I am (insert curse word) tired!

Earlier this month news surfaced about a number of incidents of attacks – verbal and otherwise – against members of the LGBT community. There was one particular report that suggested incidents against women in the LGBT community have intensified. Subsequent to that I was asked whether I believed men in the LGBT community were disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination, and before allowing me to respond, the questioner put forward her view that based on her knowledge, she believed men were more affected than women.

I flatly responded by saying no; that is actually not the case. I continued by sharing that before getting involved in advocacy about two years ago, I used to think that our intolerance as a society for homosexuality, was largely and primarily actioned against men. I used to also think, and believe that the only piece of legislation that had an anti-same-sex component was the Offences Against the Person Act, commonly known as the ‘buggery law’, never mind this piece of legislation also speaks to murder, abortion, aggravated assault, and many other offences against the person.

The first time I challenged my (old) thinking about how men and women were affected by homophobia was in an interview I conducted with Javed, who was at the time a member of staff at J-FLAG. His response to a similar question as the one referenced above got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking some more. I did my own little research and the more I explored this issue of actioning homophobia, the more I got involved with the work J-FLAG was doing, the more I became an advocate who was also learning feminism, the more I realised, what I believe today: that men and women are affected differently by homophobia, and this difference is not, and should not be, in my opinion, a manifestation of portions – greater or lesser. It is just different. What happens, however, is that many of the visible (and I mean media visible) and common (everyday) forms of homophobia that affect the LGBT population is actioned against men. The incidents don’t even need to be reported for them to become headline news.

Let’s take homelessness, for example. Very few women actually live on the street because of the circumstances around their SOGI status. Some women who are displaced as a result of their SOGI status are able to stay with friends until they ‘get back on their feet’, because familial support seems to be greater for our women than our men, of course, excluding women who become pregnant ‘too early’. So although men and women could possibly be equally (I don’t know) affected by displacement, the worst manifestation of that – which is living on the street – affects men more than it does women. And people who ‘sofa surf’ are not visible to Jane public, but people who live on the street are visible to many of us, including our media entities and our police service. Let’s take another example, non-sexual physical violence. When reports of these incidents make the news, the victim/survivor is oftentimes a man. And it doesn’t make the news because the incident was reported to the police, it makes the news because a mob was involved, or at least a small crowd.

For those reasons, and many others, an impression is created that men are disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination. But it is a myth, in my opinion. It is my work in particular with WE-Change, for example, that led me to realise just how messed up our society is in how it treats with lesbians and bisexual women, and even worse-so, how it treats with transgender women who are at greater risk than many women for being abused, or contracting HIV and other STIs. It is my work with WE-Change that made me realise just how disturbingly discriminatory our legislative framework is against LBT women. LBT women in same-sex domestic partnerships have no form of spousal rights – rights that are afforded ‘even’ to heterosexual cis-gender couples in visiting relationships. I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that now, but not a year or two ago. And even though I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that today, there is still a lot about what I, or anyone else in this context for that matter, can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about mothers who are submitting their girl child to forced penetrative sex with older men in an attempt to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about all sorts of ‘corrective’ sexual violence that lesbians experience. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by street harassment. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about a lot of things related to how homophobic violence and discrimination are actioned against the LBT women’s community living in Jamaica.

I like to talk, preferably boldly, and in an evidence-based manner, and primarily with the ‘right’ people if change is what I want to effect. And in this country, like in many others, if you don’t speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner, your advocacy is as effective as it is useless. A lot of what we have been saying when we talk about how LBT women living in Jamaica are affected by homophobia has been lacking in evidence. And I don’t mean evidence that equals to or amounts to five, or eight, or twelve women talking in living rooms about the traumatic experiences of their LBT sisters, friends, and colleagues. I mean evidence that can make use of anecdotes and personal experiences yes, but in Jamaica, in this political culture, in this victim-blaming place we call home, we need to find innovative and creative ways of talking boldly and in an evidence-based manner, with the little we have. And it will take long, it will take a very long time because underreporting is a dirty little disease, and I don’t mean underreporting to family, friends, colleagues, pastors and counsellors, I mean underreporting to rights organisations and government entities charged with protecting (technically some of) the rights of each of us.

