Police personnel assigned to the St Andrew Central Division are admitting they are at their wits’ end in their bid to apprehend members of an ever-increasing group of self-proclaimed homosexuals who are allegedly wreaking havoc in the Golden Triangle and New Kingston communities of South East St Andrew.
Jamaicans have only themselves to blame for this problem of homeless gay street youth. This isn’t the first time we’re hearing about this. Several times last year we heard about the problems police were having with aggressive homeless homosexuals in New Kingston (see above video). JFLAG (the local gay rights lobby group) attempted to mediate but finally threw up their arms in frustration as it seemed there was little they could do to help. The young gay street youth wouldn’t listen to them. People calling up the radio stations are demanding swift punitive action but the Police have nowhere to put the young men if they arrest them and therefore are ‘at their wits’ end’ as the article startlingly says.
Well this is clearly a case of the chickens coming home to roost. In December I read a blogpost that asked a very pertinent, self-evident question: “Could this monster, which has come back to haunt us, be the creation of our collective homophobia?”
The writer goes on to point out that if Jamaican attitudes to homosexuality force families to evict members who are gay and if society in general then denies the young men decent jobs and the social wherewithal to make lives for themselves the outcasts will then do what outcasts everywhere do for survival: beg, borrow, steal, harrass, attack and generally ‘get on bad’.
It’s a predictable outcome. Why are we so surprised? Here is a homegrown case for a drastic revision of the counter-productive but widespread local bias against gays. This pressure isn’t coming from the international gay community, there is no foreign hand we can point to accusingly, this is a case of putting our house in order by ensuring that we don’t stigmatize those who are different from us, casting them out of society till they have no choice but to prey on the rest of us. There is not much the police can do about this problem. The solution to this one lies fairly and squarely in the hands of all Jamaicans. Let’s deal with it post-haste by dismantling the atmosphere of hysteria and denial surrounding homosexuality.
In this post I reproduce my column in the Sunday Herald, April 2006, Keeping Men Safe at UWI, written following an unprecedented attack on a man said to have made a pass at a male student on the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus. In that incident a mob of 2000 students descended on the unfortunate man and the security guards concerned actually protected him till the police arrived. But first here is an excerpt from the Gleaner’s editorial on the subject Barbarous bloodlust at UWI, published on April 6, 2006.
What happened was not a reasoned protest against what they consider deviant homosexual behaviour, but rather so violent an overreaction that the police in riot gear had difficulty controlling the mob. Shots had to be fired in the air while some students reportedly hurled missiles at the police. It seems clear that if there had not been strong and timely intervention by the police, the alleged homosexual would probably have been beaten to death.
And below is the column i wrote in response to the attempted lynching.
Keeping Men Safe at UWI
So now UWI has joined the exclusive club of tertiary-level institutions in Jamaica turning out bigots and murderers. Depressing, but somehow predictable, isn’t it? First there was NorthernCaribbeanUniversity where a few years ago five students suspected of being homosexual were severely beaten up after which to add insult to injury the university’s rescue vehicles refused to take the students to hospital. Then a year or two ago UTECH students cornered an alleged car thief on campus and killed him in the most barbaric manner suggesting that the expensive education spent on them had left little or no mark.
Now comes the crowning touch, the finale. Students at the crème de la crème of universities in Jamaica, the University of the West Indies, practically murdered a man who wandered onto campus and allegedly made an ‘advance’ towards a male student in one of the bathrooms on campus. It’s entirely possible that the alleged homosexual wasn’t quite right in the head judging by the fact that he had been escorted off campus earlier in the day for loitering on the premises. He came back and peeped at someone using one of the male bathrooms. Instead of politely declining the man’s advances and notifying security the student raised an alarm that summoned forth a mob described as being 2000-strong that proceeded to chase, beat and stab the man who narrowly escaped with his life after the police, with great difficulty, intervened.
What is perhaps even more alarming is the fact that senior lecturers at UWI seem bent on making spurious arguments which sound dangerously as if they are justifying the action of the students. “Imagine that the alleged pervert had entered the female bathroom and it was your daughter, sister, girlfriend or wife” equivocated one pun-derous (stet) academic who writes a column in the Sunday Gleaner.
