Also see:Caribbean Anti Violence Project
Caribbean Leaders Blast British Demands To Legalize Homosexuality
April 23, 1999
by Shelley Emling
Miami– There’s a hurricane brewing in the Caribbean, but it has nothing to do with wind or rain. Caribbean leaders are outraged by a British government proposal to restore full citizenship to its 13 remaining colonies, from the Pacific to the Caribbean–at a price. Britain has ordered the island commonwealths to ditch the death penalty and bans on homosexuality, and to tighten regulation of offshore banking, the lifeblood of islands such as Bermuda.
The colonies are to bring their laws into line with British practice by the end of the year. And if the colonies’ local governments do not comply, Britain will change their laws for them. "We are committed to seeing it done," said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. Cook unveiled the proposal before the British Parliament on March 17 after months of wrangling over the citizenship issue. The Parliament is expected to vote on the plan within weeks. Cook said the move would end the "strong sense of grievance" felt in the territories since their citizenship rights were taken away by the Thatcher government in 1981. But in the Caribbean, a region that’s historically religious and conservative, the demand to legalize homosexual acts, in particular, has incited controversy.
Earlier this month, the community affairs minister in the Cayman Islands, Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, said the Cayman Islands had a "mandate from God" to retain its ban on gay sex. "We abide by the views of the vast majority of Caymanians who live in a Christian community based on firmly held religious beliefs that homosexuality should not be legalized," the government said in a recent statement. The homosexuality question became a hot-button issue last year when the Cayman Islands prohibited an American cruise ship carrying some 900 gay men from making a one-day stop there.
Later anti-gay activists in Jamaica protested against a scheduled performance by the Village People, a six-member band that became gay icons in the late 1970s, causing the group to cancel their concert. All this prompted U.S. gay and lesbian groups to boycott some islands – including the Caymans and Jamaica – citing blatant and widespread discrimination. "We’ve continued to put pressure on these islands because we’ve received reports of gay travelers feeling harassed in certain places," said Augustin Merlo, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Islands have often found themselves torn between their conservative cultures and a desire to attract tourism dollars from gays and lesbians who represent a $47.3 billion travel market.
Cornelius Smith, tourism minister in the Bahamas, said most Caribbean islands welcome gay tourists, although anti-homosexual sentiments shouldn’t come as a surprise in a region where churches are often more pervasive than bars. In the Bahamas, which is not a British colony but where homosexuality is also illegal, one pastor has helped organize a Christian group called Save the Bahamas that plans to lobby for stricter sodomy laws as well as a ban on gay cruises. "It is often said that when the United States sneezes, the Caribbean catches the flu, so when morals decline in the United States, they decline here," said Vaughn Miller, pastor of Nassau’s Resurrection Tabernacle Church. "Obviously we don’t want that to happen," he added.
David Smith, senior strategist with the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay and lesbian lobbying group, said he is stunned by discrimination in the Caribbean and that "recalcitrant protectorates" were acting outside the mainstream. "Such discrimination against an entire group of people is egregious," he said. Meanwhile, the conservative American Family Association has applauded the resolve of Caribbean islands that won’t bend to British demands. It is urging its 350,000 supporters in the May issue of the association’s magazine to contact the British Embassy in Washington to voice dissatisfaction with the government’s proposal.
Jamaican Students Beaten at Northern Caribbean University
Four male students at Jamaica’s Northern Caribbean University reportedly were beaten with wooden planks January 19 by other students who believed the victims were gay. Six students face expulsion — three who carried out the attack and three who knew of the planned assault and did nothing to stop it, university officials said. "This incident only adds to the staggering number of human rights abuses meted out against persons solely on the knowledge or mere suspicion of homosexuality," commented the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
"While homophobic violence, including assault and murder, continues to be a source of national pride and moral satisfaction for many Jamaicans, the government and police force continue the campaign of legal exceptionalism and tacit approval of these shocking and deeply disturbing crimes against innocent citizens," the organization said.
University President Herbert Thompson reportedly said the victims of the attack also are under investigation to determine if they are in fact gay. Homosexuality is not permitted at the university, J-FLAG quoted him as saying.
J-FLAG can be reached at email@example.com.
Gang Violence Escalating in Jamaica
More than 320 people have been killed so far this year in Jamaica, which is suffering from escalating politically-linked gang violence and drug-related crime. The Caribbean nation has a history of violence between gangs linked to political parties, and recent outbursts have seen fighting between groups supporting the ruling Peoples National Party (PNP) and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Violence has pitted supporters of the two parties in two different parts of the Kingston, the capital, forcing residents to flee, and schools, businesses and even Kingston Public Hospital to close. Houses have been destroyed by firebombs, and firefighters have needed police escorts just to reach the blazes. The army has been helping police to clear barricades put up by residents, and gunfire and small explosions make west Kingston virtually a war zone.
August 23-28, 2001
Assessment of Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Surveillance System
by Bernard M. Branson, M.D.
HIV/AIDS represents a significant problem in Jamaica. Through June 2001, 5,545 cases of AIDS have been reported, of which 450 are pediatric. Based on sentinel surveillance, there may be as many as 40,000 Jamaicans with HIV infection on the island. The Jamaica Ministry of Health has mounted a comprehensive AIDS surveillance system through the National HIV/AIDS Program within the Health Promotion and Protection Division….
