE CRIME will also be available digitally on platforms like Hulu and Amazon this spring! More information on the digital release will be coming soon!
We're thrilled that AfroPoP is bringing THE ABOMINABLE CRIME to such a wide audience and we hope that you will share this information with friends and family who have not yet had a chance to see this film.
In advance of the broadcast, we've also been receiving some exciting press in the US and abroad, including an article in the Jamaica Observer.
For those of you outside of the United States, the film will be a part of Amnesty International’s Movies That Matter Festival in March of 2015. THE ABOMINABLE CRIME will be competition for the Matter of Act Awards, and screenings will take place in the Hague in the Netherlands. We'll be posting more information about the festival on our Screenings Page, Facebook, and Twitter soon!
Best regards, The Abominable Crime Team
It’s been an amazing year for The Abominable Crime!
The film has traveled around the world, won a number of awards, and contributed to a growing discussion about LGBT human rights at a time of increasing reaction around the world.
Since its premiere, The Abominable Crime has screened in 21 film festivals around the world and collected a growing number of awards, including the first Amnesty International Human Rights Award, given at the Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival in September 2014.
“The issues dealt with by The Abominable Crime are not just relevant to Jamaica, in which the film is set, but also internationally where laws are being enacted in many countries to inflict the most inhumane and violent penalties on same sex relationships. The jury is pleased to award the first Amnesty International Human Rights Prize at the Trinidad & Tobago Film festival 2014 to a well crafted, focused and loving film which should be seen widely in the region and the world: The Abominable Crime.”
-- Citation, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE.
Awards to Date: • Best Documentary, 8th Annual Belize International Film Festival (July 2013) • Best Documentary, Audience Award, Rose Filmdagen LGBT Film Festival of Amsterdam (March, 2014) • The Audience's Favorite Film Award, Mix Copenhagen (September 2014) • The Amnesty International Human Rights Prize, Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival (September 2014).
Next year we’re looking forward to taking the film even further!
We are delighted to announce that The Abominable Crime will be broadcast in the United States on Monday, February 16th, 2015 on PBS World. It will appear as part of the sixth season of Afropop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange. Afropop is the only series on PBS that solely features independent documentaries and short films about life, art, and culture from the contemporary African Diaspora.
In the spring of 2015, The Abominable Crime will also have its digital release on Hulu, iTunes, and other digital venues, and will be coming to computer screens and other devices near you!
We are also looking forward to taking part in Amnesty International’s Movies That Matter Festival in March of 2015. The Abominable Crime will be competition for the Matter of Act Awards, and screenings will take place in the Hague in the Netherlands.
If you would like to share The Abominable Crime with someone this holiday season, DVDs are available through our website or through retailers like Amazon. If you would like to organize a screening of the film for your group, classroom, or church, please let us know!
Thank you again for your support of the film.
Best regards and a happy new year, The Abominable Crime Team
On Friday, May 16th "The Abominable Crime" will have it's Portland premiere at the QDoc Queer Documentary Film Festival!
Producer-director Micah Fink’s The Abominable Crime shines a light on the horrific situation in Jamaica, a bastion of homophobic crimes thanks to the usual unholy alliance of church, government, and media. Fink powerfully profiles two Jamaicans at the epicenter of this oppression. The film opens with a woman, Simone Edwards, talking about being attacked and shot twice for her “abominable crime” of lesbianism. Simone’s story alternates with that of lawyer-activist Maurice Towlinson, a gay man whose outing forces him to relocate to Canada though he remains determined to return to his home country – and does – to fight the draconian laws that support the beatings, stabbings, and murder of LGBT people.
Interestingly, Jamaica’s “battyboys” (gay men) and lesbians apparently had an easier time of it before the 1980s when American televangelists like Jimmy Swaggert extended their reach into the Jamaican market, whipping up anti-queer hysteria and giving religious legitimacy to sometimes lethal homophobic attacks, recalling the evangelists who’ve more recently helped introduce viciously anti-queer attitudes to Africa. While The Abominable Crime sounds like a grimfest, that’s not the case, due mainly to Simone and Maurice’s charismatic personalities and their clear courage in dealing with state- and socially sanctioned brutality.
For more information about the screening, or to learn where to see "The Abominable Crime" in your city, check out our screenings page.
A quick update to share two new reivews that came in this morning!
Clive Forrester of the Yardie Skeptics Media radio show recently wrote to us and wanted to share his opinion of the film:
It’s one thing to hear about violence against LGBT persons, and read about the struggles and insurmountable obstacles placed in their way all for no reason but because of their “difference”, but it’s another thing to see a story unfold on screen depicting the real life torment someone you know had to face. “The Abominable Crime” is an excellent documentary that needs to be seen by all Jamaicans if only for the emotional journey and the inescapable enlightenment along the way!
