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Friday, 8 January 2010

Jamaica: 2009, the year that was

Map of Jamaica
Source: glbtqja

2009 is easily one of the most active years in our recent lgbt history, we saw many new developments mostly negative on our scene and an unprecedented public education campaign as it were by the media in both print and audio/visual formats on gay issues thus giving us very high visibility. Homophobic as well as gay on gay violence increased dramatically than previous years and deaths due to both also saw a shocking corresponding increase as well. Most of the more prominent cases that have come to light are still under investigation and as feared may never get solved despite the prominence of some of the victims involved, such is the nature of our police and justice investigatory arms.

The lesbian community specifically saw a continued onslaught of homophobic incidents with the so described and disturbing “Corrective Rape” cases continuing from 2008. We saw allegedly 5 cases in 2008 and a further 4 for 2009 with one couple who had relocated from another parish to restart their lives due to a previous homophobic attack of a different nature falling victims to this awful scourge.

Homophobic and related incidents

Gay persons murdered in 2009 rose to 7 from 4 in 2008 according to my information here with of course the three more prominent cases being that of British Ambassador Mr. John Terry, the founder of the adult entertainment website Rudejam who was found dead in his apartment in December 2009 with several stab wounds and the operator of Café Aubegine who was found with his throat slashed at his Mona address. Arrests have been made by the Police on the first and third cases aforementioned that of Mr. John Terry but the case stalled late in 2009 and should recommence in 2010. The alleged male tenant of the home of the restaurateur was arrested after evidence pointed to him having blood from the deceased on his hands, in his defense he has said he tried to stop the bleeding of the victim after hearing cries for help and arriving in the bedroom to find him on the floor with his throat slashed open, he used his hands to try to slow down the hemorrhaging.

The general public’s belief that the violence meted to gays are done by other gay persons has left an air of sinicism about the cases mentioned above so the interest in having them solved has waned greatly and they are overlooked in a sense by the relevant authorities or the pace has dramatically slowed as other societal issues take precedence.

Community based violence also increased in my estimation just by the reports with the two most prominent being the house attack in South Central Jamaica where a lovers quarrel ended up with a mob called in by one of the persons involved alleging that the other was gay and leaving the victim with bruises all over and the loss of personal items. The other very public gouging of the eye incident that has been followed closely by the mainstream media especially the Jamaica Observer, the accused has since been bailed and the trial continues despite the victim’s call the drop the charges and discontinuing the case which could not be done as the presiding judge explained that seeing a police report was filed and things set in motion that could not be undone. Other small skirmishes occurred but were not of major significance and the entertainment scene saw a leveling off of fights and incidents much to the delight of party goers.


Social support and other similar activities from the sole formal GLTBQ organization JFLAG waned significantly, the usual press release followed major incidents and commentary in the respective print media however many persons specifically the homeless MSM problem which came to a head in 2008 – 9 left an ugly scar on the landscape with controversy surrounding the snap resignation of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life’s Executive Director due to a housing project meltdown and the decision by the NGO’s board to discontinue the activities with this group which included a safe house of sorts operated on the property. (See post following this) It is not yet clear as to JFLAG’s position on this issue as they have been mum as expected on the matter.

There seems to be a fear that issues must be kept secret from the rest of the community on general matters of interest. The ED of JASL at the time of this post was said to be travelling and could not be reached for comment. The homeless MSM saga became a sticky issue due to the lack of funds as said by JFLAG to adequately address the persons who fall in this category, it was the ED’s involvement in this matter that saw an upturn in the HIV/AIDS, behavior change intervention within the community and the impact was felt island wide however many are doubtful now and upset at the turn of events with mistrust re-emerging in as far as accessing testing/treatment services. This sensitive matter is being watched closely by ordinary gays on the ground as well as others in international circles including funders and concerned Jamaicans living abroad. Questions are being raised as to why it took JASL to do that kind of activity and not JFLAG fully?

Jamaican dancehall artists came under intense pressure and scrutiny from overseas GLBTQ groups specifically in the EU and the United States with emphasis under the Stop Murder Music campaign and similar typed activism. Many artists were blocked from entering countries and cities like Canada, The US (San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles), Luxemburg, Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad, and Copenhagen to name a few. Mr. Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton of course made headlines from as early as June 2008 when his CD launch and subsequent tour dates were announced. He faced protests and a hazing incident at one of his concerts in Los Angeles over his lyrics in the song “Boom Bye Bye” (Inna Battyboi head) that advocated death by shooting etc on gay men. He eventually met with a group in San Francisco to work out a supposed compromise which turned out to be a public relations stunt to avoid further cancellations of his tour dates in the US which was bleeding millions of dollars. The lack of support from other dancehall acts openly was telling as it seems many were afraid of the impact it may have had on their careers and earnings from tours and CD sales if a backlash should occur.

The lack of support from the Jamaican GLTBQ community was also telling as the cancel Buju Banton website formed by a key player in the campaign has brought to bear that very few Jamaicans registered to be a part of the agitation from our supporters up north.

His subsequent arrest by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in December on alleged cocaine trafficking charges in Florida was linked by some as a “set up” by the powerful gay lobby who are using the issue to destroy his career. As it has now turned out both issues are unrelated and public support which was strong for him at first has down died down tremendously. JFLAG had tried to diffuse the rumour mill by publishing a letter to the Jamaica Observer and radio interviews on same.