For complete Report go to:
Roots of Homophobia
by Rikki Beadle-Blair
‘Batty boy’–an abusive term meaning homosexual–has become an all too familiar chant on Britain’s streets. The term comes from Jamaica, where violent homophobic lyrics are part of the staple diet of dancehall music. In Roots of Homophobia, on BBC Radio 4 this week, Rikki Beadle-Blair travels to Jamaica where homosexuality remains a crime punishable by ten years hard labour and homophobic murders go largely unpunished. They say "Burn the Battyman".
Day 1 London
Despite travelling during the off season, the Air Jamaica flight is packed . And raucous – strangers call across the plane to one another like family – addressing elders that they have never met before as ‘Mum and Dad’. A small posse of drunks, clutching cans of Red Stripe and brandishing thick Shanty-town accents, swagger up and down the aisles. Earlier, we’d seen them been escorted onto the plane by uniformed officials. "Are they being deported?" my producer wonders… I’m too busy avoiding eye-contact to answer–lets not get gay-bashed before we even get there.
Later – Montego Bay
As soon the plane doors open the heat rushes in like a living thing made of air–overpoweringly humid and fertile-feeling. I feel welcomed by the smiling sun and warm embracing breeze–should I kiss the runway? Once through customs, everyone we meet checks out my hair and smiles, "Wh’appen Rasta?" seemingly taking my bleach-blonde hair for religious commitment rather than a fashion statement. My return smiles are tentative, I’m waiting to witness the hatred and intolerance and the threats that have kept me away for so long–all my life–from my mother country.
Day 2 – Montego Bay
As I work out on the rusty equipment in the rustic gym at the Doctor’s Cave Hotel I ponder the events of last night . Just as I was settling down to CNN in my sports socks, there came a knocking at the door. A small, dark-haired white gentlemen of vaguely European nationality blinked at me in vaguely confused wonder and asked plaintively, "Pieter?"
I blinked back, "Sorry?"
He blinked round me into the room, craning his puzzled neck, "Pieter?"
I explained that Peter must be another room, because this was definitely mine.
"And who you are?" He demanded, looking me up and down.
"Not Peter, I’m afraid" I answered, bidding him goodnight as I gently closed the door .
Five minutes later the phone rang.
"You are Jamaican?" the stranger asks softly–and throws me.
"No, er, yes, well, sort of, why?"
"Jamaica is beautiful." he urges, "Jamaica is beautiful."
"Yes, I say."
"Let me visit, yes?" he pleaded. "Let me in.?"
I know how he feels…
So I walked down to the beach this morning, all the kids trundling by in rattly old school buses giggling and pointing at me smiling and waving back. And then I hear it from a passing car. The greeting I’ve been waiting for. The gentleman caller I’ve been expecting. "Batty man!" I almost feel relief. It’s happened – it’s over–they know me, I know them, we know our positions–the Bigot and the Battyman. I’m home.
Day 3 – Montego Bay
Today we met with the local reps from J-FLAG—the Jamaican gay rights pressure group. Howard is a fine-boned and elegant, soft-spoken, delicate-featured , Bob Marley lookalike.
Stories of hate.
He tells us of a friend of his who, once the word hit the streets that he might be gay, had become fair game–so much that when he was at work they stole every thing he had, every stick, every brick, ‘even his pisspot.’ The police, of course, did nothing. Devastating.
Steve offeres to be Rikki’s bodyguard–apparently he’s going to need it. When we asked if we could meet this guy, Howard blind-sided us by saying "Sure, he’s probably working next door right now!" and nipped out of the building to fetch him, leaving us reeling, only to return moments with the news that not only is the man in question too injured to attend work–but that he has no work to attend; they’ve had to let him go leaving him homeless, jobless, traumatised and injured.
Day 4 Negril
Just discovered there’s a ragga band with a record out right now called Chi-Chi man. ‘Chi-Chi’ being a quaint name for ‘termite’ and, it turns out, a hip word for ‘battyman’ – y’see, both termites and homosexuals ‘eat wood.’ Cute. And this cute song advocates the burning and killing of Them. Us. This record has been number one for weeks.
This afternoon we’re hanging out at the local internet bar when, guess what–the video comes on TV! The barman pumps up the sound system, people gyrate on their barstools and sing along. Seeing my interest, the barman yells over the pumping bass, "Yeh man! That’s how we do in Jamaica! We take the battyman queers and burn them!" "Why?" I enquire, disingenuously.
And it was on: David taped everything as the barman, along with several buzzing barflies, lectured me on the pointless evils of homosexuality quoting vaguely from the bible the whole time. If the young manageress’s nine year old son turned out to be gay she told me, she would cut his throat.
What if a batty man walked in this moment, I asked. They would run to their cars and fetch their car irons beat him within a inch of his life, came the reply, if he was lucky.
"What if I told you I was gay?"
"Why?" laughed the barman "You is a battyman?"
Well, he’d asked. What choice did I have?
I was met with gales of disconcerting disbelieving laughter followed by a tidal wave of debate questions but no car irons. A couple of guys offer to be my bodyguard—apparently I’m going to need it.
