Also see: Caribbean Anti Violence Project
28 January 2003
Jamaican Bays, Beaches Offer No Safe Harbor for People with HIV/AIDS--$15,000,000 from the World Bank but no Anti Retro Viral access
by Richard Stern, Director Agua Buena Human Rights Association
Seven minutes from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica there is a somewhat run down house on a hill with a breathtaking view of the $150/night luxury hotels on the beach below and of the Cruise ships docked across the bay. I spent Wednesday, January 22nd, 2003 in that house talking with people who are Living with HIV/AIDS and a small staff of dedicated people from a local NGO who support them.
These people are dying. Of about 25 who showed up on that Wednesday to see a volunteer Doctor who comes every two weeks, only one had access to anti- retroviral medications. Several were so sick with wasting syndrome and other opportunistic infections that they had to be helped up and down the stairs to see the Doctor. Jamaica’s response to its AIDS epidemic seems to have been too little and quite late. Max, a 44 year old, the only member of the group who could afford anti-retrovirals (ARVs), told me that when he was seen at the local hospital a nurse refused to take his blood pressure after she opened his medical file and saw his diagnosis. Max buys his medications from LASCO, a local importer of CIPLA drugs which sells him a monthly cocktail of Duovir (AZT + 3TC) and Nevirapine for $120 US per month, about four times what CIPLA charges for the same cocktail if it is purchased in India. Gladys, 28, told me how her she had begged local hospital officials and then private Doctors to get medications for her five year old daughter Emily who was becoming more and more ill everyday.
They told her to first to get a CD4 test for the little girl and she did not have the $100 necessary for this. The only CD4 testing in Jamaica is available at the University of the West Indies, Viral load testing is not available. Emily died November 17th. It is not clear why CD4 tests in Jamaica costs $100 when in many countries in the region the cost of this test is under $30 per person. It also not clear why Doctors needed a CD4 test in order to begin treatment with an obviously critically ill child. Presumably it is because they had no pills to treat her with. Joel, 26, who could not have weighed more than 90 pounds, is a former taxi driver alternately cried and slept while waiting to see the Doctor. He said he is lucky because his father cares for him, while many others have been thrown out of their houses. The Jamaican government does not provide anti-retroviral medication to any of the estimated 4500 people with AIDS who need treatment at this moment. 25,000 are estimated to be HIV+, and three people die each day of AIDS.
The population of Jamaica is 2.8 million. Perhaps 150 out of the 4500 who need treatment have access to ARVs because they buy them privately or because they receive donated medications or have contacts with relatives in the U.S. Government officials told me the Health Ministry has no budget for anti- retroviral purchase. Ironically a $15,000,000 loan from the World Bank to Jamaica for AIDS related activities may be inadvertently delaying anti-retroviral access in Jamaica.
Dr. Yitades Gebre of the National AIDS Program told me that the AIDS Program is currently focusing on how to utilize the World Bank money for prevention programs as well as for capacity building and implementation of infrastructure related to treatment access. But overwhelmed by its own incapacity to effectively absorb and utilize these funds, the government of Jamaica did not even submit an application to the second round of the Global Fund, last year, and the World Bank will not permit its funds to be used for anti-retroviral purchase.
So the government of Jamaica is stuck with an excess of potential infrastructure, but no funds for actual purchase of medications. The victims of this unusual "embarrassment of riches" appear at this point to be People Living with HIV/AIDS who need medications now. World Bank money must also be repaid at some point whereas Global Fund money is allocated to countries without any need for repayment, although the Global Fund does require that sustainability of treatment be built into National AIDS programs.
In his speech at the special United Nations Special General Assembly on AIDS(UNGASS) on June 27th, 2001, Jamaican Health Minister John A Junior stated that "we welcome the proposed establishment of a global health and HIV/AIDS fund and hope that the allocation of resources from the Fund will not be subject to bureaucratic impediments which would limit timely and adequate disbursements to those worst affected…" We tried to reach Minister Junior to find out why Jamaica is one of the very few developing countries which has not even submitted a proposal to the now established Global Fund, but he was unavailable for comment.
This reporter discussed with Dr. Gebre other issues related to the situation of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica who need ARV treatment now. One trained physician (Dr. Gebre acknowledged that there are several physicians in the country with extensive experience in utilizing anti-retrovirals,) can easily treat up to 100 people per month or possibly more, especially if CD4 testing is available. The government will be using some of the world bank money to purchase a CD4 machine, thereby lowering the cost of the test. The trained physicians could train others. In "resource poor settings" what is needed for effective treatment are trained physicians and, ideally CD4 testing. Funds are now needed to purchase medications at the best available prices, and there is currently no budget approved by the government for anti-retroviral purchase, except for prevention of mother to child transmission. The World Bank Loan will undoubtedly enable Jamaica to eventually implement many excellent programs, but for those who need anti-retrovirals at this moment it appears that there is no plan in place. Another argument in favor of anti-retroviral purchase is the deteriorated state of the public hospital system in Jamaica.
Those patients who are treated, rarely receive medications for opportunistic infections and the overall capacity of these hospitals to meet their medical needs is minimal. With anti-retroviral access, a high percentage of patients could by-pass the public hospital system — if their treatment is successful, the need for hospitalization declines dramatically. They also could then return to the labor force, and their children would not be orphaned, thus avoiding an additional burden placed on the government. But Dr. Gebre gave no specific date as to when anyone with AIDS in Jamaica would actually receive ARV therapy, although indicating that the government is hoping to begin treatment for several hundred people this year. He pointed out that a country wide program is already in place for prevention of mother to child prevention.
He said the government plans to eventually have four AIDS clinics in place which will provide comprehensive services for People with AIDS. Jamaica may at some point be able to apply for funds for a small number of anti- retroviral medications if the regional Caribbean proposal submitted by "CARICOM" (Caribbean Community) to the Global Fund, is accepted, but, according to Dr. Gebre CARICOM only has requested enough funds to purchase anti-retrovirals for four to five thousand people, which must be divided between all of the CARICOM member states. As many as 100,000 people currently need anti-retrovirals in the entire region. If the CARICOM proposal is accepted by the Global Fund Board, currently meeting in Geneva, Jamaica must then submit a proposal to CARICOM to receive its share of funds, but because of the regional situation, it seems likely that available funding from this particular source for medication purchase would only be sufficient for perhaps 200-300 people during 2003.
A CARICOM official in Guyana confirmed that the Global Fund proposal submitted by the Agency includes $4.9 million yearly for purchase of medications for the entire 29 country regions during the next five years. At the current average cost of $1,400 per year per person. this amount would only cover treatment for about 3500 people yearly from the region, in which there are an estimated 500,000 people who live with HIV/AIDS, at least 100,000 of whom need treatment now. So Jamaica’s share of funding for treatment, if and when the CARICOM proposal is approved by the Global Fund, is unlikely to cover more than a couple of hundred people per year, as Dr. Gebre indicated. Jamaica has benefited from price reductions resulting from the WHO/PAHO sponsored accelerated access negotiations. A cocktail combining Glaxo’s Combivir and Merck’s Indinavir costs $1622 per year and most other cocktails are available for between $1400-$1800 yearly as a result of these negotiations.
Besides Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Abbot and Boehringer Ingelheim participated in this process. A private pharmaceutical company called LASCO is importing generic products sold by CIPLA. This reporter obtained a copy of the price list for LASCO products if purchased "wholesale." The combination of Duovir (AZT +3TC) sells for $600 yearly and Nevirapine sells for $432. Thus a cocktail of AZT + 3TC + Nevarapine costs $1032 yearly per person, while CIPLA sells the same cocktail to LASCO for about $360 per year. LASCO’s mark-up is roughly 300 percent. (The same cocktail is sold by LASCO for $1420/year if purchased individually!) This author has traveled extensively in the Latin American/Caribbean region and has supported and encouraged the registration of CIPLA products. But it is dismaying to see the results of CIPLA registration, as this case illustrates. The purpose of my visit to Jamaica was to do a series of workshops related to advocacy and empowerment of People Living with HIV/AIDS as well as a diagnostic assessment of the situation related to Anti-retroviral access. One of the workshops involved a group of women living with HIV/AIDS who are members of "JN+" the Jamaican Network of Positive People. Several hours of intensive interaction revealed the degree of stigma and discrimination faced by People with AIDS in Jamaica.
One woman explained it: "we would like to get involved in advocacy, but we are afraid. We could be kicked out of our houses, and what about our children at school? What will happen to them if people find out we have AIDS?" Another woman told me that a landlord went so far as to take the roof off of a house in order to "evict" a family of People living with AIDS that had refused to leave. There is no National AIDS law in Jamaica, and no law against discrimination. Aside from the other problems with the public hospital system, it appears that stigma and discrimination is commonplace.
In another workshop, I was told that at Kingston General Hospital people with AIDS are segregated into a back corner, and routinely ignored by nursing staff. If they have no family to visit them, they will live in appalling conditions and are often discharged when they are still severely ill. NGO’s go to the hospital on an emergency basis to try to find space in hospices for those who are being asked to leave.
The stigma suffered by gays and lesbians does little to improve attempts to combat the epidemic. Gay sex, even among consenting adults, is still illegal under "buggery" laws enacted when Jamaica was a British Crown Colony. Prosecution may occur for public as well as private acts, and when arrests are made, names and addresses are routinely published in newspapers. This situation reduces the opportunity to do prevention work in the gay community which remains largely underground. "Batty Boys," as gay men are referred to, are subject to violent attacks as well. According to Jamaican scholar Thomas Glave, bottles of acid have been used in attacks on gays. Perhaps the most fundamental arguments for providing anti-retroviral access in developing countries is that it substantially reduces stigma and discrimination thereby enhancing prevention efforts and reducing costs associated with the epidemic. By providing People with AIDS with adequate medical treatment, the government is giving a message to the entire population that the lives of these individuals are worth something and their rights in the society deserve to be protected.
Visibility is increased and the subject of AIDS is no longer taboo. Countries much poorer than Jamaica are providing ARV’s with dramatically positive results. Dr. Peter Piot, Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director of WHO, and Dr. Joep Lange, President of the International AIDS Society all issued urgent calls for massive and rapid scaling up of anti-retroviral access in developing countries at the Barcelona International AIDS conference last July. Jamaica has a large contigent of AIDS experts from the International Agencies of Cooperation, including PAHO, UNICEF, UNDP, as well as CARICOM, working full time on the epidemic. I spoke to several of these same experts who are well aware of what is happening in Jamaica.
Yet, concrete solutions congruent with the goals expressed by Drs. Piot, Brundtland, and Lange seem miles away from the pristine shores of Jamaica. It would also appear that the situation of the CARICOM Global Fund proposal may not have been well coordinated with other countries, if so few of the region’s 100,000 or more people with AIDS are going to benefit by receiving treatment access. Technical advisors could have made it clear to all of the 29 member countries that the amount of money requested is far below was is needed to cover anti-retroviral access in the region. Or perhaps this was made clear, and Jamaica simply did not act.
