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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

'You don't live here Mr. Man, do you?': Jamaican gay activists vs British academic

Dr Perry Stanislas
By Paul Canning

An upcoming conference at Warwick University in the UK in October 2011 is calling for papers on sexuality in Jamaica and the English speaking Caribbean. The title of the conference is 'Emerging Sexualities and Race: Responses to Sexuality in Jamaica and the English Speaking Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora'.

Co-organiser Dr Perry Stanislas from De Montfort University in Leicester is quoted by the People With Voices website saying that the conference was a response to "uninformed", widely held views about Caribbean homophobia. The website quotes him claiming that in Jamaica:
"Statistically is safer to be gay than to be a straight male or female or child, who are killed in the hundreds every year."
Stanislas said that through research for his bachelor’s degree he had 'learnt a great deal about British homophobia' and that this 'has historically resulted in more extreme behaviour than has taken place in Jamaica'.
“The British police use to carry out raids on gay men in their private spaces for indecency etc. They even transported the same laws into the colonies but not one black Caribbean police organisation has ever carried out a raid on gay men in their private space,” he said.
Jamaican newspapers reported a raid on a Montego Bay gay bar last month. Gay Jamaican blogs and organisation JFLAG have documented police attacks as well as failures to investigate murders, attacks and rapes.


Jamaican gay leader Maurice Tomlinson has responded to Stanislas' remarks, noting that:
Since 2010 I have researched and documented the attitude of Jamaican police towards these individuals and it is my conclusion that, far from a desire to ‘serve and protect,’ Jamaican police are complicit in the horrendous abuses perpetuated against Jamaican gays:
  1. In 2006 a police instigated mob led to the death of a gay man, Victor Jarrett, on Dump-Up beach in Montego Bay;
  2. In 2007 police refused to act when the burial of a gay man was disrupted by a mob in Mandeville;
  3. In 2008 police ‘rescued’ three gay men from a mob attack in Half-Way-Tree, Kingston and then proceeded to hurl homophobic insults at and pistol-whip the men on the way to the station;
  4. In 2010 I had to stage a ‘solo sit-in’ at a police station in Montego Bay to get police presence at a ‘Walk for Tolerance’;
  5. In 2010, district constables refused to allow gay men to walk along the tourist ‘hip strip’ in Montego Bay;
  6. In 2011 police raided two gay clubs in Kingston and Montego Bay;
  7. In 2011 the police officer who took my report of a death threat went on a homophobic tirade;
In 2011 police in Montego Bay refused to offer protection for an effeminate man who received homophobic death threats.
Jamaican police largely blame gays for their vulnerability which further marginalizes this group.
Stanislas told us that he had been misquoted by the website and meant that "a general practice in most English Caribbean police organisations is they do not enforce the laws regarding to sex same relations."

This website has republished reports from other islands which does suggest this, and that 'tolerance' of LGBT exists there in stark contrast to the Jamaican experience. However anti-gay laws have been cited by activists as well as those working on HIV/Aids as sources for stigma and discrimination. And we have also reported that a number of LGBT asylum seekers, from several Caribbean islands, have been accepted by the US and Canada and we are aware of similar cases in the UK, besides Jamaican ones.

News of Caribbean gay asylum seekers in the US (in 2010 from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Dominica, the Bahamas and St Lucia) and Canada has been reported in several islands and it has been said that they 'must be false claims'.

Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States, John Beale, told the local newspaper that he was concerned about the 'damage which the claims can cause to the country’s image'.
“I haven’t myself come across any of that in Barbados," he said. "We have gays, just like any other country, but in this day and age I haven’t heard about gays being persecuted." 
“They don’t have that animosity in Barbados. I wouldn’t want to see this publicity going out there in a negative sense."
But Trinidadian activist Cyrus Sylvester, told a local newspaper:
“While some may be of the opinion that this claim is overstated, for many members of the GLBT community here in Trinidad and Tobago, persecution based on sexual orientation is a frightening reality."
Stanislas accepted Tomlinson's comments and noted that the approach of Jamaica's police was "a departure from traditional practice in terms of a historical perspective and suggests an intensification of homophobic practices in some forces which we need to know more about."

He added that police actions "[fly] in the face of comments made by homophobic politicians, including the Jamaican PM that they have no interest nor should society in what goes on in the private homes of others" which is "the historic prevailing view of the region".

He told us that the leading Jamaican LGBT group J-FLAG had accepted an invitation to present to the October conference.

People With Voices quotes Stanislas' as suggesting that publicity about homophobia in Jamaica was driven by a 'racist agenda' from activists.
“There is popular homophobia in Jamaica but it is a direct outcome of the structural violence which has been experienced in that country in terms of the impact of macro and midrange policy and how it attacks masculinity in poor urban areas which creates the context for the emergence of dancehall,” he said
Blog Gay Jamaica Watch responded to Stanislas asking "one wonders which activists is he referring to". It also said "you don't live here Mr. Man, do you?"

In response, Stanislas told us that he found the 'Stop the Murder Music' campaign, which has focused on homophobic dancehall performers such as Buju Banton, "disappointing .. is its reliance on misinformation, untruths, and shock tactics, designed to grab media headlines."

He said that it has led to Jamaican society 'closing ranks' to what was "perceived a campaign coloured by more than a touch of racism."

He said that the 'Stop the Murder Music' campaign has had an "adverse impact on the LGBT communities in those countries or Caribbean people from the Disaspora."

Stanislas claimed to us that "almost every major Caribbean academic who has criticised or written on Caribbean homophobia have equally criticised that ['Stop the Murder Music'] campaign and JFLAG publicly distanced itself from it."

JFLAG released a statement last August reiterating its support for the campaign "to ensure that artists who promote hate and violence through their anti-gay lyrics be held accountable for this incitement of violence and hatred." However Jamaican gay activists have criticised JFLAG for a lack of involvement with the campaign and JFLAG's 2011 New Year's message makes no mention of it.

An attempt by American gay activists in 2009 to launch a 'boycott Jamaica' campaign however did lead to a backlash within Jamaica and was eventually dropped after criticism from gay Jamaicans.

As an example of what he suggested was similar miscampaigning to 'Stop the Murder Music, Stanislas cited the lack of enforcement of sodomy laws in other Caribbean countries counterposed with such laws being "identified as a priority amongst many western LGBT organisations for understandable reasons and they persue the removal of such legislation world wide and is often the first thing they highlight when speaking about a country."

He suggests that "in the eyes of the receiving audiences in the Caribbean or elsewhere" they may agree that "the police think they have more pressing priorities and more pervasive discrimination is taking place elsewhere in the criminal justice system. One outcome is to weaken the strength of the claim being made, especially when the obvious questions are asked about how many people are convicted under these laws etc. The same would apply if a foreign country or interest group was making claims about Britain."

However it is Caribbean LGBT groups who have been raising the issue of sodomy laws, such as in a joint complaint to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which may lead to a ruling by the Inter American Court of Human Rights.

According to the Co-chair of Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson, the implementation of resolutions against violence and discrimination of persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity at such bodies is seen as important:
“So that it can improve the situations on the ground, so that it can have a meaningful impact on peoples’ lives.”
The conference will be held at the University of Warwick on October 21-22 2011. Those wishing to present a paper should email a 250 word proposal to Dr Robert Beckford (r.beckford@warwick.ac.uk) by June 30 2011. Authors whose proposals are accepted will be notified by July 31 2011. A selection of papers will be considered for publication in an edited collection. Enquiries about the conference should be sent to pstanislas@dmu.ac.uk) or Dr Robert Beckford.

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