First, shall I tell you about Panos? Established in Washington, DC, in 1986, it is very much communication-oriented, in specific fields. With its head office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and its secondary office in Jamaica, Panos’ aim is to “help people participate in the development debate, in particular through the media.” Among other exciting projects, it has established youth journalist groups; a number of projects helping rural Jamaicans to cope with climate change, including“Voices for Climate Change“; has conducted research, offered fellowships and training in communicating HIV/AIDS-related issues; and in 2010 launched the ground-breaking“Oral Testimonies of Jamaican Sex Workers.” Panos is now working harder to amplify the voices of marginalized populations in Jamaica; and it was with this in mind that the Vancouver/Jamaica project came into being.
So, a group of seven Jamaicans (five journalists and two young politicians) recently visited Vancouver. The aim was to share experiences on discrimination against men having sex with men, which still exists in Vancouver, too; and to learn more about strategies to address the concerns of gays living with HIV/AIDS. Although Vancouver is a “gay-friendly” city, it took decades to reach where it is today, says Jean-Claude Louis, who accompanied the group in Canada; and it is not by any means typical of the rest of the country. Everywhere has its complexities and its unique social issues. But Vancouver has put in place legislation and safeguards. It has established procedures, systems and entities (both governmental and non-governmental) that will always lend a helping hand, support, advise. Heal.
Dr. Hamlet Nation is a medical doctor, and a member of the People’s National Party Youth Organization. Several key issues emerged for Dr. Nation during the week-long visit, from his discussions with those working in the health system in Vancouver. Firstly, there is the important role of leadership in Vancouver; not at first local politicians, who “jumped in later,” Dr. Nation noted. Community leaders helped foster dialogue, and encouraged openness and easier information-sharing – qualities he recognized and admired when he visited the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Dr. Nation also liked the STOP HIV/AIDS initiative piloted by Vancouver Coastal Health, which he regarded as proactive. Jamaica could easily adopt such a program of “treatment as prevention” and early testing, he thought, using social media outreach to find those most at risk. He also liked the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control’s “highly targeted” programs.
Naomi Francis is well-known on radio, with her cheerful morning voice on Nationwide News Network’s “This Morning.” Along with her co-host Emily Crooks, she packs a punch in incisive on-air interviews with politicians and public figures. She asked the question: How do marginalized Jamaicans tell their stories? Journalists love stories, of course. She felt the “stark” contrast in the way people communicate on human rights, noting that Vancouver was “proactive” in the way it works with First Nations people and other minorities, sexual or otherwise. Naomi met with Peer Navigators – HIV-positive gay men – at the Positive Living Society of British Columbia, who had “found ways” to tell their stories. For them, she said, the acronym LGBT translated as “Listen, Guide, Balance, Translate.” The Jamaican media is full of stories of “rampant violence” against gays, she says; but we are mostly looking at the symptoms of intolerance, anger, abuse. So, if those are the symptoms, then what is the root cause of discrimination against gays? “At the heart of it is an issue of poverty and abuse,” Naomi suggests.
Collin Virgo is General Secretary of G2K, the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party. Although he completely avoided the issue of homosexuality, Mr. Virgo had some sharp comments and perceptive insights. He called the program “an amazing eye-opener.” Now, Mr. Virgo is what I would call a “character” - in the nicest way; he likes to be a little controversial, even “brutally frank,” as he puts it. In Jamaica“we are just wasting a lot of time,” he observed, with a hint of impatience. “We don’t stay focused too long… We are always distracted by sideshows.” He contrasted this with what he saw in Vancouver – a culture of “seeing, feeling,” understanding and empathy. As well as what he called simply “common sense” solutions such as those offered by Insite – a supervised injection site for drug addicts. These simple solutions are not as easy as they seem to implement, Mr. Virgo observed; and politicians must “take note” of what he called “resistance from society” - which Insite also encountered when it was first established. “We cannot stay outside the system and help somebody,” Mr. Virgo added. “This is the dilemma of politicians.” Resistance from society. Something some politicians find hard to handle, it seems.