Asylum seekers and professionals left in greater numbers in 2009 that probably any other time in our recent history as persons were distraught by the conditions they had to endure from bias to fear of violence in their communities. Others left because of economic reasons to pursue better opportunities in work and study. JFLAG and Women for Women lost its Co-chair and Chair respectively (one individual) in this grouping as well. Many took the opportunity to use the favourable asylum policies of some EU states in as far as homophobic threat was concerned and have been assimilating in the respective countries. It is hoped that links can be forged with those abroad to better agitate for rights based issues here at home and their financial support would be indeed welcomed. In trying to track the numbers it is estimated that more than 23 persons have taken the move some reluctantly as the possibility of return is not anytime soon, it is not yet known if JFLAG has a head count for this year or if they have been tracking it closely as some persons access them for information of the procedures necessary.

Legal Issues

As it relates to law we saw the passing of the revised Sexual Offences Bill with the deliberate exclusion of gender and sexual orientation discrimination clauses removed after vigorous debate and lobby from the anti gay establishment chief among them Lawyers Christian Fellowship/Council led by chief homophobe Atty-at-Law Ms Shirley Richards.

There were no submissions from the gay lobby during this crucial debate along with the Charter of Rights roster as well. The government capitulated to this move by the group in a bid to sure up political mileage and pushed the well timed “No to Gay Marriage” smoke screen launched by Prime Minister Golding just before the US President Obama signed their version of the Act to make it a federal offence for crimes against persons due to sexual orientation and gender discrimination playing with public sentiments on homosexuality in general. The gay community in Jamaica never asked for gay marriage rights during the Charter’s or SOB debates. It seemed to have worked as we have been overlooked in both pieces of legislation.

The Charter of Rights in the meantime was passed in the upper house and has been sent back to the lower house for ratification within some days time (normally 60 days or so) it should be debated there again possibly gazzetted and sent back to the upper house for final passage. Sadly very little was done in the community to sensitize persons on the importance of such a Charter and the possible implications it may have on the Buggery Act and specifically male homosexual sex in general. The government is intent it seems on a theocracy becoming moral dictators for private citizens’ decisions.

Media landscape

Nearly all mediums of media had a thing or two to say or publish in 2009 on GLBTQ issues but in fairness most of the publications were fair and some even went as far as to examine Jamaica’s homophobic problem, strong articles by commentators such as Ian Boyne, John Maxwell and Martin Henry were crucial in that examination.

The juxtaposing of religion, sexuality and gender issues were refreshingly good to see coming from the aforementioned as prior t recent times their writings were somewhat of a biased nature. What was clearly lacking was the standpoint of the gay community on a whole and this is where JFLAG has been faulted for not adequately having a pubic presence except for the occasional letter to the editor and second hand reporting by journalists on conversations held with persons within the group, they came for heavy criticism yet again by the community for the poor editorial condition of their website and seeming lack of engagement with the GLBTQ community. Although there were negative letters, articles and editorials as well in some print media and gossip tabloids (notably the Xnews and Observer Chat) the strong articles helped to bring balance to the scene and the editors of the respective papers and news rooms clearly are realizing that people can’t be led anymore and that the issues are being looked at with more scrutiny. There is still more interest that needs to come from the gay community.

JLFAG presence on radio was light in 2009 in discussing issues such as the Buju Banton arrest in December, the John Terry murder case and the San Francisco protest of Buju Banton’s album tour.

One ugly media moment was the now infamous Raggashanti interview of an alleged drag queen who was arrested by Police in Central Jamaica after herself and a man were caught in a compromising position in a car in a public place. The police soon realized he was a cross dresser and the story made headlines. The Observer Chat carried a full photo of the assumed cross dresser and insinuated that the members of the Police were allegedly courting her for sexual favours. The exchange was irritating for some and many were very upset at the Chat’s article which named JFLAG in an alleged telephone interview saying that she was OK and never suffered any harm following the media’s interest in the story and the television footage. The mother paper to the Chat, The Jamaica Observer was however irresponsible in it’s handling of this story and published full face photos of the cross dresser.

Transgenderism was highlighted in a piece in the Jamaica Observer and its impact from dancehall culture, media in general has been slowly playing catch up on this issue as the public’s understanding and that of the gay community’s tolerance is still far behind.

Outlook and possible hot beds for 2010

All in all 2010 is already a dramatic year generally for our nation with the present economic woes facing us and the fledgling IMF deal the administration is trying to pin down with a letter of intent. The John Terry, Rudejam Founder and Restaurateur murders are to be watched closely this year as the respective trials and investigations proceed.

The Homeless MSM situation at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and its outcome are also of concern. It is hoped that there will be some compromise reached between the Board and the Executive Director who has tendered her resignation or maybe a new organization formed to deal with the issue of these men who clearly need all the support possible at this time. She is known to have powerful connections to funders having herself worked with major agencies in her tenure elsewhere, details of these possible new initiatives are being held close to the chests of those involved but if it comes to fruition let us hope that it may serve the men in the group for their development.

The intervention strategies by JFLAG, The Ministry of Health in as far as HIV/AIDS and social support are to be watched too as some funding should be available for this year for them.

Transgender interventions and initiatives are expected and more informative activities such as workshops and seminars are urgently required to bring into focus the widely misunderstood group.

If anything was left out let me know please and thanks.

Here is wishing you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR and thanks for your continued support, comments and suggestions. Please keep on supporting this blog and other similar typed initiatives.

Peace and Tolerance

Gay-bashing in Falmouth, Jamaica

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