Pawns of the Pentecostalists? Global Homophobia on the rise

Are we all becoming pawns of a Pentecostalist anti-LGBT crusade being conducted worldwide?

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

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
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.

A Hate Story: Reflections on the Death of Dwayne Jones

Jamaican society’s contradictory responses towards its own Trayvon Martins.

gullyqueen2

The Trayvon Martin case has been keenly followed in Jamaica with people vociferously expressing outrage over the not guilty verdict that allowed Zimmerman to walk free. How could there be no legal penalty for unnecessarily taking a human life? How could the law protect Zimmerman’s right to stand his ground but not Trayvon’s? This was madness. Many Jamaicans keenly identified with Trayvon and his family, imagining that this was something that could easily happen to them or their loved ones in racist North America.

All over the Caribbean those with a human rights perspective were eager to point out that similar outrage was rarely forthcoming in numerous local instances of flagrant injustice, often involving victims of police and vigilante killings where the perpetrators are almost never held responsible for their crimes. Why were such folk, unmoved by the wanton killing of fellow citizens in their own backyard, so willing to take such an interest in a case so distant from their immediate lives and localities?

Clearly we must attribute some or most of that interest to the intense coverage of the case by mainstream media in the United States. Channels such as CNN, MSNBC, ABC and others are available via cable and voraciously consumed in Jamaica and many other parts of the world. It’s not difficult to get sucked in by the wall-to-wall coverage of a murder trial for weeks on end, particularly when its racial component resonates locally. This was the case with the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Let’s also give credit where credit is due. American media excel at focusing attention on the human interest in a story; at laying open the lives and personalities of those concerned, at making the viewer identify with the principals of a high profile news item. This is why the world cares more about 500 victims of a natural disaster in the US as opposed to 150,000 deaths caused by a Bangladeshi cyclone or an earthquake in Turkey.  American media puts faces on the victims, details their losses, personalizes them. The 150,000 victims of a distant cyclone remain just that—faceless, lifeless, abstract ciphers.

Not many countries have the sheer heft of media muscle that the USA can lay claim to. Our media in small places like Jamaica lack the infrastructure, the traction and the reach of American media. We also have far more deaths, murders and killings per capita than the media can possibly keep up with even if they had the will and the ability to do so.

Even in the United States there were complaints that cases just as heinous as Trayvon Martin’s or worse had received little or no visibility and thus generated little or no outrage. What makes a particular story a media sensation depends on the number of people who feel affected by it. Can they can identify with it?   But this is also a function of how much airtime and column inches the story receives.

In Jamaica the media almost never gives you enough information or gives it to you after the fact as in the case of the Brissett Brothers accused of the vicious rape of 4 women and an 8-year old girl. Now that DNA evidence has proven that they couldn’t have been the perpetrators the media has interviewed them at length, along with their family members who had given them a cast iron alibi, and basically got the story out. Had there been no DNA evidence the brothers would have been wrongfully convicted raising uncomfortable questions about how many such innocent people there are in prison.

The ongoing saga of Vybz Kartel raises similar questions. One murder charge has completely crumbled and the other may do the same, yet Kartel has been held without bail for more than a year now.

Alexis Goffe,  a spokesperson for the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice, recently observed that another reason there is little or no outrage about the legion of local Trayvons is that in these situations most educated Jamaicans identify with Zimmerman rather than Trayvon. Jamaicans are not Trayvon Martin, Jamaicans are George Zimmerman said Goffe.  After all Trayvon’s profile fits that of the ‘idle youth’ most gated and residential communities in Jamaica remain wary of and police zealously. They want the Jamaican equivalents of Trayvon Martin to be kept in their place, on pain of severe punishment and even death. Since the start of the year Jamaican Police have killed 114 citizens, yet it’s business as usual in this tourist paradise.

For most Jamaicans such deaths when they happen are non-stories–like the slaying of young Dwayne Jones aka Gully Queen a few days ago near Montego Bay. 17-year old Jones was at a party on the night of July 22 dressed as a female and dancing when he was outed by a woman who knew he was cross-dressing. Details are sketchy but early reports said that Jones was killed by a mob that stabbed and shot him to death, flinging his body into nearby bushes.

In most countries a lynching such as this would be front-page news but not in Jamaica, known far and wide for its hostility towards homosexuals. The police have said that they can’t prove that there is a link between Dwayne’s cross-dressing and his murder and the media has barely taken note of the gruesome slaying. Judging by comments made on social media most Jamaicans think Dwayne Jones brought his death on himself for wearing a dress and dancing in a society that has made it abundantly clear that homosexuals are neither to be seen nor heard.

Attempts to portray the mob killing as a hate crime have also been futile. “Dwayne Jones chose to tempt fate” seems to be the popular feeling, “and he got what was coming to him.” Which is like saying Trayvon Martin tempted fate by lingering in the wrong neighbourhood; he got what was coming to him. Dwayne Jones decided to wear a dress and dance and for that he was put to death by a motley crowd. Most Jamaicans seem to think there is nothing at all wrong with this judging by the lack of outrage, scant media attention and silence from the political directorate.