Needless to say if every man on campus, student or otherwise, who made advances towards a woman, were similarly lynched men would soon become an endangered species. Perhaps male students should take lessons from us females in how to fend off unwanted advances without panicking that their manly virtue is about to be ravished. Isn’t it interesting, said a female colleague, that the slightest homosexual advance on a man is interpreted as a grievous assault almost amounting to rape? Suppose women were encouraged to do the same every time a lecherous male leered at them?
“I’ve always been told that if you’re robbed in downtown Kingston, its better to shout ‘B-man, B-man!’ rather than ‘Thief! Thief!’ quipped a Trini friend when he heard the news. According to him it’s a well-known fact that Jamaicans will barely take notice if they come across a thief or a murderer but confront them with a gay man and they react as if faced with a weapon of mass destruction or the devil himself.
It’s excellent that the University has come out and condemned the near-lynching in no uncertain terms. It must go further however by undertaking educational campaigns to rectify the prevalent mindset among both students and academics. What is absolutely astonishing is that in spite of such outrageous behaviour senior academics are still claiming that Jamaicans are ‘homo-antipathetic’ rather than homophobic. One shudders to think of the kind of research such scholars are producing given that their grasp of reality is so questionable.
It also does the university no good when it issues stern warnings to its students indicating zero tolerance of such violations of human rights when its own senior academics are to be found in the leading newspaper making weak puns about ‘homocide’ and ‘backlash’ in an attempt to underplay the seriousness of the situation. Noteworthy also is the tendency of such academics to be critical of ‘mob behaviour’ rather than the rabid homophobia which fuels such a mentality. Likewise it raises questions about the Gleaner’s own position on the matter that it carries such columns while at the same time thundering against the behaviour of the students in its editorials. All of this is sending mixed signals to young people who it could be argued seem to know no better though they’ve had the benefit of university education. But can they really be blamed when those who teach them prefer to purvey prejudice rather than knowledge?
This is why I thought the campaign by prominent gay rights organizations in the UK and the US against Jamaican DJs and their homophobic lyrics was fundamentally misguided. Most DJs, almost 99% of them have not had the benefit of the kind of education UWI students have had. How and why should anyone expect them to see the light when highly educated students and lecturers do not? Homophobia must be attacked in the places it really spouts from, the numerous fundamentalist churches that spew hatred and ignorance and in institutions of learning, higher or otherwise.
If at all anything was gained by the campaign to educate DJs against expressing homophobic sentiments it has surely been undone by the example of UWI students who not only engaged in flagrant gay-bashing but also vociferously defended their criminal behaviour on national television afterwards. Shame, shame, shame.
Shirley’s poem quoted in full above with her permission is a timely intervention into the barbarism threatening to drown us. She speaks eloquently for those of us who yearn for a healing of the nation not unlike the one administered by the mother in this poem.
The fish in this cartoon references current Jamaican slang for male homosexuals; in addition to ‘batty bwoy’ ‘fish’ is a popular synonym for gay men here. So the security guards at UTECH were exhorted to ‘Beat di fish!’ by the mob. Obviously the common expression ‘like a fish out of water’ would also apply to this cartoon by Clovis, November 05, 2012, Jamaica Observer.
And a postscript to my previous post on whether gay bashing is a national policy. No, it isn’t. Here is what the education minister said as a coda to the whole ‘sex text’ imbroglio (as reported in the Gleaner):
“The principles that must be at all times respected is that the Ministry of Education promotes sexually responsible behaviour in the context of faithful union between a man and woman while offering respect and compassion to those who adopt a different lifestyle.”
It’s how to get more Jamaicans to adopt this reasonable outlook that is the problem. The visual below captures the absurdity of the Jamaican lynch mob well.
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.
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 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…
The news media in Jamaica continues to score high on the #fail scale. Yesterday several media entities reported that Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey had announced that young gay men were behind most organised crime in Jamaica. If you watch the video below you will hear Bailey explaining that what he said was that 80-90% of the culprits arrested for the infamous lottery scam which has generated an alarming number of murders in recent years were homosexuals.
Bailey never said anything about organized crime. He was very specific, he was talking about the Lottery Scam and the high number of homosexuals implicated in it.
