Pawns of the Pentecostalists? Global Homophobia on the rise

AP Kenya Gay and Out

Binyavanga Wainana. Photo: Ben Curtis, AP

I finally got around to watching Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana’s Hard Talk interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC  just a few days ago. The interview was instigated by Binyavanga’s hugely hyped ‘coming out’ a few weeks earlier. In response to the recent  wave of homophobic legislation in Nigeria and Uganda Wainana released a short story titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum. In the BBC interview Binyavanga was on form as usual and made a lot of sense but Sackur took me by surprise when he seemed to reject out of hand the Kenyan writer’s assertion that the Pentecostal movement with its fire and brimstone preachers were very much to blame for the recent escalation in homophobia on the African continent.

This sounded perfectly plausible to me, especially since I’ve heard local gay activists say the same thing in the context of Jamaica, that American Pentecostalist preachers come to the Caribbean and rave and rant against homosexuals with an incendiary intensity that simply wouldn’t be allowed in the United States with its hate speech laws. All of a sudden something I’ve been puzzled by for a long time–the mystery of why homophobia manifests itself so virulently both in the Caribbean (with Jamaica taking the cake for over the top intolerance) and on the African continent–seemed to have a simple explanation. The same set of American Pentecostalists have mounted concerted campaigns against what they call ‘the homosexual agenda’ in both locations, and I don’t know about African countries but you will have noticed if you’re from here that the use of the term ‘homosexual agenda’ has seen an exponential rise in the last 5 years. Just to test my hypothesis I decided to look at another recent site of anti-gay rhetoric and action–Russia. It was instructive. An American evangelist named Scott Lively had been at work there just as he had in Uganda, which he first visited in 2002. According to a Washington Post article:

Scott Lively is an obsessively anti-gay American evangelical minister. He is, according to National Journal, “perhaps the most extreme” of a network of U.S. evangelicals who, having failed in their crusade against all things gay at home, travel abroad to connect with anti-gay activists and arm them with arguments that, for example, homosexuals will seduce their children, corrupt all of society, and eventually take over the country. You don’t need to take my word for it; read Lively’s manifesto here. It’s a 2007 missive to Russians suggesting they “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality,” i.e., use state power to force gay people into the closet. This is something Russia actually did last year (rather indirectly, but quite effectively).

Meanwhile the Southern Poverty Law Centre details Lively’s pernicious activities in Uganda:

In early March 2009, he went to Uganda to deliver what would become known as his infamous talk at the Triangle Hotel in Kampala at an anti-LGBT conference organized by Family Life Network leader Stephen Langa. The conference, titled “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda,” also included Don Schmierer, a board member of the ex-gay therapy group Exodus International, and Caleb Brundidge Jr., a self-professed ex-gay man with ties to the ex-gay therapy group Healing Touch. Thousands of Ugandans attended the conference, including law enforcement, religious leaders, and government officials. They were treated to a litany of anti-LGBT propaganda, including the false claims that being molested as a child causes homosexuality, that LGBT people are sexual predators trying to turn children gay by molesting them, and that gay rights activists want to replace marriage with a culture of sexual promiscuity. Lively met with Ugandan lawmakers during the conference, and in a blog post later he likened his campaign against LGBT people to a “nuclear bomb” against the “gay agenda” that had gone off in Uganda. A month later, the Ugandan parliament was considering legislation that included the death penalty for LGBT people in some instances and life imprisonment for others. According to Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopal priest from Zambia (now in Boston) who went to the conference under cover, Lively’s talking points were included in the bill’s preamble

According to Right Wing Watch:

While Lively lashes out at Republicans in the U.S. for helping “hand over the military to the Sodomites,” he praises anti-gay measures in India, Russia and Jamaica, and argues that the reason Ukraine’s president pulled out of an agreement with the European Union was “the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU.”
In Lively’s own words:
Those of us who still hold a Biblical worldview have been heartened by recent global events affirming normalcy. The Australian high court struck down “gay marriage” as unconstitutional, the Indian high court re-criminalized sodomy, and Russian President Putin declared his nation to be the new moral compass of the world for championing family values. Although Ukraine’s highly controversial decision to postpone (or cancel) a step into the fold of the European Union has been framed in economic terms, there is little doubt that the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU has played a major role. And in tiny Jamaica, a push to decriminalize sodomy (driven in large part by the U.S. State Department), has run into so much opposition that the pro-family Jamaicans just might win that battle.

