THE ABOMINABLE CRIME, at heart, is a story about a mother’s love for her child and an activist’s troubled love for his country. It also gives voice to gay Jamaicans who, in the face of endemic anti-gay violence, are forced to flee their homeland.
Simone, a young lesbian single mother, survives a brutal anti-gay shooting. Now she must choose between hiding with her daughter in Jamaica in constant fear for their lives or escaping alone to seek safety and asylum abroad.
Maurice, Jamaica’s leading human-rights activist, is outed shortly after filing a lawsuit challenging his country’s anti-sodomy law. After receiving a flood of death threats, he escapes to Canada, and then risks everything to return to continue his activism.
Told first hand as they unfold, these personal accounts take the audience on an emotionally gripping journey traversing four years and five countries. Their stories expose the roots of homophobia in Jamaican society, reveal the deep psychological and social impacts of discrimination on the lives of gays and lesbians, and offer an intimate first-person perspective on the risks and challenges of seeking asylum abroad.
Excerpts from interviews with director / producer Micah Fink
Transcript of interview of Michel Martin’s interview of Micah Fink and Maurice Tomlinson for Tell Me More on NPR:
MARTIN: The film is called “The Abominable Crime” and it follows the personal stories of several gay and lesbian people in Jamaica. It also chronicles the stories of activists who are challenging anti-gay laws and attitudes there. The filmmaker is Micah Fink. He’s with us now. Also with us is Maurice Tomlinson. He is a gay rights activist and lawyer who was also featured in the documentary. Welcome to you both, and thank you both so much for speaking with us.
MICAH FINK: Hi, Michel, glad to be here.
MAURICE TOMLINSON: Thank you. Same here. I’m Maurice.
MARTIN: Micah, how did you get interested in this issue?
FINK: I originally was commissioned to do a series of short films by PBS in Jamaica about HIV and AIDS. Jamaica has one of the highest AIDS rates in the gay community in the world. And the question was, why was that happening? And as we dug into it, it became apparent that there were very intense social factors that were driving the epidemic. And one of the social factors is the rampant homophobia that has come, to some degree, to define current, contemporary Jamaican society.
MARTIN: Maurice, I just want to mention here, by trade, you’re an intellectual property rights lawyer. How did you become a gay-rights activist?
TOMLINSON: I was, as you said, intellectual property lawyer, commercial lawyer in chambers, and I was pretty comfortable, but I had a desire to do some kind of social work.
MARTIN: Were you out at that point yourself?
TOMLINSON: No, no.
MARTIN: It’s my understanding that you really had no intention of being out.
TOMLINSON: No, no, no, absolutely not. It was, I mean, commercially that would have been professional suicide for me to be out. So once I started doing that, I started being confronted with these abuses, which I had no idea were happening, because I lived in a bubble. I am from a privileged class and background. I am a lawyer, a university lecturer. I, you know, drive wherever I need to go. I live in a upscale community. So I wasn’t really exposed to the virulent homophobia. I mean, as Micah said, you read reports, but it really didn’t touch on, concern my life. But once I started talking to people about their rights as LGBT, it started forcing me to confront some issues that I wasn’t very willing to do before.
And then I started, in response, writing to the newspapers, just interrogating, why are we so homophobic? Why are we doing these acts of violence to our LGBT brothers, sisters? And the backlash was, to me, astounding. I mean, people started calling for my death, saying that if we decriminalize private consensual acts of intimacy between men, it’s going to lead to Sodom and Gomorrah or earthquakes on the magnitude of what happened in Haiti. What was most, I mean, unnerving for me, that these statements were coming from people who I thought were intelligent and educated and, you know, exposed.
MARTIN: Micah, you interviewed Ernest Smith. He’s a former Jamaican parliamentarian who you ask for perspective about the laws which remain on the book. I mean, homosexuality remains a criminal act. You ask him about his perspective on this. Let me just play a short clip from what he said to say. And he’s talking about a group, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, or J-FLAG. Here it is.
ERNEST SMITH: J-FLAG seeks to tell the world that homosexuals in this country are being violently abused. My answer to that, straight, is no, N-O, no. Most homosexuals got killed by other homosexuals because of jealousy.
MARTIN: Is that a common point of view?
FINK: It is. I mean, the reason we kept that in the film is because I heard that from countless people, countless educated, mostly upper-class Jamaicans. They absolutely denied anything was going on. And then I would meet with members of the gay community, and literally, the room was overflowing with people who said they’d been attacked, stabbed, murdered, had friends who were chopped to pieces, had friends who were burned out of their houses. There’s a profound disconnect in how people are thinking about this issue in Jamaica. And I found that, as a journalist, just fascinating.
MARTIN: One of the people you highlight in the documentary is a woman named Simone. And at the time of the documentary, she had been shot by some neighborhood men. She and her brother both were attacked. They’re both gay. And she tried to get a visa to the U.S. to leave. And she said in the film that she feels like the walking dead. Maurice, maybe I should go to you on this, ‘cause I’m fascinated by this.
On the one hand, here’s a woman who was shot down the street from her own house by people who actually – she knew who they were. One person was arrested at one point, but the other person was let go. So how is it possible that people can have that level of violence and it still be under the radar, to even somebody like yourself who wasn’t really aware of it until it was directed at you?
TOMLINSON: Well, you have to put it in context. In Jamaica, the level of violence is so high that, as one ministry official told me, why are we making such a big deal about attacks against gays? In Jamaica, we kill straight people, too. The reality is our murder rate is equivalent to some countries with civil wars. So the few quote, unquote gays that are killed really are easily ignored.
MARTIN: Simone made some really tough choices that you, in the course of the film – do you want to talk little bit about that?
FINK: Sure. Well, Simone, when I met her, was recovering from having been shot. As she says, the gunmen, as they stood over her, you know, said that the lesbian fi dead, which means the lesbian must die, as they shot her. When I first met her, she had a beautiful 7-year-old daughter, Kayla, who she was a single parent taking care of.
And as she recovered from her gunshot wounds, came out of the hospital, she realized that the men who had shot her had heard that she had survived and were actually out hunting for her. So her and Kayla went into hiding over the next few months. When I would return, I’d meet with them in their safe house. And she would just express the anxiety she had that if anybody recognized her, they would simply kill her.
MARTIN: If you’re just joining us, we’re talking about a new documentary that takes a look at homophobia and violence directed at the LGBT community in Jamaica. We’re talking about this with filmmaker Micah Fink and gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson, who’s also featured in the film. Micah, you have to assume that part of her concern was that her daughter could be harmed, as well. If somebody would shoot her in the street that way, that maybe the concern for her daughter’s safety wouldn’t be paramount. So, you know, to that end, Maurice, you made a difficult decision to leave at some point. You are married to a man in the states, but you’ve gone back and forth to Jamaica. But at points, you have been concerned about the safety of your family members, correct? So tell me how you navigate that?
TOMLINSON: Well, I have had to make a tough decision not to return to my home in Montego Bay, where my parents still live, because I’m too well-known, and it’s such a small community. And it’s just not safe. On one occasion, when I returned after my marriage was made public, I was at a stoplight, and some guy saw me in the car and started calling a crowd. And there is the batty man, and that’s the Jamaican term, the derogatory term for homosexual. And he started calling a crowd, and, thankfully, the light changed and we drove off.
The challenge in Jamaica is that you never know what’s going to be the trigger to an attack. You know, you’d think it’s because of how you dress or your notoriety. One never really knows. So as a result, when I do return, it’s generally just to do the work I’m required to do. And I’m holed up in one particular location. And that has sucked the life and the joy out of returning to Jamaica.