The Glen Ridge Voice also wrote a piece about director Micah Fink and composer Amanda Harberg in conjunction with our recent screening at the Montclair Film Festival. This is a great piece to check out if you've ever been curious about how Amanda wrote the music for the film.
More updates soon!
The TAC team!
We wanted to share some exciting recent news about "The Abominable Crime," and let you know about a few upcoming chances to see the film.
We just finished up a two week tour of Europe, sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Micah attended two film festivals and also screened the film for hundreds of students in Paris, Brighton, and London! While screening in Amsterdam, we won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Roze Filmdagen LGBT Film Festival.
In London, we also had the privilege of three screening at the BFI Flare Film Festival -- as well as a special panel discussion organized around the topic of "The Abominable Laws" that encompassed updates on anti-gay laws in Jamaica, Nigeria, India and Russia. Micah and Maurice were both in attendance and took part in a Q&A after the screening, which you can watch here.
We also wanted to let you know about chances to see the film in a variety of locations across the US and the world!
In the US there are several opportunity to see the film:
Chicago, IL- On Thursday, April 17th at 7pm the film will be screening at University of Chicago as part of a presentation by the Center for International Studies and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The event is free and open to the public! Director Micah Fink will be in attendance. You can RSVP here.
Montclair, NJ - On Saturday, May 3rd at 4pm, we will be taking part in the Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, NJ. Director Micah Fink and composer Amanda Harberg will be in attendance. You can purchase tickets and find more information here.
Portland, OR - On Friday, May 16th at 7pm we will be at the QDoc Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival. Human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson will be in attendance. You can purchase tickets and find more information here.
In just under a year since its premiere, we have had more than fifty public screenings, and appeared in ten festivals around the world, with another six to come on the horizon! We are so honored that the film has gotten this far, and want to thank you all for your support!
Happy New Year! It has been an exciting few months for "The Abominable Crime" and we wanted to share some news and let you know about upcoming screenings in the US, and our European and UK premieres!
On February 11th, "The Abominable Crime" was broadcast on national television in Belize! The film was brought to Channel 5 by local activist Caleb Orozco, who is leading the legal challenge to end the criminalization of homosexuality in Belize.
We are thrilled to be part of the national conversation about LGBT rights in Belize!
We are also pleased to announce that "The Abominable Crime" is now being distributed in North America by Passion River Films. Passion River is making the film available to libraries and educational institutions across the country. If you’re interested to bringing the film to your school or library, you can find more information here.
We also wanted to let you know about upcoming screenings of "The Abominable Crime" on both sides of the Atlantic!
Philadelphia, PA – February 27th The Caribbean Alliance for Equality is bringing the film to the Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia on Thursday, Feb 27th at 7pm. Micah Fink and Maurice Tomlinson to be in attendance. Davis, CA - February 27th
The UC Davis School of Law on will show the film on February 27, 2014 at 3:15 PM. Check the screenings page for more details about the location of the screening.
Queens World Film Festival – March 6th We are pleased to be taking part in the 2014 Queens World Film Festival! The film will be showing on Thursday, March 6th at 8:30 pm at the Secret Theatre. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit here
Queer Spirits! Film Festival, Toronto – March 14th The Queer Sprits Film Festival at the University of Toronto will be screening the film on Friday, March 14th at 5 p.m., at the Innis Town Hall. A panel discussion and a Q&A with Maurice Tomlinson will follow.
Roze Filmdagen Film Festival, Amsterdam, March 15th and 22nd. We are incredibly excited to be making our European premiere at Roze Filmdagen, Amsterdam’s LGBT Film Festival.
The film will be screened twice. For ticket information and screening locations, keep an eye on the screenings page. Saturday March 15, 15.45h Saturday March 22, 13.30h - Micah Fink, Maurice Tomlinson, and Simone Edwards will be in attendance!
BFI London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, March 29th and 30th. We are honored to announce our UK premiere at the BFI London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival! The film will be screened three times: Saturday March 29th, 14:00 at the National Film Theatre at BFI Southbank, Studio screen Saturday March 29th, 20:45 at the National Film Theatre at BFI Southbank, screen NFT2 Sunday March 30th, 13:10 at the National Film Theatre at BFI Southbank, Studio screen NFT1
Micah Fink and Maurice Tomlinson will be at all three screenings!
Of course, we want to extend an enormous thank you to all our Kickstarter supporters, who enabled us to complete the film. And also many, many thanks to the folks at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, whose ongoing support has been crucial since the very beginning of this project.
We will also be announcing dates and times for screenings in Portland and Washington, DC, soon, so please keep an eye on our screenings page or our Facebook page for more details! We hope to see you at a screening soon!