There’s time for a heartbreakingly brief swim in our private bay before motoring back through tropical rain-storms to Montego Bay where we hooked up with John, one of the members of J-FLAG who had volunteered to take us around. I was driving him and his best friend to the bus station, when they suddenly yelled out "Pull over!" I thought somebody was having a fit but it turned out that they’d spotted a buddy on the roadside.
Moments later I found myself surrounded by the stars of the local gay scene–a scene that consists of precisely this: a bunch of cute fem boys and sexy butch boys, and whatever, hanging out and flirting and subtly intimidating passers-by. Just like you always find ’em, all over the world, wherever you go. Queens in their kingdom.
Day 5 Montego Bay
It’s a week of firsts! My first Pentecostal service. I thought I’d done this before. I was wrong. I have never never experienced anything quite like this. Three-and-a-half hours of singing, praying, testifying and speaking in tongues in a packed church under eighty degree sun and through hammering raining and ominous thunder. Everyone was warm and welcoming posing for pictures and helping me find the correct passages in the Bible, whether I want to or not.
They talked about the distinction between the sinner and sin etc., and how they would never turn anyone away if they were gay. Attempt to dissuade them, yes, but not turn them away. They seemed sincere, gentle dignified people; they certainly did not react adversely on hearing that I was gay, if anything they leaned closer to me and intensified their gentility.
A Pentecostal view.
Charming. Seductive. If I’d been born and raised among these persuasive folk, where would my sexuality be now? Where would my spirit be? Saved or confused? Repentant or just silent?
Day 6 Kingston
We visit the Kingston HQ of J-FLAG. The building was overflowing with excitement. It turns out that parliament has suddenly and unexpectedly responded to a year-and-a-half old submission from J-FLAG, entreating them to amend the constitution to protect homosexuals from discrimination.
Fresh off the plane from Johannesburg where she has just recently begun to make a (state acknowledged and constitutionally protected) life with her partner, is the extraordinary Jamaican Donna, graciously articulate, gently imposing, fiercely determined and–most crucially–‘out’. She is more free in South Africa.
Donna is to be the face J-FLAG of gay Jamaica. She talks passionately of wanting to feel in her own country the way she is able to feel in South Africa, the first country in the world to include homosexual protections in the constitution. How ironic that a black person would have to turn from Jamaica to South Africa to find equality.
Final day Kingston
I had a frustrating interview today with an academic who seemed to believe that homophobia in Jamaica sprang from the lack of subservient women to bolster the beleaguered male self-esteem–the first person I have interviewed here that I didn’t like at all. But that’s not really fair as before we could really go at it he was called away and the interview was cut short.
Plus I was already in strange mood. We had just come from a church yard in the depressed area of Mountainview where last April a gay man, caught with a lover in his home had been chased a mob of twenty or so ‘Rude Boys’ before being cornered in the grounds of the tiny rustic clapboard church where he had run for sanctuary and been shot there in the churchyard amongst the weeds and burned cars. David had bought some flowers and I laid them on the steps of the church until a couple of barefoot and quite fey young men appeared.
We must remember.
We asked if they knew about the young man who had died there–how and why. One of the youths, a cautiously fey young thing who apparently had a bedroom adjacent to the chapel was evasively vague. Did he know what happened? "Not re-a-allyyyy…"
On the card I had written ‘We remember’. And we do. We must.
Rikki Beadle-Blair is a writer and film director. He recently starred in Metrosexuality, which he also wrote and directed and which was shown on BBC Channel 4 earlier this year (2002) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/aboutradio4/diary/34.shtml
August 28, 2002
Unchanged Laws Delay Efforts to Stop HIV/AIDS
by Zadie P. Neufville
Kingston, Jamaica – Almost a year ago, the Jamaica National AIDS Committee proposed changing some 20 laws that activists said discriminate against people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Till now, the government has remained silent on the issue, unwilling to risk a controversy that could affect its bid for a fourth term in office.
Activists in Jamaica, where the HIV virus that can cause AIDS has reached epidemic proportions, point out that their demands would merely ensure that the country’s laws conform to international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights.
Health Minister John A. Junor–one of the strongest supporters of the proposal–has said in public that "discrimination and stigmatisation" have resulted in job losses and violence against people battling AIDS.
But the government’s opponents have questioned its intentions, and accused it of seeking to decriminalise homosexuality and prostitution on this island nation, where both are condemned as vices. In fact, the J.H. Patterson government has also been sitting on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee that homosexuality be legalised.
Homophobia has been identified as one of the biggest deterrents in ongoing efforts to halt the transmission of the AIDS virus. People living with AIDS do their utmost to hide their condition from their families and communities for fear of ostracism and persecution.
The island’s chief medical officer, Peter Figueroa, has admitted that stigma is a major obstacle to treating HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. "It is a given that social stigma and discrimination drive people underground. If we are to address the epidemic we have to be able to accurately gauge the number of HIV cases across the island," he said.
The National Aids Committee (NAC), a quasi government organisation linking government and NGO agencies, commissioned the review of the laws in 2001. Lawyers examined all legislation and recommended changes to those that they found provided opportunities for discrimination of HIV/AIDS high risk groups in particular.