“I have empirical data to support that. We have the responsibility to investigate these cases (and) we’re not targeting any specific group or saying people should go and attack anyone. All I’m talking about is the profile of the individuals (involved in the lottery scam) just like we talk about the profile of persons who are involved in child sexual exploitation,” SSP Bailey stated Tuesday evening, July 12, on RJR’s daily current affairs discussion programme Beyond The Headlines.
What empirical data is he talking about? According to an interview Bailey gave on Newstalk 93FM this morning the criminals self-identify as homosexual when they are charged so that they can be protected from hostile, gay-hating inmates in prison. Bailey said there was even one ‘area leader’ or don who declared his sexuality openly when arrested. For some reason this puts me in mind of something Marlon James told me in an interview I did with him on The Silo six or so months ago–that he was fascinated by the idea of balletic young [Jamaican] men dancing, machine gun in hand as it were. Here’s a few outtakes from that interview:
–you need the person firing the short sharp shots–the jackhammer–but you also need the person who can survey coz jackhammers can’t heal–
–you need the nuanced take as well…the nuanced take is just as important as the polemic…
–my new novel is about killers, in fact its about the killers of killers…something i’ve always been fascinated by–the people who do the actual killing, not the ones who decide on a hit–
–its funny–you go to Passa Passa (the most hardcore event on the dancehall calendar), there was one guy–you know jamaican dancehall moves are very sort of graceful, almost effeminate, i know i’m going to get killed for this but its very ornate and very delicate…and somebody pointed him out to me and said y’know that’s one of the biggest gunmen out here–this whole idea of the super graceful killer, i find it fascinating, you know? almost like a ballet dancer who kills on the weekend…
So its not true that Bailey’s statement, abhorrent as it may seem, was based on observing such superficial tendencies as clothing, mannerisms and speech patterns on the part of the criminals the police had apprehended in the Lottery Scam or the credit/debit card scams–it was based on the high number of those arrested who told the police that they were gay! And as Bailey further explained this was not surprising because if gay prisoners are not kept separate from the straight prisoners it could result in tragedy as it did in 1997 when 16 homosexual prisoners were brutally killed in anti-gay prison riots.
This morning I recieved an email from an old friend. I quote it verbatim for what its worth:
Remember that 60s slogan “I’m Black and I’m Proud?”
Its back with a twist.re: Policeman’s statement that gays are open about their orientation and not hiding it. He said they are major players in lottery scam and Credit Crad/Debit card scam. Also said last kidnapped victim was tortured:
I do believe that the gays are “Gay and Proud” and not afraid to flaunt it.
They are not hiding anymore, at least not the younger, effeminate ones.
We had a couple in our community who would flaunt it in your face, sat on verandah in female panties and bra, ran down one another with machete, had female names for each other, had male only parties, cross dressed, made passes at the census taker and the male teens, prostitution.
Anyway they were sent on their way.
Sure others are still here, male and female but those behave without violence toward one another nor threats to the neighbours.
They moved nearby and started the whole thing all over again so the neighbours marched on their residence.
The situation has changed so Gomes/Jamaicans for Justice must keep up.
I think that before we can proceed all sides need to be heard. The gay rights position has been articulated loudly, clearly and frequently, bolstered by the muscle of international gay rights organizations. It’s time to listen to what some Jamaicans are saying about why they are often driven to hostile thoughts and actions. The fact is that the behaviour described in the email above would attract the same reaction were it heterosexuals who were causing such problems instead of homosexuals.
I end by quoting the kind of nuanced take Marlon James probably had in mind when he mentioned it in that interview. It’s by my dear friend Kei Miller, whose sharp new blog Under the Saltire Flag has considerably enriched the blogosphere in recent times:
Elephant Man’s 2001 hit ‘Log On’ has always seemed to me to contain contradictory instructions. On the one hand he encourages us to ‘log on’ – to actively participate in the new virtual world of the internet, and perhaps more broadly, to sign up to the future (quite literally, for the act of logging on often requires a name and a password). On the other hand he asks that we ‘step pon chi-chi man’ – that we continue in a posture of virulent homophobia, a regressive attitude which most will agree is incompatible with this other idea of progress.
Unsurprisingly, the song drew the ire of international human rights activists. Yes yes – that again! If you’ve begun to roll your eyes, I can forgive you, because it truly is a tiresome issue. About this, I have always been conflicted. On the one hand I support the idea that basic human rights should be extended to each and every citizen, and wherever this is culturally ambiguous, the law should be made to underline these rights clearly.