Also if you have thoughts or suggestions for screenings -- or would like to organize one on your own, please contact Tara, our outreach coordinator, at tamara.nadolny [at] gmail.com
The Abominable Crime Team
Last week Micah, Maurice, and Tom had the opportunity to go to St. Louis, MO and show "The Abominable Crime," to several groups of students. Maurice wrote up one of his experiences from the trip and we wanted to share...
"We met 12 year-old Isabelle on the final day of our visit to St. Louis where we presented the Abominable Crime to some fantastic middle-school kids. After the presentation Isabelle ran up to me and pushed a letter into my hand. It was written in pencil on paper torn out of her notebook. It was addressed:
To: Tom Decker and Maurice Tomlinson
From: A Student, An Ally, A Friend.
Dear Tom and Maurice,
I cannot say how proud I am. I just wanted to say thank you for being so brave. It is sad that you need to be brave to be yourself. Thank you for sharing your story and teaching me much. I'm sorry that being who you are can be a death sentence. I think you two are so strong and it's absolutely brilliant how you never give up.
I have always tried to speak up against inequality. I have gone to rallies and speeches for LGBTQ rights but only in the USA. I never knew how bad it was in other places around the world. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to this.
I look up to both of you. Do not let anyone put hate into your heart. Do not let anyone hurt you. They can only hurt you if you let them. Be proud of yourselves. I will keep an eye on the news for you. You two are wonderful. Your story is inspiring. Thanks you.
Isabelle's mom gave me permission to post her photo and this letter.
Of course, Isabelle got it ALL wrong. She is the TRUE inspiration! At 12 years old she shows more empathy than most adults I know! In addition to speaking up for marginalized groups, she also volunteers with her mom at soup kitchens and is already a passionate social justice activist.
My son is 12. I pray he develops some of Isabelle's bravery, compassion and intelligence.
I hope to receive MANY awards in my lifetime for my activism. This is not because I crave the fleeting glory they bring, but because I want the platform they provide to demand full human rights for LGBT Jamaicans. That said, I doubt ANY "award" will be as dear to me as this letter from Isabelle.
We were able to give Isabelle a copy of The Abominable Crime. I understand she is having fun sharing it. I am humbled that I can inspire someone so young and with SO MUCH promise. I can't wait to see what kind of person she develops into. For sure, her future is bright!
The world needs more Isabelles."
Thank you to Maurice for sharing and Isabelle for being such an inspiration!
Very best regards,
The TAC team!
This autumn has been shaping up to be a very busy time for “The Abominable Crime” – and LGBT issues in Jamaica – and we wanted to give you an update.
First, the film will be screening in NYC, Chicago and St. Louis in the next few weeks – see details below for locations and tickets.
The film has also been getting some press (or not getting press, in one notable instance) back in Jamaica…
A few months back, I was interviewed by a Caribbean program called "18° North,” which is a new Caribbean-based investigative TV show.
They did a segment on the film interweaving footage from the documentary with an interview with the director (me), which it was slated to be aired in primetime on TVJ, one of the main Jamaican TV broadcasters, on Sept 16.
Zahra Burton, the program’s executive producer, emailed me the next day. While the program aired on TVJ, she wrote, the network had cut out the segment on the Abominable Crime!!!
Burton was so outraged that the network had removed eight minutes (and a key segment) from her show – without asking her or informing the Jamaican public about the missing piece – that she asked us to let the world know… and she shared the missing segment with us. You can watch it here.
Clearly, some stories are too sensitive to be told on TVJ. And censorship on LBGT issues is still alive and well in Jamaica!!!
Despite TVJ’s refusal to even mention “The Abominable Crime”, Jamaicans are becoming more aware of the film. The Gleaner, one of Jamaica’s most important papers, ran a short piece about the film on their website in conjunction with our Washington DC screenings.
If you have a strong stomach, you might explore some of the comments that appear in response to the story – many of which are quite revealing – and show that homophobia and hatred are still deeply rooted in the Jamaican psyche…
On other fronts, we are proud to announce that "The Abominable Crime" has three upcoming screenings in November 2013:
ST. LOUIS: On Sunday, November 17th at 4:30 pm, there will be a screening as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival. After the film there will be a Q&A with me and Maurice Tomlinson.
After this screening you are invited to join us for another Pulitzer Center supported documentary, “Seeds of Hope,” and a reception that will include Maurice Tomlinson and me! More details about the screenings and reception here. The reception is free to attend, but please RSVP here.
We are also beginning to reach out to educational and community groups for non-festival screenings. If you know of a university or community group that would be interested in hosting a screening and discussion, please get in touch with us. You can order an educational or community screening package here.
I hope to see some of you at the screenings in New York and St. Louis! More soon!
Very best regards,
Micah and the whole TAC team!
The Abominable Crime made front-page news yesterday in the Jamaica Gleaner, which ran an article coinciding with our Washington DC premiere.
While the article itself was fairly neutral, the comments section provides a very revealing taste of contemporary Jamaican attitudes towards tolerance.