"The findings were that comprehensive legislation must be introduced to deal with the issue of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS," said Yitades Gebre, head of the national HIV/AIDS programme. But the proposal that seeks to change the 137-year-old Offences of the Person Act to legalise consensual sex between adult males and to decriminalise prostitution has drawn the ire of conservative opinion in the country. Opposition parties have turned it into an opportunity to campaign against the government.
Verity Rushton, head of NAC, has said she is dismayed by the controversy over homosexuality, which has held up all legislative changes. Women and children are at greatest risk if the laws remain the same, she added.
Last year, the number of Jamaican women contracting HIV grew 10 percent, primarily because homosexual males have been forced into being bisexuals because of discrimination, health officials say.
In addition, women are three to five times more likely to contract the virus than men are, and teenaged girls are three times more likely to contract the HIV virus than their male counterparts. A 1999 survey carried out among 2,000 out-of-school teens found that 57 percent of girls had at some time or another exchanged sex for money.
The legislative review has recommended many measures, including striking out quarantine laws that allow the government to isolate persons with serious illnesses. It also has suggested that prisoners be given the right to ask for protective devices like condoms and that provisions be put in place to safeguard confidentiality.
Recommendations have also called for changes to laws that cover social services and housing. In cases of sexual assaults, it recommends mandatory or voluntary testing of both victims and offenders and that the HIV test results of all sexual offenders be made public to "their sex victims or their next of kin".
A survey of 243 adolescents in the 15-19 years age group, found that four percent of the 11 percent who tested positive for HIV had been raped. Another survey of 20 to 49-year-old women showed that between six and 11 percent reported being physically abused because they did not want to have sex.
Under current laws the offender has the right to not be tested, or to not have his HIV status made known to his victim.
"The proposals are about the expansion of the Public Health Act to cover care, support and prevention of HIV/AIDS. It is about care and support for those with the disease and prevention for those without," said Ian McKnight, the head of Jamaica Aids Support (JAS).
But the proposals are far-reaching in a country where being HIV-positive could mean losing one’s home, family or even life, due mainly to the threat of violence. As a result, many people refuse to take the HIV test. In fact, one-third of all HIV/AIDS cases are diagnosed after death, says the health ministry.
Health care officials firmly believe that legal change and addressing issues of homosexuality and prostitution are the only ways to develop successful public education campaigns. For instance, sex with prostitutes is responsible for about one-fifth of the new HIV/AIDS cases each year. And officials believe that 27 percent of the estimated 20,000 Jamaicans infected with HIV/AIDS who have not disclosed their sexual preferences, may be homosexual or bisexual males.
In the last year, the ministry of health has developed a National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan to expand its response to the disease. Rushton has said he believes that amending the laws is central to its success. Jamaica’s first AIDS case was reported in 1982. At present, there are 6,038 full blown cases known.
AEGiS is made possible through unrestricted grants from Boehringer Ingelheim, iMetrikus, Inc., the National Library of Medicine, and donations from users like you. Always watch for outdated information. This article first appeared in 2002. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor.
AEGiS presents published material, reprinted with permission and neither endorses nor opposes any material. All information contained on this website, including information relating to health conditions, products, and treatments, is for informational purposes only. It is often presented in summary or aggregate form. It is not meant to be a substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professionals. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.
October 18, 2002
‘Homophobes stabbed and slashed me’
Homosexuals from Jamaica are coming to the UK to flee oppression and abuse. Recent reports suggested the numbers of gay men and women leaving the Caribbean and looking for a better life in Britain were reaching the hundreds. The BBC spoke to David–not his real name–who has settled in England after a lifetime of abuse in Jamaica.
"I was working in security and had to use a portable radio a lot. Every time I would get on the airwaves people would shout ‘hey, gay boy, get off the radio’. People are constantly at you. I was arrested for allegedly abusing a boy–something I was wrongfully accused of and something I would never dream of doing ever in my life. It was so hard. They locked me up and the policeman told all the other inmates I was gay. I was terrified – gay men get killed in prisons. I was hit, I was slapped. The policemen beat me and hit me so hard I am still completely deaf in my right ear. On the streets I had my throat slashed and when I went to hospital I could not tell them I was gay or they would not have treated me. I was always looking over my shoulder thinking someone was going to attack me or shoot me. It is just not possible to live a normal life in Jamaica if you are gay."
The Jamaican high commissioner declined to comment on David’s claims.
October 20, 2002
Jamaican Gays Flee to Save Their Lives
By Guardian Newspapers
Homophobia runs so deep in Jamaican society that asylum can be the only chance of survival. Every one of David’s (story #8 above) scars tells a terrifying story. There is the one where his throat was slashed by a mob that chased him through the streets of downtown…
Every one of David’s scars tells a terrifying story. There is the one where his throat was slashed by a mob that chased him through the streets of downtown Kingston, the incident in which his arm was broken in two places, the horrific ordeal during which his right hand was almost severed at the wrist by a blow from a machete. Then there are the marks on his feet where he was beaten with sticks, the eardrum perforated by a blow from a baton and the emotional scars of the time he was forced to run into the sea close to Norman Manley airport and swim against the tide for four exhausting hours to escape certain death.
