Caught Between the Death Squads, Wingnuts & the Propaganda Machine
February 25, 2008
…it seems like there is no place for queer Jamaican men to catch a breath or a break. Certainly not, when it comes to Jamaicans highly motivated to ‘stamp out the evil’ in their midst, by the ability of the holy and faithful among us to support the work of these action-oriented citizens, and by a media that is so completely whipped by and in bed with Christian fundamentalism, that it can barely speak its own name without saying Amen.
It didn’t take long for the madness to hit the New York Times. For the past year or so, various vigilante groups and death squads in Jamaica have been spontaneously emerging in search of new prey in the form of homosexual men and women. The latest episode (that we know of) took place in Greenvale in Manchester parish (largest town is Mandeville). There, the hardworking citizens of the area decided to take a break from the monotony of their wholesome lives and to participate in the group-based leisure activity called “hunt an kill a battyman”. And so they did.
Good, God-fearing, upstanding morally correct citizens that we are, what else can we do in response to this kind of mob-like behavior, but…sing the sankey about how homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord and completely ignore the other crime that has been committed? Use our inclination to self-righteousness and grandstanding to “rebuke” other Christians for daring to say that love of God and fellow citizen ought to be celebrated and be used to conquer the hatred that festers and is feted among us? What a wise, noble and just response indeed. We can all rest a little better, yes?
Mark you, this is – coincidentally? – the same parish where Earl Witter, the government-appointed public defender, went to give a speech at the Mandeville Rotary Club and to declare that if homosexual men wanted to stay alive, they should “hol’ dem corner” . This is clearly an inflammatory statement designed to simultaneously incite and legitimize anti-queer violence. Without any interest in self-censoring, Witter’s utterance reveals a bias that he is intending to use to do his job, and completely reveals the fiction that every Jamaican can expect their basic rights to be respected at the level of the government. Everyone concerned with the question of equal representation and human rights should have denounced this. We should have called for his immediate resignation.
Yet, Jamaicans for Justice said nothing, as far as I know.
The editors at the Gleaner could not even find the courage to unilaterally denounce Witter’s statement on the basis of his failure to uphold his duty as public defender. What did they do instead? They took refuge in the sodomy laws and used it to qualify their critique, as if to say that even if what Witter said was problematic, let’s not forget that male homosexual sex is deemed illegal. And so fucking what? How is one related to the other? That question is not to be answered in a factual logical way. You, the reader, are left to answer it in only one way. Yes, that answer is provided for you by the loud clanging of bells by the so-called church leaders and the fervent masses calling for righteous Jamaicans to expel the homosexuals from our midst.
And to add insult to injury, the Gleaner also gives much more face time, coverage and legitimacy to the rabid fundamentalism of individual so-called church leaders and like-minded persons who claim to speak on behalf of The Church and in defense of Christianity, than to providing balanced coverage and useful analysis. I really want to know who has the responsibility for selecting the letters that do get printed, and how they make those decisions. The majority of the letters seem to have no purpose other than fueling antagonism and beating us over the head by reiterating the hardline points of view.
If you have no other source of information besides radio talk shows, gossip and the pulpit, what do you learn from reading the papers? That there is only one point of view that matters; that it does not make sense to think for yourself about what the issues are because we have these so-called church leaders to speak for us and tell us what to think; and that really, there must be no other point of view; why else would the esteemed newspaper be populated by these seemingly informed perspectives that are also being parroted by government officials? It must be God’s will and by God’s hand that homosexuals must be put to death.
Mostly, the Jamaican media ignore points of view that add complexity to the matter. For example, in the overall effort to dismiss the Feb. 14 protest organized by Metropolitan Community Churches, a white queer liberal denomination in the U.S., there was no coverage of the statement by Kenneth Reeves, who was hailed as a native son previously. Funny how selective we can be on issues that matter.
When another viewpoint is introduced, what do we get: an unattributed (!!!) article with an inflammatory headline that contains little substantive information about the event that is at issue, the various responses and perspectives. Instead, the anonymous writer(s) uses the opportunity and the space to restate the position of “the church community”, which is never defined, and which we know, doesn’t even exist in the way its being claimed.
There is much for anyone to analyze and discern, how the Gleaner and the Observer, and the Jamaican media in general, produce coverage that willfully promote ignorance and negative attitudes about homosexuality, as well as actively support a hostile, combative environment around the discussion of homosexuality. The language, framing, misrepresentation of facts, biased coverage, etc. It’s all right there and is plain for everyone to see. If you want to.
This is irresponsible and dangerous journalism at best, no different than when clergy, artists and politicians were coming down on the side of slavery, genocide, torture, mass murders and imprisonments, blaming it all on public sentiment, when in fact, they manufactured and stoked particular viewpoints of public sentiment. Not surprisingly, the newsmakers in Jamaica take this reactionary stance on issues that are pinned on groups with little social power, and for whom the matter is ultimately about life and death: poor women, prisoners and so-called criminals, are the ones that immediately come to mind. All of us have something to worry about.But first things first — Jamaican queers need to stop running, and begin standing up and defending ourselves. If we don’t do it, nobody — not our so-called families, not our pastors, and certainly not our national government — will. When we make it clear that we will not allow anybody to play these kinds of games with our lives, then maybe an honest conversation among equals about rights etc. can begin. Until then, I think its fair that we engage wholeheartedly in the war — for hearts, minds, but also for privacy and space to breathe.
Its time for us to call a spade a spade, and shovel the crap out of the way of progress.