Dervan Malcolm is a highly experienced radio man – producer, presenter and program host extraordinaire. His program, “Both Sides of the Story,” addresses all kinds of topics on weekday afternoons on Power 106 FM (which is owned by the Gleaner Company, by the way). Dervan also chaired the last televised leadership debate during the 2011 election campaign in Jamaica. He has a fresh, open style; he is cool and he is impartial.
Now, Dervan reminded us of former Canadian Premier Pierre Trudeau‘s remark to journalists in 1967: “We take the position that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” M. Trudeau was actually echoing an editorial in the Toronto“Globe and Mail” from the day before. So, here perhaps, all those years ago, was an example of politicians and media working together towards a change of mindset, of culture. Of course, the process was a gradual one. Changing the way people think – introducing different ideas, sharing new insights, explaining, clarifying, suggesting… it is all a painfully slow and complex process. But M. Trudeau decided that his country had got to start somewhere, and there was in fact some legislation pending at that point to strengthen human rights for sexual minorities. So, it is most telling to note that the first time any Jamaican politician made a similar comment was when current Prime Minister Portia Simpson spoke during the televised debate that Dervan himself moderated on December 20, 2011. That is, almost forty-five years to the day after Prime Minister Trudeau made his remarks. What a very long time that is.
Dervan believes that the rule of law must take center stage, and “must protect every single citizen.” During a meeting with the police in Vancouver, he recognized the importance of respect in dealing with sexual minorities and other disadvantaged groups. He also stated what seems to me the obvious when dealing with issues of discrimination and caring for minorities: the most important element is people. Yes, Vancouver has more resources than Jamaica; but many of the issues, he suggests, are not about resources but, yes, people - “We are all citizens.” We must do away with labels, with name-calling, with bullying. He learnt more about the latter topic from the Out in Schools program, which started up in 2004 in Vancouver. And it’s a very real issue for Jamaica too. Dervan described several other meetings with individuals who gave him deeper insights. Director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Dr. Julio Montaner, is a remarkable leader, he believes: “Not a talker, a doer.” (I get the feeling that Dervan is sometimes impatient with the many talkers in Jamaica; but after all, he engages them all day long!)
The Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver is a remarkable institution, by all accounts. As its website notes, “Many of the people who come here have had lives marked by trauma and neglect. They have often been rejected by family, friends and society.” It is the legacy of Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, a young Vancouver physician who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. He established the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation just before his death in 1992. The Foundation began to collaborate and enlist the support of the Vancouver Health Department and several other health-related institutions. It has grown from strength to strength. But when Dr. Peter was too ill to practice any more, he did something remarkable that helped the Canadian people understand more about HIV/AIDS at a time when many did not understand. 111 episodes of the “Dr. Peter Diaries” - short pieces, honest, sometimes humorous, always human – were aired just before the CBC television news each evening. The impact was enormous. Yes, people living with HIV/AIDS are still…people.
And what were the lessons learned for Jamaica? Even more importantly, what actions may follow from this enlightening encounter?
Dr. Hamlet Nation sees the need for “greater discussion and dialogue.” He plans to meet with officials in the Ministry of Health’s HIV/STI Program to discuss and possibly partner with them on the issue of marginalized populations vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. He feels that anti-discrimination legislation needs to be looked at much more carefully. Naomi Francis believes that we need to remove our blinkers and speak “boldly, honestly, openly,” as she witnessed in Vancouver - “re-frame the dialogue.” Communication methods need to change. Politicians must play a greater role in delivering anti-discrimination messages, said Collin Virgo, with the media playing their part (in fact, he seemed to think that there should have been a higher ratio of politicians to journalists in the Jamaican group). The optimistic Dervan Malcolm believes that understanding is slowly growing in Jamaica. He would like to develop the contacts he made during his visit, and to use his program to encourage tolerance. He believes there should be much more outreach – Jamaican gays and those living with HIV/AIDS are not “over there.” We must reach them “where they are.”