On the other hand I feel that a lot of the international human rights campaigns have been compromised by a deep contempt for the societies on whose behalf they campaign.
Look – people are not idiots. There is what a man says, and then again, there is what he actually means. Most people are fully capable of hearing beyond the noise of the first, to the subtlety of the second. So when an activist, in London for instance, says, ‘Oh this is outrageous! Jamaica really ought to protect the rights of its most vulnerable citizens, especially members of the glbt community!’ … what Jamaicans actually hear (and they are usually right) is: ‘Oh Jamaica, how I pity you! You primitive, savage and barbaric people! Also, I would like you to know that I am better than you!’
You know, it really is contemptuous that a country that took a few hundred years to ‘progress’ in its own attitudes should feel that the rest of the world (very often her former colonies saddled with her discarded laws and her old ideas of morality) should be ‘up to de time’ as soon as she is. And it is a very hard thing for the people of a former colony to accept lessons in human rights from people who for centuries had denied them theirs.
Jamaican attitudes towards homosexuality are shifting. Those who militate on behalf of gay rights here and elsewhere need to respond to this, rather than to non-existent straw men.
Its the last day of a long weekend which began on Thursday evening with a really special experience for me. I was invited to be part of a forum in San Francisco. For details see the poster below where i’m listed as ‘Prof’ Annie Paul (chuckle).
The comments below the poster were borrowed from Yardedge.net, a great site for news on the entertainment and cultural scene in Jamaica.
Here’s an interesting forum happening next week on the dancehall music/culture scene- a simulcast between gay and straight folks in the San Francisco area and Kingston.
The forum will be addressing relevant issues including a proposal to initiate a BUYCOTT of artists, instead of BOYCOTT of artists. The “bUycott” is being put forward as a socio-politically conscious economic initiative in which LGBT-allied consumers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people) offer their business to Jamaican recording artistes, small exporters, international brands, tourist destinations, etc, with demonstrated progressive human rights attitudes and practices. The forum will explore some ideas and strategies for organizing and undertaking the LGBT-allied Jamaica bUycott. The idea is to basically to reward artists who are promoting non-violent, positive vibes.
The forum will take place at the Hall Of Culture, African-American Art & Cultural Complex in SF. Contact email@example.com for the Kingston location information.
The forum hopes to encourage progressive dialogue and partnership between Jamaicans and people abroad as well as to raise U.S. awareness about dancehall music’s current role in Jamaican culture and society and to present the music in a broader context for the San Francisco audience.
So it was really cool linking with the folks in San Francisco from my living room in Kingston. I was on for the full two hours and a thorough discussion was had along the lines described by Yardedge above. One of the other participants was Andrea Shorter, the woman with locks in the top centre of the infamous photograph above. She was a bit of a tough customer but Nic Ming, a Jamaican self-styled LGBT, moderated us out of troubled waters with engaging calm and wisdom.
I made several points that evening. One that if the homophobic rhetoric in Jamaican music was really taken seriously by the people who consume it there wouldn’t be a single gay person left alive in the island. On the contrary a number of very high profile individuals who occupy the highest positions in this society are homosexual, although they cannot publicly admit this. And therein lies the rub. Jamaicans really don’t have a problem with homosexuals as long as they remain in the closet. And older generations of gay men and women have generally obliged.
Today however there are younger gay men and women who are not willing to live closeted lives. They want to be out–dressing effeminately if they choose, or not, but letting everyone know who and what they are. I made the point that a few years ago there was a local hit called Out and Bad by Elephant Man (first heard Agostinho Pinnock refer to the song in this context) which though not explicitly referencing being gay–it was a celebration of the dance scene and the latest dance at the time–the Willie Bounce–could nevertheless be read to be a defiant assertion by the very gay-appearing dancers who populate Kingston’s street dances. Dance will never die/Out and bad so badly bad/It a get intensify/…
The other thing i pointed out and i’m by no means the first to do so, is that the pressures of globalization, that is, the huge cultural changes that have taken place here and all over the world in response to the forces of economic globalization, are somehow mapped onto the body of the homosexual. He/she embodies, even personifies, the negative influences seen as penetrating society from the outside, from ‘foreign’. “Keep us free from evil powers” goes a line in the Jamaican national anthem and i would argue that gays/homosexuals are seens as the emissaries of unnamed ‘evil powers’.
