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

A response to the statement by Senior Jamaican police officer Bailey about the role of homosexuals in crime here.

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.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

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

  1. Our police force is a joke. I knew I shouldn’t have been surprised at the statement but I was still outraged. We need a new force, they are all athols.

  2. I understand why gay rights activism by foreigners is problematic, but why are we so focused on their efforts? Would the Stop Murder Music campaign be any less hated if it were led by Jamaican homosexual activists? I doubt it.

    Sometimes it seems people forget that there are gay people in Jamaica who desire particular protections and freedoms, and that foreigners are speaking on their behalf. By creating a dichotomy between the Jamaican and the foreign perspectives on homosexuality, or response to homosexuality, we alienate the voices of gay and lesbian Jamaicans who want to be heard, but oftentimes do not have access to the platforms available to homophobic Jamaicans or foreign activists.

    Charges of cultural imperialism shouldn’t necessarily result in the dismissal of the issues raised. Kmt Mi kyaahn bada yaa… I want to speak for myself, but that is easier said than done.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s arguing for a dismissal of the gay rights campaign overall, just for a little more sensitivity to local issues and a lot less self-righteousness. this campaign is no different from other rights campaigns so learn from them, don’t repeat their mistakes!

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