I confess to being disappointed that more members of the media – especially print media – were not present at the Panos press briefing – although, perhaps, this was not so surprising. Two members of the Jamaican group – the Jamaica Observer’s Ingrid Brown and Carol Francis of Jamaica News Network – were regrettably also absent. However, young broadcast journalist Kathy-Ann Yetman joined the discussion after the presentations. Almost immediately, the issue of “The Church” came up (it is always described this way, like one huge, immovable monolith). It is a brave pastor or church leader who will try to confront the issue of homosexuality head-on, everyone agreed. Kathy-Ann, who produces CVM Television’s excellent “Live at Seven,” noted that the program would be talking to Reverend Peter Garth – a fundamentalist church man with strong views – on the matter. Some churches, it was noted, were more progressive in their thinking. So there is always hope. Perhaps Panos could have invited one or two church leaders on the program, someone suggested.
And the other almost immovable group, the politicians? Investment in older politicians is all but “wasted.” The burden is on the younger politicians to influence, to use different language, to lighten and sharpen the dialogue, to turn a laser-sharp focus on the issues that we are trying to avoid. The Jamaican people who we are trying to pretend don’t exist, or aren’t as important as certain other Jamaican citizens.
Why is this program so important? It’s not an academic exercise. It is an inspiration that will hopefully be a springboard for action. I congratulate all those who participated, and in particular the dedicated people at Panos for giving them this opportunity. I only feel sad for the many individuals and organizations who declined to participate in the Vancouver Exchange, once they learned what the focus was. Perhaps they might like to do a similar tour in Jamaica, instead. That would open their eyes, too.
Dervan Malcolm commented during his presentation, “Leaders must lead.” Or as management guru Peter Drucker said,
Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.
Let’s get to it. Let’s make a change for the better. Thank you, Panos.
POST SCRIPT: Meanwhile, I just learned on television that no government representative attended the funeral of Vanessa Wint today. I guess they had better things to do on a lovely, sunny Saturday. Vanessa, a sixteen-year-old in the care of the State, committed suicide in an adult prison (where she should not have been held). But then, Vanessa was just a poor teenager with psychological problems, who was deemed “unruly.” Another of those Jamaicans whose lives are, somehow, less valuable. Politicians. Businessmen/women. Leaders. Followers. Can we all please try to care a little more, this year?
Related articles and websites
Love and Peace (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jamaica paper publish anti-gay hate cartoon for Christmas (repeatingislands.com)
Sex survey finds alarming trend among young people (antiguaobserver.com)
A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://cfenet.ubc.ca (British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS website)
http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/about-us/team/montaner-j (Dr. Julio Montaner)
http://www.positivelivingbc.org/services/peer-navigator-services (Positive Living Society of British Columbia: Peer Navigators)
http://cfenet.ubc.ca/news/in-the-news/hiv-care-transformed-dr-peter’s-legacy (HIV care transformed by Dr. Peter’s legacy)
http://www.vch.ca/403/7676/?program_id=12944 (Vancouver Coastal Health: STOP HIV/AIDS)
http://www.bccdc.ca/default.htm (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control)
http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca (Vancouver Coastal Health: Insite)
http://bccla.org (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association)
http://www.drpeter.org (Dr. Peter Centre)
Back in my hippie days, this was of course my mantra. A simple expression of what life should be all about. Surround yourself with love and peace and everything will fall into place. And everyone will love you.
Of course, in the real world life wasn’t quite like that. In today’s Jamaica, there are so many barriers and walls and divisions. Love struggles to overcome them; peace flies in and shatters itself on the walls – just like a wild dove did recently (but our dove was only stunned; after a while she recovered, and flew away).