This in turn has to do with the power relations undergirding the battle for space and legitimacy by the LGBT community. LGBTs often claim that their struggle for recognition and equal rights is no different from similar struggles by other once disenfranchised groups–Black people’s continuing fight against racism, women’s struggles against gender discrimination, the war by the colonized against the colonial yoke, the fight for freedom from slavery and so on. But as i pointed out there is one major difference between all these groups and the LGBT lobby and that is this: the LGBT lobby has power, it has economic power, and is able not only to flex its muscles but to cause severe damage as it has shown in recent years with the ongoing targeting of so-called murder music by Jamaican DJs. The marginalized groups previously mentioned were all waging wars from below; the campaign waged by Tatchell and others is, like the US embargo against Cuba, one that is fought from a position of power. And like the Cuban embargo, i maintain, it will have limited success and the people who suffer the consequences will be the very people on whose behalf you’re mobilizing.
By exclusively targeting Jamaican DJs, whose constituencies are the poor and marginalized, the ‘wretched of the earth’, LGBTs are re-inforcing the underlying power imbalance. They are now seen as representing not merely ‘evil powers’ but rich and powerful evil powers. And this is the message not only from Dancehall music but from the pulpit and parliament. As Tara Atluri pointed out in a groundbreaking paper titled “When the Closet is a region: Homophobia, Heterosexism and Nationalism in the Commonwealth Caribbean” some years ago, this is not a Jamaican problem only:
…From popular culture to constitutional inequity, homosexuality is dismissed, loathed and ignored by mainstream Caribbean culture. I feel that this fear of homosexuality keeps gender roles sharply intact, thereby normalizing sexism. Furthermore I feel that homophobia and heterosexism are reinforced by Caribbean nation states, based on a discriminatory nationalism that uses both religious conformity and conformity to capitalist patriarchy as a basis for inclusion.
Atluri remarked on the difficulty of finding material, research or willing interlocutors on the subject of homophobia. On the subject of dancehall music and offensive lyrics she made an interesting observation:
Silence and shame guard Caribbean homosexuality. Therefore, i have found few avenues upon which to form an analysis of heterosexism and homophobia in the region. Popular culture, in the form of dancehall and reggae seems to be some of the only and concrete cultural discourses in which attitudes towards homosexuality are expressed outright. While dancehall and reggae lyrics have come under fire for their crude portrayal of sexual politics, they offer an opening. They are explicit. And while they may be explicitly prejudiced, they do what respectable silences do not. They start the conversation.
I couldn’t have put it more eloquently. I’m glad that I was invited to to put in my two paisa worth in that forum in San Francisco. I’m glad that discussions such as this are taking place. And I don’t mean to close this conversation on an unpleasant note but the video below is extremely pertinent to the subject we’ve been examining in this post. It may make us want to tear our hair out but in this South African interview Sizzla clearly articulates a widespread set of attitudes in Jamaica. To combat such views nothing less than the most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement is required.
“Controversial reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji speaks to the Mail & Guardian about homosexuality, his music and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe whom he recently met while performing at his birthday celebrations in Bulawayo during his African tour.”
(Unfortunately there was no means to embed this video in my blog so you will have to click on the link to get it.)
RT @MrVegasMusic: There’s a attack against reggae music,now they want me to meet with the head of police in germany to say I will not sing certain songs. they will also be sending their representative who speak patois to the venue to hear if I am singing certain lyrics, so if I do not meet with the police chief my show will be cancel,what is reggae gone to,the bible said it best,whosoever does not take the mark of the beast 666 will not be able to work,nor buy,nor sell,lord your word is coming to pass.
it does not matter if you sing about them or not, as long as you do reggae or dancehall,u will have to meet with them, we’re now being mocked. I don’t give a hell about these people I do not sing them, their shit is their shit, long as they stay in their lane mi nuh business with them. so it is provoking when you trying to get people involve who has stayed far from this shit.
