Students at Collinsville High School crowded into the room of teacher Barbara Lindauer to learn more about Jamaica -- not the vacation paradise, but the other side of Jamaica where gay individuals are the targets of crimes because of their sexual orientation.
Director Micah Fink, who produced a documentary about the situation in Jamaica called, "The Abominable Crime," visited Collinsville on Monday afternoon. Fink was joined by Jamaican Maurice Tomlinson, a human rights activist and lawyer, and his husband, the Rev. Tom Decker, a Canadian.
"Jamaica is one of the most homophobic places on Earth," said Tomlinson, who experienced death threats when his gay marriage was revealed by a Jamaican newspaper. "If you are a guest in Jamaica, you don't feel it. Most people don't see the real Jamaica."
The three men were in the area for the St. Louis International Film Festival, where the documentary was screened Sunday. Collinsville High School was the fourth school the trio visited Monday. The other three schools were in St. Louis.
"The Abominable Crime" follows the evolution of Tomlinson and Decker's relationship and tells the story of Simone Edwards, a young lesbian who survived being shot by anti-gay gunmen outside her home. She must choose between living in hiding with her daughter in Jamaica or traveling alone to seek asylum abroad.
"It's not just the facts of what's happening to people, but how it shapes people's lives," Fink said.
Fink's research was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit journalism organization. He was commissioned by the center to investigate the high human immunodeficiency virus rate among men who have sex with men in Jamaica.
Fink said one-third of homosexual Jamaican men are HIV-positive. He attributes the high rate of HIV to the anti-gay sentiment and lack of education about the disease.
Decker described the anti-gay movement in Jamaica as "heart-breaking." He said children as young as 12 who exhibit gay tendencies are being kicked out of their homes and forced to live in sewers. In an effort to help these young people, Decker and Tomlinson have started Dwayne House to provide necessities like food and clothing. Dwayne House is named after Dwayne Jones, a 16-year-old transgender teen in Jamaica who was beaten to death.
Collinsville High School junior Celeste Bynum asked how Americans can help gay individuals in Jamaica. Tomlinson said people wanting to help can send emails to the tourism bureau in Jamaica.
"Jamaica is very dependent on tourism," he said. "They need to hear the rest of the world is outraged."
Tomlinson also encouraged students to support Dwayne House by visiting http://www.openarmsmcc.org.
"I had no idea this was going on in Jamaica," said Celeste, who is a member of Collinsville High School's Gay Straight Alliance.
Fellow alliance member Jasmin Thomas, who's also a junior, said, "it's kind of frustrating to know about this and you can't really do anything about it." Jasmin has a Jamaican pen pal who is gay.
Decker said he hopes to change how society views gay individuals across the world by educating young people.
"If we reach the young segment of the generation, that's how we will affect change down the road," he said.
To learn more about the documentary, visit http://www.commongoodprod.com.
The principal and a teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Belleville were recently honored with awards for the work they do for students and their contributions to the community.
Claire Hatch, principal of Blessed Sacrament, received the IXTHUS Award from the Southern Illinois Association of Priests. Hatch was selected for the award based on her faith, integrity, service and humanitarian efforts in the community, and for the past 36 years she has dedicated to Blessed Sacrament. Hatch also lends her time and talents to Camp Ondessonk, Althoff Catholic High School, Sister Thea Bowman and various other community organizations.
The Diocese of Belleville recently recognized Blessed Sacrament's fifth-grade teacher Celeste Furmanek for her 25 years of service to the school. Furmanek started at the school teaching seventh and eighth grades and coaching volleyball and basketball. Outside of school, Furmanek has coached the girls' and boys' swim teams at Althoff for the past 10 years, and she coaches a summer swim club in Granite City. Furmanek also provides swim lessons to handicapped kids.
In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Belleville East High School teachers Katie Hoerner and Rebekah McGarrity took their American Studies class to Gettysburg, Pa., over Veterans Day weekend as part of their unit on the Civil War.
While in Gettysburg, the 50 students visited the national cemetery and read the address on the site of President Abraham Lincoln's speech. The group spent two days exploring the battlefield, visiting Harpers Ferry, W. Va., and learning about the era and sacrifices of the soldiers of the war.
The trip also included a stop in Shanksville, Pa., to visit the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial.
The health club at Belleville East High School is doing a food bank collection drive at Shop 'n Save, 800 Carlyle Ave. in Belleville, from Saturday to Wednesday, Nov. 27. Club members hope to raise $5,000. Anyone who donates $10 or more will receive a free oil change, car wash and 25 percent off service labor for donating. Sponsors include Auffenberg Dealer Group of Illinois, Belleville East Health Club, Senator James Clayborne and Shop 'n Save.
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Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or email@example.com.