A week or two before Christmas, I heard these words repeated again at a seasonal celebration to which I was invited by the non-governmental organization Eve for Life. I have written about this organization before. It is “lickle but tallawah,” in Jamaican parlance - small, but strong. Two women run the organization: Joy Crawford and Patricia Watson, whose capacity for love seems to know no bounds. All-encompassing. Eve for Life provides care and support for young mothers living with HIV/AIDS; and most importantly, empowers these very marginalized young women (many of whom are in their teens) to achieve more than they could ever have dreamed. For example, there is Georgia Green, an Eve Teen Mom, a Top Performer in Food and Nutrition with awards for Outstanding Work in Mathematics, Spanish, Human and Social Biology and Food and Nutrition from the St. Andrew Technical High School in Kingston. And there is Keisha, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago (see “Everyday Courage” - link below), who is now studying Practical Nursing and looks forward to graduating in 2014. At least I can show Georgia’s picture.
This celebration was a Christmas party with a difference. When I arrived, the room was already filled with laughter and loud voices. The ice had been broken (although, as with any party with young people, there were some who were shy and a little awkward). The room was full with men and women – clients of Eve for Life (mostly aged 17-23 years old), and young gay males. Two of the most marginalized groups of young Jamaicans, but there was so much enjoyment and fun in the air, you would never have known. The theme of the Christmas session was “Finding Common Ground.” The participants all introduced themselves and then paired off to reflect on, discuss and present their thoughts on some photographs that were handed out. The photos depicted creatures (cats, dogs etc) living in harmony. There was much humor, but serious comments too. “If all these different species can live together and love, why can’t we?”
“We all have spaces in our hearts for love,” said one young man.
There was no looking back during these discussions. Why look back? The present is much better than the past for most of these young people; and the future looks hopeful, too. If, that is, the young people can hold strong. Joy Crawford gave a presentation on how to have a “Safe and Satisfying Season.” The practical, sensible advice was all looking forward, beyond the fun of Christmas to the New Year. “Identify one wish for Christmas Day 2012,” said Joy, and compare it with the wish you made a year earlier. See where the “gap” is. Did your 2011 wish fall through the cracks? Was it too ambitious, or too timid? Then do better this year. And make plans: plan “one action to make Christmas Day special” - whether it is taking your child to Grand Market downtown, or visiting a relative. A happy memory to enjoy in the coming year.
The message for New Year was about self-affirmation. On December 31, meditate for thirty minutes on the coming year, Joy advised. “Affirm the I Am.“ Resolve your “I Am” for 2013. Whatever your circumstance, no matter how hard, work on that “I Am.” Deep introspection that should lead to action. Light a candle for those whom you loved, who are no longer with you – parents, boyfriends, friends. Eve for Life is a great believer in clients taking responsibility for their lives – going out and doing. Inaction, loneliness can lead to a kind of letting go, losing control, depression, inertia, self-pity. The other all-important aspect of empowering Eve’s young women is sharing with each other, supporting each other. Stay in touch.
The party continued. Groups of young men and women sang carols. One group began quietly, then in the later verses gave the song some true Jamaican verve and swing. I have a wonderful photo of their laughing faces and dancing feet, but cannot share it here. One young man sang so beautifully that his voice was almost swamped with whoops and cheers.
So, as 2013 comes into sight, what are the opportunities and challenges for Eve for Life and these courageous young women? (Yes, they are courageous, believe me.) According to Pat Watson, the children need more support. Some are finding challenges at school, and they would like to set up a homework program for them. And most of their mothers are now at school, many of them in HEART training programs learning IT skills. They will emerge well qualified, eager and optimistic for a job; Eve for Life needs to find work for them, or all the hopes these marginalized women have of establishing themselves in a full, productive life will be dashed. Employers, please consider offering work to the disadvantaged – to those who just need a “second chance” in life…. And everyone, please consider supporting Eve for Life, and other organizations who help to hold together the lives of Jamaica’s most vulnerable citizens.
