Sticks and Stones

“Glad to hear Cliff Hughes describe the UTech episode as ‘homophobic‘. There’s far too much denial. ‘Oh no, We’re not homophobic! Not us!’ 

So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.

Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.

Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).

UTech beating

Two security guards were fired. In this photo (or still from the video?) a third security guard seems to be watching quite happily.

The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.

UTech beating

“They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality..” From Bob Marley’s song “Burnin’ and Lootin’ “…

There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.”  Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.

Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”

Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face. 

So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.

Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.

Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!

I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A man not afraid of uncomfortable truths, and not afraid to express them.

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32 Comments

  1. I am so shocked by this. Thank you on behalf of all of us here in the cyberworld who knew nothing of this before your post. Thank you for your bravery in speaking out when others just turn away, thankful it’s not them. It’s not about lifestyle choices it’s about freedom of choice and respecting fellow citizens in those choices, whether ‘we’ like them or not. Great piece and keep on bring this injustice to light.

    • Thanks so much for your comments. Sadly, this has been an issue for quite a while in our country. It is something that could be resolved, however, I believe – if we only embrace love, and the respect that you mention (and which Jamaicans talk about a lot). We need to work at it. And meanwhile, I think the more sunshine that we have on this, the better. It will help.

  2. Truth is Emma it is captured into these lines from your piece;
    “It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.”Same so mi say plus the burden is not only getting heavier also so much more painful, Guidance and walk safely.
    T

  3. Thanks for this insightful post. Is there any alliance of pro-gay or anti-homophobic groups in JA that can work together with a stronger voice than each alone? IMHO, the govt is the last place to look for leadership. They will only institute change when the people speak out loudly enough, at least that is what has happened in the USA. It’s been a slow change since Stonewall in the 1960’s. But as Dan Savage’s seminal video project claims, “It gets better.” http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

    • Yes, there are a few civil society/civil rights groups, such as the two I mentioned in my blog, that are very supportive and put out statements yesterday. So I think the pressure is building and coalitions will slowly grow stronger, as happened in the USA. I am not entirely pessimistic but do believe that we need to face up to this and address it…. “It gets better” is a wonderful and very meaningful campaign. We must always have hope. Thanks so much for your comments, and do come and visit again soon!

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  5. This incident is incredibly disturbing. While it’s painful to watch, I don’t know how anyone can look at it and not feel shame at how we humans succomb to violence and mob rule. I’m grateful to you and those you mention for being courageous enough to call others out on this.

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  14. This is the right blog for everyone who really wants to understand this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that has been written about for ages. Great stuff, just excellent!

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