Meanwhile, the film is continuing to screen throughout the week in Washington DC as part of the Pulitzer Center Film Festival, "Global Crises, Human Stories."
For those of you not in the DC area, we do have screenings in the works in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis, and we are working on getting the film available online. More details on all of that soon!
Full Pulitzer Center Film Fest dates below:
Screenings on September 20-26: tickets are $5 general admission, and $3 for students and seniors.
Tickets on sale week prior at http://www.westendcinema.com/
Friday, September 20:
5 pm: No Fire Zone
9:20 pm: Pulitzer Center Photojournalist Shorts
Saturday, September 21:
3 pm: The Abominable Crime
7 pm: Outlawed in Pakistan
Discussion with co-director Hilke Schellmann, Reception to follow
Sunday, September 22:
5 pm: Outlawed in Pakistan
9:20 pm: The Abominable Crime
Monday, September 23:
3 pm: No Fire Zone
7 pm: Seeds of Hope
Discussion and reception to follow
Tuesday, September 24:
5 pm: The Abominable Crime
8:30 pm: Reception in advance of Pulitzer Center Shorts (tickets for 9:20 pm show required)
9:20 pm: Pulitzer Center Photojournalist Shorts
Discussion with photojournalist Shiho Fukada ("Disposable Workers in Japan")
Wednesday, September 25:
3 pm: Outlawed in Pakistan
7 pm: No Fire Zone
Thursday, September 26:
5 pm: Seeds of Hope
9:20 pm: The Abominable Crime
Maurice asked us to pass along this call to action in response to the recent increase in anti-gay attacks in Jamaica.
In the past month there has been a jump in reported anti-gay attacks across Jamaica:
1) On July 22, 17-year-old cross-dresser Dwayne Jones was stabbed and shot to death and thrown into nearby bushes at a public street-dance near the resort city of Montego Bay. The Minister of Justice condemned the barbaric act.
2) On August 1, as reported on CVM TV, a suspected gay police officer was mobbed in downtown Kingston and fellow officers had to fire gunshots into the air and teargas into the crowd to disperse them.
3) Also on August 1, the home of 2 gay men in the parish of St. Catherine was surrounded by an angry mob from the community intent on getting rid of the men. The police had to intervene to rescue them.
4) On August 6, reggae artiste Queen Ifrica used her performance at a taxpayer funded independence celebration to condemn gays and demand that they be removed. The Minister of Culture who organized the event apologized.
5) On August 10, a cross-dresser in St. Catherine was attacked by a mob and had to be rescued by police.
6) On August 22, the home of 5 gay men in the parish of Manchester was attacked by community members who barricaded the men inside. The police had to rescue the men.
7) On August 26, the Minister of Education said at a press conference to launch the new Health and Family Life Education Teachers’ manual that “we are not grooming children into the homosexual lifestyle” and “the only wholesome relationship is between a man and a woman.” Ironically, the Minister has an adult gay son who lives outside of Jamaica.
8) On August 26, two gay men in the town of Old Harbour had to flee from the scene of an accident when onlookers realized they were gay. The crowd demanded that the men leave their community and relocate to “uptown” areas. The men had to seek shelter in a police station.
There have also been 2 recent gruesome murders of gay men and it remains unclear if their sexual orientation played a part in their deaths. Please see a link below about one such murder, that of Dean Moriah. On the morning of August 27, the police say that Moriah was stabbed several times before his house was set on fire with him inside.
Despite these escalating reported homophobic incidents, the Jamaican government has been largely silent about promoting the human rights of LGBT citizens. On the contrary, On August 26, the Minister of Education (who, ironically, has a gay son) sought to distance the government from "grooming" homosexuals.
An urgent appeal was sent to the UN Special Rapporteurs over the signature of groups including J-FLAG and AIDS-Free World (attached) requesting that they condemn the on-going attacks. A request was also made that the government fulfill its international obligations with regard to LGBT citizens. However, I feel a more direct and urgent appeal to the Jamaican government is needed. This is because on September 14, the anti-gay fundamentalist religious group, the Love March Movement, intends to hold yet another public march through the streets of Kingston. (read more here). A similar march held in Haiti preceded multiple homophobic attacks.
Let The Jamaican Government Know You Hate Homophobia
I am therefore imploring you to spend just 5 MINUTES to send a short note to the Jamaican government. I would also appreciate if you would send this out through your networks.
If you feel that this rise in homophobic assaults is unacceptable, and that the government of Jamaica should do more to promote and protect the human rights of the vulnerable LGBT community, please contact the following persons:
The Prime Minister, The Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, O.N. —http://opm.gov.jm/contact-us/
The Minister of Tourism, The Honourable Wykeham McNeill— http://tourismja.com/contactus/
The Minister of Justice, Senator The Honourable Mark Golding — email@example.com
LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!