So while I sit whether at my home, which is in a gated community that has a few watchmen and a watchwoman because I make myself able, even amidst my poverty to afford it, so I may feel safe enough to place a no discrimination sticker on my door; or while I sit at J-FLAG’s office where everyone has to be buzzed in to enter the office in an effort to reduce the possibility of being threatened or attacked by LGBT or non-LGBT persons; or while I dine at restaurants that are branded as LGBT friendly or have security cameras so I may minimise the possibility of being attacked, and in the event that I am attacked or anything happens to me, there will be evidence (I hope); or while I ride in the seat of a chartered cab to avoid frequent street harassment; or even while partying up a storm at a soca event where I can boldly wear a ‘some people are gay, get over it t-shirt without being overtaken by anxiety, to think about the creative and effective ways in which I must utilise my skills and abilities to challenge the status quo of homophobia, including self-loathing, and patriarchal homophobia, I will not talk as much as you with mere anger and disgust because I am busy in all these spaces trying to plot my moves on the graph of change, until I am able to speak boldly, and in an evidence-based manner about what I started out knowing anecdotally. All the while being proactive, to reduce the number of times we need to be reactive. And all I can use are my skills. I don’t have many, but I try to capitalise on the few I have. I am also fully aware of the skills I don’t have, including those much touted soft skills. And I make myself okay with that, even though I was recently advised at the #CWSDC2015 that in advocacy, likeability and respect are perhaps equally important. But I make what I do have, work, and work the best possible way I think I can make it work…

Yes, I know I have been blabbing for about 1000 words or so, maybe not making much sense to you (yet). But that blabbing was my preamble for making two simple and probably unimportant (to you) points in this post.

  1. I am not your kind of perfect.
  2. I am not trained, equipped, or even have the capacity to play the role of a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer.

I am sick and tired of people (advocates included) expecting that everyone who is involved in any form of social justice advocacy work, must, as a prerequisite, have social work training or even the inclination. Everything in social justice advocacy is not about reactive advocacy, in my opinion. It is not all about responding to, or reacting to crisis on the ground, always being present and visible on the ground. Always willing to be there on the ground, even when the folks who you are trying to support are (literally) spitting in your face because they don’t believe you are doing enough for them in that moment. And always going back, on the ground no matter how many times you are called, the day of the week you are called, the time of the day you are called, just always, always being there, being present, being on the ground. That is not all advocacy is about. And someone’s (read my) incapacity to be a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer should not preclude them from supporting the advocacy movement in the ways they know how to, and believe me, if you are literate, you will know that there are several ways that one can advocate. In fact, we need these several ways, these several methods, if we intend to fast-track our way into an enabling and inclusive environment called Jamaica. I am sick and tired of people who continue to create this impression that advocacy is only about doing crisis work. And I am equally sick and tired of people trying to guilt me for making decisions about how I live my life and where I live my life, to ensure that my dad, or my mom, or my sisters, or my aunt, or more importantly my nephew and partner do not have to worry all the time about my safety, about my mental and emotional safety, about my physical and social safety, about my professional and financial safety.

Nobody knows how much I struggle almost every day to do the work I do and try to do it well. You see ‘high life’ and ‘affluence’. What the hell do you know about affluence? What the hell do you know about middle class? I am poor. Yes. Poor. There are many categories of poor my friend. I used to teach Sociology, so I think I understand social class and status. And oh yes, the variables are changing, and the ‘qualifications’ are changing, but my dear, my life is no representation of this middleclass business I hear people (read you) ascribing to me. And even if I had the resources and capital and access that I believe are typically associated with middleclass status, so what? Am I not allowed to advocate because I am not homeless? Or was never raped? Or was never hungry for more than two consecutive days? Or avoid unchartered public transportation? Or is it that I should not be allowed to label my work as advocacy because I am not a Crisis Offer? Or maybe I should not say I am an advocate because I don’t use every platform I access to be angry and cuss eternally while doing very little about patriarchal homophobia? And the newest one….Am I not allowed to be a social justice advocate because my partner and I are going through the worst darn possible patch of our relationship because I messed up and she messed up?