Richard Stern is Director of the Agua Buena Human Rights Association San José, Costa Rica Tel/Fax 506-234-2411 email@example.com www.aguabuena.org
April 17, 2003
Storytelling: Phillip Pike documents homophobia and hope in Jamaica: ‘Songs of Freedom’
by Randy Shulman
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for Phillip Pike to be a lawyer fighting for human rights. It wasn’t enough to be a black gay man living in Canada. It wasn’t enough. There was personal journey to be embarked on. Stories to find. And a connection with an ancestry that started on a Jamaican plantation, where his great-grandfather worked as a slave. So Phillip Pike put down the law books and took up the video camera. In five years of traveling to and from Jamaica, Pike found himself capturing the stories of gays and lesbians who live in a society that is known for its extreme homophobia.
Most of the participants in Songs of Freedom, the resulting 75-minute documentary opt to keep their identities concealed – their faces blurred beyond recognition. But the stories they tell have a familiar ring – a ring that is sometimes unsettling, a ring that is sometimes triumphant. Though scrappy around the edges, Songs of Freedom remains a stark and, at times, brutally honest experience. As it moves from tales of coming out to stories of abuse arising from one of the most virulently homophobic countries in the world, it draws you into a gay existence that, in Washington, you cannot begin to imagine. Songs of Freedom film will have its Washington premiere at Visions Cinema next Thursday, at a one-night-only event at 8 p.m. Pike, who lives in Toronto, Canada, took time to discuss the genesis of the project, as well as his own personal journey as a filmmaker who found a society of gays ready to have their voices heard.
METRO WEEKLY: What prompted you to go into documentary filmmaking?
PHILLIP PIKE: I actually started my professional career as a lawyer, and in 1998 I was sort of at a crossroads in my life, thinking about what’s coming up next. I was visiting a friend in Arizona and mentioned to him that I had applied to go to grad school with the aim of teaching law, and he sort of very gently suggested to me that I may want to think about doing something creative. I thought about that for a little while, and I got up one morning shortly after that and just decided that, yes, I was going to make a film. So after that I began to think about what I needed to do to make it happen. So I took some courses in video production.
MW: How did Jamaica enter the picture?
PIKE: I was born there, but migrated to Canada with my family in 1971 or thereabouts, I was about nine years old. By 1998 I was 36 and wanted to go back to Jamaica. I felt there was something missing in my life – here was this country where I was born and where I spent the first nine years of my life but I really didn’t know a lot about it beyond what everybody else knew from music or newspapers. The two things sort of coincided in December of ’98. I bought a plane ticket and I bought a video camera and I set out to Jamaica. And I really didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, I just knew I had my plane ticket and a camera. [While in Jamaica], I read that an organization called JFLAG – the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, had just launched itself publicly. I made contact with them, and decided that my film was going to be about the life experience of gays and lesbians. I wanted to know how gay people were living their lives on a day-to-day basis in this country that has this reputation of a very virulent strain of homophobia. And I wanted to know like, what do you do? How do you get up in the morning, how do you live your life, how do you go to school? Just sort of basic human day to day sorts of things. When I began to talk to people about that, I was surprised at the range of experiences. I was surprised that some people were able to come out to their family and then survive long enough to sit down and talk to me about it in interview.
MW: Most of the people interviewed had their identities concealed. But there were several who chose to speak very openly and frankly on camera. Larry Chang, for instance.
PIKE: Well, I think Larry, through a combination of different circumstances, just got to a point in his life where he really didn’t care anymore. He just decided that he needed to live his life out in the open. He has actually left Jamaica, but even while he was there, my understanding is that he was living his life quite openly.
MW: What about "Bobby," who speaks of the atrocities performed on gays who are arrested and sent to prison? I was a little surprised that he chose to show himself fully.
PIKE: That’s an interesting story, because I was quite concerned about his safety. The segment was shot in June of 2000. I ran into him on about two or three other occasions when I went back to film, and I kept on asking him, "Do you still want to do this without your face not concealed?" And he said, "Yes." He was a very street smart kind of person, so I thought, okay, and went ahead with using him in the film. When we had the premiere in Toronto back in January, someone who was sitting next to me leaned over and said, did you know that Bobby has died? As it turns out, he died of AIDS in October of 2002. And so, since that time, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps he knew at the time we were filming, back in 2000, that he was ill, and perhaps in a way this was his gift to the community. Because he says a lot of things which are very crucial and important, especially for it to be said by someone who doesn’t have their face camouflaged.
MW: Bobby’s is without doubt the most disturbing and upsetting passage in the film, just the horrors that he recounts. And yet, he recalls them in such a placid, gentle manner, it kind of throws you.
PIKE: I think that is part of life in those circumstances. When you live in that environment for so long, you actually become detached from the reality around you in order to survive psychologically. I think that’s what we’re seeing in him.
MW: Do the police go out of their way to arrest known homosexuals without probable cause?
PIKE: It’s hard for me to say. All I can share is the experiences I’ve heard about. I think what happens is if word gets out that you’re gay, chances are you’re going to be harassed. So they’re going to pick you up, they’re going to try to pin stuff on you that under normal circumstances they may have looked the other way on. A lot of the police officers themselves, in order to cover up their own sexual orientation identity, are actually some of the most brutal harassers, just because it’s a way of masking their own sexual identity.
MW: How did you choose your subjects?
PIKE: A lot of people have said, "Why didn’t you do man in the street interviews with the average Jamaican?" And while that’s interesting, I think there will be other films to be made on the subject which will perhaps include that. But I really wanted this to be about personal stories – good, personal stories from the heart. I wanted to have a good cross section of people – Larry is a Jamaican of Chinese descent, for example – and I tried to get a cross section of class. And it was a very important thing to have gender balance. But most of all it’s the people who are good storytellers who made it into the finished film.
MW: You live in Canada, we live in Washington, and in both cities, we tend to take open gay life pretty much for granted. How did you feel, as a gay man, encountering so many people who have to live their sexual lives underground?
PIKE: It’s hard for me to see it as all bad or all good, right? It’s a real mixed bag. But I think life is full of contradictions. Certainly, at a very basic level, life is difficult in Jamaica in general. Economically it’s hard if you’re a young person to find certain opportunities, it’s hard to get a job, to retain a job. Friends of mine always jokingly say to me, "When you’re in Toronto you can sort of take a holiday from homophobia, and when you go to Jamaica you can take a holiday from racism, right?" It’s like, what do I want to deal with today? Do I want to deal with homophobia? Well then, if I don’t want to I’ll stay in Toronto. Do I want to deal with racism? Not today, well I’ll go to Jamaica. A lot of gay men and women are fleeing Jamaica in droves, seeking asylum in the United States, here in Canada, and in the U.K. And they’re being granted asylum, which is a recognition, I think, of just how bad things are.
But while I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how bad things are, at the same time people get along, you know? Like Denise for example, who talks about meeting her girlfriend in Kingston, which I think is a wonderful human story. And so there’s a way in which you kind of have to make the best of the situation that you’re in. And that’s why it was so important for me that the film convey these individual stories. For example, Miriam, the woman who talks about growing up in the ghetto and coming out to her family and being accepted – her story really blows the lid off a lot of people’s preconceptions, including my own, that if you’re from the ghetto, it’s much harder to live a gay person. That certainly was the conventional wisdom, because people said to me often that the higher up the socio-economic ladder you go in Jamaica, the less your sexual orientation is an issue. But then along comes Miriam, who came out to her family, who was born and bred in the ghetto, and was accepted. Quite a number of other men who I interviewed off camera, who lived in ghettos, said the same thing – that their family knows, and a lot of the people in their communities know, and they’re okay with it. But if someone from another community comes in to the ghetto, and is suspected of being gay, chances are that person is going to be stoned or stabbed to death.
MW: Do you think the typical Jamaican male will ever be able to put aside his own homophobia and bigotry? That’s a broad question, of course, but I’m curious as to your opinion.
PIKE: I’m an optimist. I’ve been described as a dreamer, so perhaps I’m not the best person to give you a response to that. Because my response is I do believe that it is in all of our natures to change and evolve. It may take a longer time in that particular case because of Jamaica’s history, but I think it will change nonetheless. It’s been suggested to me that – and to a certain extent Larry alludes to this in the film when he’s talking about his theory of the homophobia – Jamaica’s experience of slavery was harsher, uglier, dirtier, use whatever word you will, than a lot of the other Caribbean islands and that’s why the homophobia in Jamaica is of a qualitatively different kind than in other Caribbean islands. I have a cousin who went to law school in Cave Hill in Barbados. Now the University of the West Indies is a regional university, so in Barbados they would have had students from all the Caribbean islands, and she said invariably when it came time to talk about the sodomy laws in the seminars, it was always the Jamaican men who had the most virulent reaction to the conversation. Sure the Grenadian men or the Trinidadian men would react, but somehow the Jamaicans were just that much more over the top. So I don’t know, maybe the Jamaican strain is more virulent, but I still think that it can change.
MW: How has making the film helped you on your own journey as a gay man?
PIKE: It brought together different parts of my identity, because I think in North America, I’m faced with this every day. Growing up in Canada, there were too many labels. I’m a black gay man. I’m an African-Canadian. Going back to Jamaica helped me to see myself as a whole person. I see myself now first and foremost as a human being. The fact that I’m black, the fact that I’m male, the fact that I’m gay, the fact that I’m all those other things that are identities in this particular society that I live in are now, for me, less important. The first and foremost are the human beings, and that’s the level at which I want to connect with other people. So when I read this stuff about class, racial identity and the intersection of gender and race and class, my eyes kind of glaze over. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disparage it – I think the politics of identity is important, but I think it’s only one step along the way. I think what happens is a lot of us get stuck in that one place where we can only see ourselves by these labels. You know when I walk into the bank you know, I don’t tell the teller I’m a black gay man. I’m a customer – and that’s enough to get me the services. I don’t need all that other stuff. For me now, I can’t think in those terms anymore, so when I read that stuff, it’s just like that teacher in Charlie Brown – it just becomes a lot of goobledy gawk to me. So that was my journey, a journey of putting aside all of those labels and essentially just seeing this is who I am. I’m a human being and that’s the end of the story. .
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Jamaican human rights activist Larry Chang.
For more information on Songs of Freedom, visit www.jahloveboyproductions.com.
A Victory and a Reminder
I was struck by two items as I perused our email and website today. The first is the newspaper picture of one of our Management Committee Members, and another Jamaican supporter representing J-FLAG in New York’s Pride Parade last Sunday. It was a great reminder of how far we have come. The fact that we still cannot distribute the picture in Jamaica without obscuring the faces, reminded me how far we still have to go. (BTW, we will be marching in London’s Pride Parade at the end of the month so if you’d like to join us, let me know and I’ll send you the details)
The second item, a threatening posting on the J-FLAG bulletin board, also reminded me how important our work is and the need for continued effort.
