Exposing repression in a not-so-faraway place

Jason Latty-Travis of Lawnside advocates for LGBT people as president of the Caribbean Alliance for Equality.
Jason Latty-Travis of Lawnside advocates for LGBT people as president of the Caribbean Alliance for Equality. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 28, 2014

LAWNSIDEGrowing up gay in Jamaica, Jason Latty-Travis was "one of those boys who were supposed to be beaten."

He's referring to four young men whom fellow Northern Caribbean University students believed to be battyboys and bashed with wooden planks in February 2001.

Had he not stopped to talk politics with an acquaintance on the street that night, Latty-Travis recalls, he might have been among the victims.

Not long after that incident, which made international headlines, he fled his beloved homeland. And the often brutal and sometimes fatal attacks on LGBT people have continued across Jamaica.

"When I went to my first gay pride [event] here in the States, I cried, because of the freedom," says the Lawnside resident, 34, who's the founder and president of the Caribbean Alliance for Equality.

The year-old advocacy organization is screening The Abominable Crime, an acclaimed documentary about antigay violence in Jamaica, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Metropolitan Community Church, 3637 Chestnut St.

"I want to inspire people to take some action," says the Rev. Jeffrey H. Jordan-Pinkett, pastor of the 40-member congregation. "I want to spark a campaign against the violence and hatred."

That's also a goal of the alliance. It has about 300 members, primarily in the United States and Jamaica, and works with like-minded advocates in Trinidad, Haiti, Belize, and other Caribbean nations as well.

"We're trying to publicize the antigay violence in the Caribbean, but it's a Herculean task given what's going on in Russia and Uganda," says Latty-Travis, who works for a bill collection agency.

Indeed, the homophobia of some Americans (see: Arizona's right-to-discriminate legislation) may seem mild compared to that of Vladimir Putin - and even milder in contrast to the virulent strain Latty-Travis says is deeply embedded in the culture of his homeland.

"We're trying to accomplish some level of tolerance," he says. Citing the 2013 Montego Bay stabbing death of a cross-dressing teenager named Dwayne Jones, he adds, "or at least stop the killing."

Abuse of LGBT people in the Caribbean and elsewhere "is not a gay issue," Latty-Travis says. "It's the last frontier of human rights."

An eloquent, erudite, and witty fellow whose book-lined home office is decorated with posters of Bob Marley and Barack Obama, Latty-Travis grew up the youngest of 13 children of a police officer and a businesswoman in Highgate, a town of 30,000.

He had a deeply religious upbringing, and still practices his faith as praise and worship minister at Judah Deliverance Ministries in Philadelphia.

"I realized I was gay when I was 13," Latty-Travis says.

"I cried, I prayed, I took a cold shower - what we consider a cold shower in Jamaica - and I was ashamed."

He had a girlfriend, volunteered with church and community, and attended college. But the climate of violence against people like him proved impossible to bear after the house where Latty-Travis lived was torched.

Now, he is legally married to his partner. LGBT visibility arguably has increased in his homeland, which Time nominated as "the most homophobic place on Earth" in 2006.

But media reports about incidents of "corrective rape" for lesbians, and of gay kids being kicked out of their homes and living in the Kingston sewers, deepen Latty-Travis's resolve.

"There's a strong resemblance between what's happening now in Jamaica and Stonewall," he says, referring to the 1969 incident widely seen as the start of the modern gay movement in the United States.

"I see a bunch of transgenders and cross-dressers and people who have been beaten up so much, they say, 'I'm going to stand up, no matter what'."

He can relate to the feeling. "A live gay person who is doing something" for the cause, he says, "is better than a dead one who can do nothing."


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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