STOP THE SENSELESS BRUTALIZATION OF JAMAICAN GAYS!
Ian McKnight, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) was recently able to see The Abominable Crime and we wanted to share his kind words about the film:
Micah Fink has again brought international scrutiny to the human rights violations which face some of our fellow Jamaican citizens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Although, “The Abominable Crime” only captures the story of two (one gay and one lesbian) Jamaicans, theirs speak for similar experiences of many others, most of whom are not able to leave the island as both did.
It therefore compels us all to work harder for the local situation to be corrected so that all citizens can live in the country of their birth, be guaranteed protection and be treated with respect and dignity.
CVC is committed to working in Jamaica and across the Caribbean region to ensure that rights are respected and equality becomes a reality. We commend Micah on this exemplary documentary, and for providing a platform for Jamaicans who have suffered to share their stories. This film will no doubt make an important contribution to raising awareness of the abuses LGBT Jamaicans face, and hopefully, help to create the change which is needed to make Jamaica a better place for all Jamaicans to live.
If you are interested in watching the film yourself, you can see all the ways to do so here!
This past week Micah was interviewed by Karen Gabay for The People, a BBC Radio Manchester program that focuses on the African and Caribbean community in the UK.
Listen to the interview here:
Many thanks to Karen and BBC Radio Manchester for the interview! Keep your eyes on our screenings page for an upcoming screening in Manchester!
Jamaica is known for beaches and warm weather, but for many gay and lesbian people living on the island, it's a place of hatred. A new documentary, The Abominable Crime shines a light on homophobia and anti-gay violence in Jamaica.
Listen to the story a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=204550149">here or in the player below.
We are pleased and incredibly honored to announce that we won Best Feature Documentary at the Belize International Film Festival!
“A riveting, urgent, compelling account of what pressures and hatred LGBT Jamaicans face,” writes Lisa Shoman, a senator at the National Assembly of Belize. “But for the names and faces, it could easily have been made about Belize.”
This film was born when Jon Sawyer and Nathalie Applewhite of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting originally commissioned me to report on HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.
After a while, we decided to focus on Jamaica – where Pulitzer had done the award winning project “Live, Hope, Love.” Once we had a country focus and some story ideas, they did the hard work of pitching the ideas to PBS World Focus, which agree to support and run the series. As part of this project, they also pitched a feature story I wrote to the Atlantic, called “How AIDS Became A Caribbean Crisis.”
During the reporting for this series, which we called “The Glass Closet,” I met Simone Edwards and began filming with her and her daughter Khayla.
I remember sitting on Jon’s porch after returning from Jamaica on one of my reporting trips and telling him about Simone’s story – and he agreed to support me as I continued following Simone’s story. It was a amazing story of survival and courage that had never been told before – and I think he was excited as I was!
Over the years that followed (I had promised Simone that we wouldn’t air anything until her daughter was safely reunited with her), Jon’s patience was extraordinary. Of course, he did ask every once and a while when I thought the film would be done, but he also understood that there were unique aspects to telling this difficult story – and telling it fully – and he was willing to wait.
And two years later, when we began filming Maurice’s story, he got it. He understood how Maurice’s story framed and explained the background to Simone’s story, and his support continued. Stories like these don’t always work out – but he continued to believe in this project.
It took more than four years.
The Pulitzer Center’s willingness to support a long-term journalistic enterprise with no clear ending point is just one part of their remarkable contribution to the contemporary journalistic landscape. As mainstream broadcasters cut back on foreign reporting, and as reporting bureaus and budgets around the world shrink, the Pulitzer Center is forging ahead with a new vision of how serious international reporting can be funded and disseminated across a variety of media. The goal is not stylistic, but journalistic – getting the word out about critical international stories that shape our world.
Without the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s support and patience, lasting more than four years, this film – and Simone and Maurice’s story -- would never have been told!
I am deeply grateful for their support, encouragement, and investment in this project.
To see more of the reporting the Pulitzer Center has done on HIV in the Caribbean, please visit: http://pulitzercenter.org/hivaids-caribbean.
Producer/director Micah Fink
This article by Micah Fink originally appeared on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis reporting website. To see the original post and to learn more about issues relating to HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, click here.
The repeal of Jamaica’s long-outdated sodomy law, a relic of British imperialism that defines homosexual acts as “the abominable crime” of buggery and sets a maximum of 10 years of hard labor as punishment, will be debated during the current parliamentary session.
While the 1864 law itself is rarely enforced, it is widely viewed in Jamaica to be the lynchpin of a national ideology that embraces homophobia and violently rejects the idea of gay rights.
“Members of parliament will be asked to have discussions with members of their constituencies,” Senator Sandra Falconer, the government’s information minister, announced last week. “And I’m sure some of those discussions will be ugly.”
Ugly may be an understatement.
