The Perfume of Compassion Amidst the Stench of Homophobia

Friday-The-13Th-7 Saturday, June 14, 2014 was like a Friday the 13th for me. So many things happened that day – a day that seemed packed with a few more hours than the 24 to which I have grown accustomed. But it wasn’t all bad. Some of it was quite productive and inspiring.

For those of us who watch the nightly news and have active social media accounts, or know someone who knows someone who was in May Pen, Clarendon the afternoon of the 14th, you would have heard the teeth-gnashing, heart-piercing story of a 16-year-old who had to run for cover in a clothing store in the town.

Advertising Agencies/Grey Apparently persons were disturbed by the decision to purchase a lip stain, so they proceeded to verbally attack Candy [pseudonym] with the always lurid Jamaican derogatory terms set aside for gay and gender non-conforming persons. I don’t care about Candy’s sexual and/or gender identity, but apparently it is a critical national (well maybe local government) matter that needed the urgent attention of the citizens who busied the streets of May Pen that afternoon.

It took several Area 3 police officers to successfully, and without incident provide safe exit for Candy who was locked in the store by one of the store attendants to prevent the chanting mob from causing further harm. When I heard about the incident, I became worried and my heart swelled with anger.

human-rights2 I thought of writing about the incident because of the anguish in my heart. I thought about writing because of the pain, because of the disappointment I felt. But I decided instead to write because of the goose pimples I got when I heard the very young female store attendant Kelene (pseudonym) tell me via phone that she “couldn’t push [Candy] on the outside. I honestly couldn’t push [Candy] out. [Candy] was so afraid… [Candy] is human just the same way as I am.” She “just could not” let them hurt Candy.

In a moment when I was angry at the mob of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, human beings who were ready and willing to hunt for the ‘kill’, a child who preferred a little colour, a little gloss, a little stain on the lips, Kelene gave me more than a glitter of hope.

I don’t know her age, but her voice and stature would make me guess that she was somewhere between 18 and 20 years of age, if not younger. She didn’t know Candy. She simply felt the urge to help, and in that moment made a brave and perhaps risky decision to protect Candy from the hunters outside. I don’t know if we will truly understand how much she has risked protecting this person unknown to her. I hope the universe will reward, and not punish her…

Several minutes later, I boarded a bus to head back into Kingston. And all the hope escaped me for the entire journey from May Pen. Certainly after all that drama and the density of the population involved, I was not surprised that the incident and other ‘related’ occurrences became the topic of discussion.

151676_Gay_and_Lesbian_Protest(2) Without turning your stomach too much, let me just say that there are some Jamaicans out there who unswervingly believe it is absolutely necessary for gay men to be put to death in the most gruesome ways, and that it is the responsibility of ‘straight men’ to ‘correct’  lesbians through sexual intercourse. Why? That’s easy. Being gay is an abomination!

It got me wondering: what accounts for the diametrically opposing views of Kelene and some of the passengers on this bus? I couldn’t find the answer, I don’t even know whether there is an answer, unless we are going for the insanity plea: mens rea not found…

I am still thinking, still wondering, still hoping, and still inspired by the little voice that was on the other side of my Huawei.

I believe we need more Kelenes, and we must find a way to transform the minds of some of those passengers on the bus, otherwise, we are doomed.

Thank you Kelene for recognising as Desmond Tutu did, that “we can only be human together.” And I implore you to continue to “do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Peace.

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J-FLAG Partners with JYAN to Launch Secondary School Essay Writing Competition

Background

There is a dearth of discourse and opportunities for students to learn about human rights issues in Jamaica. This is particularly true of those sociocultural, political and legal issues that affect the rights of vulnerable and marginalised populations such as people living with HIV (PLHIV), women and girls, people living with different abilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who experience layers of stigma and discrimination.

Discourse on human rights is important because it raises awareness, encourages research, and engages stakeholders in an effort to reduce and eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination experienced by the most vulnerable among us. Such discourse also underscores the principle of respect for diverse populations entrenched in our motto – ‘Out of many one people’.

The Essay Competition

Given the limited exposure of secondary school students to human rights issues, it is important that avenues be created for secondary school students to conduct research in this area while developing their critical thinking skills. J-FLAG has therefore partnered with the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) to launch a secondary school essay writing competition for students 13 to 19 years of age.

This essay writing competition will encourage students and teachers (who will supervise students) to incorporate knowledge garnered from their participation into their classrooms, clubs and societies, and in discussions with their peers to continuously raise awareness about this and other related issues.