These heartfelt words come from dancehall singjay Mr. Vegas (one of my favourite ‘artistes’), who is touring Germany right now. Apparently the anti-oral sex crusader (‘Heads High’) is feeling the effects of the international gay rights ‘murder music’ campaign. Mr. Vegas uttered these sentiments on Twitter this morning (Dec. 9) in a series of tweets (which i’ve amalgamated here), each ending with the abbreviation ‘cont.’ to indicate continuation, a clever way of getting around the 140 character limit of the medium. Full marks to Mr. V for adept use of the technology. I tell you–if only our journalists would take a leaf out of his book. This, dear PAJ members, is how news is communicated these days; if you want to keep abreast of what’s going on, you need to tweet.
Because Tweety Bird gets the worm, coz Tweety Bird is the early bird! Will Mr. Vegas go to see the German Police Commissioner? Will his show be canceled (He is scheduled to perform in Berlin tonight)? We watch and wait…
And a few hours later another series of tweets from Mr. Vegas apparently after he did the needful:
Read.You are not allowed to do public: Appeals,or statements for, discrimination,violation,hatred,or even murder,offensive or insult. no such statements,no such lyrics,no such gestures,against anyone or community,due to race, color,religion,ideology,political views, opinions,ethic,or social origins or lineage,sexual orientation,gender,disability,genetic,features,age or any other personal community, bound characteristics.to German law and German foundation any people living here are equal.any violation of these principles would be a criminal offense and may lead to an arrest and expulsion and will cause criminal proceedings by official [public] prosecutor. in addition a complete suspension for entering the countries of the European Union may be signed on you.[We will give a report to the authorities of other German cities,it might be the base for the decision of taking measures due to your concerts over the .signed vegas.
so I just took the mark of the beast, I sold out God for vanity and Gold.
This is ironic because Mr. Vegas is not one of those who utters anti-homosexual lyrics. So as he points out the attack seems to be against the music now, not individual performers guilty as charged.
Meanwhile here is a video of Mr. Vegas's hit "I am Blessed". Some wonderful footage. Hopefully the blessings extend to Germany...
Clovis Brown, Wednesday, October 7 2009, Jamaica Observer
Gaza. Gully. The two words, inscribed in locations all over Kingston and Jamaica, signify internecine zones of conflict competing for supremacy in the dancehall universe here. For those who don’t know: Gaza=Kartel and Gully=Mavado. Mavado, popularly known as ‘Gully Gad (God)’, comes from Gullyside in Cassava Piece, an impoverished community in the foothills of Kingston. Kartel comes from a neighbourhood in Portmore that was once known as BORDERLINE.
And thereby hangs a tale. A story you wouldn’t find in the normal media yasso which specializes in skimming the surface and shallow moralizing. The Jamaican media generously accommodates both sinners and sermonizers, protecting the former by voluntarily gagging themselves and the latter by giving them as many column inches as their sermons demand. In the US it is citizens who usually “plead the fifth” and have “the right to remain silent”, both stemming from the Fifth Amendment of their constitution. In Jamaica the media seem to have arrogated such rights to themselves; they provide a minimum of in-depth coverage of events apparently on the grounds that the information given could be used as evidence against them!
So like me, you may not have known the etymology of the term ‘Gaza’ in the Jamaican context (Talk bout the media being eyeless in Gaza!) or why Borderline came to be so renamed. It’s a fascinating story which is intimately connected (as a batty is to a bench you might say) with this culture’s notorious attitude towards male homosexuals or ‘batty’ men as they are called here.
Shebada Ramsay, the ‘Gender Bender’
It all has to do with an actor called Shebada, the star of a super successful series of plays put on by Stages Productions. This company produces what is known in local parlance as ‘roots plays’, a kind of farcical, over the top production with picaresque characters performing or acting out the issues of the day. Sex is a big part of it, and subtlety is not, but Stages Productions whose slogan is “Comedy is serious business” always plays to full houses.
Stages Productions has also pioneered the explicit exploration of alternative sexualities and Shebada himself, whose stage persona is camp as they come and twice as provocative, sports a bleached face and gay-ish attributes that complicate the argument that Jamaica is unremittingly hostile to Gays. In fact international Gay rights groups who have targeted the island’s musicians repeatedly would do well to analyze such productions and feed the resulting insights into their jackhammer strategies at outing and combating what is touted worldwide as Jamaican homophobia.
