A Jamaican native speaks out: ‘Homophobia was palpable’ growing up

Jamaican Douglas Forte helped film America’s report on LGBT youth living in a New Kingston storm drain. The experience inspired this post.

Growing up in Jamaica, homophobia was palpable and extreme in every sense. As a citizen, you couldn’t help but be blinded by that form of ignorance embedded deep within our society and culture, from the music we heard to the very laws that we followed. It wasn’t until I migrated to the States and started going to school and living among open homosexuals that my perspective began to change. That’s when I realized that my home country has some serious catching up to do.

After hearing the youths’ stories and seeing their living conditions, I was appalled, embarrassed and saddened. I now have a somewhat better understanding of what it is like to be different in a country that tightly clings to tradition and is in no way accepting of an alternative lifestyle. Can these youths choose whether to live in the sewer or a more structured setting? Perhaps, yes. Do they cause some amount of trouble? Yes. But until one understands the psychological pain that these young individuals endure – there is a whole entire nation against them and fundamentally who they are – we can’t simply pass judgment and maintain the status quo.

From my perspective, now as an adult who travels back home twice a year, it appears that some change is happening. As the U.S. adopts more progressive laws which protect members of the LGBT community, a rights movement is developing in Jamaica, from progressive citizens to liberal politicians in parliament. The pace of development is slow and the most basic protections are non-existent, but the cracks are starting to appear.

Watch the full America report on exiled young LGBT Jamaicans: