In his book, Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica: 2006, Professor Ian Boxhill defined tolerance as “the willingness to recognize and respect the civil liberties of fellow citizens, even those with whom there is strong disagreement”. In his definition of tolerance; respect for those who have a difference in opinion is a significant component. Therefore the definition shall be a fundamental premise for this discussion. He regards a high level of tolerance as fundamental to the functioning of any political democracy, while highlighting the correlation between the democracy’s strength and the levels of tolerance therein. This therefore means that any functional and developed society would display tolerance and respect as basic features. As this researcher considers the limits on respect and tolerance in the 21st century, great consideration is given to Jamaica’s Vision 2030, the ultimate goal of which is for our nation to evolve into a developed country by that year. It is therefore arguable that, at least on the premise outlined by Boxhill, that Jamaica needs to acquire an agreeable level tolerance before it can be truly counted among the World’s developed.
Boxhill points out that the levels of political tolerance in Jamaica have dramatically increased, giving regard to the 1970s where Jamaica was ripe with political violence. Tribal politics has declined, at least in its manifestation into violence. This is underlined by the surveys conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) in 2006. When asked whether political dissidents had legitimate rights to protest, vote, run for office and free speech, more than two-thirds of the respondents affirmed each right. The results of this survey left Jamaica leading the pack on “Average Tolerance” of all the countries in which studies were conducted. In this instance, it is undoubtedly clear that Jamaica has made significant strides in fostering a culture in which conflicting ideals can simultaneously coexist, affirming the existence of tolerance and respect within our culture.
Boxhill subsequently considers the existence of social tolerance. This becomes less evident with the studies depicting an overall negative attitude towards homosexuals within our society. When asked whether homosexual individuals had the basic right to seek public office, less than one-fifth of the respondents affirmed that right. The disparity between issues of political and social intolerance becomes apparent. This form of social intolerance is exacerbated by religious groups whose moral principles are so intertwined in the legislative process that they have a grip on state actions. This is evidenced in these groups’ continued defence of the archaic and discriminatory Buggery and Gross Indecency Laws. Also, hypermasculinity in Jamaica as a cultural ideal, alongside other historical factors perpetuate a space where homophobia and violence against gays are norm.
This homophobia has manifested itself in a prison riot, mob killings and public beatings, the most recent: the display of hatred at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Of course, homophobic intolerance is born out of ignorance and fear. In his study, Boxhill uncovers, through his survey, that the higher educated one is, the lesser his/her likelihood of being homophobic. The only way in which we can remedy the high levels of social intolerance is through education and the slow separation of Church and state. Our culture of hypermasculinity and homophobia need to be addressed in order to limit these incidents.
This is where our tertiary institutions come to the fore. It is their responsibility to present to young minds discourses on the source and promulgation of these cultural misgivings. In looking at the activity anti-gay persons in the media, there is constant misleading rhetoric on the “culture of homosexuals”. Homosexuality is likened to pedophilia and zoophilia, homosexuals are seen as predatory men trying to pass on their affliction to the young. This narrative is both erroneous and fallacious. It does not take into account the presence of homosexual women, the true source of homophobia, and what it really means to be homosexual. Information to the effect that homosexuality is a naturally occurring psychological phenomenon that has been in existence from ancient times is available and should be delivered to our nation’s youth, in addressing the severe effects of homophobia in our culture. If presented with this type of information, our young minds can begin to question the religious dogma and fundamentalist inaccuracies that have been drilled into them since. They will be better able to understand homosexuality and better able to respect the differences within homosexuals.
“Diversity is the key to our survival with species and among species. If we do not ‘love’ one another, i.e. respecting the rights of all, if we destroy those who are different, we are sabotaging own chances of survival.” Jamaica is deeply affected and characterized by their social intolerance of homosexuals but their capacity for tolerance in general is self-evident in the growth of political tolerance. In order to achieve Vision 2030, our people must become acclimatized to global trends which include learning to respect the differences within others. The best way to approach this is confronting the ideals of masculinity and homophobia that has pervaded our society. By questioning these ideals, the minds of the young can become more open to a broader spectrum of existence. One in which our LGBT community will not have to live in constant fear and our country will no longer be coloured by homophobia.
© Glenroy Murray 2014