As I left, the party showed no signs of winding down. There were hugs, gifts, smiles, music, the exchange of contact numbers. The children chuckled, cried, chased each other.
This was a Christmas party with a difference. One I would not have missed for the whole world…
Love and Peace.
Related articles – several bloggers’ thoughts on peace are listed below:
Christmas is a state of mind: On respect, love and understanding (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/everyday-courage/ (Everyday Courage: petchary.wordpress.com – my entry for the UNICEF #HashCon blog contest)
http://www.eveforlife.org/default.html (Eve for Life website)
Peace Mantra: Preserving Peace Series (bringingspirit.wordpress.com)
Go Into the New Year as if it Were Your Last! (lipstick-chat.com)
The Symptoms of Inner Peace (mindmindful.wordpress.com)
Bloggers For Peace: WE Can Make A Difference (theobamacrat.com)
We Are All One (joejeeber.com)
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).
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.
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.
- Jamaica Anti-Gay Attack On Student Allegedly Caught On Tape (huffingtonpost.com)
- Gay Man Beaten By Guards, Mob At Jamaica University: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Jamaicans launch legal action over island’s homophobic laws (guardian.co.uk)
- Landmark Case Seeks To Abolish Jamaica’s Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Laws (queerty.com)
- A small step forward for LGBT rights in Jamaica (pri.org)
- Help Jamaica please?!? (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary)
- Gay Jamaican Man Caught Having Sex Brutally Attacked By Guard, Mob (queerty.com)
- Gay student beaten at Jamaican University (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Marksman-fires-security-guards-involved-in-Utech-beating (Marksman fires security guards involved in UTech beating)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mob-beats-man-accused-of-killing-pregnant-girlfriend (Mob beats man accused of killing pregnant girlfriend)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UTech-plans-counselling-session-for-beaten-student (UTech plans counseling session for beaten student)
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3819 (JFJ condemns act of violence against allegedly homosexual young man on UTech campus)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40922 (UTech, Marksman condemn beating of alleged gay student)
- http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20121102/news/news1.html (UTech student beaten)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110504/letters/letters1.html (“Mob rule is no rule” – another UTech incident)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure3.html (“Put an end to jungle justice” – a recent op-ed)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/ode-to-freddy-and-david/ (Ode to Freddy (and David): petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/jamaican-maurice-tomlinson-is-the-first-winner-of-the-david-kato-vision-voice-award/ (Jamaican Maurice Tomlinson is the first winner of the David Kato Vision Voice Award: petchary)
On Wednesday morning, just as the rush hour traffic was building up about five minutes away from our house, two dead bodies were found on a scruffy open lot – one of those that is fenced, but does not really keep people out. One man was lying on his back, the other face down with a huge gash in his forehead a few feet away. Someone had attacked them with a machete, and had injured a third man, who reportedly alerted the police. Out came that familiar yellow tape. A long row of curious people lined up along the median in the middle of the road, arms folded, faces glum or completely devoid of expression.
At the time that I am writing this blog, the men had not been identified. They were non-people. No names except two nicknames, Avatar and Jermaine. But we soon realized that these were, in fact, two of those nameless, helpless young men who trail up and down the relatively well-heeled streets of New Kingston in small, bedraggled groups. They are commercial sex workers, they are gay, they are drug addicts, they are homeless; they are in one, two, three or all four of these categories. They may suffer from HIV/AIDS; they may suffer from mental illness.
They are human beings.
Some Jamaicans, it seems, do not see them as human. First, they dehumanize these groups; after that, it is that much easier to persecute them. Just as Hitler did with the Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and black people. They are not like you and I; they are subhuman, these Jamaicans believe. They are raped, they are beaten, they are chased away. They hide in the corners of these open lots, where the grass is high, and live with the rats and scrawny street dogs, in the open air. They hide there until someone finds out where they are living, and chases them away, or calls the police, or worse. In this case, worse.