The induction of the name ‘Gaza’ into the Jamaican firmament came about because in the very first insanely popular Stages Production, Bashment Granny, there is a scene where a policeman confronts the sinuous Shebada asking “Yu a man or yu a woman?” “Mi deh pon di borderline” declares Shebada unabashedly, emphasizing his retort with an exaggerated wag of his hips. The phrase became so popular in the context of discussions about sexuality that Vybz Kartel decided that the name of his community ‘Borderline’ had been irrevocably contaminated by association. He therefore adopted the name of the most violent place he could think of at the time—Gaza in Palestine.
Again Fernando Guereta, or Mr. Previous, as I have nicknamed him, the man responsible for the film, Why Do Jamaicans Run so Fast? has been quick off the mark. He is already in the middle of his next film, which documents the Gully Gaza phenomenon (please note he was NOT the source of information for this post). The interview with him I promised is still pending. I will unveil it over the course of the coming week. In the meantime check out these two video clips of Shebada in Bashment Granny (the relevant declaration is four and a half minutes into the first one). The second one has some priceless footage of Shebada teaching Bashment Granny how to walk and dance with credibility. Enjoy!
Alright, so Active Voice wasn’t such a good choice of a blog title considering it’s been more than a month since my initial posting. How active is that, right? Its one thing to celebrate being rid of editors, but what’s hard to cope with is the accompanying loss of deadlines. It’s a terrible thing to admit but I’ve discovered how abjectly dependent I am on deadlines to get the words flowing.
Anyway, this morning I’m cracking the whip on myself so let’s see how far I can get. Try as one might it’s hard to get away from the subject of the police in Jamaica and the lamentable excesses they can’t seem to help perpetrating in the course of discharging their duties (the latest is that an 11-month old infant was killed by a police bullet yesterday while in another part of the country a number of legit farmers lost their crops after a fire set by police officers in a neighbouring ganja field got out of control). Some weeks ago the nation was convulsed by the confession of Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue, who admitted to falsification of witnesses and evidence and on the heels of this came another cop confession—this time from Constable Michael Hayden, announcing that he was gay and proud of it and that he was suffering active discrimination and abuse from his colleagues because of this.
I had started a blog on the subject some weeks ago but then the New York Times carried a substantive article on both Hayden and the abuse and harassment of male homosexuals in Jamaica (February 24, 2008) so I thought it redundant to express my views on this vexed issue right then. Suffice it to say that far more education and honest debate on the subject needs to take place here. At the same time international gay rights organizations also need to educate themselves on the very complex reasons for what is being termed Jamaican homophobia.
What I mean by this is that just as white feminists realized gradually that they could not determine the feminist agenda for the rest of the world because of differing social, cultural and historical conditions elsewhere so must organizations such as GLAD, Outrage and others develop a more modulated and nuanced strategy when trying to intervene in the sexual politics of places such as Jamaica (in this context they could start by reading Marlon James latest blog ). A ‘one size fits all’ approach is bound to fail; in the process it also makes the terrain that much more dangerous for the most vulnerable homosexual of all, the impoverished, working-class male.
The climate of terror and violence towards homosexuals is to be condemned unequivocally. I had the opportunity to talk with both Andre and Michael Hayden, two of the principals mentioned in the NYT article on a local radio show that I was co-hosting. Andre was among a group of men in Mandeville whose home was stormed by a mob of cutlass-wielding men who proceeded to beat and ‘chop’ them for nothing more than their sexual orientation. It was hard to look at Andre, a gentle, dreamy-eyed youth sitting in front of me covered in ugly scars and bandages and not want to reach out and hug him and apologize for the barbaric treatment that he had recieved.
Likewise it was impossible not to admire the courage of young Michael Hayden who decided to come out and defend his rights both as a police officer and as a human being. According to him it was rumours spread by policemen at the station he worked at who knew that he was in the habit of visiting the house that may have incited the mob attack (According to Hayden female police officers–perhaps he reasoned, because they go through the experience of childbirth–were far more sympathetic to him and the gay cause in general). It is refreshing to see such fierce and forthright outspokenness in someone who has finally decided that he’s not willing to remain silent any more. If only more of the rich and powerful gays here could find the courage to speak out too it would make all the difference; it’s hard to see the situation here changing anytime soon unless this happens.