In which i try and capture a long, rambling, regret-soaked set of tweets by Binyavanga Wainana reflecting late Friday, May 15, on the dissembling life of gay men like himself and how sex is the least of one’s problems…
A riposte to the suggestion that Dwayne Jones’s killing was no different from the 1000+ murders that happen each year in Jamaica.
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
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.
Laments the killing of Gully Queen, a young transgendered male, by a mob at a party near Montego Bay.
I’ve been very disturbed by the wanton slaying of the young wo/man in these photographs, Dwayne Jones. S/he was killed on Monday night in St. James, not far from Montego Bay, the tourism capital of Jamaica. As the excerpt quoted below says, Dwayne was killed after a woman recognized him and irresponsibly outed him at a party he attended cross-dressed in female clothes.
I think this woman should be identified and made an example of, don’t you? She must be sanctioned for needlessly endangering the life of a Jamaican citizen. And the media should treat this as the front page story it really is. Had Dwayne Jones come from Cherry Gardens or Norbrook, there wouldn’t have been another news item in Jamaica since Monday. But poor Dwayne was just a Gully person, worse he was an effeminate trans gendered Gully person…no space for him, no place, no grace, only jungle justice.
As a friend observed on Facebook:
Ignorant Hateful Jamaicans carry out their god’s commands.
The following excerpt is from the Minority-Insights blog:
On July 22, 2013 Dwayne Jones a Trans-gender otherwise known as “GULLY QUEEN” and “Dwayne Gagastar Trensetta” was shot and stabbed to death in the Irwin community, St James.According to Iriefm news report, “the 17-year-old was dressed as a female and was dancing with a male, when a woman at the party recognized him and told other patrons that he was not a woman, but a male. One of the men at the party accosted the teen and conducted a search where he discovered that the teen was not a female. A mob then descended on the teen and chopped and stabbed him to death, before dumping his body in bushes along the Orange main road.”
Furthermore, the Jamaica-Gleaner reported that, “a number of explosions were heard and the police were summoned. They discovered Jones’ body on the roadway, with multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound.” No arrest has been made.
For more click here.
Javed Jaghai’s brilliant video intervention asking for respect for Jamaican homosexuals is part of a sustained and unprecedented campaign by Jamaican gays asking for recognition as Jamaican citizens.
Jamaica’s LGBT community has come up with the most imaginative and moving campaign called We Are Jamaicans to deal with the widespread local hostility towards homosexuals. It is a series of videos in which young Jamaican gays come out on camera, in an effort to directly put their case to the nation as it were; some like Javed in the video above reveal their faces, others simply use index cards. These YouTube videos have been circulating widely on social media but as many have pointed out in all the fuss traditional media made about the New Kingston street gays and the problem they were causing in the most expensive part of the city, the Golden Triangle–none of them even took note of this unprecedented campaign by the local gay community and JFLAG.
Javed Jaghai’s video above is a must see. It is a brilliant and provocative plea. And a very brave one for in it he squarely faces the camera and identifies himself–and his posture is not that of a supplicant, an outcast begging to be let in–there is a more than a hint in it of that very Jamaican quality–defiance. Watch it and see what you think…
Homeless gay youth live on the streets of Kingston and terrorize passers by…what is the solution? Could this problem be a “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.
Publication of Tanya Shirley’s poem The Merchant of Feathers II in response to the brutal beating of an allegedly gay student on a Jamaican university campus…
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.
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.
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.
There is no agenda for change in relation to attitudes towards homosexuals in Jamaica, in effect this resulted in the beating of allegedly gay student on the University of Technology campus.
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.
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 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.