On tolerating homosexuals and such… – Editorials, Current Issues & Opinion Articles – JamaicaObserver.com.

You know what I love (in a cheeky kind of way) about this editorial?  Even as its authors concede that a lot will and continue to change regarding the status of gays and lesbians, it still showed ambivalence of its editors about this change, despite their best efforts.  Try as they might, they really can’t handle it; that’s what the “and such” is really about.   In a way, their ambivalent stance mirrors the attitudes of many Jamaicans today who see that their attitudes are slowly changing but they really can’t get a hang of exactly when and how.  This kind of ambivalence wasn’t so noticeable 10 years ago.  So, THAT is something to celebrate!  In another 10 years, I think we will probably be someplace different, regardless of the vitriolic sentiments that many are clinging on to.  Those folks probably won’t change their minds, but others around them are changing, making them more of an anomaly than ever before.   Laws don’t change until cultural attitudes shift.   I can wait.  And so can many of us.

Let’s see:

The latest is that our esteemed PM still insists that “we” (must be the royal ‘we’, because he doesn’t speak for myself or many people that I know) are not going to yield to pressure” from “the most organized lobby in the world” to “liberalize”(what the hell does that mean anyway??) unjust laws which overly scrutinize and punish some men for engaging in consensual sexual practices with each other while allowing other men to fuck whichever women or girls and under whatever conditions they want. BG is still confusing and conflating legislation (ie. the structured framework within which the citizens act that designates “legal” and “illegal” behaviours) with morality (ie. notions of ideal codes of conduct that individuals use to define their actions). Maybe someone should tell him that not every behaviour that is designated as “legal” is necessarily “right”, and that law ought not to be used as a weapon against people you personally dislike. But, I digress…

Mi really starting to wanda a wha mek im fraid a homosexuality so? It does seem like BG is starting to develop some aptitude for nuance, in shying away from overt policing behaviour in private – or he’s leaving that to vigilante groups rather than the police – and bearing down on the side of punishing men who engage in sexual violence against other men. In this case, he wants to make special provisions to punish men who sexually assault other men or boys even further. I bet im nuh mek no special provision fi di “sexual grooming” or “sexual harassment” what deh gwa’an right inna fi’im backyard? Just mek sure seh your judge dem know seh demi fi treat rape against girls/women with the SAME seriousness as rape against men/boys, yuh ear mi, sah? If we need to take it to that level, then raping women should ALSO be a crime against the nation, dammit. Men are not more socially valuable than women, and we should not accept any legislation that enshrines this notion in any way.

At the same time, said BG has authorized much money to be spent on shoring up the bangbelly tourism industry, whose doyennes have identified the next big moneymaker market as – you guessed it – gay and lesbian tourism. No shit. So, either BG does not know that interest in this marketing strategy has been gathering steam for a couple years now in his own backyard independent of what he’s defending as “culture” (another post on that to come), or he simply does not understand that many in his government do not see any problem with taking the “pink dollar” from foreign hands, at the same time that he is saying that the battered, bloodied and dead bodies, which are inevitable as long as he chooses to defend this irresponsible double standard, are his business, not their’s. Frankly, it seems to me that the left hand is trying to force the right hand to soften its grip, and might well be succeeding, finger by finger. If BG continues with this ridiculous tirade and chanting against homosexual sex, he is going to be caught in a tight corner with his pants down, and it’s not going to be pleasant to watch. Somebody also needs to point out that he, like Ernie Smith, is riding this one for popular points, and he is starting to look just as foolish.

By the way, it’s well past time for you well-meaning heterosexuals to speak up and challenge this man. Here you have your Prime Minister using very strong language to suggest that HE is not going to listen to anybody – inside or outside – who disagrees with him on this issue. In fact, he has taken it on himself to decide what is “right” and “wrong” for Jamaicans. Imagine that! I didn’t know that’s what the PM was elected to do, maybe I should go back and do O-Level Civics to remind myself. Apparently, all a wi a gyingi fly whe’ im kyaa just swat whe’ when im ready. Again, a very telling response. Im is blasted out a order! If him can decide seh im n’ aa listen pon dis issue, yuh nuh tink seh a so im a go deal with wi pon every odda issue to? Now, with an attitude and example like this, why should the other legislators have any respect for citizens’ concerns, or feel that they are beholden to the citizens and not just to themselves and whateva fly up inna dem éad? He insists on framing this issue as being about “giving in” to the Enemy. Since when are gays and lesbians “the enemy”? Oh sorry, I forgot about the last 16 years. I just want to know if he really thinks that he is saying anything different from his buddy-ol’ pal Ernie? It’s clear to me that BG really doesn’t get that the best thing he can possibly do on this issue is to position himself as a reasonable man who is willing to listen and engage in a manner that his fellow citizens can learn from, whether or not he decides to change his mind. Somebody should really tell him. In all these ways, he is just like George Bush II. In fact, BG seems to be taking up where GB left off (a palindrome of sorts). Let’s just say BG is not my idea model for a good statesman or progressive national leader, and leave it at that for now.