A survey published in 2011 found that 82 percent of Jamaicans consider homosexuality “morally wrong,” and 85 percent do not think it should be made legal.
Jamaica, a nation heavily dependent on tourism, is facing a defining moment.
“No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, said during the lead-up to elections in 2011, when she first called for a review of the buggery law.
This expression of tolerance, mild as it may seem from an American perspective, represented a radical break from the openly homophobic previous administration of Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
When asked by a BBC reporter if he would allow gays officials to serve in his cabinet, Golding replied, “Sure they can be in the cabinet, but not mine. Not mine.”
Golding later explained that Jamaica’s attitude towards gays is rooted in its religious traditions. “We are predominantly a Christian country—we are a fervently Christian country,” Golding told the website Big Think. “It may not be reflected in terms of how we live sometimes, but we are passionately committed to certain Christian principals, which eschew homosexuality.”
Golding was referring to a fundamentalist form of Christianity that interprets the Bible literally and is very popular in Jamaica. The ease with which schoolchildren quote the Bible verses from Leviticus that describe gay sex as an “abomination” and call for gays to be killed reflects how often it is preached from Jamaica’s pulpits.
Golding’s remarks are a reflection of how homophobia has permeated the culture and is generally accepted as a core part of the country’s national values.
The Reverend Lenworth Anglin, executive director of the Church of God in Jamaica, reacted to news that the government would review the buggery law by shouting from his pulpit that he was prepared to die to ensure that Jamaica does not succumb to pressure from homosexual activists.
The Reverend Al Miller, another leading religious voice, announced that “a group of concerned pastors and leaders” were mobilizing and would “resist any attempts to tamper with the country’s Constitution as it relates to the buggery law.” And he denounced efforts to "foist on our nation, in any shape or form, the gay rights agenda which is alien to our culture as a people."
“It’s not a social norm to be gay,” a young high school student told me during one of my first trips to the island. “They are saying that you’re supposed to accept it and it doesn’t matter what you do. I’ll be in your face, I am gay and there’s nothing you can do about it. People in Jamaica don’t like that. If you are against something, the ignorant people are going to get very radical and people are going to start dying.”
Over the last six months, two high profile lawsuits have propelled the issue of gay rights onto the front pages of Jamaica’s newspapers and splashed it across the national airwaves.
Both are led by Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS Free World and a human rights activist who fled his country after being publicly outed last year.
Tomlinson dramatically returned to Jamaica in May to argue a case before the Supreme Court that charged the three main Jamaican television broadcasters with violating Jamaica’s new Charter for Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms.
This charter, which amended the Jamaican Constitution and passed in 2011, includes the “right to freedom of expression,” and the right “to seek, receive, distribute, or disseminate information, opinions and ideas through any medium.”
Tomlinson argued that this right to disseminate information “through any medium” was violated when TV spots depicting straight Jamaicans showing support for gay friends and relatives were rejected for broadcast by the three stations.
Lawyers for the stations countered Tomlinson’s claim by asserting that broadcasting expressions of tolerance for gays could be viewed as promoting homosexual behavior, which remains illegal in Jamaica.
“Many Jamaicans are thinking Maurice Tomlinson, the claimant, is pushing a 'foreign agenda' and trampling on our freedoms to disagree with homosexuality,” noted a guest columnist in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s leading newspaper. “[They fear] that by supporting the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans we, including the TV stations, would be aiding and abetting an illegal act.”
Tomlinson believes that stirring the pot by public debate and legal activism are necessary to advance tolerance for gays in Jamaica.
On June 25, Tomlinson appeared before the Jamaica Supreme Court to attack the anti-sodomy law from another constitutional perspective.
Justice Carol Edwards, overseeing the case, gave the attorney general, named as defendant in the case, until mid-September to file a response and the first hearings are scheduled to begin October 4, 2013.
In this case, Javed Jaghai, a young gay Jamaican activist, claims his landlord evicted him because of his sexual orientation and concern that he would be engaging in illegal activities on her premises.
While being gay is not technically illegal in Jamaica, the anti-buggery law does criminalize acts of sexual intimacy between men, even if they take place behind closed doors.
Tomlinson is arguing that the sodomy law infringes on the right to privacy, which was granted under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. If the court recognizes that gays share in the right to privacy, Tomlinson plans to argue that these rights trump the terms of the sodomy law by making it impossible to act against private behavior between consenting adults.
“Right now it’s to get the courts to acknowledge that at least in private same-gender loving individuals have the rights of everyone else,” explains Tomlinson.
At the heart of both cases is the sense that the time has come to confront Jamaica’s homophobia – and the law that gives it legitimacy.
“We can sit patiently while our humanity is denied and wait for the paradigm to shift in a generation or two, or we can aggressively agitate for change now,” Jaghai recently wrote in a Facebook post picked up by Huffington Post. “I choose to do the latter.”