To see Lively in action watch this UK Guardian video released today, How US evangelical missionaries wage war on gay people in Uganda. Although Lively himself doesn’t seem to have made a personal appearance in Jamaica as yet we have been treated to diatribes against the LGBT-community by one of his disciples, Peter LaBarbera, whose group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) threw a banquet in honour of Lively in 2011. LaBarbera was in Jamaica as recently as December 2013 urging Jamaicans to resist changing the laws against buggery. 

LeRoy Clarke. Photo: Stefan Falke

Of course we can’t blame the Pentecostal purveyors of hate entirely for the intolerance towards the LGBT community. Their maniacal fervour and rhetoric falls on very fertile ground. Anti-gay sentiment is alive and well from the least literate to the most highly educated and accomplished of Caribbean citizens. Look for example at the startling outburst the other day by Trinidadian artist Leroi Clarke, that has stirred up quite a controversy in Port of Spain. A report in the Trinidad Guardian quoted the eminent painter:

In a phone interview yesterday, Clarke related homosexuality to the increase in crime, saying young men are usually indoctrinated into gangs with homosexuality and because of the violation of their manhood use the gun as a symbol of their masculinity. He added: “It is brought about by power bases that manipulate the principles that hold our heritage for their own advantage. “Something is happening with the gender paradigm today. We had guidelines where we looked at certain types of conduct as abominations. We took it from the scriptures.” The Bible, he added, was one of those and verses clearly refer to homosexuality, men with men and women with women, as “unnatural” and an abomination. “Today, the word abomination does not have the same tone. People indulge abominations, accede to them,” Clarke lamented. “At 73, I can say the world is no longer mine,” he said. Asked exactly what he meant by saying homosexuality was threatening the arts, Clarke said with the exception of the sailor and maybe the midnight robber, there were no longer any definitely male costumes in Carnival, not even in portrayals of the devil. “An effeminating power has taken over the costumes and even the rhythm of the music. Carnival is no longer male and female. “This is a very serious matter. We are dealing with a problem that is threatening our heritage.

LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul

LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul

Rumour has it that what may have set Clarke off was the recent state gift to Carnival Masman Peter Minshall of the State property he has been occupying in Fede­ra­tion Park, Port of Spain. Minshall, a white Trinidadian is openly gay.

To return to Stephen Sackur’s interview with Binyavanga Wainana which must be watched to be believed, I admit to feeling as if the scales have dropped from my eyes. On the one hand you have Sackur browbeating Wainana for bringing up the very pertinent matter of the anti-gay campaign by Pentecostalist missionaries in African countries such as Uganda, claiming that the Kenyan writer was trying to blame African homophobia on ‘external influences’ such as this (He wasn’t); and on the other hand you have Sackur insisting later on in the interview that the West must be allowed to interfere in the internal matters of African societies in the name of championing ‘universal values’! Sackur needs to be administered a good dose of Stuart Hall 101 on the inherent problems of overlooking cultural factors in the name of a tenuous universalism which only seems to work unidirectionally–from the West to the rest of us.

If indeed you speak in the name of the West Mr. Sackur deliver up former UK PM Blair to the Hague for trial for the universally understood category of war crimes (as Wainana gently suggested).  I’d love to see an interview along those lines. And at the very least leash the rabid hatemongers within your midst and curb the export of hatred and homophobia from the West before we all become puppets of the Pentecostalists. After that you may or may not be allowed to preach ‘universal values’. External forces ought not to lead the way to change in societies from outside, they can provide assistance discreetly, at the behest of, and in line with, not in advance of those militating for change  from within and only after they put their own house in order. Nuff said.