Let me talk about this newest one…

It seems as if in writing about the challenges experienced by LBT women in that report I referenced in my opening paragraph, the eloquent ghost-writer who also spoke about the grave underreporting of homophobic incidents, suggestively linked my ‘affluent’ living and this darn bloody rough patch I am experiencing with my partner to this underreporting. The stimulating and refreshing piece was brought to my attention by a friend of mine via email. The preamble to the email was that the public brawl between my partner and I on Twitter a couple weeks ago (something we are still trying to navigate but making peace as we go along) has resulted in a loss of trust and perhaps respect for both of us and the work that we do. And that one of the organisations with which we are affiliated will now be incapacitated in some shape or form, and lesbians and bisexual women will now be concerned about reaching out to the organisation for support.  The trust has been broken I hear. Because clearly, my partner and I are not allowed any rough patches. And if we are even allowed rough patches, these can only be accessed in private. And then when we come into the public sphere we what, pretend? Of course! Pretend like we are always on top of the world. Pretend that everything about us, between us, is perfect, that I don’t mess up? That she doesn’t mess up? And we are somehow an ideal couple from Mars?

Sorry to burst your bubble. I messed up, real badly. And my partner was justifiably mad at me for messing up and it got ugly. It got really ugly, especially on Twitter. And in my real world, that is ok, and ought to be ok, in my opinion. We are real people, with real feelings, with real issues, with real hearts, with real pain. And we hurt when we hurt each other. We don’t hurt each other a lot, but we do, sometimes. And it doesn’t make us any less competent to do our work. It doesn’t make us any less of advocates. It doesn’t make us any less human. And we fix it. Always, we fix it. Because we acknowledge privately and publicly that what we did was messed (you can tell I desire a different word) all the way up. I am not saying or suggesting that everything that happens in the private domain should, or must, or will happen in the public domain, because god knows, if our sex life was public, many of my colleagues, especially the close ones, would probably have heart failure. What I am saying is that we are not by nature – individually or as a unit – hypocrites. And so as a couple that shares a lot publicly, especially the silly spontaneous stuff, when we do mess up and get really angry at each other, sometimes, sometimes, social media becomes our coping mechanism, our ranting agency. And for that, don’t crucify us. We love our work (well I love mine most days), and we love each other. We try our best when we are at our best, and we try to cope when we are at our worst. If this means that some so-called trust in us and the organisations with which we are affiliated will somehow be lost, then maybe the holders of that trust aren’t so sincere, and real, and honest, and human after all.

I am not a leader. But I try to be a good worker most days. And it is my partner, more than everyone else (well, maybe there’s a tie with Jaevion) and everything else, that, by her very existence and belief in me, inspires me daily to be the best worker, advocate, colleague, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, and partner I can be.

If anybody’s trust or belief in me and the work I do is rooted in an idealistic perception of Latoya McFee Nugent, then I am unaffected by your loss of trust and belief in me.

Please forgive the absence of pictures in this post, and the incomplete arguments, I was really just ranting and not speaking boldly, in an evidence-based manner.

Peace

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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.

#RightsAndReligion

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Yesterday I attended the Public Lecture at the Faculty of Law, UWI Mona by Robert Wintemute of King’s College, London. The question he sought to answer was: Lesbian and gay human rights in the Caribbean: Would decriminalisation restrict religious freedom? While I found the title of the lecture to be problematic I welcomed the fact that there would be yet another space where ideas and opinions around LGBT issues would be shared and debated.

Sadly, I realised at the end of the function that human rights was in trouble in Jamaica, not because we don’t love and respect all persons, but because we don’t regard personhood.  The church in Jamaica and some of those who stand with the church believe that their doctrine should supersede each person who is perceived as anti-church or anti-religion.It seems there is no person if there is no church. You should not be counted among those who are deserving of love and respect if you don’t stand with the church.  And you cannot stand with the church if you are non-heterosexual or gender nonconforming.

One openly Christian man likened a certain ‘homosexual act’ with that of jumping off a cliff. According to him, if he has a friend and discovers that he is gay, because he loves him he would encourage him to change, in the same way he would prevent a friend from jumping off a cliff.  I do not want to analyse this so let me move on. . .

