A fellow blogger, Diana McCaulay (also a well-known environmental activist and award-winning novelist), is a Jamaican living in Jamaica. She wrote this post yesterday evening on her blog. It is about love and family, hatred and bigotry. It is very personal, and painful – and sad. Do read, and share. The link is at http://www.dianamccaulay.com/apps/blog/show/19730499-i-promise-to-love-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life
Two male students from the University of Technology (U-Tech) were said to have been caught in a ‘compromising position’ in a bathroom on the evening of November 2nd, 2012 – it is not known what they were doing and all a mob needs is a rumour. A growing crowd of other students chased the young men across the campus. One of the students escaped. The other sought refuge in the security guard post on Hope Road and what happened next was filmed by a cell phone camera. It is dark and the figures are shadowy, but it is clear that a crowd of hundreds is gathered shouting anti gay curses, demanding blood. There is laughter and an air of salacious excitement, what happen, some voices ask? One voice asks to be let in on the fun. The video camera steadies and the inside of the security post can be seen through the glass. The three security guards seem unsure what to do, but soon two of them beat the clearly terrified young man. The crowd roars. There is the sound of breaking glass.
It seems to me a Pontius Pilate moment, if I remember my Bible correctly. An innocent man delivered up to a judge of sorts, a baying mob outside. The judge seeks to appease the crowd with a beating but it is not enough. And we know the end of that particular story.
Other facts emerge. There had been car thefts the night before, a recurring problem on the U-Tech campus, leading to a horrific mob killing in 2003. Some people seem to have thought the man being chased was a car thief, as did the security guards, at least initially. Students found the young man’s photo and plastered it all over the Internet, destroying any hope he can continue to live a normal life in Jamaica, at least for the foreseeable future, and jeopardizing the continuation of his education. The guard company, Marksman Ltd., fired two of the guards the same day, the fate of the others is still under investigation. U-Tech issued a statement condemning the attack. YouTube took down the video, only to have it reposted over and over again. Social media erupted with blogs and comments. Petitions were started.
The title of the YouTube video I reluctantly watched was “Beat the Fish 2!!!” (sic) “Fish” is one of many odious Jamaican slang terms for a homosexual. The day after the attack, Friday, I was utterly unproductive at work, constantly refreshing the Facebook pages and blogs I follow, to see what was being said. There were no public comments following the articles published in Jamaica’s two daily newspapers. This was highly unusual. I wondered if, at long last, the editors of our mainstream publications had decided not to give hate speech any oxygen. But the lack of comment was short lived.
It’s personal for me. My son is gay. Every hateful, bigoted, violent remark is flung directly at him. I miss my son every day of my life, but I am so glad he does not live here. The question is: Why do I?
I had my Jamaican passport with me on Friday, because I needed to make a photocopy. I noticed it on my desk and I held it. I felt, still feel, deeply ashamed to be Jamaican. I felt complicit in this attack because of my long ago decision to remain here, to claim my Jamaican nationality, my Jamaican identity. Now, too late, I want to rescind that decision. I don’t want to be identified as part of a nation that defends and supports an anti gay stance as being cultural, as being Christian, as being an aspect of our sovereignty, our right.
It occurs to me this is why the separation of Church and State is vital. It seems harmless, even positive, when people say: Jamaica is a Christian nation. Public prayer at virtually every function seems relatively innocuous – oh sure, there might be people of other faiths in the room, but Jamaica is a Christian nation, right, they’ll understand, they must adapt to the majority’s wishes. But it is not innocuous. As they always have been, religious beliefs are being used as justification for the abrogation of the human rights of some. Religious beliefs belong in places of worship among those who share such beliefs and nowhere else. They must not have the weight of the State behind them.
In an interview with Cliff Hughes on Nationwide News Network on Friday, I heard the Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, strongly condemn the U-Tech attack. Well and good, Deacon Thwaites. But it was you who recently pandered to the mob in the withdrawing of educational materials trying, however clumsily, to deal with the issue of respect and tolerance for gay people.
See Annie Paul’s post Gay Bashing in Jamaica a National Policy? for more on this issue: http://anniepaul.net/2012/11/03/gay-bashing-in-jamaica-a-national-policy/
I am tired of pretending that all aspects of our culture are defensible. They are not. There is much about being Jamaican to be ashamed of – our violent and bigoted speech and action towards gays and lesbians tops the list.
A month ago, I went to England, where my son lives, to attend the celebration of his civil union with his long standing partner, another man. The registrar who conducted the ceremony began with a simple statement about relationships between gay people. She said these unions had existed for centuries but only now was it possible for them to have legal status. My son and his partner had written their own vows and the last one was a simple one: “I promise to love you for the rest of my life.” Two honest, productive, fine young men, one Jamaica’s loss, promising to love and honour each other, to walk with each other through life. I thought there should be a banner above where they stood, something huge, big enough to be visible all the way across the Atlantic in my homeland asking this simple question: WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Also Sticks and Stones by Petchary: http/petchary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/40922utechbeating20121101c.jpg and http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/sticks-and-stones/
- Two university guards in Jamaica accused of assaulting gay student (with video) (vancouversun.com)
- Sticks and Stones (petchary.wordpress.com)
- We Are Family: on Blog Action Day 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy? (anniepaul.net)
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)