We also hope that this will encourage the development of a stronger sense of citizenship and a deeper understanding of the rights guaranteed by all persons under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom regardless of being male or female, race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion or political opinion. All essays will be uploaded to an online repository accessible by the public as part of J-FLAG’s public awareness and education programme.

Competition Period:

The competition will run from Monday, April 7, 2014 to Friday, May 9, 2014 at midnight.

The winners will be announced on Friday, May 16, 2014 and the winning essays will be read at the Annual Larry Chang Symposium as part of J-FLAG’s observation of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

Essay topics

  1. Category 1 – students who are 13-15 years old and registered at a secondary high school in Jamaica. Students will write on the following:

Human rights are for everyone. Discuss

  1. Category 2 – students who are 16-19 years old and registered at a secondary high school in Jamaica. Students will write on the following:

The right to freedom of expression is absolute. Discuss

Prizes
The winner from each category will receive a 7” Samsung Tablet 3, a gift certificate valued at $10,000 each and a winner’s plaque. The winning teacher from each category will be rewarded with a spa treatment.

The runner up from each category will receive a gift certificate valued at $10,000 each and a gift basket. The runner up teacher from each category will also be rewarded with gift baskets.

Rules

  1. All essays should be typed with 1.5 line spacing, using APA guidelines, and must be accompanied by a reference page.
  2. For category 1, essays should be 300 – 500 words in length. Essays exceeding this limit will not be considered. Essays below the minimum word count will not be considered.
  3. For category 2, essays should be 1000 – 1200 words in length. Essays exceeding this limit will not be considered. Essays below the minimum word count will not be considered.
  4. All essays must be submitted via email to humanrightsessays@gmail.com in Microsoft Word format only. You will receive an immediate verification that your essay has been received. If you do not receive a verification email within one hour of your submission please call 849-1403.
  5. A cover page with your full name, age, name of school, your email address, contact number, and mailing address must be submitted with your essay. Your cover page and reference list are not included in the word count.
  6. Proof of age must be submitted with all essays. This may be a certified copy of your birth certificate or a letter from your JP, teacher or doctor, which should be scanned and emailed along with your essay to humanrightsessays@gmail.com.
  7. Essays will be graded based on the following rubric:
    Content – 10
    Analysis & Persuasion – 8
    APA formatting & Reference – 4
    Style & Grammar – 3

Contact Information: Latoya Nugent, Education and Outreach Manager, J-FLAG

Email: theignosticnugent@gmail.com Phone: (876)849-1403

J-FLAG Press Release – The Great Leadership Debate

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 24, 2014

 J-FLAG Partners with UWI LEADS to host The Great Leadership Debate

J-FLAG is partnering with UWI LEADS, a leadership development programme, to host a debate among student leaders from three of Jamaica’s most prestigious tertiary institutions on the role of leadership in responding to the rights of vulnerable populations. The Great Leadership Debate is a tertiary level competition which uses the parliamentary debate style to discuss issues that are pertinent to national development, traditionally between the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona and the University of Technology (UTech).

This is the third staging of the competition and with J-FLAG’s partnership it has been expanded to include the debating societies at UWI Western Campus and Mico University College. The competition will be held on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the UWI’s Regional Headquarters and will commence at 2:30pm. Specially invited guest, Elizabeth Lee Martinez, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States will bring greetings.

J-FLAG believes more dialogue around the sociocultural, political and legal issues that affect the rights of vulnerable and marginalised populations, such as people living with HIV (PLHIV), women and girls, people living with different abilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who experience layers of stigma and discrimination is desperately needed. According to Latoya Nugent, J-FLAG’s Education & Outreach Manager, “more opportunities are needed to facilitate meaningful discussions about human rights to allow people, including human rights advocates to learn about these important issues if we really intend to be a safe, cohesive and just society by 2030.” Rasheen Roper, Coordinator for UWI LEADS adds that “The Great Leadership Debate is one such opportunity that allows for the investigation of our thoughts and how we treat with the role of leadership in advocating for, and protecting the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.”

A panel discussion and Question & Answer featuring members of the participating debating societies will follow the debate. Editors’ Note: UWI LEADS – Leaders Engaged Activated Dedicated ready to Serve (UWI LEADS). UWI LEADS is the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) leadership development programme which offers leadership development opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at UWI Mona. -END-   Contact Rasheen Roper, UWI LEADS 351-0133 Latoya Nugent, J-FLAG 849-1403

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