On October 26th, 1977 a hero was born in St. Mary’s, Jamaica. His name was Gareth Henry, and at the time no one knew the power he held within. He kept his light hidden as he grew up in a repressive environment, knowing he could never tell people he was gay in fear that he would end up like the other gay men he watched people terrorize. When he moved away to the capital of Jamaica, Kingston, for college he accepted himself. As he worked on a B.S. in social work, and later a master’s in Communication for Social and Behavior Change, he joined organizations and became a voice for his LGBTQ community by joining organizations. One of these organizations, an advocacy group called Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), lost their fearless leader in 2004 in a brutal murder. Henry took over as the “lead advocate and new director of J-FLAG.” This placed the next target on Henry, and it didn’t take long for him to feel the burden of it. He knew as a gay man of color he was putting himself in terrible danger but continued his work.
By 2007, he had seen thirteen of his friends “killed in homophobic attacks” and he was a victim of two himself. The third attack was his worst. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, a group of angry individuals chased Gareth Henry and other gay men into a pharmacy. When a call was made to the police for help, it made things worse. The officers that arrived on scene joined in the beating while their audience cheered them on and yelled degrading things at the men. On a day dedicated to love, these men were brutally attacked for believing they had a right to it.
After the Valentine’s Day attack, Gareth Henry’s life was in direct danger. “Terrified, he filed for refugee status and fled to Canada the following year.” In Canada, Gareth Henry finally had the freedom to be the hero he was meant to be. He joined multiple organizations once again, working with the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and the Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit in Canada that helps LGBTQ people in a very similar way as the Underground Railroad did during the time of slavery. In this line of work, Henry has met many LGBTQ refugees who have shared horror stories of getting their guts ripped out by dogs, getting acid thrown on them, and sexual and physical assaults meant to “correct” them. In 2016 alone, Henry aided 60 refugees in their escape from their home countries to place of tolerance and safety.
Gareth Henry could have taken his new-found life in Canada and wiped his hands clean of his horrid past. His family was safely living there with him, and he found love. Instead, the man stood up for what he believed in and continued the fight. Every day he is faced with suffering and intolerance, and every day he remains the selfless hero. Not only does he do everything he can to help these people throughout the world, he knows it’s not enough. He’s made a call to action, saying it’s important to fix the “culture of hatred against LGBTQ people” and to hold countries like Jamaica’s governments “accountable”. Henry made this statement, “We are calling on the international community to help save the gay community in Kingston” as well as the rest of the world. There’s a long way to go, but with everyone’s help, he truly believes there can be a lot of change for the better.
Learn more about him: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/26/jamaican-gay-petitioner-gareth-henry