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At the heart of this tragedy(?) is the recognition that some of our tertiary level students are deprived of the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to advance this nation. Basic human rights concepts like sexual orientation are not understood. And I blame our laws and how we teach our students. The reasoning – even by some law students – is that since anal sex is illegal, and some gay men indulge in anal sex, then being gay is illegal, (never mind married heterosexual couples who may indulge in anal sex in their undefiled beds). The drought of education baffles me.

Apartheid

While Robert delivered a very informative, evidence-based lecture, it was capsized by the inappropriate, impassioned, irrational, over exaggerated, uninformed views of some members of the audience – an audience that questioned whether he was promoting sexual Apartheid against the heterosexual majority much like the white minority did against the black majority in South Africa’s racial Apartheid.

The event certainly could not end without the coitus-like conflation of paedophilia and homosexuality, and the issue of bestiality as a rebuttal (?) to any arguments made for revising the ‘buggery law’ to exclude consenting adults in private. Perhaps we should conduct a survey among livestock farmers and pet owners to identify the animals out there who are able to consent to sex with humans.

I am so frustrated!

When will we recognise that the rights of LGBT persons should have nothing to do with religious doctrine?  Was Vision 2030 crafted to include heterosexuals and gender conforming persons only? Aren’t LGBT persons entitled to Jamaica as the place of choice to live, work, do business AND RAISE FAMILIES? Perchance we will be covered in Vision 3030.

Peace.

My Human Rights Day Plea: Embrace Difference and Celebrate Diversity

To deny people their human rights, is to challenge their very humanity.

–Nelson Mandela

20131209_125424-1Yesterday I sat for approximately three hours with a wonderful sage and storyteller – Thomas Glave – as he chronicled the human rights movement in Jamaica with regard to the LGBT community. I realised that though the cultural and ICT contexts have changed, the vision then, continues to be vision now. There are two ways to look at this:

  1. No real progress has been made since the vision is no different
  2. While we have achieved quite a bit in advocating for the LGBT community there is more work to be done

I prefer the second interpretation. It also speaks volumes to the institutionalised marginalization of the LGBT population. We have been “squeezed out” of law reform, we have been “squeezed out” of a number of policies, we still face discrimination at healthcare facilities and we are now chastised almost on a daily basis by the church and in our music.

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There is an inherent problem with how we treat with difference. Here in Jamaica we do not have a culture of respecting, accepting or celebrating diversity, even though we are “out of many, one people”. And it is for this reason we treat the “other” with dissonance. We cannot seem to do what Father Garth Minott asked us to do – “put the human being first”.

How do we move from this point to adopting the Vienna 1993 Declaration on Human Rights, to, among other things

[Recognise] and [affirm] that all human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person, and that the human person is the central subject of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and consequently should be the principal beneficiary and should participate actively in the realization of these rights and freedoms…[?]

It is not a hard task to treat all people with love, respect and equality. Many of us continue to perpetuate the social inequalities that exist and have done nothing actively or passively to correct the sometimes inhumane way we treat with difference. We stand idly by or participate in the public verbal and/or physical abuse of a mentally unstable individual, or a gender non-conforming teen, or even a woman.

We need to unlearn savagery, brutishness and apathy.

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I have learned to celebrate diversity and speak on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. Let us choose today and every day to be guided by love. #iChooseLove, do you?

Happy Human Rights Day!

PS. Join the human rights movement today as we stand in solidarity at Emancipation Park from 5:00pm to 6:30pm.

Issue Brief: Homophobia and Violence in Jamaica

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J-FLAG has recently published an Issue Brief on the state of Homophobia and Violence in Jamaica. Please see report below.

Since July 2013, subsequent to the murder of 16-year-old Dwayne Jones – a transgender teen in St James – there have been several news reports of brutal attacks perpetrated against LGBT people across the island.

In August 2013, a group of five LGBT persons were marooned by an angry mob in a community in Manchester; a transgender female was attacked and had to be rescued by the police in Portmore, St Catherine[ , and two gay men were evicted from their home in Central Village, St Catherine. There have also been allegations of murders including the killing of a popular transgender performer in Spanish Town, St. Catherine.