I am seriously, seriously at a loss about why so many well-thinking people are up in arms about Ernie Smith being caught shitting through his mouth.  That’s this is a habit of his is quite well known and clearly tolerated.  Remember the “virginity testing” proposal a few years ago?  In fact, he is a member of an organization called Parliament, where one criterion for membership is willingness to talk out of one’s ass rather than using one’s intellect.  And although a few have slipped in under the radar, there are many others who feel it is their duty to uphold this particular standard of membership.  This has been true for many years now.

I am thinking that maybe our consciousness about the profound violence being done to us through words and utterances has been heightened by the daggering debates, the barefaced lies and corruption taking shape in front of us as if we are stupid, the glaring ineptness of our political leaders on any issue you name at the moment.  I don’t really know.  But it seems that we have hit a kind of threshold of tolerance, and now we say we can’t take it anymore.  Good thing, yes.  But what is so so frightening to me is that we have waited so long, allowed so many psyches to be destroyed, lives to be taken, misinformation to become known as gospel, treated the spiteful vipers as messiahs, and condemned common decency and respect for our fellow citizen to the dungle heap.  I am wondering who else is being sacrificed right now while we deal with this issue.  Actually, I am not wondering; I know.  What a state to be in!

This is not a country where people feel the need to be kind to one another.  We don’t have any defined standards for how to talk to each other.  People say the meanest and most debased things to one another, just so.  Compassion is not our first love; its more about retribution and punishment.  Love is not what we live.  And using language to cut each other down is what we admire and nurture best here.  That’s what makes dancehall DJs so popular; the art of the quick tongue; the carefully worded verse that sends a vibe that ricochets off the soul.  And dem im lik it again just in case you missed it the first time: come dung selector!

It is in the “do I know you?” “and who did you say you were?” and “do you know who you are talking to?”  It is in the “hol yuh corner” and the utter refusal to believe that there are more than two sides to a story.  It is in the ridiculous reverence for numbers of degrees, and each degree entitles one to say the most insulting and ridiculous things, never to be challenged for the credibility of the sources, the veracity of the information, the logic of the argument.   It just IS because someone of importance said it.  And they must know, shouldn’t they?  It is in the maddening genuflection to “government” and “politicians” as know-it-alls, although they know nothing much except how to use their power to extort more out of the citizenry without giving much in return.  Why else then do we elect persons who can barely utter a completely correct sentence,  and who use their marital status, number of children, and reverence for the Bible as qualification for public office? Why else do we quietly accept, and give more power to, persons who seem to reside in some nether-world where every utterance is equivalent to every other utterance, no matter whether what is said does violence to another’s identity.

We just don’t understand this concept.  We just don’t get that words harm, and that those who are harmed have a right to say that they have been harmed, and to refuse to be treated in such a manner.

Since Buju Banton touched off a storm with his “boom bye bye” we have been having a conversation that has gone nowhere, fast.   Words harm. Language does violence.  Violence is not always physical, it is also ideological, psychic, emotional.   But make no mistake: harm has been done.

And the one thing that has characterized this society since at least 1993, is a sincere commitment to destroying gay and lesbian identity from its most physical dimensions – ravaging the bodies of men and women through rape and death – to its social dimensions – creating distorted representations of us through stereotypes as man-hating, child-molesting, violence-prone, diseased, anti-family bodies, and denying us the ability to live, work and love in the country of our birth without fear – to its psychic and spiritual dimensions – calling us evil, diseased, a scorge on the soil, unfit to be loved, touched, healed, or even buried alongside the more righteous ones.  This war – and it is a war – has been ongoing, and virtually unabated for over sixteen years now.  Sixteen years.  That is the length of a generation.  That means there is at least one entire generation that has never not seen or heard lesbians and gay men talked about in anything other than the most disparaging ways, as less than persons to be shed from the body politic – whether by death, disease or hiding them away in the recesses of the family wardrobe.  This is what we have been doing, taking occasional breaths by focusing our attention on the other queer body – w0rking class women who are having too much sex, too many children, doing too much daggering, etc. etc. etc. etc.  And when that runs its course, we are back to gays and lesbians.  Because after all, the job was not finished. They are still here.