All the attacks occurred for the same reason: David is gay. Last week, it was revealed that David, 26, had been granted asylum in the UK on the basis that homophobia in Jamaica is so severe it represents a serious threat to his personal safety. The fate of gays reveals a deep strain of homophobia in Jamaican society. In Jamaica, homosexual intercourse is a crime. Buggery is punishable by 10 years imprisonment with hard labour, and any two men caught in a compromising position–the definition of which is left up to individual police officers and in the past has involved nothing more than holding hands–can be charged with gross indecency and sent to prison.
More than 30 gay men have been murdered in Jamaica in the past five years. Last year, one was shot dead as he sought refuge in a churchyard. A few weeks later, a group of university students were almost beaten to death. The issue of gay rights is one to which few Jamaicans have any sympathy. Homophobia is all but sanctioned by society – often at the highest levels. The slang phrases ‘batty boy’ or ‘chi chi man’ are in common usage. Antoinette Haughton, one of the country’s most influential radio talkshow hosts recently attacked gay culture, telling her listeners: ‘They want to corrupt our children and tell them it’s OK to live immoral and nasty lives.’ Last year Jamaica’s head of state sanctioned the exclusion of gays from the Boy Scouts: ‘These are not the type of persons we wish to be part of the Scout movement,’ he said.
Jamaican music often celebrates the beating and killing of gays. In the early 90s, Buju Banton scored with ‘Boom Bye Bye’, which included the lyric: ‘Batty boy get up and run ah gunshot in ah head man’. More recently the band TOK topped the charts with ‘Chi Chi Man’ – in which the chorus advocates burning gay men. For many Jamaican men, an allegation of homosexuality is the ultimate slur. Such claims were made against heads of both political parties during the recent election campaign.
In 1997, when prison authorities attempted to distribute condoms to inmates at Kingston’s main prison, it led to riots in which 16 allegedly gay men were murdered and 40 more injured. Jamaica’s Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, vowed last year that he would make no changes to anti-homosexual legislation, despite the fact that the law is in breach of human rights regulations. Speaking from his central Kingston home, Fitzroy, a 28-year-old musician, explains the harsh realities of life as a gay man in Jamaica. ‘It’s terrible. I can’t have peace and freedom like everyone else. If I walk down the road, all I hear is "batty man, him hafi dead, shoot him, slit him".
November 11, 2002
Banished! Gays forced to live on the streets
by Patricia Watson, Senior Staff Reporter
More than 30 men who have sex with men (MSMs) are wandering Kingston’s streets because they have been chased out of their homes and communities. Under a commonly practised custom, known as ‘b’ judgement, a significant number of Jamaica’s gay men are being displaced and left to wander the streets aimlessly. So severe is the judgement being meted out to this marginalised group that some are said to be losing their minds and others contemplating suicide.
"It is very hard for us. Right now some persons have to be sleeping on the road, some people go mad because they take it to heart as they cannot go back to their families and home. I know two persons at Bellevue right now. They couldn’t take the abuse anymore and just cracked. These are persons who can contribute to society," John Green, a middle-class MSM told The Sunday Gleaner. Mr. Green who fears for his life would only speak on condition of anonymity. According to estimates provided by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG), more than 30 persons now call the streets home as they have become persona non grata in their communities. Many of these men now seeking accommodation were violently chased from their own.
Dr. Robert Carr of the University of the West Indies, who has done research on MSMs explained to The Sunday Gleaner that "a great deal of violence comes against people who are socially vulnerable, you find that the community gets tense and they manage the situation by not going home. Many of them become squatters, they have nowhere to go, they are homeless." He also spoke of the unwritten and unspoken condemnation of ‘b’judgement’, where the edict is "b bwoy fi dead".
‘B judgement’ is said to be most critical in inner-city communities which are highly intolerant of the sexual orientation. The Sunday Gleaner spoke with MSMs from communities such as Rema and Arnett Gardens, who claim they have to pay dues to get into the communities once they come out. In addition, they are harassed and abused, with some persons even going as far as throwing sewage on them. "I can say that there are a number of things that have been happening to me and to a number of friends, even persons who are associated with me. I can remember living in an inner-city area. I was forced out, not because I was going around and telling people I was gay, but because persons assumed I was, as I was not living with a woman," Bobby Taylor explained.
He said he came home from work one evening and saw men sitting at his gate. They told him he should leave the area as they did not want people like him there. "I decided to report it to the police station in the area. I believed the police station was a safe place for citizens in Jamaica, but when I told them about the problem, they asked me if I was gay and I told them yes. The police blatantly told me he has no time for this, I must go out and look woman to live with and my life would be better in the community. I went back to the inspector and after telling him my situation he said ‘bwoy move from ya so, before yu come tell mi about gunman and where mi can find gun’." Mr. Taylor said he had to leave his house and is now paying rent for another in a safer community in Upper St. Andrew.