Jamaica is my HOME: Javed Jaghai and the We are Jamaicans campaign

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…

“…the creation of our collective homophobia?”

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.

No Unconditional Love? Jamaica and its homosexuals

Jamaican policies towards homosexuals…

 

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.

Prominent Gleaner columnist and TV show host Ian Boyne devoted his entire Sunday column to the subject:

It is to our shame that Jamaican gay people cannot come on television, show their faces, debate their homosexuality with heterosexuals, go back home in peace and to their jobs and live normal lives the next day. If we lay claim to being a pluralistic, democratic society and not an autocracy like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, gay people should be free to express their views without fear of violence, harassment or victimisation.

But what about the view that homosexuality is against Jamaican law and, therefore, it would be improper to show such blatant disrespect for Jamaican law by parading gay people on air, or showing an ad effectively calling for a softening of attitudes to these persons engaging in lawbreaking?

Of course Jamaica being the morally upright, unswervingly ethical society it is could never contemplate showing homosexuals who may have breached the country’s antiquated buggery laws on air. No it takes a zero tolerance approach to homosexuals.  In a disturbing inversion of logic serious and serial criminals like David Smith and Christopher Coke have yet to be brought to book  in Jamaica for crimes far more damaging than buggery while the US  subjects them to the full brunt of its justice system. Smith, who has just been sentenced to 30 years in the US was a regular on air in Jamaica, in print and on radio and both political parties willingly accepted donations from him. But can a homosexual openly occupy public office or appear on TV? No way!

To their credit the People’s National Party seems to have started some kind of soul-searching on the matter although the motive in doing this might be a purely opportunistic one. Anthony Hylton, chair of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Policy Commission, was quoted in an Observer article observing that it was time for the country to initiate a dialogue on such matters as the death penalty and homosexuality.

The people in Europe are saying what kind of people are we, why are we so hostile to homosexuals, for example, and yet we know why, because we have a different cultural perspective, but we have to manage that dialogue with them, otherwise they’re going to say why are our taxpayers’ money going to these brutish people?”

According to Hylton, if we don’t deal with the issues, “we are going to be marginalised economically”.

As I said the unprecedented soul-searching seems to be prompted more by fears of not being able to access funding from the ‘developed’ world rather than a genuine desire towards greater tolerance of difference and ‘diversity’.

Meanwhile in the absence of a shelter or any facilities they can access homeless  homosexual males are driven into the  streets of Kingston where they resort to prostitution to make a living.  According to Chairman of JAMAICA Aids Support for Life (JASL), Ian McKnight, “…while the issue might not sit well with a number of taxpayers, the situation transcends personal or religious beliefs and, instead, is a matter that should be tackled by the administration.”

McKnight was quoted in the Observer saying that though  “it would be very costly to house all the homeless living in abandoned buildings and gullies in the New Kingston area…shelter should be provided for those forced out of their homes and communities and onto the streets as a result of their sexual preference.

“Many of them, he said, are vulnerable to being beaten by the police, attacked by men riding motorbikes and stoned by those bent on ridding them from society.”

So despite Jah Cure’s hauntingly beautful song–one of the most outstanding reggae songs in decades some say–there is no unconditional love for all Jamaicans. Cure, a reformed inmate who did time on a rape charge, is another lawbreaker that Jamaicans have more time for than their own children with alternate sexual orientations.

The LGBT Community and Rhetorical Rastas/DJs

Its the last day of a long weekend which began on Thursday evening with a really special experience for me. I was invited to be part of a forum in San Francisco. For details see the poster below where i’m listed as ‘Prof’ Annie Paul (chuckle).
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The comments below the poster were borrowed from Yardedge.net, a great site for news on the entertainment and cultural scene in Jamaica.

Here’s an interesting forum happening next week on the dancehall music/culture scene- a simulcast between gay and straight folks in the San Francisco area and Kingston.

The forum will be addressing relevant issues including a proposal to initiate a BUYCOTT of artists, instead of BOYCOTT of artists. The “bUycott” is being put forward as a socio-politically conscious economic initiative in which LGBT-allied consumers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people) offer their business to Jamaican recording artistes, small exporters, international brands, tourist destinations, etc, with demonstrated progressive human rights attitudes and practices. The forum will explore some ideas and strategies for organizing and undertaking the LGBT-allied Jamaica bUycott. The idea is to basically to reward artists who are promoting non-violent, positive vibes.

The forum will take place at the Hall Of Culture, African-American Art & Cultural Complex in SF. Contact ajawowheel@gmail.com for the Kingston location information.

The forum hopes to encourage progressive dialogue and partnership between Jamaicans and people abroad as well as to raise U.S. awareness about dancehall music’s current role in Jamaican culture and society and to present the music in a broader context for the San Francisco audience.