Posted by ‘kill all batti blood clart bwoy’ (126.96.36.199) on June 30, 2003 at 20:19:53:
"I fully believein the bible and it clearly stated that batty blood clart man is ah bomination in the sight of jah so kill them you have the right too bun jFLAG mo fire for them ya’ll better stay in ya’ll closet & nuh com pon kingston streets or ya’ll will get fucking killed tell you me say so ya’ll batty blood clart faggots chi chi man fi dead & thats ah fact bun dem capleton bun dem alozade bun dem beenie bun dem war lord bun dem fire fire fire fi blaze dem up bun dem elephant bun dem kiprich mo fire mo fire mo fire under dem skin." (Basically the message says, ‘kill the queer boys’.)
See the J-FLAG bulletin board if you want a few more choice comments: http://www.jflag.org/bbs/index.sht
Many victories have been won of late, both here and abroad. For all who have contributed your time, talent and resources, please pat yourself on the back and accept J-FLAG’s sincere thanks!
However, let us not bask too long in these successes when attitudes like the one above still persist.
J-FLAG needs your support to continue its work. If you can contribute your time or talent, office equipment or supplies, or financial resources, please contact us today. Your generosity is greatly appreciated!
August 10, 2003
Gays gain ground in Anglican Church (but Jamaica protests)
by Ian Boyne, Contributor
The confirmation last Tuesday of the first openly homosexual Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States has plunged the worldwide Anglican communion of over 77 million in a major crisis, and widens the schism in Christianity’s second largest denomination. The 62-45 vote by Bishops in the city of Minneapolis – synonymous with the world’s most famous Bible-thumping Evangelist Billy Graham – for Gene Robinson led Conservative Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan to say in an emotion-charged speech at the Episcopal General Convention that the Episcopal church had "divided itself from millions of Anglicans throughout the world".
Said the Bishop forcefully: "This body by wilfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of Jesus Christ. May God have mercy on this church."
Here in Jamaica the Anglican Church has been quick to dissociate itself from its liberal sisters and brothers in Europe and America who are more "broad-minded" and "inclusive" than the Jamaican church can afford to be in a society which is literally violently opposed to homosexuality. The June issue of the Jamaica Churchman, official organ of the Anglican church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, has a lead headline on the Church’s Stance on Homosexuality which said in its first paragraph that "news that a priest of the Church of England who openly admitted to being homosexual had been chosen to be the Bishop of Reading was received with shock and dismay by members of the diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands." Even Anglican clerics who are not known to be conservatives are sounding like Fundamentalists in their condemnation of homosexuality and are quick to demonstrate evangelical zeal in distancing themselves from their errant colleagues abroad.
These clerics and others know that it is almost impossible to have a reasoned, rational and dispassionate debate on homosexuality in Jamaica. Even among the intelligentsia, it is hard to find people who can bring their intellect and not just their emotions to bear on the issue. And yet there is no ethical issue in which reason and intellectual astuteness is called for more urgently than the homosexual debate. Among the Intellectuals Don’t believe that it is just the narrow-minded, "fundamentalist-influenced homophobic people" who are driven by their emotions in the homosexual debate. Even among the intellectuals who are gay, I have never found anything resembling a serious attempt to philosophically ground homosexual practice. Perhaps because of the bigotry, prejudice and irrational opposition to which they have been exposed, many homosexuals have grown to be frighteningly intolerant, arrogant, dismissive and defensive. Any objection to their practice is labelled "homophobic" – a catch-all word which dispenses with the need to reason.
Homosexuals seem to operate from the notion that their practice is right, acceptable and justified simply because it springs from their desire and "nature". In other words, homosexual feelings justify homosexual action. Ask the homosexual how he knows homosexual practice is not ethically wrong, and what would he say in reply? That, to quote a popular Third World song, "How can it be forbidden if it’s love?" And how can a practice which is innate – some would say inborn and genetic – be wrong? Yet thinking people are supposed to know that there has been a tradition in philosophy spanning thousands of years where humans were pitted against their nature, and the virtuous life was seen as one in which humans used their will to subdue their passional nature. The great philosophers saw human nature itself as an obstacle to the Good Life – meaning the ethical life. They saw man’s struggle essentially as the struggle to subdue a nature that is not automatically conformed to truth. The concept of using Nature as the pattern of morality does not have a long and honoured tradition in philosophical reflection. The homosexual debate is overarchingly a debate about philosophy. You can’t get away from that.
Otherwise it’s just your opinion against mine. Your prejudice against mine and your preference against mine. Or I kill you, chop you up or "bun you" if you are in the minority. It is time that we raise the homosexual debate on a higher plane than we are accustomed, both away from the level of our deejays and J-FLAG. Morality and Ethics The issue really comes down to asking a few basic questions: How do we determine morality? How do we know right from wrong? How do we establish ethics? And are there absolutes? The homosexual finds himself in a difficult position philosophically. If he is a secularist who rejects a transcendent reality (God) then he is likely to believe that ethics is socially grounded.
That is, morality is determined by and derived from the social and cultural context, as there is no objective morality "out there". Morality is what a group of people determine – to put it philosophically, morality is a social construct. Now, if morality is a social construct and the majority of people in our context in Jamaica, and certainly in the developing world, have deemed homosexuality immoral and unacceptable behaviour, then on what basis does the homosexual deem it moral and acceptable? What gives the individual homosexual the right to determine morality when the voice of the people has spoken so clearly on this issue? But the majority can be wrong, the homosexual might retort. In the past the majority felt that burning witches at the stake was right; that stronger states had the right to conquer and dominate weaker ones; that women were inferior to men; that slavery was acceptable, etcetera.
Some societies accepted that adulterers and sorcerers should be murdered, that cannibalism is okay and some even today accept the dreadfully painful female circumcision. Were and are these things right just because they are accepted by the majority? So the homosexual can reject the "tyranny of the majority". But what will he use to justify his conduct? The sovereignty of feelings; the sovereignty of desire.
In his view, homosexuality is right simply because he feels that way; that that is his nature and to deny his nature would be inhuman and preposterous. Yet, what about people who are naturally attracted to minors? Don’t come with the argument, Mr. or Ms. Homosexual, that that would not involve consensual sex and, therefore, sex with minors is inherently immoral. Some would argue that a precocious 12 or 14-year-old could conceivably engage in consensual sex. It would be against the law, but couldn’t it be argued that it is not necessarily immoral? As a society we are revolted by the thought of a 12 or 14-year-old having sex with an adult in his 40s or 50 – as well we should be.
But if the homosexual rejects societal norms and mores as grounds for establishing morality, then how can he conveniently invoke that to condemn sex with minors?
The issue really comes down to that of whether there is an objective, transcendent morality and what would be the authority for determining that. The homosexual depends on his feelings and desires – what he sees as his nature – as the determinant of his morality.
And the Christian church depends on the Bible and church tradition to determine morality. It is absolutely clear and unequivocal to me that both the Bible and church tradition resolutely and stoutly condemn homosexual practice. But the problem for the church is that since the 19th century and especially since the 20th century there has been increasing scepticism about the authority of the Bible – coming from the church’s own clergymen and women. And there is a general cynicism about authority in Western culture anyway, so appeals to church tradition are losing their grip on both the educated and uneducated. Our secularised culture, in which individualism is primary – and the Information Revolution has buttressed this – is the major philosophical force against the church’s view. The church, I predict, will increasingly cave in under the weight of secularism and liberalism. The church has already accepted so many tenets of the liberal culture and has been so short-sighted philosophically that it is now trying to close the gate when the horse has bolted long ago.
As the Episcopal Canon Thomas Conley put it in a presentation in 2000 in the United States: "But what will happen to the church if we do ordain practising homosexuals to the priesthood and allow and bless same-sex unions? The first question I hear on this issue is, ‘Do you think it is going to happen?’ My response is yes. The reason is that homosexuality is here to stay. It is a reality of life and a reality of the church. It is not going away. The church will have to face it honestly and squarely. Reality cannot be ignored forever. There is an elephant in the room!"
The Price Of Freedom
A libertarian culture, fed on the milk of permissiveness and nurtured on the view that we should "obey our thirst" and fulfil our desires, cannot hold back the floodgates of homosexuality and assorted sexual practices traditionally condemned as immoral. As Peter Berkowitz says in the August/September issue of the scholarly journal Policy Review, in an essay on ‘The Liberal Spirit in America’, there is "an instability built into liberalism’s fundamental moral premise.
The naturally free and equal individual is a sovereign individual, since his freedom signifies that he is his own highest authority." This is why arguments about the unnaturalness of homosexuality, or its assumedly minority status – like left-handedness – or its being contrary to nature or the Bible are dismissed by the homosexual sovereign who feels he needs only follow the desires of his sovereign heart. Continues Berkowitz in his insightful essay: "Romantic love, in the era of freedom, comes to occupy the commanding position in the hearts of men and women. In a world in which one authoritative good after another loses its lustre, romantic love offers the hope of the transcendent in the here and now. Romantic love has its roots in the powerful push and pull of sexual desire."
So Bishop Gene Robinson will not abandon his male lover of many years. The problem for the Christian church, not just the Anglican Communion, is that it has lost the philosophical and cultural battle with modernism and post-modernism. I predict that increasingly the world will set the agenda for the church, and the church will be following, with some sections kicking and screaming, right along the path blazed by secular society. The Lambeth Conference of 1998, with an overwhelming vote of 526 to 70 votes, reflecting more conservative forces of Anglicans in Africa, Asia and Latin America, rejected homosexuality as "incompatible with Scripture". But in an Anglican church which has over the years undercut biblical authority with its liberal readings of Scripture, the prohibition against homosexuality would seem strained. Get accustomed to openly homosexual priests and bishops for you will be seeing more of them around as the church continues to lose ground.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. You can e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 19, 2003
Gay rights activists seek arrest of reggae stars at Mobo awards
by Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent
Three reggae stars nominated for a Mobo award may be arrested at the prize ceremony next week because the lyrics of their songs allegedly incite the murder of gays and lesbians.
Gay rights activists have presented Scotland Yard’s hate crime unit with a dossier of evidence against Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Elephant Man, three of the biggest stars of the Jamaican dance hall scene, which is notorious for its homophobia. Activists say they have all recorded songs which denigrate, advocate attacks on, and even encourage the burning of homosexuals. The gay rights group OutRage is calling for their prosecution in the light of the crown prosecution service’s crackdown on threatening behaviour towards homosexuals and an initiative by the Metropolitan police to encourage gay people to report abuse and harassment.
The solicitor general, Lord Falconer, told the Lords in December that "a crime would not actually need to be committed to convict people of incitement to violence against homosexual people". The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that the public order laws could be used to charge singers who incite violence against gays. OutRage’s leader, Peter Tatchell, who was beaten by angry reggae fans when he protested against two of the singers outside last year’s Mobo party, said: "My request for a prosecution will test whether the police and prosecutors are sincere in their pledge to get tough with homophobic hate crimes."