These news reports have reinforced the argument that LGBT people live in very difficult circumstances and are at great risk of discrimination and violence. However, many Jamaicans argue LGBT people are no more at risk of violence and abuse than anyone. Some, including persons aligned to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), have also said that incidents of violence against LGBT people are perpetrated by LGBT people themselves.

There is however, little evidence to substantiate any of these claims. The police has very little documented reports of violence against LGBT people and those recorded by J-FLAG have not all been investigated.

This briefing paper aims to provide information on the total number of reports documented by J-FLAG since 2009 and the similarities with national data provided by the JCF. It is intended to guide a more informed discussion about LGBT discrimination and violence. Finally, it is hoped that this paper will provide the impetus for the Ministry of National Security and Jamaica Constabulary Force to take further steps to empower persons to report all incidents of violence and conduct thorough investigations.

Read here: Homophobia & Violence in Jamaica – J-FLAG 2013

When Women lead: The Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference [CWSD]

mugabe-sleeps-at-conference-590x444 I have never been quite fond of certain conferences and workshops primarily because some of them tend to be useless and unproductive at best. I do not know how others feel about this but in my opinion it is a waste of resources to engage in 2-7 day workshops and conferences when at the end of same, no real progress is achieved, no impact is felt and no value is added except splashes of fresh or salted water on frail bodies, fine dining, and island tours.

1209416_10101338764082977_1294583948_n Some workshops and conferences do produce incremental progress and have in fact benefitted the LGBT community directly or indirectly. Some have more impact than others, and forgive the feminist thrust,  but the recently concluded Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in Curaçao (September 23 to 29) proved to be interficiam prae reliquias. I went to the conference with no expectations because I did not want to be grossly disappointed at the end. But I should have known better.  After all, it was planned and organised by several powerful Caribbean women with the support of two men (?).

I had so many intellectually exotic moments and orgasmic inspiration especially in regard to the youthful age of some LBT activists in the Caribbean. I do not know if it was the chemistry and bond of sisterhood among the participants, but we were largely supported by each other and even the introverts who sometimes lost themselves to the stereo did not get much opportunity to do so. I had many highlights on several levels – the professional, the intellectual, the social, the personal and the developmental.

1376634_10101338773563977_1283026282_n The conference was scheduled concurrently with Curaçao Pride which added much value to the experience.  Experiencing Pride in Curaçao made me realise that there was so much more that needed to be done in Jamaica with respect to the freedom of LGBT persons. It made me realise that I have been a victim of false imprisonment in Jamaica given the extreme social, cultural and religious restrictions placed on the LGBT population even for persons like myself who try to push the boundaries in my own way…

It was an all-round beautiful experience with beautiful women.

Women who:

Taught me how to more effectively engage my family, community, and society with respect to the human rights and freedom of LBT women;

Women who:

Taught me how to defend my person if I was being physically assaulted;

Women who:

Solidified my belief in the role of research and documentation in LBT advocacy;

Women who:

Educated me about the legal plight of my fellow LBT women across the Caribbean;

Women who:

Demonstrated for me that leadership was centred on responsibility, transformation, skill, and positive attitudes;

Women who:

Taught me how to pool resources to better serve my community;

Women who:

Taught me how to use my spaces strategically to advocate for the rights and freedom of LBT women;

Women who:

Opened my eyes to a Caribbean world of powerful, resilient, inspirational, innovative women;

Women who:

Inflamed this lit match of passion for the LBT community.

1382390_10151998632348900_101610617_n I feel honoured as a participant in the CWSD Conference and I extend much gratitude to the organisers and fellow participants for making it a historical success.

Women! My champions! My inspiration!

Vivir mi vida!

-Photos courtesy of Amina Doherty, Jalna Broderick and Tieneke Sumter

Covert and overt language: Progress in anti-gay music?

power-of-language

Some of the greatest Caribbean sociologists, like their North American and European counterparts have long demonstrated through research that language was the centrepiece of culture. While all components of culture play an important role in the social development of every society, socialisation would be impossible without language – the spoken and the unspoken. So fundamental was language to the socialisation process that children such as Oxana Malaya and Dina Sanichar who were socialised in the wild, exhibited characteristics akin to animals. Early life for these children and others was spent among wild animals. The children inadvertently grew to adopt the animal way of life – their only source of communication and socialisation. They were incapable of human interaction and had to be re-socialised through human language so they could begin behaving like human beings later in life. The importance of language cannot be overstated since without it the cycle of society would seize to exist.