The Supreme Court of the United States made headlines around the world yesterday by advancing the cause of federal equality for same sex couples in the US, but did you know that the Jamaican Supreme Court has also been hearing arguments about LGBT equality this week?
The same day that the film premiered in San Francisco, Maurice was in Jamaica arguing before the Supreme Court in the first hearing about a potential constitutional challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. An Associated Press article that appeared in USA Today does a nice job of summing up the case and the legal procedure.
"The rare court challenge to the 1864 anti-sodomy law is being pushed by Javed Jaghai, a young outreach worker for the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays, the Caribbean country's sole gay rights group."
"On Tuesday, the matter had its initial mention in the chambers of Jamaica's Supreme Court. Justice Carol Edwards gave the attorney general, who is named as the defendant, until mid-September to file a response and the next hearing was scheduled for early October. Jaghai is seeking authorization to take his case to the Constitutional Court."
Here’s hoping for some good news in October!
The Abominable Crime Team
Director Micah Fink and Executive Producer Jon Sawyer at the Premiere.
Yesterday evening The Abominable Crime permiered to a packed theatre at the Frameline International Film Festival in San Francisco.
Here's what people who have seen the film have been saying...
"The film was phenomenal: the stories were informative and moving, the editing was first rate, the characters were universal and intimate at the same time. WHATEVER IT TAKES YOU TO SEE THIS FILM, DO IT. Hock your watch or your rings, panhandle on the street, or do whatever else is legal to make sure you don't miss this film when it comes around again."
After four years and a greal deal of work, we're so pleased that the film is finally finding an audience. We're still in the process of figuring out the best way to get the film out into the world, but if you're interested in bringing The Abominable Crime to your town let us know and we'll do what we can to make that happen.
The Abominable Crime Team
With two cases before the Jamaican Supreme Court, Maurice has been very busy lately! This week another editorial by Maurice appeared in Gay Star News, explaining the lies being propogated by the religious Right in Jamaica...
In court documents filed to support their applications, these fundamentalists have employed twisted logic that appears impervious to facts. As such, they adamantly declare that Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law is vital to prevent the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM). This is arrant rubbish. The fact is that Jamaica has the highest prevalence rate of HIV among MSM worldwide despite clinging desperately to the 1864 British colonially imposed law.
In advance of next week's premiere at the Frameline International Film Festival in San Francisco, we're starting to see some of the very first reviews of the film. Here's what people are saying about the film:
More to come!
The Abominable Crime Team
Exciting news out of Jamaica yesterday!
While she was campaigning in 2011, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller raised the hopes of many LGBT activists when said that she believed the Jamaican Parliament should review the buggery law. Two years later, it looks like Simpson-Miller has kept her word, and a conscience vote on whether to repeal the buggery law is set to take place before the end of this year.
"Where as I understand and appreciate the economic challenges which the country has faced along with the spiralling crime situation, the time has now come and the issue of the buggery law is impatient of debate," said Vaz.
Here's hoping for a positive outcome. We'll be watching the story as it develops in the coming months!
The Abominable Crime Team
This article by Micah Fink originally appeared on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis reporting website. To see the original post and to learn more about issues relating to HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, click here.
After nearly five years in production, we just put the finishing touches on our first Pulitzer Center-funded feature film “The Abominable Crime.”
Looking back at my calendar and stacks of checklists, the last few months have been a hectic rush of fundraising, scheduling, shooting, editing, graphic design – all accompanied by digital files and Fed-Ex packages flying around the globe.
A few highlights: In February we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign – and raised the funds to begin our final round of editing. In March, we did a last round of interviews with our main characters in Holland, Canada and the U.S. In April, we created an animated opening sequence, wrote a press kit, built a website, and started sending off applications to film festivals around the world. In May, an excellent score was composed, archival footage gathered, editing was completed and then we spent a week mixing sound and matching colors.
The film was finished just in time.
The Abominable Crime" will have its world premiere at the 37th International Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 25, 2013.
Frameline is the largest and oldest gay and lesbian film festival in the world, and we sent a final print out just after Memorial Day.
But the truth is that a film like this is never really finished.
While the pictures end and the credits roll, the film is just part of a much larger story that continues on.
Buggery is still a crime in Jamaica, homophobia continues to be socially acceptable, and new abuses and atrocities are being committed every month.
Life goes on.
Simone and her daughter Khayla are now building new lives for themselves in Holland, where they were granted asylum. Simone is studying to be a nurse and Khayla is excelling at school.
They are both survivors – what they would call “Solder Girls.” And they are constructing a new and meaningful life for themselves – but the scars and traumas of their experiences in Jamaica will likely haunt them long into the future.
Maurice has also moved on. He lives happily with his husband in Rochester, New York, while continuing his activism in Jamaica – despite the evident risks.
