Gareth Henry: The man behind J-FLAG

Jamaica is home to an exceptional culture and over 2.7 million people. Beyond the exciting people, cuisines, and culture, Jamaica is notorious for being a homophobic country. The idea of a man having sexual relations with another man is considered a taboo and it can cost you your life. Gareth Henry, a sports personality and J-flag leader, had to experience the brutal nature at first hand. Born in St Mary’s Jamaica, Gareth Henry was born in a time that nobody ever considered being openly gay. Aged 16, he traveled away from his family. To him, this was a calculated move that would allow him to live a life where he wouldn’t be judged for having a different sexual preference than other people.

In 1998, he joined the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians All-sexuals and Gays – an organization that looks after the rights of all LGBTQ people. The group was led by Brian Williamson, an outspoken gay rights activist. After his death, the organization was in disarray since nobody wished to risk his life as a leader of the LGBTQ community. At a naive age of twenty-something, Gareth Henry decided to do a press interview on the issues that gay people face and why they thought Brian Williamson’s death was a homophobic attack. A year after the interview, he had already taken over as the leader of J-FLAG.

What he didn’t know is that as the leader, he was at the top of the food chain. Every individual who held a skewed view on LGBTQ wanted him dead. During his tenure at the helm of J-FLAG, he lost over 13 friends due to homophobic attacks. At one point he recalled asking for help from the police after a mob had chased him and his members to a local pharmacy in Kingston. Once they arrived instead of helping him, they brutally assaulted him while making constant threats.

The threats became unbearable such that he decided to seek asylum in Canada. After his approval, he acknowledged feeling a sense of satisfaction and completion. He never thought a day would come where he would be openly gay, and nobody would judge him. As a way to give back to the community, Gareth Henry started volunteering for Rainbow Railroad – a Canadian organization that helps the LGBTQ community in the globe find peaceful places where they cannot be judged or harmed for being gay.

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