The same sort of discrimination occurs in middle class communities, Mr. Green explained. "I remember we were living in (a middle-class community) – about eight of us – and somebody told the police that we were selling coke and had guns. The police raid us one morning about two o’clock. They surrounded the place and there were floodlights all over the place; they searched and searched and couldn’t find anything. Afterwards they asked us what so many men were doing there. They asked us if we were ‘b men’ and we told them yes we were. One of them said we had to leave the area and he should not come back at 6:00 p.m. and find us there. At 6:00 p.m. the police came back and asked us what we were still doing there. They went to the owner of the house and told him that he can’t rent us the place as we were ‘b men’ and dirtying the neighbourhood. The owner of the house gave us 12 hours to move, we were unable to do so and our things were put on the side walk. We knew we could have reported the matter, but we just felt it would not have made any difference. We decided to compromise our rights and leave it at that," Mr. Green said.
Similar stories were gathered from a file on discrimination at JFLAG. One youth noted that he and his partner were constantly abused in the community they grew up in. "One morning, at about two o’clock my friend was at a dance in the community. He was enjoying himself and dancing when suddenly there was a gunshot and a bullet hit my friend in the back of his head. He turned around and they shoot him in his face three more times. He fell and they shoot him as he lay on the ground. They then announced that I was next. Hearing that, I run from the community and have been moving from house to house trying to avoid homelessness."
In addition to being chased from their homes, according to an affidavit from a case filed in the United Kingdom and obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, MSMs face discrimination in employment, housing and access to public facilities and services. "A lot of persons do not want to touch the issue. We spoke to Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) and they told us blatantly they were not defending any homosexuals, they are not around for that," Mr. Green stated. Susan Goffe of JFJ, however, says otherwise. "We have been firm and clear that where persons are beaten, ill-treated and killed based on their sexuality, it is an abuse of their human rights. We have heard of police victimisation and that is completely wrong. There is no support for that, it is a criminal act and needs to be dealt with," she said.
However, as an organisation, she made it clear that there is no position on the legislative aspect of homosexuality. She says the organisation takes a similar stance on the death penalty. Public Defender, Howard Hamilton noted that he will be contacting a constitutional lawyer to examine whether there are constitutional violations taking place against MSMs. "The office has been established to protect the interests of the weak, dispossessed and marginalised of our society and we will never close our doors to anyone who falls into this category and is suffering hardship or discrimination," Mr. Hamilton said, explaining that "like those persons infected with HIV and discriminated against, I would welcome the opportunity to make a test claim, if persons are willing to come forward."
He stated that he is currently preparing a case file on behalf of an HIV positive person. A relative of the now deceased individual is bringing the case. "The same may be possible for homosexuals, where somebody may be able to bring the case on their behalf," Mr. Hamilton explained.
November 11, 2002
Opinion: When did our men get so effeminate?
by Claude Mills, Staff Reporter
Last week, I was stuck in traffic on Lyndhurst Road when I saw what looked like a young khaki-clad school boy waiting at a bus stop. I was forced to do a quick double take as I snailed by in traffic as the ‘male’ looked quite suspect. In fact, I think he needed a reclassification of his gender.
This gender-bender had in two pairs of earrings, his hair was braided back in cane rows, and he had bleached his face to a dirty pinkish hue, like a side of pork gone rancid. But the coup de grace was his eyebrows; he had shaved his original eyebrows and then pencilled them in a sharp upside down V (a decidedly female practice) over his eyes. I wondered aloud what his mother would think if she saw her daugh… – sorry – son like that. Maybe she would just smile, a mother’s love, after all, is unconditional.
Maybe I’ve been in cold storage or something, but when did our men get so effeminate? Did it begin in the 1980s when men began wearing earrings, always justifying the practice by saying it made them look cuter? Or maybe you’ve heard the gem about how our African ancestors sported them, or that the pirates had scuttled numerous ships and slashed throats with gold loop earrings dangling from their lobes?
Whatever the reason, the earring thing took off but there was a trick to it. If it were in the right ear, you were a homosexual, so most men pierced the left earlobe and that was it. But now, the fig leaves have fallen, both ears do the trick. In 1996, I remember going to a stage show, and cringing in mortal horror as Elephant Man and the Scare Dem crew called themselves ‘dainty men’ as the females in the crowd roared their approval. After a while, I figured it out, what women really wanted were tight-pants wearing ‘sensitive thugs’. The outward sissification of men is the ultimate triumph of women who have been imploring men to get in touch with their feminine side for years: the earrings, the ponytails, the long fingernails, the anklets, and the bangles.
Some men are really ‘woman-hounds’ and will do anything to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. And if you listen to them talk, they do all this stuff in the hope of getting more women in the sack. But while women might say they find men attractive when they look more like them, inside, they are laughing their heads off at these guys. Earlier this year, a young lady I know pierced both earlobes of her 18-month-old son because ‘it made him look cuter’. While I hesitate to call her evil, she is a bit conflicted. As much as women have needed to tap into their masculine side to raise and financially support families without the help of males for the past couple of decades, men need to get in touch with their more sensitive, ‘feminine’ side. But I believe some men are carrying it a little too far, especially the males who hail from the ugly ghettos of the Corporate Area.
A lot of today’s thug males look kinda effeminate, but they still do the alpha male stuff like penis-grabbing, bad-word-cussing, female objectification, gun-toting and general bad behaviour. It’s all very confusing. Hence, when I go to a dance today, I don’t stare or snicker at the questionable looking males, that could be hazardous to my health. I just pretend I don’t see them.