Language has been universally recognised as the fort on which society was built. Therefore, it is important for us to use it responsibly, respectfully, truthfully, to promote goodwill and ignite the spirit of community.  We use language in various forms and fora and for a myriad of reasons.  Contracts, letters of the law, constitutions, songs, poetry, books, syllabi, dance, comic strips etc. all need language to convey messages; messages that usually have to be decoded by the receiver. Sometimes, especially in law and the creative arts, we find there is insufficient homogeny in how language is decoded.  This presents a barrier of sorts, and in some instances fragments of, and other times whole societies are ill-treated, misrepresented, deserted, abused, criminalised, and ignored.  Biblical language, for example, has been used to demean women and castrate those who dare to love their own gender.

If language is such a powerful tool why is it so difficult for my neighbours, former church colleagues, former classmates, educated brains, professionals and the society as a whole to understand the need for language that supports equity and respect for all people? We boast and fool ourselves into believing that we have a healthy democracy in which citizens are beneficiaries of free speech, yet refuse to accept the responsibility that is a part of the package. Wake up Jamaica! We cannot continue to use our languages – the Jamaican and the British – to threaten the existence of minority populations.

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We have a violent and aggressive culture embedded in our music and entrenched in our hearts and minds. This violence and aggression is more often than not enforced by majority populations that seek to dehumanize minority, vulnerable populations such as LGBT persons. This was the primary reason for the establishment of what was called the “Stop Murder Music” campaign in Jamaica. The primary aim was to “challenge governments to hold dancehall artists accountable for songs that call for the death and persecution of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans-identified (LGBT) people”. There has been much debate about the impact of this campaign and whether it translated into real progress for the LGBT community in Jamaica. Many of us may not understand the psychosocial impact of hearing music in public and private spaces that vitiates our humanity and maligns our existence.

So allow me to rant a little about this progress some of us are claiming in respect of anti-murder, anti-gay Jamaican music. Preparing for this post was emotionally and psychologically challenging.

I spent several hours playing and replaying nine (yes, only 9) reggae and dancehall songs released between 1998 and 2013. I discovered that prior to the Stop Murder Music campaign, our beloved and idolised artistes had some semblance of a social campaign which advocated in creative ways for the murder of LGBT people. Most of the lyrics had a bulls eye on gay men, gay men who were worthy of 5000 gunshots each because certainly nuh man nuffi have another man inna him bed. Phallic men and sodomite fi dead or get kick inna face. Most of this cultural expression of language was pre 2007 when the Reggae Compassionate Act was established as part of the Stop Murder Music campaign.

I am still not certain why an artiste and/or his writer would sit for minutes or hours or days to pen lyrics that promoted the dehumanisation of a category of persons only on that basis. The ink and spit of hatred has permeated the society in profoundly disturbing ways. We infect the vena cava of LGBT people and celebrate at the beeping sound of a flat line afta de place done spray and wi walk out. I am certain the Stop Murder Music campaign was a good move, it must have at least provided some psychological relief for the LGBT community.

But what happened next, worries me more. . .

Artistes pureed their creative juices to deliver a stronger airtime-friendly covert declaration that fish nuffi inna ital dish and man nuffi squeeze man weh de bump deh.  Mi sista nuffi mek Natasha lift up ar skirt and yuh nuffi tun like cornmeal. If that wasn’t clear enough, we should keep our slackness to ourselves. So you tell me which language is more powerful and widespread? Which songs will be heard on radio unedited? Which songs will be played on air almost any hour of the day? Which songs will be performed at national family events?

I want us to educate ourselves as members and allies of the LGBT community in respect of overt and covert homophobic language splashed all over our music. Our artistes need not pen “clever homophobic lyrics” that slyly debase us in hope that it will go unnoticed by those they seek to degrade. Let Tanya Stephens be an example to them. . .