Any charges could have severe repercussions on the singers and their record companies, he said. Music shops were likely to face court orders to withdraw offending discs. But the Mobos – which celebrate music of black origin – said that the offensive songs were recorded at least two years ago and were not therefore part of the nominations. Its spokeswoman, Vanessa Amadi, said that at least two of the artists had since distanced themselves from their lyrics. "The Mobos are nominated by the music industry – we simply reflect the industry. We do not support homophobia. "The lyrics in question are outrageous and disgusting, but they all have moved on from that.
The work they are nominated for is not in any way homophobic. We are without prejudice," she said. None of the three is expected at the awards ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in London next week, but stars often change their plans at the last minute. Chris Wells, editor of the black music magazine Echoes, said OutRage might be shooting itself in the foot by picking a fight with singers whose work would normally pass mainstream audiences by. "You are never going to stop this – no matter what you do – because Jamaica is a very religious society, and unfortunately, for all sorts of reasons, homophobia is deep there," he said. "These songs are sung as easily as a love song is sung here. No matter if they are prosecuted in this country, they are going to go on selling records in their thousands in America and elsewhere. Hundreds of artists are singing songs like this."
November 2, 2003
Jamaican pastors say ‘no’ to gay bishop Consecration poses serious philosophical challenges to Christianity
by Petre Williams, Observer staff reporter
Jamaican church leaders outside of the Anglican faith say today’s scheduled consecration of a homosexual man as bishop of New Hampshire in the United States poses serious philosophical challenges to the 2,000-year-old Christian religion. At the same time, they say that while Christianity embraces all sinners – homosexuals included – it does not accept sinning. Against this background, they maintain that the elevation of an openly homosexual man, as is the Rev Gene Robinson who is to be consecrated today, to a position of moral authority was biblically unacceptable. "I think there are very serious implications because it is saying that Christians have decided to ignore the Bible, which is the foundation of our Christianity," said Princess Lawes, director of communications, public relations and religious liberty with the West Indies Union of Jamaica. "If you do not accept what the Bible says, then I don’t see how you can be a Christian… As Seventh-day Adventists… we have always believed in the whole Bible, the New Testament and the Old Testament…
November 7, 2003
Jamaica: Queer in a Culture of Violence Cops are deadly, politicians corrupt, the people poor, and musicians sing, "Kill the fags, burn the sissies."
by Kelly Cogswell
Don’t let Bob Marley’s peace and love lyrics fool you. In Jamaica, violence is an endemic problem that erodes everyone’s basic civil liberties, and threatens gay lives. More than 740 murders have taken place so far this year on the Caribbean island, many of them due to reprisal killings, gang-related violence, and domestic incidents. In 2002, the police themselves were responsible for the deaths of at least 133 people, "many in disputed circumstances suggesting extrajudicial executions," according to Amnesty International. The elections that year saw the deaths of at least 60 people in politically motivated violence.
Lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people are on the front lines, targeted for repression and violence from the dancehalls to the pulpits, and police stations. Against God and Jamaica In the 1980’s, AIDS brought the issue of homosexuality out of the closet in Jamaica, but the violent backlash drove the small lesbian and gay community underground. Queer issues are once again in the hot seat, this time with the first confirmation of an openly gay priest as an Anglican bishop almost two thousand miles away. Jamaica’s Christian pastors are united against it. Just prior to last week’s ceremony for now Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, Kingston’s Anglican priests gathered to reaffirm their opposition, voting 40-0 to reject his elevation.
The rest of Jamaica’s Christian pastors weighed in against it as well. Reverend Al Miller, president of Whole Life Ministries and pastor at the Fellowship Tabernacle, told the daily newspaper The Observer, "The scripture calls it an unnatural behavior; therefore it cannot be something that the church can support and condone." He went on to say, "God created nobody to be that way… it is reprehensible from a Christian position. It is totally inconsistent with the Christian church." But in a conversation with The Observer, Father Richard Johnson, of the St. Jude Anglican Church, may have revealed the cultural heart of his country’s homophobia when he ended his denunciation by saying, "Jamaican society in general is intolerant of homosexuality and homosexual behavior… there is no way that a Jamaican Anglican contingency could begin to support such a decision."
Blood out ah chi chi
The denunciations from the pulpits have a far-reaching effect. Most Jamaicans are Christian Protestants heavily slanted towards an anti-gay, anti-woman fundamentalism, with the Church of God capturing 21 percent, Baptists 9 percent, Seventh-Day Adventists 9 percent, and Pentecostals 7.6 percent. Anglicans claim a mere 5.5 percent. The Rastafarian religion, which emphasizes traditional gender roles, is also no haven for lesbians or gay men. Though it is only practiced strictly by about 5 percent of Jamaicans, it has a much broader impact. Critically acclaimed musician Capleton has popularized a radical strain of Rastafarianism called Bobo Dread. One of his songs says, "Blood out ah chi chi/ Bun out ah sissy." Kill the fags, burn the sissies.
Some detractors refer to Bobo Dread fans as "the Jamaican Taliban." Capleton’s not the only musician inciting homophobic violence. Elephant Man, in A Nuh Fi Wi Fault [It’s Not Our Fault] sings, "Battyman fi dead! [Faggots should die!] / Gimme tha tech-nine / Shoot dem like bird!" Spragga Benz, in his song, Nuh Inna Dat [We Don’t Support That], specifically targets the activist group, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), when he sings, "Why man waan wine man in front a I man? [Why does a man want to dance with another man in front of me?] / That caan gwann inna my land [That can’t go on in my land] / From east and west, north and south / Get ready and guns out / Get ready and guns out / J-Flag dem a brag and a talk bout / Out a di closet dem a go walk out. / But man nuh inna dat, dem betta stay inside and hide / For if dem come out, they might be shot."
All of these songs were nominated for MOBO (Music of Black Origin) awards in London in 2002. When gay activist Peter Tatchell turned up to protest, he was punched, kicked and spat on until he took to his heels. His attackers used the songs as battle cries. It is no consolation that none of the songs won.
Cops Nurture Violence
Most victims of homophobic violence in Jamaica find it’s a miracle if anyone intervenes, especially the police. J-FLAG has been documenting cases for the last few years. In one case this summer, a group of gay men were assaulted by their neighbors. It was a family affair. Both parents and children attacked using stones, a knife and a machete. "They were calling us names and threatening us so we ran. They chased one of us down, Lenni [not his real name], who has now moved to another country. When we met up with him later in the night, we saw that he was chopped on his face, neck, hand and back. He was bleeding bad, but just bandaged it up himself. The next day, we all went back to our yard and the neighbors tried to attack us again. We called the police. When they arrived we told them how we had been attacked and chased, but the neighbors began telling the police that we were battymen and that we had to leave or they would kill us. When the police heard this, they took sides with the neighbors."
They then arrested the gay men for using foul language. On another occasion, a group of victims sought refuge in a police station from an armed crowd only to report to J-FLAG, "When the police realized it was a ‘batty judgment’ they began to call us battymen and told us ‘battyman fi dead’ [Faggots should die] and shouted at us to leave the compound. We were terrified for our lives as the group of armed men were waiting for us across the street from the gate to the police station."
The police also instigate problems, using sodomy laws as justification to harass, and beat up perceived sexual minorities. One group of AIDS activists trying to hand out condoms and promote safe sex reported that after being accused of promoting homosexuality and taken to the police station: "The other police officers told us we should be dead and that the policemen should have killed us instead of bringing us into the police station."
Lesbians: Women At Risk
As women, lesbians get a double whammy of violence. According to a UNDP report, in 1998 some 100 women were murdered in Jamaica, most of the deaths occurring "as a result of domestic violence." In that same year 109 rapes were reported and almost 4,000 cases of assault against women. The gender power imbalance can also be measured by HIV statistics. The Inter Press Service reported in 2001 that Jamaican women were being infected with HIV at nearly twice the rate of men. They cited a statement released shortly before by the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development that "women are economically and emotionally dependent, and are expected to defer to the male demands and decision-making."
Those males are demanding women not use condoms. In 2000, a UNAIDS report suggested additional causes of infection throughout the Caribbean were "rape, incest, domestic violence and ‘sugar daddies’" who extract sex in return for financial support. In this context, any woman refusing the advances of a man may be punished with violence and rape regardless of her sexual identity. It’s worse when they actually are lesbians. Families use violence on their sisters and daughters to enforce traditional female behavior, including marrying and producing children. Ditto for gender variant people.
In 2001, J-FLAG managed to document the case of one woman who was attacked by a co-worker she had often rejected. After finding out she was a lesbian, he accused her of being "unfriendly," and insulted her. When she made retaliatory comments about his wife, he punched her in the face several times, then hit her with a vase and a metal paper punch.
Taking Back the Night – and Days
The AIDS backlash in the 80’s not only closed the five gay bars in Kingston, but pretty much shut down the Gay Freedom Movement dating from the 70’s as the stakes of being out were raised.
J-FLAG was founded in 1998 in response to calls for public input into constitutional reforms. Their first act was to submit a proposal to include sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause. That was denied, but the group continues to push for the repeal of sodomy laws even though the major political parties continue to affirm them. Some reportedly even used anti-gay songs as campaign themes during the last election. J-FLAG relies on a three-pronged approach of legal reform, education, and support within the community. They offer sensitivity training seminars, run support groups and hotlines, record abuses, and assist with asylum cases, in at least four cases meeting with success. AIDS is also a priority. There are more than 20,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.
Activists trying to hand out condoms and promote safe sex are routinely harassed by police. Worse, those who may have HIV/AIDS are too ashamed or afraid to be tested and seek treatment. Tony Hron, J-FLAG’s Programme Director, says one of the challenges is financing. Because of threats of violence, "Most Jamaican gays are so far in the closet, they don’t even want to write a cheque with our name on it, for fear someone at their bank will expose them." His most promising news was that doors were opening for collaboration with the human rights organization, Jamaicans for Justice, which "up to this point have declined to support us." J-FLAG is also receiving support from Black Gay UK which is sponsoring an online signature drive at http://www.blackgayuk.com/gay-rights/petition.htm for the sodomy law repeal.
The Same Boat
Spragga Benz sets out the real issue, the future of Jamaica, in his musical claim-staking quoted before, "Why man waan wine man in front a I man? [Why does a man want to dance with another man in front of me?] / That caan gwann inna my land [That can’t go on in my land] / From east and west, north and south / Get ready and guns out". The fight for gay rights truly is a battle of national proportions because the problems of LGBT people in Jamaica are intrinsically linked to those facing the entire country: violence, poverty, disenfranchisement. Thirty-four percent of the population is below the poverty line. Elections are marked by violence. The police make their own laws. Vigilante violence not only targets "battymen," but anyone perceived as criminal or deviant. Instead of claiming ground for a minority, those fighting for gay rights, like non-discrimination, equal protection under the law, and the right to participate in the political process are actually working towards a better future for all Jamaicans.