I am loath to use the words "masculine" and "feminine," because really, what do those words really mean? What is the measure of a man in today’s world? The size of his penis? The number of his concubines? Musculature? His ability to afford a gas-guzzling SUV? Is he someone who stands up to his responsibilities? What is a man? There is a seething self-contempt that runs like a fault line through the minds of the men and women of this island, that’s why they bleach their skins. They hate themselves so much they would rather become ‘freakshows’, or monsters because it is a more palatable alternative to what they are now – nothing.
According to psychologists, in young men, a false self begins to emerge to counteract such intense emotions as fear of physical disintegration or the dread of psychological humiliation. The false self is reinforced in many cultures such as ours by positive approval and social value assigned to emotional detachment in men in favour of their pursuit of power and wealth. They grew up in an era where women have made steady advances in all active arenas, and been told by the mass media that women like ‘sensitive men’.
Entertainment and movies drive home the point with baby-faced male leads, and the popularity of musicians like Lenny Kravitz who has so many body piercings, he’d never dare go outside in a bad electrical storm. But while today’s young men may look more effeminate, they are still emotionally detached, ruthless, and psychologically crippled young men. They have achieved the trappings but not the substance of the argument of the ‘sensitive man’. The problem, according to Colin Channer, is lack of balance. He has an article in the May 2002 issue of Essence which reads: "The failure of men is our failure to acknowledge and engage our female self. Male and female are incomplete without the other. Between us are degrees of life and death: the healer and the killer, the nurse and the warrior, the forgiver and the punisher – mom and dad.
To live an authentic life is to explore the range of possibilities between each opposing self and to create a way of being, an original life narrative authored from a place of self-knowledge and truth. The problem with women will not be solved until men imagine their way into wholeness." Just last week, one of my friends told me: "Mi a look a woman whe can support me, preferably one whe mi can drive up har car." "Mi want a sugar mommy." Alrighty then. That’s one more friend to strike off my Xmas list. . You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 5, 2001, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG), made a historic presentation to the Jamaican Parliament (the Joint Select Committee on the Charter of Rights) to make the case for protecting Jamaicans from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. Readers may be aware that the Jamaican Constitution does not provide protection from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.
JFLAG believes that sexual orientation "ought properly to be brought under the protective umbrella of the anti-discrimination clause with our Bill of Rights since gays, lesbians and bisexuals are being marginalized by society, and are not being afforded the rights of legal equality and privacy by our government". On behalf of JFLAG, we would greatly appreciate it if you could sign this petition to be presented to the Jamaican government. We want to show them that the outside world is concerned about what is happening to our brothers and sisters in JA.
The petition can be signed at: http://www.asanteuk.net/Gay_Rights/petition.htm The site also has more news reports about homophobia, violence and intolerance in Jamaica.
October 18, 2002
Don’t blame the music-In Jamaica homosexuality is a government offence
by Dotun Adebayo
Now that two gay Jamaican men have been granted asylum in Britain, we can expect many more such applications from the Caribbean island famous for reggae, good ganja and zero tolerance of homosexuality. Jamaica, where homophobes will fling rocks first and ask questions later, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for gay men and women. But they are not entirely to blame. They take offence at homosexual behaviour not least because in Jamaica it is an offence – punishable by 10 years’ hard labour. Yet, in response to the asylum offer, a spokesman for the Jamaican high commission said he was "unaware" that gay persecution was a "major problem" on the island.
So how can we make them aware? Not by protesting about a music industry backslap in Canary Wharf. Peter Tatchell may not like the fact that in Jamaica he would be regarded as a batty boy, a yatty man or a chi chi man. But he was mistaken if he thought that picketing the Mobo awards was going to change the homophobia that attaches itself to the ragga side of reggae music. The root of the problem lies in the Caribbean. And I doubt Tatchell has the balls to go to Jamaica shouting: "I’m glad to be gay." Such is the mystique of homosexuality among most Jamaican youths that the first thing many schoolboys on the island want to know from overseas visitors is "what does a batty man look like?"
After a popular record, Chi Chi Man by TKO (later picked up by the opposition and used as its campaign song in the run-up to this week’s Jamaican elections), suggested that the island was being run by an oligarchy of closet gays, Prime Minister PJ Patterson had to go on national radio to declare that he never had been and never would be a homosexual. Gays living in Jamaica have to keep a very low profile. There have been incidents of people being stoned to death merely on suspicion of being gay. When a gay group proposed a march through the centre of Kingston to protest against homophobia, the machete factories on the island ran out of stock. The march was quickly abandoned.
Homophobia in reggae music continues unabated. It’s not only accepted but expected of a ragga MC. Ten years ago, ragga MC Shabba Ranks was asked on British TV to show his hand on the issue. Shabba took out his bible and began quoting scriptures, knowing that he could not return to Jamaica otherwise. On that occasion, Tatchell called for Shabba Ranks’ music to be banned on Radio 1. It was, and the young Jamaican, who was then embarking on what would have been a lucrative career, disappeared from view, though at home in Jamaica he was hailed as a hero.
