On Dec 16, 2016 NBC news reported: Gay refugee Gareth Henry spends his free time saving the lives of LGBTQ people in Jamaica who need help escaping persecution or even death. The Caribbean nation remains one of 76 countries where consensual same-sex relationships are criminalized.
The 39-year-old, who lives in Toronto, was an outspoken activist in the small island nation he once called home. A former co-chair of the advocacy group Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Henry frequently helped people report anti-gay hate crimes to police. He said 13 of his friends were killed in homophobic attacks.
“With all these things happening, they go unnoticed, they go unheard, because the violence against the gay community has been normalized,” Henry told NBC Out. “It’s intense that people have been paralyzed by fear, and they just live a day at a time and anticipate and hope for the best, and that’s no way for humanity to exist or to be.”
He “[He] knocked on the window and said to me they have found me, and they going to kill me,” Henry said in his Jamaican patois dialect. Terrified, he filed for refugee status and fled to Canada the following year. “Moving to Canada was an opportunity for me in choosing between life and death,” he said.
Jamaican LGBTQ activist Gareth Henry Gareth Henry
In Canada, Henry found work at the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, where he currently serves as interim director. When he’s not working, he volunteers for Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian nonprofit that taps into the spirit of the Underground Railroad by helping relocate LGBTQ people who live amid persecution around the world.
The activist told a number of horrific stories involving refugees he helped over the years, many of them young “gully queens,” a Jamaican term denoting LGBTQ outcasts who make their homes in sewers and cemeteries throughout the island. His list is long: a 29-year-old whose intestine was almost completely ripped out by pit bulls; a young man who was disfigured by an angry mob who doused acid over his body; a transgender man who was sexually assaulted by men who wanted to “correct” his gender identity. But the refugee who stood out the most in Henry’s mind is a young man whose mother reached out for help.
nry’s efforts to create change led law enforcement to target him, according to the activist. He said that in 2007, a group of policemen beat him in a pharmacy while a jeering crowd looked on. It was the third time they attacked him, he said. He soon went into hiding. Later that year, while stopped at a traffic light, an officer unexpectedly approached his car.