One early media report suggested that the young men may have died because of a lovers’ quarrel. This is a common way of explaining away homophobic murders in Jamaica. Once it is established that the victim is gay, it is put out there (with the media complicit in much of this) that “Oh, you know, gays get very jealous and they are very violent by nature, and this was a love affair gone bad.” They enjoy as many lurid details as they can get their hands on – whether backed up by any facts it doesn’t matter too much. I don’t really see how two men can hack and stone each other to death; these are the preferred instruments of mob killers.
Well, a man is reportedly in custody, and in this case we shall see what explanation there is. But nothing will change. This drifting population of the homeless, the helpless, the marginalized will continue on its weary way, hiding where it can, begging for help where it dares.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) put out a statement today, noting that there have been eight gay murders in the past three months. But listen, does anybody care? No, most Jamaicans are obsessed with politics, with the corrupt and conniving political parties, with taxes, the inflation rate (just on the rise), with the Jamaican Dollar (now slipping), with fashion shows and parties and scandals and online porn and church meetings. Defenders of the Jamaican citizen’s right to life, dignity and respect are seen as whining, or they have a political agenda, or they are trying to drag society down into the mire of a kind of “free for all,” liberal society such as that espoused by President Barack Obama (yes,it is ironic that Jamaicans all profess to support President Obama; but they would never support his policies – if U.S. political parties were . It is the opposite.
If we cannot care for the weakest among us, we are not a civilized society. I could quote some Bible verse from the New Testament for the Christians among us; but I certainly do recall that Jesus sat down by the roadside and talked to prostitutes and others who were considered beyond the pale by the “upright citizens” of society in those days. Am I correct, or not? My husband has witnessed with his own eyes people coming out of church and stepping over and around a man lying on the sidewalk; he was having a fit. Here in “one love” Jamaica.
Meanwhile, there are other horrors, incredible grief, mourning and inconsolable loss. A teacher and the daughter of a Trinidadian Mayor is missing; two farmers found a charred body in a cane field, but it has not yet been identified. That is the high-profile crime story, but there are many others, week after week after week. For example:
- Hundreds of children have been missing since last year; an advocacy group, Hear the Children’s Cry puts out weekly lists and photographs.
- A night club owner was shot dead while playing dominoes outside his club in Montego Bay. An evening game of dominoes with friends is a dangerous occupation, these days.
- A former Kiwanis Club president and Jamaica Defence Force Major was found murdered at his home recently.
- Daily reports of middle-aged men molesting young family members or other young people – nine-year-old girls, a three year-old sexually abused and murdered, etc.
- A man stabbed a woman to death during an argument in the quiet Blue Mountains, nearly decapitating her. It hardly made a headline anywhere, just a quick news item, move on…
- The numerous deaths of young men in inner-city communities, mostly unsolved.
- The deaths of many Jamaican citizens (mostly the above-mentioned young men in inner-city communities) at the hands of the police force, agents of the State.
- http://www.jflag.org/2012/06/gays-saddened-by-recent-murders-call-on-prime-minister-to-act/: J-FLAG press release
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/where-are-they-now/: Jamaica’s missing children
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/innocence-and-loss/: Innocence and loss
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/: Rights and Wrongs
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/: Jamaicans for Justice website
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3444: Too many still dying at the hands of the police
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican Women Write! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 – the dark side (repeatingislands.com)
- Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bodies-of-two-men-found-in-New-Kingston_11695979: Bodies of two men found in New Kingston
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-community–saddened–by-recent-murders: Gay community saddened by recent murders
- Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican cop charged with beheading witness in corruption probe (theprovince.com)
- Reflections on being homeless, Part 3 (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Vulnerable groups claim being denied EU funding (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
- http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=37867#.T9oj7SoiOtI.facebook: HIV positive man arrested for allegedly raping daughter’s friend
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com) – a very important article by Jamaican youth activist Jaevion Nelson