11 November 2003
Police back campaign to stamp out homophobic reggae lyrics
A senior Scotland Yard police officer has added his voice to those campaigning for action to be taken against reggae artists whose lyrics advocate violence against gay people. Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, of Scotland Yard’s Diversity Directorate, has told campaign group OutRage! that, after reading transcripts of lyrics translated from Caribbean patois into English, he has concluded that "the transcript of the CD, in my opinion, does show offences."
OutRage!’s campaign is focussed on thee singers: Elephant Man, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, whose songs include lyrics urging the shooting, burning and drowning of gay people. Driscoll is sending the results of his five-week investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service for them to consider taking action.
If successful, prosecutions could be made not only against the singers and their record companies, but also distributors of the tracks concerned – from high street stores such as HMV and Virgin, online music sellers such as Amazon.co.uk, and radio stations such as the BBC’s 1Xtra digital station, which specialises in black and urban music. "We hope the Crown Prosecution Service will back the police and authorise prosecutions," said Peter Tatchell of OutRage! "It is disturbing that the CPS recently postponed a meeting with senior police officers to discuss the case. There is no excuse for delay. The gay community has every right to expect swift and effective justice."
March 22, 2004
Gay websites wary of Jamaica
Gay rights activists in the United States and Britain have taken an article which appeared in the Jamaica Observer under the headline "Father encourages students to maul gay son at Dunoon Park Technical" and posted it on at least five gay websites.
The nature of the posts suggests that the gays are wary of the perceived homophobic nature of Jamaicans and advised gay travellers to tell their travel agents about the article. Seemingly in a bid to discourage travel here.
On the website GayToday.com, the first paragraph of the article is posted under the headline, Family Values in Jamaica. Another website christophercyber.com describes Jamaica as a gay man’s hell.
The article is also featured on the web sites exodus.blogs.com/synopsis/crimes, outletradio.com and a gay talk radio site.
Homosexuals have always expressed their disgust with the anti-gay sentiment which manifests itself in dancehall music.
Last year, gay rights activists in Britain filed a court injunction against dancehall DJ’s Beenie Man and Elephant Man for inciting violence against homosexuals. In January this year, the British court system ruled that the DJ’s should not be charged.
Reggae ambassador, Buju Banton, also came under pressure from the gay community for the single, Boom Bye Bye, which the gays said called for them to be killed.
June 10, 2004
Gay rights activist stabbed to death–Cops say no sign of break-in at gay rights activist’s home
Brian Williamson, Jamaica’s most prominent gay rights activist, was yesterday found stabbed to death at his Haughton Avenue residence in Kingston. Police said they were searching for two men who were with him at his apartment prior to his death. "At this time the police are theorising robbery to be the motive as a money safe he had is missing and the apartment was ransacked," said Corporal Devon Hugh Williams of the Constabulary Communication Network (CCN). "(But we have) a strong lead that there were two men at the apartment earlier in the morning."
But the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), a group which Williamson founded, yesterday branded the killing a "hate-related crime". Williamson, the group said, was "one of Jamaica’s most courageous human rights activists" who had been killed because he was a highly visible homosexual.
Jamaica has an international reputation for being highly intolerant of homosexuals and has, in the past, fallen under pressure from the international community, especially Britain. Some local artistes have been banned from performing in other countries because of their strong anti-homosexual lyrics.
Williamson’s body was found lying face down in a pool of blood on his bedroom floor. There were multiple stab wounds on his neck.
There were no signs of forced entry to his room, one of three to the rear of the building that also has eight suites that the slain man had rented to commercial entities, the cops said.
Desmond Chambers, one of two men with whom Williamson shared the three bedrooms, said he stumbled upon the body at about 11:15 am. Chambers does maintenance work around the property. He had returned home to get a key, he said, when he noticed that the air-conditioning system was running, an unusual thing for Williamson to do when he leaves home. The door, Chambers said, was ajar. "I knocked and (pushed) the door and I saw him on the floor," he added.
He pointed the finger at the two men whom the cops are now tracking. According to Chambers, one of the men was a regular guest of the deceased. "I have seen him here about six times (and) anything him want, Brian give him. Brian give him money, Brian give him food and help him to purchase (newspaper) to sell on the road," he fumed.
Though buggery is illegal in Jamaica, Williamson was openly gay. He was very vocal on gay rights issues, penning many letters to the editors of newspapers, speaking on local radio talk shows and appearing at least once on a television programme. Yesterday, his horrific murder had tongues wagging.
The blood-splattered floor of his room was just as shocking as the huge picture of a naked male affixed to the door of his room.
A television set lay face down on his ransacked bed, while bottles of beer and other beverages lined makeshift shelves on the wall which also housed boxes labelled "gay reading material".
Letters were spilled all over a broken down computer workstation and his black computer, the colour of most of the furniture in the room, was still on. It appeared he had checked his e-mail minutes before he died.
Outside the building a huge crowd gathered, among them a handful of Williamson’s close friends who were obviously grief-stricken.
Traffic slowed along Haughton Avenue as motorists stopped to pry. His sister Gradryn Williams, who was accompanied to the scene by Father Michael Lewis of the Stella Maris Church, cried openly. "What have they done to Brian?" she asked tearfully. Friends convinced her not to look at her brother’s mutilated body.
June 13, 2004
OutRaged! British gays use Brian Williamson’s death to push agenda
by Andrew Clunis, News Editor
London (The Voice) – Britain’s leading gay rights group, OutRage, wants Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to repeal the island’s tough anti-gay laws immediately. The group is also calling for an international ban on dancehall lyrics that incite the murder of gay people and for the introduction of an education programme in local schools to combat homophobic prejudice.
OutRage, which represents gays across the United Kingdom, is also pressuring British Home Secretary David Blunkett to make the asylum application process easier for gays and lesbians fleeing persecution.
The calls come following the savage murder of Jamaica’s most public and vocal gay figure, Brian William-son, last week.
Williamson, founder of Jamaica’s gay rights movement, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), was found butchered at his home in the upscale New Kingston area last Wednesday. According to police reports, the 59-year-old who had multiple chop wounds was seen meeting two men at his home earlier in the morning.
J-FLAG said they believed the killing to be a hate crime and Outrage have expressed a similar view. "We are calling on the Jamaican Police Commissioner to look further into this killing. Because some of Mr. Williamson’s possessions were missing, the authorities are refusing to treat his murder as a hate crime."
Spokesman for Outrage, Brett Lock, said: "This is consistent with the Jamaican Government’s callous disregard for the rights and safety of lesbian and gay Jamaicans."
Peter Tatchell who heads the rights group said Williamson’s death was inevitable: "Brian’s death was inevitable as he was leading the campaign for gay rights in a country bent on tolerating homophobia."
Outrage wants Jamaica’s tough anti-gay laws which allow for up to 10 years imprisonment at hard labour for males convicted of buggery to be repealed with immediate effect.
Outside gay circles, there has been little or no expression of fury at Williamson’s gruesome death. But international human rights group Amnesty International, like Outrage, has taken the Jamaican police to task for not doing enough to protect homosexuals. Outrage has also planned a two-hour vigil in homage to Williamson for June 23 at the Jamaican High Commission in London. A number of gay Jamaican men have been granted asylum in Britain, on the basis that their lives were threatened, he said. This has been facilitated by a 1999 ruling in the House of Lords which allowed gays to be classified as belonging to "a particular social group".
Tatchell said Outrage has supported and maintained links with a large and growing Jamaican gay population in the UK. "A large number of them have come here for refuge and there are others who want to come. David Blunkett should give them that opportunity before more people die."
Outrage, he further said, was still pursuing the prosecution of several Jamaican artistes including Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Elephant Man who the group contend, perform lyrics that encourage the killing of gays and lesbians.
"This murder has occurred in the context of reggae songs that openly advocate the murder of gays and lesbians. These records help legitimise homophobic violence whenever a new hit tune is released there is a significant increase in attacks on lesbians and gays both here and in Jamaica. These artistes have blood on their hands," he said.
• The Voice is a UK-based ethnic newspaper recently purchased by The Gleaner Company
23 June 2004
Slain Jamaican Leader Honoured in London
PM Patterson accused of collusion with anti-gay violence
” Jamaica’s Prime Minister PJ Patterson shares responsibility for the wave of homophobic violence, culminating in the murder of Brian Williamson”, said British gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. “ His government gives credibility to anti-gay prejudice by enforcing the ban on homosexuality and by doing nothing effective to tackle homophobic hate crimes”. Mr Tatchell was speaking at a memorial vigil for Brian Williamson outside the Jamaican High Commission in London tonight, Wednesday 23 June 2004, organised by the gay rights group OutRage!.
“ Patterson is a coward. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu say homophobia is as bad as racism. When will Patterson show similar moral leadership? Why won’t Patterson speak out against the torrent of gay bashing attacks? Why won’t he scrap Jamaica’s colonial era anti-gay laws?”, asked Mr Tatchell. The London vigil was attended by members of the black and gay communities, including gay Jamaican asylum seekers who have fled to Britain to escape murder in Jamaica. Lead speaker at the vigil was Lee Jasper, black rights activist and race advisor to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. He attacked the Jamaican government for “criminalizing homosexuality and violating gay human rights”.
People attending the vigil held placards with the slogans: “Jamaica: Stop killing queers”, “Gays murdered. Patterson does nothing”, Jamaica: repeal ban on gay sex”. Many in the crowd also held photos of Brian Williamson, emblazoned with the words: Born in Jamaica, Lived in Jamaica, Murdered in Jamaica….Gay hero! Jamaican hero!”
” Since Brian Williamson’s murder, the climate of homophobic hatred and violence has escalated”, said vigil coordinator Brett Lock of the gay rights organisation OutRage!. According to a statement sent to the vigil by the Jamaican gay group, J-FLAG, since Williamson’s murder: “There has been a heightened sense of fear amongst the gay community, and….a violent backlash on the streets against gay men….J-FLAG has received an increased number of threats and reports of violence against gay people”.
Other speakers at the vigil included Darren Johnson the Green Party member of the London Assembly, Carol Budd of Amnesty International, Charles Anglin of the black group Big Up, Andrew Prince the Jamaican-born editor of UKBlackOut, and Barry O’Leary of the Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, which helps gay Jamaican refugees. The London Gay Men’s Chorus sang “Let my people go”, in tribute to Brian Williamson and in solidarity with all lesbian and gay Jamaicans.
Afterwards, flowers were laid on the pavement outside the Jamaican High Commission. Several gay Jamaicans who attended the vigil accused the Jamaican police of pursuing a “vendetta” against the gay community. " The Jamaican police have consistently failed to tackle homophobic hate attacks. Most of the killers have literally got way with murder. The police are themselves accused of beating up lesbians and gay men. Many gay Jamaicans describe the police as ‘gay bashers in uniform’", said Mr Lock.