So it was really cool linking with the folks in San Francisco from my living room in Kingston. I was on for the full two hours and a thorough discussion was had along the lines described by Yardedge above. One of the other participants was Andrea Shorter, the woman with locks in the top centre of the infamous photograph above. She was a bit of a tough customer but Nic Ming, a Jamaican self-styled LGBT, moderated us out of troubled waters with engaging calm and wisdom.

I made several points that evening. One that if the homophobic rhetoric in Jamaican music was really taken seriously by the people who consume it there wouldn’t be a single gay person left alive in the island. On the contrary a number of very high profile individuals who occupy the highest positions in this society are homosexual, although they cannot publicly admit this. And therein lies the rub. Jamaicans really don’t have a problem with homosexuals as long as they remain in the closet. And older generations of gay men and women have generally obliged.

Today however there are younger gay men and women who are not willing to live closeted lives. They want to be out–dressing effeminately if they choose, or not, but letting everyone know who and what they are. I made the point that a few years ago there was a local hit called Out and Bad by Elephant Man (first heard Agostinho Pinnock refer to the song in this context) which though not explicitly referencing being gay–it was a celebration of the dance scene and the latest dance at the time–the Willie Bounce–could nevertheless be read to be a defiant assertion by the very gay-appearing dancers who populate Kingston’s street dances. Dance will never die/Out and bad so badly bad/It a get intensify/…

The other thing i pointed out and i’m by no means the first to do so, is that the pressures of globalization, that is, the huge cultural changes that have taken place here and all over the world in response to the forces of economic globalization, are somehow mapped onto the body of the homosexual. He/she embodies, even personifies, the negative influences seen as penetrating society from the outside, from ‘foreign’. “Keep us free from evil powers” goes a line in the Jamaican national anthem and i would argue that gays/homosexuals are seens as the emissaries of unnamed ‘evil powers’.

This in turn has to do with the power relations undergirding the battle for space and legitimacy by the LGBT community. LGBTs often claim that their struggle for recognition and equal rights is no different from similar struggles by other once disenfranchised groups–Black people’s continuing fight against racism, women’s struggles against gender discrimination, the war by the colonized against the colonial yoke, the fight for freedom from slavery and so on. But as i pointed out there is one major difference between all these groups and the LGBT lobby and that is this: the LGBT lobby has power, it has economic power, and is able not only to flex its muscles but to cause severe damage as it has shown in recent years with the ongoing targeting of so-called murder music by Jamaican DJs. The marginalized groups previously mentioned were all waging wars from below; the campaign waged by Tatchell and others is, like the US embargo against Cuba, one that is fought from a position of power. And like the Cuban embargo, i maintain, it will have limited success and the people who suffer the consequences will be the very people on whose behalf you’re mobilizing.

By exclusively targeting Jamaican DJs, whose constituencies are the poor and marginalized, the ‘wretched of the earth’, LGBTs are re-inforcing the underlying power imbalance. They are now seen as representing not merely ‘evil powers’ but rich and powerful evil powers. And this is the message not only from Dancehall music but from the pulpit and parliament. As Tara Atluri pointed out in a groundbreaking paper titled “When the Closet is a region: Homophobia, Heterosexism and Nationalism in the Commonwealth Caribbean” some years ago, this is not a Jamaican problem only:

…From popular culture to constitutional inequity, homosexuality is dismissed, loathed and ignored by mainstream Caribbean culture. I feel that this fear of homosexuality keeps gender roles sharply intact, thereby normalizing sexism. Furthermore I feel that homophobia and heterosexism are reinforced by Caribbean nation states, based on a discriminatory nationalism that uses both religious conformity and conformity to capitalist patriarchy as a basis for inclusion.


Atluri remarked on the difficulty of finding material, research or willing interlocutors on the subject of homophobia. On the subject of dancehall music and offensive lyrics she made an interesting observation:

Silence and shame guard Caribbean homosexuality. Therefore, i have found few avenues upon which to form an analysis of heterosexism and homophobia in the region. Popular culture, in the form of dancehall and reggae seems to be some of the only and concrete cultural discourses in which attitudes towards homosexuality are expressed outright. While dancehall and reggae lyrics have come under fire for their crude portrayal of sexual politics, they offer an opening. They are explicit. And while they may be explicitly prejudiced, they do what respectable silences do not. They start the conversation.

I couldn’t have put it more eloquently. I’m glad that I was invited to to put in my two paisa worth in that forum in San Francisco. I’m glad that discussions such as this are taking place. And I don’t mean to close this conversation on an unpleasant note but the video below is extremely pertinent to the subject we’ve been examining in this post. It may make us want to tear our hair out but in this South African interview Sizzla clearly articulates a widespread set of attitudes in Jamaica. To combat such views nothing less than the most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement is required.

Rhetorical Rasta

“Controversial reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji speaks to the Mail & Guardian about homosexuality, his music and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe whom he recently met while performing at his birthday celebrations in Bulawayo during his African tour.”

(Unfortunately there was no means to embed this video in my blog so you will have to click on the link to get it.)