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

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.