by Jodee Brown
Students at the University of the West Indies (UWI) are taking a stand regarding one of Jamaica’s hot button issues in the wake of a controversial beating at another local tertiary institution.
Weeks after video emerged of a male student at the University of Technology (UTECH)being beaten by security guards after allegedly engaging in a sexual act with another man, UWI students have organized a pro-tolerance movement dubbed Every Face Counts. The initiative, which features on theOne People: Jamaica Facebook page, mirrors an American pro-gay marriage campaign started in 2008 called NOH8 (No Hate).
Maya Wilkinson, the publications committee chairperson for the UWI Guild of Students is the lead organizer of Every Face Counts. In a statement posted on the movement’s official YouTube page, Wilkinson advocates for the tolerance of people who are ‘different.’
“After an incident in which a young man was beaten on his own school grounds by homophobic campus security guards I decided to finally do more than just talk about Jamaica’s intolerance for human differences,” Wilkinson said.
Though the campaign does address the growing issue of homophobia in Jamaica, Wilkinson insisted in an interview with theJamaica Observer that Every Face Counts isn’t just promoting tolerance of those in the LGBT community but people of other religions and classes as well.
“It’s grown past just same-sex marriage to simply promoting tolerance; and it’s expanded beyond just sexuality, so it’s now opened up to include all human differences such as gender, class, religion,” she said
“We are not at the level yet where we can ask for same-sex marriage here in Jamaica; so it’s really just to promote tolerance, basically… That’s the level we are at here, and educating people on the difference between acceptance and tolerance. You don’t necessarily have to accept the idea ofhomosexuality, but it’s important that we at least tolerate each other.”
Wilkinson insists that she’s not gay but sympathizes with those who are the targets of hateful messages.
“In my own small way, I want to start movement towards change in Jamaica.” she told the Observer. “We will use social media to catalyze movement towards change; movement towards a Jamaica that puts humanity above all else.”
Despite these good intentions, students have openly complained about the recruiting process forEvery Face Counts as some insist that they were only made aware of the its cause after participating in a photo shoot endorsing the campaign. Some also complained that they were hounded by fellow students to participate.
Despite those setbacks, Wilkinson insists that support for the campaign on and off-campus has been positive and hopes to get some of Jamaica’s high-profile celebrities in on the Every Face Counts movement.
“It’s a very difficult topic, but it’s something that needed to be done, and my group of friends were very supportive of the idea, and the support that I have been getting from campus persons is surprisingly positive,” she said. “We still need a lot more support, because we want to include celebrities and athletes and persons who are extremely key to society.”
Jamaica has been known as a country strongly opposed to homosexuality and any movements associate with it, primarily in the entertainment world where prominent Dancehall artistes likeBeenie Man, Bounty Killer, Sizzla and Capleton have constantly received flack for past lyrics on the issue.
Though she knows the risks involved with promoting such a campaign locally, Wilkinson insists that this campaign will go a long way to exploring the root of these feelings towards homosexuality while uniting Jamaicans from all walks of life.
“We need to understand why we are so homophobic in Jamaica. It’s a hard concept to get our heads around, and I think education is very important in that sense,” she said.
“It’s also important in the way we put the campaign forward, and not just necessarily say that it is to promote homosexuality or support it, but to say that we are fighting for tolerance of human differences and attempting to unite our country because our very motto is ‘out of many, one.’”