Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy?

Clovis, The Jamaica Observer

Personally i think the right punishment for the University of Technology (UTECH) students so eager to lynch an allegedly gay student should be a year’s community service at JFLAG…that’s the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays. I also think that all of Jamaica’s major institutions, its leaders and its citizens are responsible for the beating the unfortunate UTECH student received. I’ll explain in a minute but first for anyone who doesn’t have the requisite background on this latest episode of homophobic violence in Jamaica please read Petchary’s Blog and the post titled Sticks and Stones for details.

Here’s why i say almost everyone is to blame for the violence that exploded on the UTECH campus this Thursday. The Education Minister Ronald Thwaites was on air yesterday righteously denouncing the episode and calling for the mob of students to be expelled. Yet only a few days before that he was in the media talking about a ‘gay agenda’ which had apparently had a sinister hand in the reform of the health and family life education curriculum for high schools in Jamaica.

Las May, The Gleaner, March 4, 2011

To quote the Gleaner article which reported on this at the time:

The Sexuality and Sexual Health: Personal Risk and Assessment Checklist segment of the third edition of the curriculum geared at grades seven to nine was what caused the uproar.

Contentious Questions

Among the questions posed to students were: Have you ever had sexual intercourse? Have you ever had anal sex without a condom? What caused you to be a heterosexual? When and how did you first discover you were heterosexual? If you have never slept with a member of your own sex, is it possible you might be gay if you tried it? Why do heterosexuals seduce others into their lifestyle?

The book also instructed students to perform a number of exercises to better understand their sexuality.

Yesterday, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites ordered the curriculum pulled, saying some of the material was “inappropriate”.

“I have been made aware of widespread public concern about certain sections of the health and family life education programme curriculum used in Jamaican schools. There is strong objection to some of the questions on sexual behaviour and the commentary on heterosexuality/homosexuality,” the minister said.

“I consider sections of the material inappropriate for any age and certainly for the grade seven and eight students for which it is designed.”

He added, “I have instructed that the material be withdrawn from all schools and rewritten then redistributed so as to prevent disruption of the health and family life education instruction.”

Meanwhile the Jamaica Observer devoted an editorial, Not Enough Mr. Thwaites, to denouncing the sinister plot to sensitize Jamaican children to alternative sexualities. Here is part of what it said:

WHILE the practice of homosexuality is accepted and considered a basic human right in many other countries, Jamaican law and cultural norms disapprove.

The situation as it relates to Jamaica will perhaps change in time to come; but not yet, and not, we believe, for some time yet.

We should recall that this newspaper is on record — as is the current Prime Minister Mrs Portia Simpson Miller — as saying that the country needs to revisit the archaic, centuries-old buggery law.

However, in the meantime, Jamaican law and culturally accepted behaviour should be respected.

In that respect, we are unsurprised by the suggestion from Minister of Education Rev Ronald Thwaites that at least two persons involved in the drafting of the Health and Family Life Education Programme (HFLEP) curriculum, recently pulled from local high schools because of what can perhaps best be described as ‘gay friendly’ sexual content, “had a particular agenda and were able to embed it in the curriculum”.

For, in our view, loaded questions for teenagers, which were reportedly included in the rejected curriculum, such as “have you ever had anal sex?” and “if you have never slept with a member of your own sex, is it possible that you might be gay if you tried it?” suggest an agenda of sorts. We say this particularly in light of the Jamaican context.

Also, this was clearly not a stand-alone case. The minister tells us that “it does appear that there were previous instances, and there were warnings, and it was a clear intention of some who have very clear predispositions regarding sexual conduct… who got away on this one”.

A look back to 2007 will reveal that the then Minister of Education Mr Andrew Holness felt compelled to tell the country that a book on home economics was not endorsed by his ministry. This followed revelation of a section which claimed that “when two women or two men live together in a relationship as lesbians or gays, they may be considered a family”.

The problems with the withdrawal of the revised curriculum are succinctly stated by Maurice Tomlinson, a former UTECH lecturer, who had to flee Jamaica when he recently married his partner in Canada. In a post titled Countdown to Tolerance Tomlinson points the finger at the brands of Christianity practised in the country for this interference in school curricula.