We now have new rightwing groups who have made it their raison d’etre to target women’s bodies and queer bodies; they intend to ground us into constitutional dust through any number of state-sanctioned regulations and calls to moral vigilantism that would make us into non-citizens, permanent aliens.    And they have spewn their hate, lord have they spewn their hate, in the name of legal arguments, pounding us into oblivion with scriptures, threats of hell and damnation and what not.  But we have not gone away.  They have said no less than Ernie Smith ie. that gays and lesbians are not full citizens by virtue of their sexual practices, and are thus not entitled to full protection under the law.  The Justice Minister A.J. Nicholson said it;  the Public Defender Earl Witter said it; Peter Phillips said it; Bruce Golding said it; PJ Patterson said it.  Everybody who has felt the need to prove their Jamaican-ness has said it: gays and lesbians ought to be expelled from the national body, or rendered silent, however we choose to accomplish that.   If we can’t even agree and forcefully argue that gays and lesbians are entitled to privacy, then how are we going to let something like “freedom of association” be respected for this group? There’s no contradiction – NONE – in the consistent ways in which gays and lesbians have been denied full citizenship in this country.   And those questions and utterances have been legitimized by the silence of more than a few.  It is not only the rabid ones who are to blame for what has come to pass.

JFLAG’s existence has been questioned, not once, not twice, but ever since it came into being in 1998.  Who do they think they are, our “veteran journalists” said? What exactly do they think they are doing, acting like they have a right to speak, said our “well-respected religious and civic leaders”?   Who came out and defended JFLAG’s right to exist?  Not even JFLAG has always been able to articulate that it is the nature of a democratic society that people can organize themselves around their shared concerns and advocate for themselves, despite what others thing.   And even JFLAG may well have doubted itself and its existence, tenuous as it has been; only one person at a time is ever publicly associated with the organization; the last person fled the country to seek asylum elsewhere last year.  Jason is now at the helm holding his own, and is he ever.  I am so proud of him right now.  JFLAG is the source of the framing of the critique of Ernie Smith’s utterance as an affront to democracy, and don’t you all forget it!

What is even more amazing to me is that the argument is taking hold.  I think we are waking up, readers.  Yes, I think we are maturing; we are figuring out what it means to live in a democracy, and that such an existence does not allow the utterances of Ernie Smith to go unrecognized for what it is, nor to be left unchallenged lest he be taken to be right.  And there are many who will agree with him.  But maybe, just maybe, some of the silent ones, who have allowed this climate of ignorance and hate to fester for 16 years, are ready to say ENOUGH.  And maybe we are ready to start acting like we live in a democracy, where every single one of us is responsible for creating and defending a society where ALL of us can live and fully exist, regardless of what we think of each other’s views.  I am the kind of person who would lay wait for Ernie Smith and throw a bag of human shit at him, to complement what came out of his mouth.   I do believe in live and direct protest after all.

But what I really want is for us who believe that we are better than what Ernie/Beenie/Al/Shirley/AJ/Bruce/Buju etc. have reduced us to, to start creating new ways of talking, living and working together as Jamaicans that does not require us to name those who we disagree with as the ENEMY, or to plot the other’s demise because we feel morally superior to them.    Let the village idiot run around screaming all manners of garbage.  But let there be few people who are standing on the sidelines waving and cheering him on, and let even a few wait for him to stop and calm down, then offer him a glass of coconut water, and ask him if he wants a place to rest his head, or a ride home.   Then let him go home to wherever he came from, as we continue building something better that he might not even recognize when he passes back this way.  Because, he WILL be back.  And if not him, someone just like him.

And let’s not keep electing these people to office, please.  It makes us look even more stupid than him.

P.S. Hilaire Sobers also weighed in on this issue, using nicer words of course, to frame the problem.

Despite the ridiculous racist attacks coming from white gay men and lesbians, don’t even think about it (I really want to see how noted sexopinionator Dan Savage is going to dig his whiny ass out of the mess he has created.)

Read this righteous rant from Ernest Hardy, and then think again.

The “Kill Dem Wid De Polls” machine drones on. This time, we are asked to believe a recent poll’s results that Jamaicans are overwhelming in their disdain for homosexual men and women, and unfailing in their efforts to deny basic social rights to our fellow citizens. Well, what’s new here, you ask?

Oh, but there is definitely more than a glimmer of something here. Given the amazing effort devoted by press, pulpit, party and academia alike over the past several years, what should be surprising to the moral crusaders, including the PM, among us is that there are not MORE people who support their retrograde point of view that homosexuals should not be regarded as equal citizens.

Yes, 26 percent is a w’ole ‘eap in any survey researcher’s book. And that’s a cause for celebration, my fellow justice-minded Jamaicans!

If you take the margin of error seriously (that’s the amount of percentage points that the figures could increase or decrease by, given how the questions were worded), 23 – 29 percent of those coerced by the veneer of objectivity of the poll into answering poorly worded questions *still* think that the question of fair and equal treatment of homosexuals before the law deserves redress. Given the transparency of the positions taken by those who want to keep the sodomy laws and who regularly argue for more, not less, violence against homosexuals, and the disjuncture between the anti-homosexual position and the overwhelming concerns for the state and citzenry to be more proactive about dealing with violence and social decline, it is hard to ignore that the anti-homos are stagnating, stewing and even being drowned in their own hate-mongering juices.