Lynchings are NOT just any other murder…#DwayneJones

Watch incredible CVM video footage of Dwayne Jones, 2 months before his lynching, talking about his fear of being killed at the hands of the police, the difficulties of being homeless and demonstrating his awesome dancing skills for the camera crew. Horrific to think that society could not protect him from his worst fears.

On August 13, after a weekend during which Jamaica got a lot of bad press in the international media over the Dwayne Jones case, BBC Radio’s highly acclaimed programme World Have Your Say, held a half hour discussion on the subject of being gay in Jamaica, triggered by the violent killing of Dwayne Jones on July 22nd. I was invited to be on the show along with local BBC rep Nick Davies, Jalna, convenor of a group called Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, who identified herself as lesbian and Bishop Alvin Bailey from the Portmore Holiness Christian Church. I was invited because the producers had read my blog, Active Voice, and the two posts I did on the Dwayne James murder.

The discussion was quite robust although Bishop Bailey seemed not to realize that this particular gender war is about the freedom of gays/homosexuals to be open about their sexuality in Jamaica. His comments suggested that much ado was being made about nothing and he even asked if he was living in the same Jamaica the rest of us were talking about. His contention was that there are many homosexuals living and working in Jamaica peacefully and that most of the murders of gay people were by fellow gays. When Jalna talked of the fear she felt at having threats directed at her when she had to walk on the street he asked how people knew she was a lesbian (!). This suggests that the good Reverend  is unaware that the debate is about gays in Jamaica being able to ‘come out’ (of the closet) without being threatened with bodily harm, something not one of those hundreds of professionals feels comfortable enough to do. Conform to gender norms of dress and behaviour he seems to be saying, and every little thing’s gonna be alright. Three Little Birds…

Here’s an MP3 of the BBC World Have Your Say discussion on being transgender in Jamaica in case you want to listen to it yourselves. There’s a general introduction dealing with international news and then the discussion begins:

Nationwide’s Emily Crooks having listened to part of the BBC discussion, mentioned it on her radio programme the morning after, saying that the world didn’t realize that the lack of reaction to Dwayne Jones’s murder was not to be read as homophobia but as the sign of a population inured and calloused to murder in general…as if a lynching is equivalent to the random murders that take place daily. According to her the lack of outrage at his death was hardly exceptional for a population accustomed to 2-3 murders a day and he wasn’t the only child who had been murdered recently either, she added, just look at the shooting of 11 year old Tashanique James, in the west Kingston community of Denham Town on August 1.

I found this interesting. In an earlier discussion I’d had with the intrepid Simon Crosskill, a prominent TV journalist here, he made a similar point, claiming that he didn’t understand why Dwayne’s murder was any different or more deserving of attention than that of Tashanique James. Both Crosskill and Crooks claim like many others that there is simply no difference between Dwayne’s murder and all the other horrible murders that happen regularly in Jamaica. This view is also very widespread on social media and for that matter in traditional media.

Human rights campaigners tried to point out that Dwayne Jones’s murder qualified as a ‘hate crime’ but this didn’t help either.  Many Jamaicans on social media were adamant that Jones’s death merited no special concern or attention. In the next paragraph I quote a few tweets that illustrate this sentiment.

A couple of days after the lynching former deputy police commissioner Mark Shields, who came here on loan from Scotland Yard 10 or so years ago, and is now resident in Jamaica, tweeted the following:

Mark Shields @marxshields: 
The lack of condemnation by political & church leaders re#DwayneJones murder is sending a message to Jamaica that it condones hate crimes.

And he received what now seems to me to be the standard party line in Jamaica from my good friend @Grindacologist. To wit:

Grindacologist @Grindacologist: 
RT @marxshields: lack of condemnation by political & church leaders re #DwayneJones murder ¤ 1000+ murders a year…why this one special?