Previously, in August 2011, to be precise, both Jamaica’s national TV stations refused to air a public service announcement designed to address the problem of intolerance towards gays in this country. To view the PSA in question and for further details read the post i wrote at the time, No Unconditional Love? Jamaica and its homosexuals, part of which i excerpt below (I’m indebted to both Winsome Chambers and Sonjah Stanley Niaah for reminding me of the PSA episode):

The situation in Jamaica concerning the status and well-being of its homosexual citizens continues to evolve in a one step forward-two steps backward manner. The video above,  featuring former Miss Jamaica World (1998) and Miss Jamaica Universe (2004) Christine Straw with her gay brother, Matthew, was launched by the advocacy group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) at the beginning of this month.

The video was designed as a PSA (Public Service Announcement) and was intended for airplay on Jamaica’s main TV stations, CVM and TVJ. Apparently in yet another display of media gutlessness both stations have declined to air the PSA in fear of public reaction.

So the point I’m making is: how is the change so desperately needed to prevent further episodes of violence towards homosexuals in Jamaica going to occur if those responsible for change through education–the Ministry, the media and the Church (in all its multi-denominational glory)–refuse to undertake the dissemination of material designed to change hearts and minds? What are our tertiary institutions going to do about this? In a separate post i will detail the history of similar incidents at the University of the West Indies and Northern Caribbean University to show that although UTECH is now in the spotlight such an episode could well have occurred (and have occurred in the past) at any of Jamaica’s tertiary institutions.

 

Finally Owen Black Ellis has just detailed on Facebook an instance that actually happened in Jamaica which highlights the lethal absurdity of local hostility towards gays:

 

The whole Utech saga has me remembering something that happened couple years ago to a couple I know and their friends. This is a true story. It was valentines day and two couples were having a meal in an uptown fast food joint. The girls were sitting down at the table and the guys were in the bathroom writing up the valentines day cards they bought earlier to give to the two girls who were waiting outside. They were laughing and reading and comparing each other’s cards when a man walked in and assumed they were giving the cards to each other, so he raised an alarm “yow people, two battybwoy inna di bathroom a exchange Valentines day card’. People, in no time a crowd converged, and no amount of explaining from the guys and begging for mercy by the girls could save them. And as they crowd grew and people asked about what happened, some added ‘dem mussi did in deh a have sex’ etc.. etc…so the details got more sensational and the condemnation got more intense, and the beating was wicked…

 

THIS IS THE JAMAICA WE HAVE CREATED!

 

19 thoughts on “Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy?

  1. Thank you so much for adding several very important points in this affair, which I certainly did not mention in my own blog post. One of my commenters suggested that we should not look to the political leadership if we seek to make any progress on this issue, but I’m not sure I agree. Thanks also for your references to Maurice Tomlinson’s stance and to the fact that there have been similar incidents at other Jamaican tertiary institutions (not widely reported). The refusal of both TV stations to air a PSA that advocated tolerance and love was also a very depressing development, showing a huge lack of courage. It was a backward-thinking decision that they should look back on now with much regret. We have got to do better than this.

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  3. i was one of the people who spoke about political leadership in terms of social change. Perhaps I can be more clear in what I mean. If you have a visionary, bold progressive leader, he/she may be willing to risk social capital for political change and take a strong public stand, whatever the cost. Often, that is not the case. The leader often needs to “nudged” forward by a coalition of social justice/activist/civil rights groups who bring the issue to the foreground and create greater political will. At least that has often been true in the social movements I have studied over the years. Getting even one or two social institutions, govt orgs or churches to speak out against homophobia is vital, as well as getting prominent gays in JA to take a public stand against homophobia. There is another ancillary cost, which is tourism. Because JA is not perceived as “gay-friendly” it is not a destination for the global gay tourist.

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  8. Any1 knows the story of Sodom & Gomorrah? Or no 1 bothers to care about any ramifications which may follow from forces beyond mankind’s comprehension? Fact or fiction, the truth will surface in time- as sure as change is a must.

      • Meaning we live on a planet that just may be sentient. Our ‘science and technology’ is limited by our human ways. Now, there is an order to follow to ensure perpetuation. For example, we cause the Earth to get hotter (Global Warming), ice caps melt- sea level rises, more storms floods etc. Now, ‘forces’ may mean what created this place we live. Forces may mean that which ensures continuation of our species. So, when we go against a certain order (rules), there are consequences for breaking rules if u catch my jist

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