Yes, social attitudes do catch on, and the call for a more inclusive, justice-minded, and democratic society is being reflected in greater social tolerance. Even our brilliant PM had to cede this point, although he was dumb enough to paint himself as one of the intransigents, rather than part of the vanguard. It is also highly likely the respondents are going to bring these perspectives to bear inside their families, churches or in public. So what we have here is enough commitment to ferment significant dissent. In other words, there is enough support for the idea of equal treatment before the law that such support will not wash ‘way anytime soon, and will probably continue to “contaminate” and eat away at the baldly prejudiced viewpoints and perspectives of many others.

Now, if only we could get our pollsters and spinsters to be clear and consistent in their definitions. Granted, the pollsters were obviously trying to figure out a way to distinguish between the specific attitudes about homosexuality, and respondents’ support for broader ideas around inclusion and citizenship. But, I am still waiting for a definition of the “homosexual lifestyle”, just to make sure that I am living correctly. Straight folks should try to find out an answer to this one too; just to know if ass play is the only criterion, or is there more to it.

One other moment of glee — the folks who were surveyed didn’t really agree that our esteemed PM’s grand entrance on the world stage of hypocrisy increased their support for him. Sorry, PM. You thought you could cash in some political chips with your embarrassing ignorance sung to the NIMC drumbeat. You keep showing your ass on so many other things, its only a matter of time before Jamaicans, even the bell-ringing types, see you for what you are.

So, in spite of ourselves, we show that we are not as daft or as blind or as inhumane as we are often portrayed, or even portray ourselves. And our moral crusaders can now get back to work on amping up the hate-speak and inciting us to unspeakable violence in every possible form. It’s a losing battle, so please save unnu money and bile.

Justice will not come tomorrow morning, but it will come. 26 percent and counting…

In response to the latest episode of a Jamaican (you know who…) embarassing himself and the rest of us by confusing nationalist sentiment with informed political discourse, Thomas Glave posted his statement at Calabash on the queer Caribbean listserv:

Dear C-FLAG Listserv community,

Yesterday (May 23, 2008), in Jamaica, at the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, where I still am, I read selections from my new, just barely published edited anthology Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles; in fact, this reading opened the Calabash weekend. However, given Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s recent antigay remarks on the BBC-TV show “Hard Talk,” about which there has been much discussion in the local Jamaican press, I felt that I could not read from *this* book in particular, *in* Jamaica, without expressing my unhappiness over Mr Golding’s remarks. Because I’m not certain if the J’can press will carry any coverage of what I said, here are my remarks, addressed to the large Calabash audience, that preceded my reading. The response – at least from what I could tell – was overwhelmingly positive, even eliciting applause before I barely finished a few sentences:

“I want to say a special thanks to the Calabash organisers – Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, and Justine Henzell – for inviting me back to Calabash, this being my second reading at the festival, and for their unceasing generosity to, and support of, writers from around the world. And so, mindful of that generosity and kindness, my conscience will not permit me to begin reading from this book in particular before I say that as a gay man of Jamaican background I am appalled and outraged by the Prime Minister’s having said only three days ago on BBC-TV that homosexuals will not have any place in his Cabinet and, implicitly, by extension, in Jamaica. I guess this means that there will never be any room in Mr Golding’s Cabinet for me and for the many, many other men and women in Jamaica who are homosexual. And so I now feel moved to say directly to Mr Golding that it is exactly this kind of bigotry and narrow-mindedness that Jamaica does not need any more of, and that you, Mr Golding, should be ashamed of yourself for providing such an example of how not to lead Jamaica into the future. And so, Mr Golding, think about how much you are not helping Jamaica the next time you decide to stand up and say that only some Jamaicans – heterosexuals, in this case – have the right to live in their country as full citizens with full human rights, while others – homosexuals – do not. That is not democracy. That is not humane leadership. That is simply the stupidity and cruelty of bigotry.”

I then read excerpts from the work of 4 contributors in the book: Makeda Silvera ( Jamaica ), Reinaldo Arenas ( Cuba ), Helen Klonaris ( Bahamas ), and my own, and finished by saying, “Not just one love, Jamaica . Many loves.”

I felt terrified, to say the least, to make this statement before the reading; never have I felt so vulnerable, so exposed, and, before I walked up onto the stage, alone. But feeling embraced by the warm reception, I left the stage feeling more than ever that the title of Our Caribbean indeed speaks a truth: that this is, and will continue to be, through struggle, our Caribbean.

In solidarity, Thomas Glave

…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.

No jestering!