The two following tweets came weeks later, during or immediately after the BBC show, but they express almost exactly the same view:

Dat Mawga Bwoi @MrKritique
What is different about this 17 year old that has been killed tho why this much publicity? 17 year old die everyday in JA @anniepaul

Dennis Marlon @dennisbroox
…The retired Priest was killed too. That was sad too. Jamaicans moved on too. Not that special in the indifference dept

So what’s going on here? Surely even an imbecile can see that there’s a difference between an ordinary murder and a lynching. Neither Emily Crooks nor Simon Crosskill could ever be mistaken for imbeciles. What is the blind spot that makes top Jamaican journalists and others oblivious to this difference? On the grounds of that fact alone the Dwayne Jones killing is immediately in a separate category from shootings like that of Tashanique James who was killed by a stray bullet in a gang war in Denham Town.  Everyone is in agreement that killings such as that of young Tashanique are wrong. Gangs have been targeted by police for years now and there are policies in place (as ineffectual as they may seem) to remedy this situation.

There are no such policies in place to deter mob killings, which have been on the rise in the last few years. It’s barely a year since that horrific attack by a mob on a man and his daughter in Trelawny, in which the father was chopped to death, his daughter left severely injured and their house burnt to the ground. Their sin? They had the misfortune to be related to a young man suspected by the mob of having ‘sodomized’ two young boys who had drowned in a nearby river. The man who was killed was the young man’s stepfather, not even a blood relative. But here’s the clincher: Police reports said that there was no sign whatsoever that the drowned boys had been sodomized (buggered). Yet this mob descended on the house of a young man they insisted had violated the boys and when they didn’t find him there put to death his stepfather and slashed his sister with machetes.

THAT was a good occasion to talk about homophobia but did we? NO. We shoved it under the carpet, pretended that all was normal in good old Jamdown, and moved right along. We certainly never got to hear the kind of details about the victims of that mob killing we’ve seen about Tashanique James, the 11 year old girl mentioned earlier.

Similarly we know far more about Dwayne Jones, the family he came from, the circumstances of his abandonment at their hands, who his friends were, the kind of person he was, from international media who were able to glean all this from as far away as Canada where the Toronto Star devoted the entire front page of last Sunday’s paper to this story. None of the media houses here considered it worth their while to humanize him by letting us know these details about him. Contrast this with the killing of Tashanique James which prompted the Gleaner to devote its senior-most journalist, Arthur Hall, to the story, in which he proceeded to do just that. His front page story, Outspoken child becomes victim of gunman’s bullet,  showed us the human face of the little girl who had been so brutally cut down and then did a follow up story on the gang warfare that had resulted in her death.

No such consideration for Dwayne Jones. Not even though he died in extraordinary circumstances which in themselves merited front page coverage. But oh no, how dare you say this lack of media attention was because we’re homophobic? It’s just that the media can’t keep up with all the murders that take place here everyday.

In a sensational posthumous scoop CVM TV announced on its main newscast two days ago that they had just realized that in covering another story in the St James area two months ago, their reporters had actually met Dwayne Jones and done an in-depth interview with him. Not only that, he dances for their camera, extraordinarily lithe, bouncing with life–so hard to imagine such vitality snuffed out for nothing at all. It’s a measure of the dysfunctionality of our main media houses, and the class and gender biases they suffer from, that it took them three weeks to realize they had this stunning footage. You can watch it in the video below. The TV host is none other than my good friend Simon Crosskill, mentioned earlier in this post. This is how Jamaican media should have covered this terrible killing from the beginning.

