Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), an urban art festival held every June, will not celebrate its tenth anniversary this year due mainly to dwindling support from corporate Jamaica. The email press release from the organizers of the festival said simply:
“The staging of KOTE is a large undertaking and can be difficult given that it is a 10 day studio and performing art festival held at over 26 venues throughout Kingston with hundreds of artists participating.”
“This year KOTE Milestones would have been our 10th anniversary however unfortunately given a combination of factors and unforeseen circumstances including not least of all the financial strain of the festival, we have been forced to cancel KOTE 2017.”
The cancelling of KOTE is a blow to Kingston’s cultural calendar as it was a showcase for artists, writers, musicians, poets, dancers and others involved in the expressive arts. Typically KOTE events catered to aficionados of alternative music (alternative to Reggae and Dancehall that is), modern dance, poetry, theatre, architecture, pottery and visual art, bringing a wide range of patrons, young and old, out of their closets for this rich cultural immersion.
For example at KOTE 2015, David Marchand, the fantastically eccentric and reclusive visual artist found dead in his Runaway Bay home last week, had his first solo exhibition in 23 years featuring 55 of his art works. Titled “Tsunami Scarecrow: A David Marchand Retrospective” the launch of the exhibition featured opening words by Maxine Walters, a dedicated patron of his work, jazz compositions by Seretse Small and a preview of a documentary on Marchand by Chloe Walters Wallace. Marchand liked to think of himself as “a visual Bob Marley”, but I think Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry offers a better comparison.
Another year the highlight of KOTE was a guided bus trip starting at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, the site of the 1891 World Fair and stopping at different locations in Kingston that once were tourist sites. Conducted by architect Evon Williams, the tour extended from the site of the now defunct Myrtle Bank Hotel downtown to Immaculate Conception Convent in uptown Kingston once better known as the Constant Spring Hotel. To visit its beautiful lobby and environs is to take a step back in time, for the nuns have changed the buildings very little and done a good job of maintaining its serene ambiance.
KOTE also pioneered what has become a regular feature of the National Gallery of Jamaica, its Last Sundays programme, when the Gallery is open to the public for free with performative offerings in addition to the art exhibtions. Hard to believe that sponsors were not forthcoming for such a beautifully curated series of events showcasing Kingston as the creative hub it is.
Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, even with a depressed economy due to plummeting oil prices was able to find the resources to continue hosting their excellent little literary showcase, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Aside from their title sponsor, the Trinidad and Tobago Gas Company, Bocas has 30 or more other sponsors including One Caribbean Media willing to support and celebrate Caribbean talent.
Jamaica dominated the festival this year, leading people to refer to it as the Jamaican Bocas, which culminated in Kei Miller winning the overall Bocas Award for his consummate novel, Augustown. Also in the running was another Jamaican, Safiya Sinclair, for her book of poetry, Cannibal. Safiya was the Bocas winner for poetry this year and is the latest wunderkid of Jamaican poetry to hit the international circuits, winning several mainstream fellowships and awards.
Another headliner at Bocas Lit Fest this year was Ishion Hutchinson, the Portland prodigy, the shearing of whose locks as a schoolboy inspired Kei Miller’s novel, Augustown. Hutchinson’s many honors include the American National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Whiting Writers Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets; he is also a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in poetry. Like Sinclair, Ishion grew up in a Rasta household, she in Montego Bay and he in Port Antonio.
Festivals such as KOTE and Bocas are also about developing a ground for home-grown talent to thrive in…for how much longer can we expect our best and brightest to live in their heads? Safiya Sinclair pinpoints the sense of ‘unbelonging’ quite eloquently:
“Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry.”
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.
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…
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 which i resurrect my 2006 Herald column written on the occasion of the near lynching of a suspected gay man by a mob of 2000 UWI students…
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.
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.