“Instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out … That’s the power of one person.” — Barack Obama
The inspiring story of Angeline Jackson, who stood up to Jamaica’s oppression of queer youth to demand recognition and justice.
When Angeline Jackson was a child, she wondered if there was something wrong with her for wanting to kiss the other girls. But as her sexuality blossomed in her teens, she knew she wouldn’t “grow out of it” and that her attraction to girls wasn’t against God. In fact, she discovered that same-sex relationships were depicted in the Bible, which she read devoutly, even if the tight-knit evangelical Christian community she grew up in believed any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and woman was a sin, and her society, Jamaica, criminalized homosexual sex.
Angeline’s story begins with her traumatic experience of “corrective rape” when she is lured by an online predator, then traces her childhood through her sexual and spiritual awakening as a teen — falling in love, breaking up, coming out, and then being forced into conversion therapy.
Sometimes dark, always threadbare and honest, Funny Gyal chronicles how Angeline’s faith deepens as a teenager, despite her parents’ conservative values and the strict Christian Jamaican society in which she lives, giving her the courage to challenge gender violence, rape culture, and oppression.
About the authors
Angeline Jackson is an LGBTQ human rights activist, an HIV/AIDS educator, and the former executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. In 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Angeline as one of Jamaica’s remarkable young leaders at the Town Hall for Youth in Kingston, Jamaica. Angeline participated in a U.S. Senate briefing panel on LGBT rights in 2014 and attended the first White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights. She lives in Jamaica.
Susan McClelland is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. Her writing has appeared in publications including the Globe and Mail, Maclean's, Canadian Living, Chatelaine and The Walrus. Her books include Bite of the Mango (Annick Press, 2008), The Last Maasai Warriors (Me to We, 2012) and The Tale of Two Nazanins (Harper Collins, 2012), and she has won two Amnesty International Media Awards for excellence in human rights reporting.
Excerpt: Funny Gyal: My Fight Against Homophobia in Jamaica (by (author) Angeline Jackson; with Susan McClelland; foreword by Diana King)
Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.
— The Book of Ruth
Early July 2009
“Ova deh,” I called out to Officer Smith, who was standing off to the side talking on her cellphone. I kept pointing into the clearing, hoping to get her attention. “A deh so it happen. Dat a weh it happen.” I was speaking Jamaican Patois, also known as Creole.
I stared into the tall Guinea grasses where the man with the gun and the beanie cap, wearing a bandana with a skull on it over his face, had raped Sasha and me. The threatening storm that had hung low and heavy on the day of the assault never came, so the area was exactly as I remembered. Cedar, pimento, macca-fat palm, and ackee trees framed the clearing and had stifled our screams; not that many people came into the bush anyway.
I shivered then, remembering the cooing of baldpate pigeons and the squawking of green parrots. The hand, his hand, that smelled like gasoline and marijuana. The breath, his breath, stale alcohol, and his body odour, like he didn’t bathe.
My being pushed down onto my knees. My being asked to …
I pinched my eyes shut and shook my head, forcing the vision to go away. “Mi did hav sum tings: things he stole,” I said to Officer Smith as she moved up beside me, her call having ended. “Mi waan luk.” I started to step into the clearing, but Officer Smith grabbed my arm and pulled me back.
“Yuh cyah disturb the crime scene,” she said. “Yuh hafi stan’ back and look.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of Officer Smith. The male police officers, who had come on this so-called “recreation” of the crime, sure made it clear they didn’t approve of me. One short round officer had eyed me up and down with a look on his face as if to say, “Yuh sick mi.”
I peered into the grasses for my phone, wallet, camera, money, and silver ring. I’d bought the ring in Ocho Rios. I wanted that ring back more than any of the other items. It was sterling silver and it had two steel bars across the front. I usually wore it on my index finger, but sometimes I wore it on my thumb, indicating to others in our community my identity: that I am gay. I felt the knot in my stomach tighten thinking of it. I bought the ring after Ana and I broke up for good. My body ached whenever I thought of Ana, because I still loved her. I wanted her back especially now, to hold me and tell me I would be all right.
It was all going to be all right.
Then my mind moved to Miss Campbell, a former tutor of mine with dark eyes she lined even darker in kohl. She only needed to look at me and draw me into her intense gaze. She had my full attention. She wore tailored tan and white cotton-blend suits, the pants of which would stretch real tight over her hips. Her ears she’d adorn in gold hoop earrings and she talked like every sentence was part of a poem. She told me she was a poetic justice campaigner, meaning she used poetry to advocate for change. Spoken word was her hobby. She made me come out to my parents before I was ready, but when I did, I bought that ring to celebrate, or to honour, or to just finally be. Daddy accused her of seducing me.