Tanya

Tanya Stephens is one of my two favourite Jamaican artistes. Mi love ar music long time and when I realised her repertoire was human rights friendly with covert and overt messages of respect and advocacy for minority populations, I just fell in love. It made me realise that it was possible for well thinking artistes to use their power of language and influence to create safer societies, more respectful societies, more equitable societies and humanistic attitudes among our people. Why can’t we have more songs like Do you still care?

“Why can’t you accept me as I am?”

Why can’t a male sing Dye dye?

Let us use language to build prosperity and community, not dehumanize and malign the minority.

Peace

What does the devil have on me?

[. . . eloquently penned by an emerging poet and dear friend of mine – Rochelle McFee.  Feel  her pain from  the remnants of a pulled cardiac muscle and a bruised love, which landed her in the prison of hell at the right hand of Lucifer].

the devil

So what does the devil have that I don’t have?

Rage?

Anger?

Vengeance?

Does he somehow have a knife that is too sharp for my grasp? A temper that is connected to unforgiveable treachery that I couldn’t possibly understand? Is he the epitome of hate or just a victim of love? What does the devil have on me?

You sit there so superficially perched condemning me for being so violently wicked. Violent because I leave no stone unturned when dishing out that which you truly deserve. But did you not notice the violence in my love that was given without care for who else was there, without concern for what the makers of this doomed world would think?  Does the devil have a greater desire to avenge his being dethroned or do I? Do I have the right to make you a victim of my love?

He has led men to abandon their pregnant wives, thieves to rob an old lady of her last morsel of bread. He has created murderers! Fucking paedophiles!

BUT . . .

Is he any worse than me…? I mean really, does the devil have anything on me?  I contemplate raping you, ripping from your belly that ever blooming trust, I consider it as my biggest and only sin. But oh the sins that will be connected to that one are numerous and they are putting me on a blackboard to compete fairly with Lucifer.

So let’s make the comparison or better yet let’s determine who is worse:

I lay there knowingly; I let him suck from beneath me, my innocence.

Knowingly I take part in this daily grind!

The paedophile or the willing prey: who is worse or are we but one and the same?

And what about the thieves, yes what about those monsters Lucifer has created? Are they monsters because they take that one last morsel of bread, are they monsters because they deprive you of that which you are not willing to share…?

BECAUSE

You take from me pride, while I rip from you trust, but the difference is I do so knowingly.

I was also willing to sell my soul to feed you and maybe I did.  You swear in hell’s name you are the victim, you curse, you cry . . . only, your tears are rock solid and you say to me “you belong in hell”.  Well I am in hell and it is a Joint Tenancy because guess what… Lucifer has nothing on me!

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There are no clear lines which separate us, no boundaries which keep me looking in…I want to be just like you. Rape even with the abundance of pussies, murder for the sake of shedding blood… I want …to be able to look deep into you…know you, your one true desire… and even with those haunted eyes…I want to say “no”  to you. So what does Lucifer have on me?

He rapes…I rape

He murders…blood perfumes my air

He makes paedophiles…I encourage willing preys

He dispels fire…I willingly jump in

He says knowing that it’s not true: “go get her back she is waiting for you”

I move as though I am finally going after my dream then I pull the same knife that I used to cut off her clothes….I plunge it violently in the spot that hurts the most…then I softly utter: “ this was a terrific Mind Fuck”!

What it means to be homeless and LGBT in Jamaica: Solutions(?) from two wandering minds

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The displacement of persons is a problem common to many countries of the world including developed nations such as Canada, France, the UK and the US. In 2005 the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing – Miloon Kothari – reported that over 100 million people were homeless worldwide.  As a small island developing state Jamaica suffers from a severe lack of resources often spent on band-aid solutions to our socioeconomic problems.

The pintsized respect for minority populations in Jamaica is at best depressing for well-thinking individuals. We have a nauseating culture of teasing, mistreating and bullying persons who are different in one form or another, and the state has failed miserably in its handling of the economically and socially vulnerable. This has given rise to civil groups, lobby groups and non-governmental organisations. These organisations try to fill the large gaps that result from state neglect. Some organisations do not have the capacity and/or resources to effectively fill these gaps, so the economically challenged has been forced to take matters in their own hands, create their own states and social nets in an attempt to navigate their way out of poverty and social derision.