June 24, 2004
Brutal slaying of activist Brian Williamson spurs an outcry against bigotry 6/04 (Detailed report of the slaying)
by Jeff Stratton, email@example.com
When Desmond Chambers found the corpse of his friend, Brian Williamson, he couldn’t believe the carnage. Blood was spattered on all four walls of the tiny bedroom in New Kingston, a well-to-do part of the Jamaican capital. The carpet was drenched from multiple wounds to Williamson’s head and neck. The 59-year-old was facedown, in his underwear. A safe had been stolen, a television set tossed onto a bed, and drawers ransacked. Williamson’s hyperactive little dog, Tessa, circled the room, yapping frantically.
Williamson had been alone on June 9 when an attacker entered through an unlocked door and killed him with a machete. To many, the murder appeared to be a hate crime. Williamson had been the first and only native-born Jamaican to publicly champion gay rights, appearing on television screens across the country and speaking on radio talk shows.
Williamson’s decision to be so prominent was daring in a country some activists consider the most homophobic in the Western Hemisphere. The island’s "buggery laws" (making male-on-male sex a felony punishable by ten years hard time) have been on the books since Colonial days, and dancehall reggae songs regularly call for the burning and stomping of "chi-chi men" and "batty boys." Gay-rights organizations claim 30 homosexuals have been killed in Jamaica since 1997, the same year 16 men were slaughtered in a prison uprising because other inmates thought they were gay.
Just eight days before Williamson was murdered, Amnesty International had released a public appeal to Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. It was titled: "Jamaica’s Gays: Protection from Homophobes Urgently Needed. Gays and Lesbians Are Being Beaten, Cut, Burned, and Shot." The issue has particular resonance in Broward County, where Jamaicans are the second-largest immigrant group (after Haitians), and in Fort Lauderdale, the nation’s second-gayest city (after San Francisco), according to the U.S. Census.
New Times is the only American news organization to describe the murder and its aftermath in detail.
With brown wavy hair and an easy, open smile, the light-complected Williamson operated close to the top of Jamaica’s socially stratified caste system. Born into an upper-middle-class family in the rural parrish of St. Ann, Williamson had studied to become a Catholic priest in Montego Bay.
By 1979, he had given up that calling to pursue another: gay rights for Jamaicans. No one else in the nation’s history had addressed the topic so publicly. At first, he used his apartment in Kingston as a place where gay couples could gather every two weeks or so to converse in a safe setting.
By the early 1990s, Williamson had taken his crusade a step further, buying a large property on New Kingston’s yuppified Haughton Street and converting part of it into Entourage, a gay nightclub. It was likely the island’s only such hot spot, and police tried to shut it down. Many of the patrons were workers from foreign embassies in Kingston. Entourage remained open for two years until a knife-wielding patron attacked Williamson one night, slicing his arm.
Jamaica’s homophobia is so deeply ingrained, few can pinpoint its source. It is part of early life, daily life, family life, and street life, taught by the church, condoned by authorities, supported by legislation, and hammered home in popular music. A letter to the editor of the Jamaica Observer after Williamson’s death summed it up with brutal efficiency: "To be gay in Jamaica is to be dead."
Williamson and a few comrades saw the need for a group devoted to protecting gay rights. In 1998, he helped found the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG). Soon, he became the group’s public face, appearing on national television programs like Perspective and Nationwide with host Chris Hughes and on radio talk shows to debate bigots, demand funding for AIDS, and decry homophobia.
Williamson was the sole Jamaican citizen willing to use his real name and show his face. Some J-FLAG staff are foreigners with much less to lose and a place to run. Jamaican volunteers must use pseudonyms, fearing abandonment by family and reprisals from employers. Williamson gave the group a native voice and realized that without that, the organization would remain hamstrung. But shortly thereafter, he relocated to Toronto, where he had relatives, and then to England. The knife attack at the club and the hostility he felt contributed to his decision.
J-FLAG continued in his absence as a kind of underground organization. No one kept a list of its members, who gathered in secret. It now shares office space with a nonprofit group just a mile from where Williamson was killed.
When Williamson returned to Jamaica in 2002, he moved into a small apartment in the compound where his nightclub had been. He decided again to take a lead role in the struggle – because no one else could afford to stick his neck out so far. As one black Jamaican J-FLAG member puts it: "Brian Williamson is our Martin Luther King."
Brian Chang, who helped found J-FLAG, left the island to seek political asylum in the United States. He says Williamson was so committed to helping gay Jamaicans that he gave up his easy existence abroad to jump back into "the belly of the beast." Chang, who lives in Brooklyn, didn’t hear from Williamson for months. "I wonder if this was silent reproach that I had not followed his example to return and rejoin the struggle," he says. "But if I had remained or returned to Jamaica, his fate would have been mine also."
Williamson was generous with money too, offering handouts and odd jobs to acquaintances. Says Chang: "His color, class, affluence, accessibility… made him an easy target. With his Catholic upbringing, his endless compassion, patience, and humility… he put himself at risk for martyrdom."
In the weeks before his murder, Williamson befriended a closeted gay man from New Kingston, according to J-FLAG members. He gave the man money and even purchased stacks of newspapers for him to sell on street corners. On June 11, two days after the murder, police arrested the paper vendor. Because the safe and other items were missing, Kingston police are investigating the crime as a robbery.
J-FLAG members have a short video of the scene outside Williamson’s house on Haughton Street that was taken soon after the murder. The roof of a six-story building across the street was lined with spectators that morning, as was the street. Loud laughter makes up the soundtrack. "It was like a party to them," says Jason Byles (not his real name), who publishes a gay newsletter in Kingston. "They were laughing and making jokes, saying things like ‘This is long overdue’ and things like ‘Batty man fi dead!’ [‘Faggots should die!’]"
According to J-FLAG members, cops overlooked crucial evidence at Williamson’s home. "I’m told 12 officers went to the crime scene," says Mark Clifford, program director at J-FLAG. "In the evening, some of Brian’s close friends went back to help clean up the mess and found two more murder weapons laying in the blood – an ice pick and a ratchet knife. That says something about the forensic investigations.
"Especially if it’s a gay-on-gay murder, the police really don’t investigate," Clifford continues. "If gay people are abused and take it to the police, it’s very common for police to throw the people out of the station and become abusive themselves."
On June 13, the Sunday Gleaner carried the headline "OUTRAGE!" over a story about British concern over Williamson’s killing. J-FLAG and Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the possibility that the murder was a hate crime. Regardless of whether that description fits, Williamson’s death and the reaction to it are clearly watershed events – a turning point in the history of Jamaica’s gay minority.
The thought that Williamson may have been killed by someone within the tight-knit group hit the gay community hard. "No one I know is willing to step forward and take over that role now, so it is a big loss for advocacy in Jamaica," explains Tony Hron, who headed J-FLAG for three years, until January, and still volunteers with the group.
Hron, Byles’ partner for the past two years, lives about a mile from Williamson’s property; the two rent a small home together. Hron, a Caucasian from Nebraska, came to Kingston in 2000 on a Peace Corps assignment and stayed to help the beleaguered gay population. At five feet seven, Hron is dwarfed by his partner’s thin, six-foot-six frame. Byles is gangly and coltish, with the physical poise and physique of Grace Jones. A soft, Michael Jackson whisper emerges when he speaks.
In his flat, Midwestern voice, Hron says of his experience in Jamaica: "I’ve never felt unsafe in this area. Only once have I heard a comment in the four years I’ve been down here." But local friends of his haven’t been as fortunate. "I know a gay man who was attacked at a shopping mall – within five minutes of this house. He and another friend were viewed as being gay, as the other friend was a little bit effeminate. They were punched and kicked and had to run into a store to get away from the attackers."
Byles looks longingly at a stack of glossy gay magazines friends have brought down from Wilton Manors. Poring through the pages of beefcake, he recalls his one visit to South Florida, where for the first time, he was able to show the world his true self. How did it feel?
Byles folds his arms behind his head, leans back against his living room couch, rolls his eyes back dramatically, and smiles. "Liberating!" he says.
Memorial Ceremony for Williamson
On the sweltering Sunday evening four days after Williamson’s murder, cars begin to line the swale in front of the converted house that serves as J-FLAG’s headquarters. Across the front porch on this day – and this day alone – billow a huge Jamaican flag and, next to it, a rainbow pride banner. The yard fills with young males in skin-tight shirts, 60-ish white-haired Brits in khakis, dyed-afro lesbians in dashikis, and more. Men openly hug, weep, and hold hands. Some wear purple roses pinned to their shirts. A few women arrive dressed in work boots, Dickies, and lumberjack shirts.
Were they to walk around downtown Kingston dressed like this, what would happen? "They would be dead in the blink of an eye, oh yes," says Julia Lowe, who also helped start J-FLAG in 1998. Framed beneath loose, short curls, Lowe’s brown eyes burn with anger. "I do not walk alone on the streets," she continues. "I’m one of these people who takes six or eight people – my security – with me."
Nearly 200 people are gathered for Brian Williamson’s memorial. An ersatz piano melody crackles through the PA as J-FLAG’s Joseph Robinson begins the ceremony on a solemn, respectful note. "Today is a new day for Jamaica," he says, "a day where we can go to our parents and say, ‘Hey, Mom, I’m different’ and they can celebrate with it. Then we can see that Brian lived for a purpose."
The next two hours include teary tributes, exuberant Marley covers, angry poetry slams, fond remembrances, lip-synched Whitney Houston tunes, and several playings of the Princess Diana version of "Candle in the Wind." Yet when the lights go out and the opening strains of Celine Dion’s "I’m Alive" calls forth drag queen Diva, the party explodes. A collective scream goes up from the crowd, with young men springing to their feet and sprinting to the front to throw hugs, kisses, and money.
After that delirious peak, Robinson again takes the mic. Everyone in the audience is given a candle to light and hoist high in the heavy night air. He quickly returns the service to the tinkling piano plateau and releases his go-in-peace sermon. "I see the prime ministers," he intones. "I see the police force. I see nurses. I see teachers. I see your parents coming together, all standing for peace. And if you see that with me, hold up your candles and let me hear you say Brian!"
The yard thunders with a deafening chorus of "BRIAN!" A jubilant man in dark sunglasses, dressed in red slacks, a red shirt, and a red hat, takes the mic. "May your soul rest in peace, Brian!" he shouts, holding a photo of Brian aloft amid a sea of blazing candles and cheering spectators.
Hron can’t help but break out in a grin so wide, his dual dimples look ready to form smiles themselves. "Most Jamaicans have no idea this exists," he remarks. "They would be absolutely appalled."
Much as they undoubtedly were when Williamson first entered national conciousness. "Most Jamaicans were scandalized that one of their own would dare admit they were gay, and all the more so when he said he was proud of it," Hron says. "Once those words came out of his mouth, he became a hero to some and a demon to others."
