Thursday, 15 September 2011

Groundbreaking conference looks at sexuality in English-speaking Caribbean

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By Dr Perry Stanislas

Emerging Sexualities and Race: Responses to Sexuality in Jamaica and the English Speaking Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora

An Interdisciplinary Conference organised by Department of Community and Criminal Justice, De Montfort University (Leicester) and the Department of Sociology, Warwick University

21-22 October 2011, The Scarman Conference Centre, Warwick University

The desire to have an open and informed debate about sexuality and human rights in the English speaking Caribbean has led to organising the first international conference of its type to address these and related concerns.

In this regard we are blessed to have some of the most influential voices in matters related to human rights, sexuality and equality in the Caribbean who first penned their views on this issue. These include Cecil Gutzmore, Denise Noble and Camille Nelson and in Britain Dr Tony Sewell and his pioneering work on black boys and education. The conference is also very happy to have internationally known human rights activists Peter Tatchell who played a pivotal role in the internationalization of the Jamaican dancehall homophobia issue.

It was very reassuring in the organising of the event that there was no shortage of international participants, especially from the developing world. However, funding to attend such events is a major problem with those from poorer parts of the world. The issue of funding and resources is crucial to how research and other work develop in these parts of the world and something which requires serious discussion which will be explored over the two days event.

Some very important issues that conference participants can look forward to discussing is what can be done by those from the Caribbean diaspora and supporters of change to influence the attitude of governments in the Caribbean.

During the radicalism of the 1980s there was a clear Caribbean agenda amongst from these quarters, but the question today remains 'Is there a Caribbean agenda amongst opinion formers that can address these questions of sexuality and human rights in societies which pay scant regard for human rights and equality under the law?' These are serious matters, especially when we consider that Caribbean governments are not slow to call on the resources of the diasporan communities in times of crisis or as sources of investment and in some instances to challenge British or European Union decisions and policies which impact on their governments.

But as the experiences of the conference organisers highlights these feelings of mutual assistance or support are not reciprocal. The organisers received no response from the numerous invitations to speak at the conference sent to all the major English speaking Caribbean governments.

How or what tactics can be used to counter the expedient uses and abuses of race or concerns about foreign western influence in domestic affairs by Caribbean governments.

An important defence for homophobia in the Caribbean and world over is the notion that it is rooted in Christian beliefs. Respected theologian and scholar Dr Robert Beckford’s paper which will be presented at the paper reveals there is no doctrinal basis for homophobia in Christian theology, which has important ramifications for the promotion of religiously based homophobia, which is particularly rife in Africa and other parts of the black and religious world.

On a positive and upbeat note papers will be presented by several scholars who highlights the acceptance of human diversity and sexuality in aspects of Caribbean and Disaporan culture.

Dr Karen Houlden will talk about the different attitudes towards same sex relations in the world of Caribbean literature compared to aspects of contemporary culture as in popular hip hop or dancehall music in hip hop or dancehall. Similar themes will be explored by Dr Tony Sewell who will highlight how respecting difference has become a positive characteristic of many black youth cultures based on his work in educating and developing black boys. This is particularly important given the influence of racism and how black young men are perceived which can contribute to erroneous connection between the consumption of popular music which may or may not have homophobic elements and their personal attitudes. Similar complexities are highlighted in the paper of German PhD student Paul Helbert.

One of the most common lines of defence of most English speaking Caribbean countries about violent homophobia is that they are not Jamaica and the problems found there are unique to that country, along with its general levels of violence. However as Dr Perry Stanislas will argue the low levels of homophobic violence in most English speaking countries, while something to be proud about, should not be misunderstood to how circumstances or events can change quickly in countries with weak or nonexistent policing systems with very poor detective capabilities. He will examine events in Antigua where a lone rapist raped over 40 women in a very small area for over two years and went uncaught, and the case of a suspected homophobic serial killer in St Lucia. Dr Stanislas concludes that there is very little preventing homophobic serial killing against LGBT people or most people in Caribbean societies and the low numbers of such fatalities should not be taken as a source of comfort.

Dr Perry Stanislas is Senior Lecturer Community and Criminal Justice at De Montfort University, Leicester
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