Homelessness is a social problem that has plagued Jamaica for several decades. Our treatment of homeless persons leaves much to be desired; we regard them as decadent members of society to be dumped near mud lakes or transferred in Holocaust fashion away from tourist, upper class spaces into non-tourist middle and lower class spaces. I recently read a few articles from the Jamaica Observer, which revealed a certain debasing characterisation of this minority population as “uncontrollable”, “outlandish” and of which some residents were “disgusted”.

Further, when I examine the academic literature (Elliot: 2010, Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute: 2012, Charles: 2012) on deported migrants for example, I find upon their return home, because of the discrimination and shaming associated with their “deportee” status they end up being homeless, moneyless, jobless and defenceless. The state has abandoned these persons so it should be no surprise that individuals who are displaced because of their “abominable” sexuality and gender non-conforming persona, experience this bane of homelessness and neglect.

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The plight of homeless LGBT persons is exacerbated by the abuse, assault, battery and murder that have become characteristic of being LGBT in Jamaica. And let me just point out that homelessness among the LGBT population is not limited to the poor. Our culturally-guided and Christianity-inspired homophobia cuts across all social classes; no one is exempt from being homeless or displaced. While those who are closer to being economically and socially affluent, will, more often than not find it reasonably easy to relocate or “kotch” with friends from time to time, this does not change the fact that they are evicted because of homophobia. The circumstances for those without such wealth are worse – they become intermittent residents of abandoned buildings, bus stops and the streets.

This is one problem I wish I could commission Professor Albus Dumbledore to resolve. It frustrates my existence to live each day beleaguered by the knowledge that some members of my community have to pray to God at nights on cardboard, concrete, tar, or blocks of sponge before going to sleep. My cerebral cortex will soon explode from attempts at engineering a plan that will address this social phenomenon. I recently had discussions with a dear friend of mine who shares this passion and we have come up with a very skeletal crude idea that I hope will evolve into something practical and workable.

The following paragraphs are the result of such discussions with Rochelle McFee

We are perturbed by the disregard of the nation as a whole in how we present, represent and engage displaced LGBT persons. We must find a way to engage in a process of resocialisation for the displaced, create safe houses where they may reside temporarily until they are united with “new” sensitised families that understand their nuanced, precarious position. During their stay at the safe house (which will be monitored and managed by formerly homeless LGBT individuals), our displaced persons should engage in skills training on the premises or at educational institutions, counselling, experience sharing workshops and civic education on a daily basis, as part of a much needed resocialisation programme. Some persons, depending on their age may qualify for the Career Advancement Programme recently instituted by the GoJ.

The safe house is the first critical space since this is where skills will be learnt or harnessed. After this intensive skills training education programme, participants will, for a 2-3 months period, provide volunteer service to participating businesses and/or organisations. The purpose of this is to provide experience, develop professionalism, foster relationships, and improve time management skills while embracing civic duty.  During this period we recommend the welcome of participants in their respective new families. Parents and other family members of these persons should be engaged (if they are willing) and reunited, if possible, with their loved ones. If reunion is not possible, then the sensitised families mentioned above will become their new home until they are able to provide for themselves economically.

Additional lobby efforts will be required to place participants in salary-paying jobs in order to facilitate economic independence and create space for others. A written commitment to dedicate their time to the sustainability of the project may be encouraged. A virtual crisis management centre should also be created (until a physical one can be located) for all participants and past participants to air grouses, share ideas and experiences, and resolve any problems that may arise. We must point out that before such a project is undertaken, it is best to locate and sensitize the supporting families and places of employment needed for the initialisation of the project, which is especially crucial for sustenance. Will somebody please tell us this is doable and lend their expertise and resources . . . ???

We are of the belief that homelessness is a social problem to be addressed by the GoJ. But the GoJ is not doing enough so we must find creative and effective ways of engaging corporate Jamaica perhaps in partnership with the government and civil society. We need focus group discussions and evidenced-based perspectives on this issue to more persuasively implore those with the resources to help in meaningful ways.

As far as I’m concerned the streets should never be called home. Adequate housing is a human right!

Peace.