As the crowd trickles home or toward the darkened house where booming bass emanates from within, Hron and Byles pull together, straining to hold a conversation amid the din. Byles touches Hron on the arm accidentally, only tonight, he doesn’t have to pull away and look around to see who’s noticed. He moves his hand down Hron’s arm, softly takes his hand in his, and holds it. For now, behind the tall hedges separating the street from the yard, they are safe.
June 25, 2004
Beenie Man Show Scrapped in London
London – A concert by Beenie Man was canceled after police questioned the Jamaican dancehall star about his allegedly homophobic lyrics, the Ocean nightclub said Friday.
Beenie Man, whose real name is Anthony Davis, had been set to appear in London Thursday night as part of his European tour.
The 30-year-old performer is one of the biggest names in the dancehall scene and had a top 10 hit with his single “Dude.” But human-rights campaigners say songs such as “Bad Man Chi Chi Man (Bad Man, Queer Man)” could incite violence against gay men.
In a statement, Ocean nightclub in Hackney, east London, said the cancellation followed “concerns for public safety and following discussions with the Metropolitan Police.”
Police said they didn’t ask for the concert to be canceled. “Officers from the Race and Violent Crime Taskforce have had an informal discussion with a performer as a result of a complaint received that while visiting the country he may perform songs containing some lyrics that are an incitement to homophobic murder and violence,” a Metropolitan Police spokesman said.
• On the Net: http://www.beenieman.net/
August 2, 2004
Amnesty confirms: Buju Banton accused of gay-bashing: Singer may be linked to a homophobic attack
Excerpt from Amnesty International letter:
" We can confirm that Amnesty International has received information from reputable national and international human rights organisations concerning reports that Buju Banton was involved in a homophobic attack. These reports take the form of statements that allege that on June 24 2004, six men were driven from their home and beaten by a group of armed men, and that the alleged assailants included Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie).
The reports further allege that this attack was apparently motivated by hatred of gay men: the victims reported that both before and during the attack the assailants had called the men “battymen”(homosexuals).
Amnesty International is further aware that several of the alleged victims were interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher who was in Jamaica at the time. Amnesty International has also received reports that several of the alleged victims made official reports to the Constant Spring police station on 25 June 2004.”
Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton had issued a statement claiming the allegations that he was in any way connected with a gay-bashing attack in Kingston, Jamaica, on 24 June 2004, are “completely untrue and wholly unfounded”.
The Amnesty letter is in response to Banton’s denials, which were backed by Donovan Germaine of Penthouse Productions, Banton’s production company. They cited the fact that Jamaican Police have not acted against Banton as evidence that he is unconnected with the anti-gay attack. However, Jamaican human rights groups point out that the Jamaican Police are notoriously indifferent to violence against lesbian and gay people. Because homosexuality is still a serious crime in Jamaica, the police feel no obligation to protect the victims of homophobic violence or to arrest their assailants.
As one gay Jamaican man, who fled to the UK and won asylum, told Gay Times magazine: "As a gay man you’re a criminal in Jamaican law,” he says, “why would the police protect a “criminal”?”
Amnesty also repudiated Banton’s claim that the murderous incitements of his hit tune “Boom Bye Bye” – which advocates shooting gay men in the head, pouring acid over them, and setting them on fire – are a thing of the past: "To Amnesty International’s knowledge, Buju Banton has never repudiated the sentiments of the song “Boom Bye Bye”. Furthermore, it is reported that Buju Banton continues to perform the song.
Most recently, a Jamaican Observer report of 9 August 2004, “Elephant Man energises Negril” stated as follows: "His [Elephant Man’s] performance was given a boost when he was joined on stage by Buju Banton, and when the latter started with Bum [sic] Bye Bye Patrons at the Wavz beach ground shouted and screamed as if endorsing the sentiments of the deejay.”
Full letter to Buju Banton from Susan Lee, Programme Director (Americas), Amnesty International, International Secretariat, London, issued on 19 August 2004.
56 Slipe Road Kingston 5
19 August 2004
Dear Sirs, Penthouse Productions: Official Buju Banton Response to Amnesty International Amnesty International has received a copy of the above statement, issued by Penthouse Productions on 16 August 2004. The statement accused Amnesty International of reacting to “malicious and vindictive allegations” suggesting that Buju Banton is being sought by police in Jamaica in connection with an attack on a group of gay men.
It also denied that the Jamaican police are seeking Buju Banton for questioning in connection with the allegations. We are writing to you to clarify Amnesty International’s position with regard to these allegations. Amnesty International has made no public statements regarding any allegations of criminal action by Buju Banton. Other human rights organisations however mistakenly credited a report from the website of the radio station RJR, headlined “Police hunt Buju Banton” (13 July 2004), as information issued by Amnesty International.
We can confirm that Amnesty International has received information from reputable national and international human rights organisations concerning reports that Buju Banton was involved in a homophobic attack. These reports take the form of statements that allege that on June 24 2004, six men were driven from their home and beaten by a group of armed men, and that the alleged assailants included Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie). The reports further allege that this attack was apparently motivated by hatred of gay men: the victims reported that both before and during the attack the assailants had called the men “battymen” (homosexuals).
Amnesty International is further aware that several of the alleged victims were interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher who was in Jamaica at the time. Amnesty International has also received reports that several of the alleged victims made official reports to the Constant Spring police station on 25 June 2004. Amnesty International is also aware that the media has since published articles in connection with these reports, both within and outside Jamaica. Amnesty International has not spoken with the victims or the police directly.
Amnesty International has today written to the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) to request clarification of the situation regarding any ongoing investigation of allegations involving or implicating Buju Banton. Your statement also stated that, “Boom bye bye” was done in 1992, and Buju has gone past that issue and has not written any songs addressing the issue since. We could understand the Amnesty position if this allegation was true or Buju has [sic] done any further song [sic] on the issue.” To Amnesty International’s knowledge, Buju Banton has never repudiated the sentiments of the song “Boom Bye Bye”.
Furthermore, it is reported that Buju Banton continues to perform the song. Most recently, a Jamaican Observer report of 9 August 2004, “Elephant Man energises Negril” stated as follows: "His [Elephant Man’s] performance was given a boost when he was joined on stage by Buju Banton, and when the latter started with Bum [sic] Bye Bye Patrons at the Wavz beach ground shouted and screamed as if endorsing the sentiments of the deejay.” Amnesty International is concerned that, by continuing to perform Boom Bye Bye, Buju Banton continues to advocate the killing of homosexuals, thus appearing to demonstrate that he has not "gone past that issue" as you have claimed.
Amnesty International acknowledges the rich tradition of Jamaican music, including genres such as reggae and dancehall, in fostering social justice and human rights in Jamaica. We vigorously uphold the right of artists and others to freedom of expression; a cornerstone of our work on human rights.
This essential freedom is enshrined in Jamaica’s national constitution and in international human rights treaties that Jamaica and other countries have agreed to uphold. However, the organisation believes that the advocacy of hatred on racial, religious, national or analogous grounds – including homophobia – ("hate speech") oversteps the limits of acceptable free speech if it constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
Programme Director – Americas
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For more information: Peter Tatchell at (OutRage!) ( firstname.lastname@example.org) (email@example.com)
Growing up gay in Jamaica
The homophobic lyrics of Jamaican reggae stars have hit the headlines, but what is the reality of being gay in a society where it is illegal to practise your sexuality? Michael is verbally abused, threatened and spat at every time he leaves his home in Kingston, Jamaica, but the 20-year-old student considers himself lucky. He has friends who have been beaten and stabbed because they are gay but, as yet, he has not been attacked. He knows it could happen anytime.
"My friends have been chopped up and all of that, you’d think they were a piece of meat in the slaughter house. It is terrible," he says. Every time he goes out he is called a "battyman" – an abusive term for a gay man – and says the general attitude in Kingston is if you are homosexual you may as well be dead. Asylum "There is always someone who says ‘battyman, beat him up, chop him up, kill him’. I fret and check if they are coming to get me," he says.
Jamaica has a history of entrenched homophobia and violent attacks on gay men and women. The situation hit the headlines in the UK earlier this month when two controversial Jamaican reggae acts – Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel – were dropped from the British Music of Black Origin (Mobo) awards for refusing to apologise in writing for homophobic lyrics. The row also resulted in an event, flagged-up as the biggest reggae festival in the UK for almost 20 years, being cancelled earlier this month.
But homophobia in Jamaica goes far beyond songs lyrics, with gay men and women "beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality", according to Amnesty International. It says while no official statistics are available, according to published reports at least 30 gay men are believed to have been murdered in Jamaica since 1997. And at least five Jamaicans have been granted asylum in the UK in the last two years because their lives had been threatened as a result of their sexual identity.
" We have talked to people who have been forced to leave their communities after being publicly vilified, threatened or attacked on suspicion of being gay. They face homelessness, isolation or worse," says Lesley Warner, Amnesty International UK media director. The country’s law makes any act of physical intimacy between men punishable by jail, with the possibility of 10-years hard labour. Few people are openly gay as once their sexuality becomes known they are at risk of attack and often have to move. Reporting abuse and harassment to the police is not an option for many as officers are frequently known to standby or even join in attacks, says Amnesty.
Michael has not told his family, who live in a parish just outside Kingston, that he is gay as he knows he will be ostracised and even beaten. "My aunt is the co-founder of our local church and it preaches that homosexuality is a sin," he says. "If my aunt or any member of the church found out about my sexuality they would just tell everyone and I wouldn’t be able to come around any more. I would get hurt."
The church has traditionally been a major force in Jamaican society and plays a significant part in people’s daily lives. Many preachers use the Bible to support homophobic sentiments.
Another major influence in people’s lives is dancehall music. Its stars, including international artists such as Beenie Man and Buju Banton, are regarded as "teachers" by the young, says Michael. The music is steeped in homophobia, with lyrics from Buju Banton’s Boom Boom Bye Bye, threatening gay men with a "gunshot in ah head" and Beenie Man’s stating "I’m a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays". The chance of attitudes changing towards the gay community is small, says Michael.
"Everybody just listens to the church and dancehall music. The church is saying homosexuality is wrong and the entertainers are saying ‘kill them’ – how are we going to be able to live openly as gays in Jamaica?"
Concern among human rights groups has intensified even further following the murder of the country’s most prominent gay activist in June this year. Brian Williamson, 59, was one of the few gay Jamaicans willing to stand up in public and be seen talking about homosexuality as a gay man. The motive for the murder was officially given as robbery, but the gay rights group he founded, J-Flag, believes the killing was a hate crime.
Campaigners say Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law also has wider implications in the fight against HIV and Aids in the country. 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 died and 40 more injured, says Amnesty. J-Flag says the law inhibits people from revealing their sexuality to doctors. As a result they are not getting access to appropriate healthcare. But despite the difficulties and discrimination Michael faces in Jamaica as a gay man, he loves his country and is not prepared to leave. "I have to stay and try to build my country into a better place," he says.