In case anyone thinks I harp too much on the shortcomings of the media let me point out one of the dangers of local press not recording a murder in all its gory detail especially when you know that it’s likely to attract international attention. Look at this conversation I came across on Facebook, posted on the wall of a group calling itself I AM JAMAICA, the day the Associated Press story hit the news all over the world about a week ago. A woman named Greta asks if anyone’s seen the story which appeared on Yahoo.com and posts it. Another person named Dean reassures her that the foreign media has made all this up pointing to the lack of eyewitness accounts, photographs and generally coverage of the murder by local media to make his argument(!):

Greta Mellerson: I AM JAMAICA
Did you hear about this, got this from yahoo
http://news.yahoo.com/jamaica-transgender-teen-murdered-mob-070446416.html

In Jamaica, transgender teen murdered by mob
news.yahoo.com
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) — Dwayne Jones was relentlessly teased in high school for being effeminate until he dropped out. His father not only kicked him out of the house at the age of 14 but also helped jeering neighbors push the youngster from the rough Jamaican slum where he grew up.

Greta Mellerson: Even though I am anti-gay, I don’t think we should go as far as to kill people for what they want to become or do in life. As long as it does not hurt anyone in the interim.

Dean Strachan: its false reporting generated by the gay lobby similar to how the republicans and Faux news creates stories that doesnt relate to the real events.
the gay teen was shot to death and dumped by his friends.
then they made up this story about him being attacked by a straight mob in a dancehall on** a monday night at 3 am.
Yet there is no eye witness report nor pictures.
with all the cellphone cameras in jamaica and cheap phone credits.
not even the owners of the dancehall.
moreover permits have to br issued to have dance.
and no permit would be issued by the police for a monday night dance.
it also have the teen beaten and chopped.
Only he was killed by the bullets or five gun shots.
its just another murdoch type entertainment for news.

Greta Mellerson: You see de now Dean Strachan, people reading this would believe it and don’t have somebody like you fe straighten out de story! Now this is coming from yahoo (USA), that means lots of people maybe cancelling their trips to the island because of this, that means less $. So it could be a political move! thanks for straightening out dis story ya!

Dean Strachan: the story has been all over the place, but the government dont think it is important enogh to deal with it before it start affect the revinues. then they wiill spend millions to mop up it.

Incredibly the group’s catchline says “I AM JAMAICA is responsible for attracting and developing foreign investments. We will guide you throughout your decision making process.” Not sure why they think investors would be attracted to a country where occasional lynchings take place, homosexuals are told they’re not wanted, there are so many murders the media can’t keep up and the justice and police system are shambolic.

Are we ever going to give up the fondly held myth that Jamaica is an English-speaking, heterosexual, devoutly Christian nation of polite people who run fast and make great music? Your guess is as good as mine.

“…the creation of our collective homophobia?”

Today the Gleaner carried a headline and article which has dominated the talk shows all morning. “Gays Wreak Havoc – Cops Say Homosexuals Too Much To Handle In South East St Andrew“. The first paragraph says it all:

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.

Literate mobs: UWI’s 2006 Brush with Gay Lynching

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.

“…a mob of educated fools”: How will Jamaica staunch its homophobia?

The Merchant of Feathers II

Is the mother whose son is found

in a compromising position with a man

in a university bathroom

and is beaten by security guards

who police anuses

while girls walk unguarded in the night

and a mob of educated fools chant

for more blood, more fire.

This mother must put her son back together again

paint his wounds with Gentian Violet

ice swollen tendons, protuberant eyes

find the scars deeper than skin

and like a seamstress mend what’s broken within

and when his father who isn’t worth two dry stones

or a shilling sees his son on the news and appears

at her door to beat her son some more

she will turn herself into serrated edges

stand sharp and poised to kill

for her son is her only gold

and if the father’s thirst for blood is too great

she will pacify him with what he needs

to prove he is not like his son.

In her, he will bury the fear.

And in the morning she will stir soft words into

the cornmeal porridge, carry it to her son’s bed

blow a benediction into each spoon full she brings

to his bruised and beautiful lips.

Tanya Shirley

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.

copyright Norman F Cooper

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!

 

“Out and bad”? The politics of homosexuality in Jamaica

Clovis, Jamaica Observer, July 13, 2011

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.