Oh, that summer … those days now seemed so much simpler. Ana and our breakup, Miss Campbell, the older woman. I was seventeen and she was thirty-two.
“You were alone?” Officer Smith asked. I jumped, startled. My entire chest cavity tightened again, this time thinking of Sasha and what I had seen those men do to her. Sasha had begged me on the bus ride home to never tell anyone she was there. “What’s the point of going to di police? Dem nah go do nutten. Dem a go mock wi,” she had said. Her lips were moving when she spoke, but Sasha’s eyes had stared out of her face, big and vacant. Her voice sounded like it was rising, limp and smoky, from the inside of a deep cave. The Sasha who had made me feel safe in the middle of hurricanes; that Sasha had left her body when the man, the men, raped her.
“Yuh were alone?” Officer Smith asked again.
“No, I wasn’t,” I managed to get out, knowing that unless Sasha came forward or I called her as a witness, the police wouldn’t press for her identity. I turned to Officer Smith: “I can’t see anyting on the ground but worms, ants, and grasshoppers,” I said, changing the subject. “The man with the skull bandana probably already sell mi tings he stole.”
“One of di men took yuh to a house afta,” said a voice coming up behind me. “Show us.” I turned quickly around. It was the short, round police officer wearing an expression of boredom. My face started to burn. I’ve been told my whole life that my level-headedness and calm made me appear older than I was. Although being an Aquarius, born on January 23, meant I was also, supposedly, forward-thinking and free-spirited. Regardless, inside, a storm brewed, always brewed, and it was set into motion when I felt anyone judging another person. There was a trauma there, that went way down into my belly. A wrong against me or anyone, I instantly saw as a wrong against all people.
Stifling my anger — I didn’t want him to know he had gotten under my skin — I said I would lead them to the house. I slipped into the back of Officer Smith’s car, while she and another policewoman from Spanish Town’s Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, known by its acronym, CISOCA, and the policemen milled around talking. I blocked out their voices, to listen to the birds and to settle my spinning thoughts.
In the bush, back here, it was quiet, not even the sound of wind could get through in parts. We were not far from one of the highways that connects St. Ann’s Bay to Kingston; a highway lined with tiny zinc-and-wood shops selling boiled corn, peanut cake, pink-on-top coconut cake, and gizzada. But in here, in the bush, there were no cars and buses swerving around potholes or honking at oncoming traffic. There were no women hawking roasted peanuts and candies from large wicker baskets. In here was silence, and I liked silence. I felt safe in silence. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
* * *
“That sodomite in the car …”
My body twitched. I had zoned out, still tired, exhausted really, since the assault weeks earlier, but the short policeman’s words dug their way into my thoughts and brought me back.
“That girl in the car, she a suh? She funny?” he said. I rubbed my eyes and looked. All the police officers, including Officer Smith, were looking at me.
My face grew hot again. I clenched my fists so hard, my knuckles hurt. “I am not a sodomite,” I grumbled real low.
Angeline's life as an out and proud Jamaican woman is an inspiration to us all. I hope that young people everywhere are able to read this book and discover that they can be their authentic selves. I wish my son Matthew had had the chance to meet Angeline. I'm sure the two of them would have related to each other's struggles and triumphs.
Judy Shepard, author of The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie
Readers with similar struggles will find encouragement and comfort in these pages...Searing, tender, and beautifully written.
Writing your story is a great step in documenting the heroic journey of life as a proud Jamaican Lesbian. Angeline’s story is unique but yet has the power to break barriers for many who may feel that they don’t have a voice. Living authentically queer under the rubrics of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, misogyny and religious violence is not an easy feat. I am particularly moved by her consistency, resistance and ability to reconcile and claim back her Christian faith regardless of the trauma.
Reverend Jide Macaulay, Founder & CEO House Of Rainbow
Angeline’s account is a testimony to what can be achieved with the conviction that obstacles can be overcome, no matter the size and intensity of the odds.
Yvonne McCalla Sobers, educator, author, and human rights advocate
Funny Gyal: My Fight Against Homophobia in Jamaica is a very brave and commendable book. Corrective rape is very rampant in our communities. It's despicable that this is still happening in 2022. We have been raised with strict Christian morals that denigrate us as people and the book brings this out clearly.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Ugandan activist
Human rights and LGBTQ activist Jackson holds nothing back in this raw, inspiring memoir.