Just last week, Maurice was back in Kingston for a hearing before the Constitutional Court. He was arguing that LBGT people have the right to free speech as guaranteed under Jamaica’s new Charter of Rights.
This new case came about because Maurice was involved in making several TV spots that depict straight Jamaicans showing support for gay friends and relatives.
This being Jamaica, the films were rejected by all three major Jamaican TV Stations, on the grounds that public expressions of tolerance could be viewed as “promoting homosexuality,” which remains illegal in Jamaica.
The spots are mild – but in a country where more than 80% of the population define themselves as homophobic – any statements of tolerance are suspect.
A columnist in The Gleaner, one of Jamaica’s leading newspapers, captured the general atmosphere noting that “many Jamaicans are thinking Maurice Tomlinson, the claimant, is pushing a 'foreign agenda' and tramping on our freedoms to disagree with homosexuality… and by supporting the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans we, including the TV stations, would be aiding and abetting an illegal act.”
A ruling on the case is expected sometime next year.
Maurice’s legal battles continue on.
The task in making a documentary film is to transform the raw chaos and confusion of our character’s everyday experience into an aesthetically coherent narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end.
But, as we all know, daily life doesn’t unfold in clear narrative sequences.
Our footage was shot over five years and it took us nearly six months to identity the key events and decision points that defined our characters and the struggles that they faced.
The discussions in the edit room were long and involved.
How do we make sense of Simone’s flight from her country? How do we explain the anti-gay violence that threatened her life and the life of her daughter? How big a role should Carl, her brother, play in the film? How can we interweave Simone and Maurice’s stories – in a way that respects the different time lines that they both follow? How do we convey the continuing psychological impacts of gay lives shaped by a culture of fear and violent homophobia?
This is not an easy story. I’m sure some people won’t understand Simone’s decision to leave her daughter as she makes her bid for asylum abroad. Or they may think Maurice’s decision to return to Jamaica was foolhardy. Why risk his life to advance the struggle for the human rights of LBGT people in Jamaica?
Hopefully, reflecting on the morality of these decisions will help our audience come to a deeper and more intimate understanding of social and personal forces that confronted Maurice and Simone.
What choices would you make under similar circumstances? How would you feel if someone you loved had to make these choices? How would you feel if you had to live with the consequences?
In the end, Simone and Maurice made the choices they made because it was necessary. Necessary for them to live their lives in a way that is consistent with their own sense of dignity, morality and personal responsibility.
Of course, Simone and Maurice do not exist in isolation – and, tragically, the choices they confront are not unique.
They reflect the experiences of countless LGBT people in Jamaica – and across the world – who live in anonymity and make similar wrenching and death defying choices everyday because of the social and political forces of intolerance that exist around the globe.
These are stories that should be told and retold until everyone can live with respect and dignity and in safety.
Until that time, our story continues on.
While we've been busy working on the film, Maurice has been busy with his own work, and next week will be taking part in the first domestic legal challenge to the homophobic laws and practices in Jamaica.
Maurice has written a great article for Gay Star News explaing how the case came to be and how it has gotten this far.
Late last year, I filed a constitutional claim against the TV stations for refusal to air the Love and Respect tolerance ad. I believe that the actions of the stations amounted to violations of my rights to freedom of expression as well as the new right to access the media. These rights are found in Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that was passed in 2011. The case will be heard from 27 to 31 May in the Supreme Court of Jamaica and it will be the first domestic legal challenge to homophobic laws and practices in the country.
Be sure to check out the article for all of the facts regarding the case. Best of luck Maurice and AIDS-Free World!
Happy International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia! In honor of the day, we're rounding up some of the best article and editorials that we've read over the past few weeks and months about what it's like to grow up gay in Jamaica. We've been trying to tweet and post them to our facebook as they come up, but we thought it would be nice to aggregate a few here...
Also over at the Huffington Post Diana King on Jamaican Homophobia and Coming Out...
I really always knew. The attitudes towards gays in Jamaica has been very negative. I am forty and remember there being violence that I saw first hand. I saw how people were treated. I have nine sisters and one that I was very close with. When I was very young we would hold hands when we walked and skipped together, but as I got older people got angry about it because we don't look related. "
In April film subect and and human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson wrote a great editorial about his current work in Belize and what you can do to help: "Why I am too gay to attend a spelling bee in Belize."
Finally, here's a very interesting article from the Jamaica Gleaner about two Jamaicans who sought asylum in the US because of their sexuality: "In search of a safer life - Jamaican homosexuals in the US missing home but not planning to return anytime soon"
"Years ago, I was lying in my bed in Portmore and just dreaming. While I was dreaming, thinking that I was in the clouds, like a mythical creature, I felt a heat and the heat became stronger, strong enough to wake me out of the dream.
That's all for now, but be sure to check back here next week for an exciting announcement!