It took Obama for her triumph to be commemorated in Jamaica

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Carol Hills: I’m Carol Hills in for Marco Werman, and this is The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. It’s a crime to be gay in Jamaica, and it can be dangerous to even try to meet others who are gay. The fear is real for 25-year-old Angeline Jackson. She remembers the day in 2009 when she and a friend agreed to get together with a few other Jamaicans who had identified themselves online as lesbians. It turns out they were posers. When Angeline and her companion arrived at the arranged meeting point, they were sexually assaulted at gunpoint. And when Jackson reported the crime, police at the sexual assault unit didn’t seem particularly concerned with the attack.


Angeline Jackson: The response from the officers--female officers--within that unit was that I should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.


Hills: Did they ever charge anyone with the crime?


Jackson: One person was caught; he was charged. It went to court. He was sentenced to 27 years. However, the majority of that were gun-related charges. But the sentence was overturned. It certainly wasn’t justice.


Hills: And you say the two assailants seemed to be really focused on your sexual orientation. They essentially lured you out. What did they say to you? Did you feel like they were punishing you for being lesbian?


Jackson: The fact is that they knew I was a lesbian, they knew my friend was a lesbian, because we had met this woman who had identified as a bisexual, and we were going to meet her. I remember--something very specific I do remember--was the gunman asking me to pray for him. He did ask me if I was a christian, and that I should pray for him.


Hills: That’s an awful crime that happened to you. What’s been the long-term impact of it on your life in Jamaica?


Jackson: You could do one of two things: You could curl up and try and go through the day or not go through the day, or you can do something about it. At 19, the question I asked myself was, “What have I done to impact anybody’s life? What have I done to help others?” Coming out alive, it then became my mission that I had to do something to create change for other persons, and that meant speaking out; speaking out about my experience as a survivor of sexual violence and as a lesbian. And also just being public, being vocal, speaking not necessarily on behalf of other women who have been survivors of sexual violence, but, in my own way, trying to encourage other survivors of sexual violence to come forward. And it has also resulted in bringing this issue to international light, because a lot of persons are aware of what happens to gay and bisexual men in Jamaica, but not many people know of what happens to lesbian and bisexual women in Jamaica. And so, it has been, in a way, my mission, my way of trying to triumph over that event, that experience, and helping others in the process.


Hills: Where does the kind of gay hate message--where does it come from in Jamaica?


Jackson: It’s cultural. And when I say “cultural,” for Jamaica, I think I’m saying more around music and religion and its influence on persons and how people think and how people behave.


Hills: How does it express itself in music?


Jackson: We have a lot of our reggae and dancehall music, and there are a good number of artists who have, in the past, and even currently still sing anti-gay lyrics. There’s been Elephant Man, who sang about lesbians being raped, and if a lesbian is raped, it’s not anybody’s fault; the fact that there are two women in bed, that’s wrong. Some artists do pull on biblical references. Moving up into Sizzler and some of our other current, modern, local acts, the message is still there, it’s still about disliking or perpetrating violence against the LGBT community.


Hills: And, of course, last month President Obama singled you out in his speech when he was in Jamaica. He praised you for telling your story publicly. Were you worried at all that he called attention to you so publicly?


Jackson: No. I mean, I did an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner in December of last year.


Hills: That’s the newspaper in Kingston.


Jackson: Yes, about the same matter, and it didn’t pick up. It wasn’t something that made any headway. But the mention from President Obama did what I was hoping the article in the newspaper would have done. And so, it just brought the issue forward into the fore and has now created an opportunity for conversations around the LGBT community.


Hills: This attack on you happened when you were just 19. Looking back then, was there a part of you that just wanted to run and hide and not even report it?


Jackson: Oh, of course. I definitely wanted to just pretty much die. This was a violation of my body. There were times when I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. It is, after all, sexual violence. But I think what kept me going was my determination that this was taken from me and I have to find a way to take it back. There has to be something I can do to get back even part of what was taken from me.


Hills: Angeline Jackson directs the gay rights group Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. Thanks Angeline.


Jackson: Thank you.