Today, the pain feels raw. It feels the same way it did some six years ago. Nobody was concerned - well, save two of my then Jamaican, male lecturers - that the accusations were not just unfounded, they were made up stories. By the time the stories were done being told, my reputation was already tarnished and I was known as "Di batty bway" (a derogatory name used for male homosexuals)on campus.
Since the beating of the alleged homosexual on the University of Techonology (UTech), Jaamica, campus by security guards, who were caught on tape performing the gruesome act and have since pleaded NOT GUILTY, I have been reflecting. Not merely reflecting on the rights that were trampled on or the ethical principles breached but on the simple realisation that this could have been me. Amid my "bold" stance on social media, my contribution to the national discussion on the issue in both traditional and new media and sharing in social settings, I have cried and cried and cried some more over the issue. Why did I cry, you may ask. I cried at the hate that caused this beating. I cried wondering, what if the story was not true. I cried for myself, who about six years ago, while a student at seminary, I was subject to homophobia - a homophobia justified because it was alleged that I was seen in compromising positions with another male seminarian.
THE NATURE OF THE ACCUSATIONS
Pierced ears, dyed dreadlocks, eccentric clothing and jewel, gender non-conformist by Jamaican standards, far from being a bible-toting Christian, very close friends with another man on campus - I had all the makings of a bonafide gay man. And, certainly, no two men should ever be so close; well, unless they're actually having sex with each other. The weird stares and almost audible whispers and snickering whenever Sean (not his real name) and I would walk pass to head to the canteen for lunch did not bother me at first. I never really cared what anyone had to say about me by that age. You see, growing up, I had been teased enough about not having a macho enough voice or walk or gesticulation that would have qualified me to matriculate into being legitimately male. So, I had developed a somewhat thick skin by the time I had got to seminary. I had my friend, Sean and we did everything together: Ate lunch, went to church, went shopping - EVERYTHING; so those who were whispering could have kissed places on my anatomy that were kept generally hidden.
But then the weird stares and whispers soon morphed into something else. The first story was that I was discovered in the computer lab on the third flow of the school's only library, that was used by both students of the under-graduate and graduate programmes, looking at porn - sorry, gay porn. That rumour went on and I did not find out about it until I was called into a meeting before the then Academic Dean and some students who were helping to give the story legs. The meeting began at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening and we did not leave that meeting room until about 4 a.m. the Thursday morning. All the meeting produced was a string of hearsay. There was nobody who could have pointed a finger and say, "Yes, Damien, I saw you looking at gay porn." But by then, the damage was already done. Everyone already knew I was caught in the library, looking at gay porn. Truth was not important, here. Nobody pursued truth. My difference was what was under trial and whatever it took to get me to conform or get me out would have been justified.
Unfortunately, the stories would not stop there. Sean and I were seen kissing, many lunch hours, under a tree to the front of the small, Christian campus, that was regularly traversed by visitors to the school and by students and faculty and staff. And, then one night on a platform right in front of the library (where graduation ceremony usually takes place), boys on dorm looked down and saw me on top on Sean in what was a full on make out session. They saw this! The rumours had taken over the school. I had responsibilities for chapel sessions. I used to sing on the praise team. And, when persons would come to chapel and see that I was the one leading they would take an about turn. Other times, if I was sharing, once introduced, persons would take up their bags, hiss their teeth and walk out. As much as that hurt, I don't think anything prepared me for what happened next.
The rumours had left school and found their way to the ears of one of Sean's cousins. He was having none of it. This foreigner who came to Jamaica and made his "fambily" gay. Certainly, I had to be dealt with! The gentleman came on campus looking for me, having in his possession his licensed firearm. Perhaps, if I had not been forewarned by Sean of what was about to go down I would be dead. Dead for actually having had a homosexual relationship with Sean and having been found in a "compromising" position with him? No!!! Dead because of LIES - stories concocted to justify the xenophobia and prejudices of some. But the truth does not always matter in the face of prejudice and so my death would have been justifiable homicide.
Those were my darkest days. How I made it is still a mystery to me. But I am grateful. I did have the support of two male lecturers, who did become the subject of rumours as well because they dared to stand on the side of the "batty bway". Because, they refused to stand on the side of the mob who wanted me out and who would have preferred to see me dead... And I still cry because I wonder how many more have been; are being; and will be beaten, ostracised and lied on because of their difference - their perceived sexuality. Today, I stand, not as strong and opinionated Damien, but I stand in my vulnerability.
I am Damien Marcus Williams and I.... I am under oath