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The Sunshine Cathedral, Jamaica's only gay church, gives parishioners a community, in secret.
Griffin’s dream is that someday the Sunshine Cathedral will be able to own a church building and become the first openly gay institution functioning in Jamaica.
“We hope to become public,” he explained. “I would like to say maybe within the next three to four, maybe at most five years, that Sunshine Cathedral will be able to claim a public witness here in Jamaica. But for the time being, for the protection of the members of this congregation, we cannot be as 'out' as our denomination is.”
“I think the debate on homosexuality in Jamaica will need to begin in that religious community,” he said, explaining how the churches really dominate the political and moral discussions in Jamaican society. “That’s going to be ground zero for us.” The first step toward public acceptance, he believes, has to begin with Jamaica’s religious leaders. “Step one ... is to say we want you to not preach from your pulpit that it is acceptable that homosexuals should be killed,” he said. “How do we get pastors to say, ‘let’s not do this’? Because we’re all humans, and human life is the most important thing, and how dare we preach taking another human’s life? Regardless of what scripture says, how dare we preach this? Human life is too important and too sacred for that.”
But Griffin also understands that change is not going to happen easily — or without significant sacrifices. “There is a greater awareness that there is an emerging public gay community and lesbian community here in Jamaica,” he said, reflecting on the changes that have taken place since he began visiting five years ago. “I don’t think it is as private as it once was. Issues of sexuality and homosexuality are talked about in the papers a lot more than they once were.”
“But I don’t think Jamaica has had their Stonewall yet,” he said, referring to an uprising in New York City in 1969 that signaled the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. “I think they’ve come very close a couple times, but until they have their Stonewall, I don’t think the nation as a whole is going take this real seriously.”
“There are a younger group of gays and lesbians who are coming onto the scene and saying, man the torpedoes and full speed ahead, let’s get this gay thing done,” he said. “They’re ready. I think if the moment came, and the word was given, they would be in the streets marching. But as the gay community becomes more visible, more organized, more present, and begins to ask for more rights, more protection, there is going to be a pushback, a backlash. And I know that’s probably a reality, that it’s going to happen, but it scares me. Because I know life would be lost, and life is precious. And enough blood has been shed already in Jamaica over this issue.”
(Producer Micah Fink reported from Jamaica on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. His series on homophobia and stigma airs on the public television program WorldFocus. An interactive web portal, Glass Closet, offers additional resources and a platform for global conversation.)