December 4, 2004
Jamaican Business Joins Chorus Against Anti-Gay Songs
by Zadie Neufville
Jamaica is preparing itself for what many people believe could be economic fallout from the decade-long battle between gay rights groups and the local entertainment industry.
Ten years after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and British gay rights group Outrage began their campaign against the homophobic lyrics of dancehall stars, the local business community has begun its own "clean-up" of dancehall.
The groups have targeted some of the nation’s top international artists including Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis), Buju Banton (Mark Myrie), Bounty Killa (Rodney Price) and TOK (a five-man group), for their homophobic lyrics. The campaign has been successful, causing the cancellation of reggae tours and the removal of dancehall acts from major shows across Europe and the United States.
”We are now realising some of the consequences of our failure to address prejudice and discrimination,” says a spokesman for the Jamaica Federation of Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-Flag), who asked to remain anonymous.
Activists have intensified the campaign against prominent dancehall acts since the murder of local gay-rights campaigner Brian Williamson in June. Graphically violent lyrics promoting the death of gays, dubbed ”murder music” is blamed for the killings and violent beatings of homosexuals locally, as well as the beating death of British bar man David Morley in London on Oct. 30. Outrage says the growing popularity of the music is the reason for a 10-per-cent increase in ”gay-bashing” incidents recorded by the London Metropolitan Police in 2003.
Williamson’s murder, JFLAG says, brings to 30 the number of gay men killed on the island since 1997. That year, 16 men were murdered during a prison uprising because other inmates believed they were gay. Homophobia is deeply ingrained in Jamaican society, taught in church and supported by legislation. Gay sex here is punishable by up to 10 years hard labour in prison under the 140-year old Buggery Act.
Dancehall supporters say the artists are protesting the dark side of the local homosexual community. They point to the growing number of young males having sex with men for economic reasons and the mostly unreported sexual abuse of young street boys.
They call dancehall stars the ”scapegoats” in a conspiracy driven by racism and aimed at decriminalising homosexuality, and warn that the local business community could be targeted next by the activist groups. In an effort to protect ”brand Jamaica”, which trade and tourism officials say is the fifth most recognised worldwide for its music and culture, businesses have launched their own efforts to ”stop the violence in the music”.
On Oct. 1, the Jamaican subsidiaries of Cable and Wireless, Courts, Digicel, Pepsi Cola, Guinness-owned Red Stripe and local giant Wray and Nephew Limited announced they intend to cut ties with artists who ”promote violence of any form” from advertising campaigns. Just over one week later, Sandals Resort International dropped the word ”heterosexual” from its advertising. In a collective statement the corporate giants said, ”We are concerned that the continued use of violent lyrics could ultimately lead to the decline of our music industry as well as a social and economic backlash.”
Tourism is Jamaica’s second largest earner of foreign exchange and is responsible for about one in four jobs in the country. The companies are some of the biggest sponsors of music events and regularly use stars of dancehall (a form of rhythmic poetry set to music, which pre-dates rap) to endorse their products. The all-inclusive Sandals Group includes Beeches hotels and is part of the locally owned ATL Group, which counts Air Jamaica and the island’s second daily newspaper, the ‘Jamaica Observer’ among its holdings. Sandals, which prides itself on exquisite Caribbean weddings and traditionally targets couples and families, says it dropped the word ”heterosexual” from its ads in ”direct response to emerging commercial and social laws” in some places where it does business. In a release, the chain said its attempts to do what is ”traditionally regarded as niche marketing” are now interpreted as discrimination. But the JFLAG spokesperson noted the hotel ”continues to discriminate against homosexual couples by exclusion on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
”The only change is that they don’t publicly state this in European advertising,” he said. Many Jamaicans have long called for the ”cleaning-up” of dancehall, which has also been chastised for derogatory lyrics about women and for promoting violence towards policemen. While not supportive of homosexuality, many of these critics believe violence in the music, which often leads to fights between stars and their supporters at major stage shows, contributes to record high murder rates in Jamaica. There have been more than 1,250 murders in this island nation of 2.6 million people in 2004. Dancehall gay bashing made headlines internationally when Buju Banton (Mark Myrie) released ‘Boom Bye Bye’ in1992. Its lyrics include: ”The world is in trouble/ Anytime Buju Banton arrives/ Gays will have to run/ or get a bullet in the head/ Bang, Bang in a gay boy’s head / Home Boy won’t support nasty men, they must die.”
Then, veteran journalist and human rights activist John Maxwell described ‘Boom Bye Bye’, as ”dangerous public mischief.” According to him, the song was not only ”anti-social and uncivilised, it was also against Jamaican law and (the) constitution.” Maxwell blames the media’s double standards for the continued prevalence of such lyrics. He accuses the industry of developing ”an unholy alliance with the dancehall community” with its extreme homophobia and anti-law sentiments while speculating how to fix the nation’s crime problem and supporting more repression and greater firepower for the police.
”It has taken various homosexual groups to bring this contradiction to the attention of most Jamaicans,” he said recently. Some hotels, like Club Ambiance in Runaway Bay, Half-Moon Club in Montego Bay and Mocking Bird Hill in Port Antonio have already made themselves ”gay-friendly” and are listed on Internet sites such as Planet Out, Ferrari International and Gay Travel. While not describing itself as gay-friendly, the popular Hedonism Hotels has a policy of ”we don’t ask, you don’t tell,” a spokesman told IPS. The chain caters to adults only and has hosted the outrageous but popular U.S. TV programme, the Jerry Springer Show, as well as several nude weddings.
The cancellation of music shows is now hurting promoters and artists, industry insiders say. In September, Outrage successfully lobbied for the removal of Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel (Adidja Palmer), from the list of nominees at the British Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards. Both had been nominated in the Best Reggae Act category. Bounty Killer’s planned performance at the Krakrock Festival in Avelgem, Belgium in September was cancelled. In August, Beenie Man was dropped from a MTV concert, one of many planned as part of the MTV Music Awards. Health officials have recently blamed homophobia for the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, while gay rights groups accuse authorities of condoning violence against gays.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Nov. 16, accused Jamaican authorities of fostering ”an atmosphere of violence toward men who have sex with men.”
”High level political leaders, including Prime Minister PJ Patterson and Minister of Health John Junor, repeatedly refuse to endorse repeal of discriminatory legislation, ignoring not only international human rights standards but also reports by both the government’s national HIV/AIDS programme and its advisory national AIDS committee,” added HRW. But in a meeting with journalists in the United Kingdom in November, Minister of Tourism Aloun Assamba said there is no proof of ”systematic” violence against Jamaican gays.
”The government does not condone violence against any group or any individuals,” added Assamba. While government has no immediate plans to change the laws, organisers of Sting, the largest reggae show in the Caribbean, announced Nov. 17 they would not pay artists who used violent lyrics at this year’s show. "’We are going to ensure that they (artists) follow the law and we have included it in their contracts,” said Spokesman Howard McIntosh during a media briefing.
Same-sex honeymooners? Are we ready?
by Barbara Gloudon
The debate on homosexuality has become like a raging fever, resistant to any attempt to reduce or dispel it. It will not go away until it exhausts itself and us, much like the statue-penis frenzy which gripped us last year this time and did not cease until we were all sick and tired of it. Now when I go past Emancipation Park and see people going about their business without giving the statue a second look, I wonder what all that was about.
The fact is that we just like to "mek argument" and if it is sexual, all the better. Sex sells. In the case of the homosexuality story, I suspect, however, that it is going to rage for much longer because it is not just a matter of local interest. It has become an international topic of dissonance. The report that the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last week Thursday that the Province of Ontario can redefine marriage to include same-sex couples is another trip-wire to cross for us who rely so heavily on tourism. A significant percentage of our visitors come from Canada.
They may appear placid, even dull, but when it comes to spending on the good life, don’t fool with them. They love good food, good drink – and having a good time. Their major cities abound with restaurants, bars and places of entertainment. The country also prides itself in being a poster-nation for diversity. Toronto has what’s believed to be one of the largest gay neighbourhoods where devotees of that lifestyle spend a lot of money on enjoyment. They expect to do the same when they go on holidays. Some tourist destinations are already courting their business. Same-sex Canadian relationships now have the sanction of their country’s Supreme Court, and ratification from the national Parliament is just a matter of time.
That will be only one more definitive step along a road which the country has been travelling for some time now. All of this does not play well with Jamaicans, of course. The mere thought of a wedding between "Adam and Steve" sends some people into paroxysms of rage. To think of entertaining such people here is not even to be thought of. But the net is closing in on us. It wouldn’t have to matter to us if we really were an island, cut off from the rest of the world, but we are not.
So now, what if a same-sex Canadian couple decides to honeymoon on our north coast, not furtively but openly, without apology? Are we ready for that? Right away some (most) people respond that we sure as hell are not. "They can take their perversion elsewhere," was one response. But what if more and more and still more same-sexers decided to test us? What would be the implications for hotels? How would workers on the properties respond, likewise taxi drivers, craft vendors and all the rest of the industry personnel? Industry officials are evading the issue. It might seem like a joke for now, but it is not going to be easily laughed away. Already, we have seen the Sandals hotel chain pilloried for defining "couple" as one he and one she.
The Caribbean’s most vibrant, home-grown tourism enterprise has had to sing slow in its advertising campaign in Europe. What will it do in Canada when it advertises honeymoon packages? Who is an acceptable honeymooner? Canadian law forbids any kind of discrimination towards same-sex couples and expects entities doing business with them to respect their laws. Of course, we could ignore the whole issue or put out the word that they should go holiday somewhere else, which they most likely will do.
In speaking to my good friend and fellow journalist Phillip Mascoll of the Toronto Star, he said we cannot escape the issue. Can Jamaica afford to turn away the Canadian dollars, considering our dependence on tourism revenue? As much as homosexuality offends his sensibilities, he says, he feels that none of us can escape it. The world is in a serious change-mode. Question, says Mascoll, is how will Jamaica preserve its own cultural values over and above economic expediency?
One of our leading hoteliers believes that despite our current mindset of intolerance, we may still be able to come to a place of "live and let live". You could say that he is an eternal optimist, but maybe he knows something which we don’t, or do know but will not admit. It is that when money talks, even deaf ears listen. Remember how we ranted and raved and called down fire upon nude weddings at a north coast hotel? That hasn’t stopped them. Nobody comments on it anymore, but that doesn’t mean it is not happening.
It might well be that sooner or later, the rustle of the dollar will be louder than bun-fire. Want to bet? But then again, betting is another matter. Remember when we raged against casinos? When last have you heard that argument? Never mind this week’s headline-grabbing news about using it to fund education. We haven’t established casinos formally, but how come there are so many games rooms in our hotels? Theologians say we’re in a moral crisis. It could be that. and more, much more.