Boom Bye Bye, the Buju Banton hit that advocates the murder of homosexuals, still sells by the bucketload. Buju himself almost lost his life in Jamaica after reports that his US record company had issued an apology on his behalf to the gay community. Buju’s response was to deny publicly that he had ever, or would ever, apologise to a batty man. Today, ragga music is more homophobic than ever. Jamaican reggae MCs Beenie Man and Bounty Killer narrowly avoided bloodshed between their opposing camps only after Beenie Man explained on radio that he had referred in a song to the Killer riding "on a h-o-r-s-e", and it wasn’t his fault that the word is pronounced "a-r-s-e" in Jamaican dialect.
Tatchell would be better off taking the stance of Boy George, one of several gay men and women attending the Mobo awards. Boy George understands that it’s not about reggae, not about Jamaicans and not about black people. Most of all, it’s about the government that presides over the hatred. Not so long ago, here in London, police officers went posing as gay men in bars to arrest any man who solicited them. Back in those days, white British TV comedians would refer to gay men as "poofs", "queers" and "bum bandits" – and "queer-bashing" was rampant, if not acceptable. But the government changed its stance.
Until a Jamaican government has the bottle to do the same, there isn’t going to be much love for gay guys on the island. Until a Jamaican government stops imprisoning homosexuals and scraps all anti-gay laws, men and women will continue to be murdered for their sexual orientation. Tatchell should be addressing his campaign to the Jamaican high commission. Anything that might hurt the tourist industry will make the government acutely aware that gay persecution is a major problem in the country.
Dotun Adebayo is a broadcaster, publisher and music critic. E-mail: email@example.com
From the Publisher
Among the ethnic gangs that rule America’s inner cities, none has had the impact of the Jamaican posses. Spawned in the ghettos of Kingston as mercenary street-fighters for the island’s politicians, the posses began migrating to the United States in the early 1980s, just in time to catch and ride the crack wave as it engulfed this country. Feared and honored for being "harder than the rest," these Jamaican cocaine syndicates laid claim to their new American territory with outlaw bravura and a ruthlessness that was immortalized in song; the raw dance hall music born of their world defined "gangsta" culture for a generation of angry sufferers in Jamaica, America, and England. The posses are part of the Third World diaspora that is changing the face of the United States, yet they live in a world few Americans will ever know. The voices of their young soldiers go unheard, silenced early by the guns that both distinguish and destroy their lives. They see themselves as legendary desperadoes in the best Hollywood tradition, taking their aliases from the spaghetti-western gunfighters and Mafia dons whose style they revere. Drawn to the posses by their fusion of Wild West fantasy and brutal reality, Laurie Gunst spent a decade moving with the gang members between Jamaica and America. She slowly became a player in her own story; entangled in the web of the gunmen’s lives and those of the law enforcement officials who tracked them. "You are not here to say who is good and who is bad," one Kingston ally warned her. "You should only be committed to reality." Born Fi’ Dead is her portrait of the posses, the first account of Jamaica’s international gangs.
From The Critics
Nothing encapsulates the sad story of 20th-century Jamaica better than the name the island’s poor give themselves-“sufferers.” Their suffering is the result of political battles between left and right, the latter supported by the U.S. The posses-street gangs made up of very poor people brought up on American westerns, kung fu and Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies-were converted into political strong-arm groups; the warfare reached its high point in the election of 1980, with about 800 political killings. Many posse members then emigrated to the U.S., where they channeled their violence into the crack trade. Gunst, who taught at the University of the West Indies in Kingston and wrote her doctoral dissertation on Jamaica, explores the line between the underworlds of New York and Kingston and shows just how ill-fated the island has become. The title is island patois for “born but to die.” (Mar.)
This book’s title comes from an anonymous poem and refers to the high odds of violent death among Jamaican gang members. Gunst, an academic who has taught in Jamaica, combines a history of Jamaican gangs with an account of her own personal experience with gang members. Tracing the origins of the gangs from the rivalry between two political parties in Jamaica, she then follows their evolution into drug-dealing on the island and in New York City. Through her narratives of her meetings with gang members, politicians, and other local people, Gunst presents a vivid picture of the unique culture of the gangs-called posses after the movie Westerns that strongly influenced their culture. She allows several members whom she befriended to tell their own stories, often in their own patois. These tales are inevitably tragic, filled with early deaths from drugs or guns, political exploitation, racism, and poverty. The book’s structure is somewhat disjointed, following Gunst’s peregrinations between the United States and Jamaica. This, along with the sheer number of characters, makes the story difficult to follow. Nevertheless, this remains a moving portrait of wasted lives caught in a culture of violence and self-destruction. Recommended for public and academic collections.-Ben Harrison, East Orange P.L., N.J.
Mike (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, November 18, 1999,
I was a US Peace Corps volunteer who taught in some of the inner city communities mentioned in Born Fi Dead. Her book was the most usefull text I have read on the topic. It provided me with answers on why and how the communities run the way they do. Jamaica’s inner city communities are some of the toughest in the world…..places such as Rosetown, Rema, Jungle, and Back To. Laura gives a voice to those who have gone unheard, the street kids, who unlike many American kids, have little choice but to take up the gun. Even if you are unfamilar with the Jamaican scene this book will blow your mind.