Conference aims to facilitate informed opinion on sexuality in Jamaica and the Caribbean
An upcoming conference at Warwick University in October 2011 is calling for papers with the aim of facilitating informed opinion on sexuality in Jamaica and the English speaking Caribbean. The title of the conference, Emerging Sexualities and Race: Responses to Sexuality in Jamaica and the English Speaking Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora, hints that it is a response to highly publicised assertions being made about Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.
The conference organisers, Dr Robert Beckford from the University of Warwick and Dr Perry Stanislas from De Montfort University in Leicester, cite as an example, the acrimonious international debate over the last nine years framing Jamaicans as homophobic, that initially focused on a group of reggae artists which was broadened to incorporate other aspects of Jamaican society, to include its legal, policing and criminal justice system, its prevailing religious beliefs and other aspects of culture.
Dr Stanislas, whose bachelor’s degree topic was homophobia and the Christian church, told People with Voices “There is a need for much more research and work in this area.” He added that widely held views about Jamaicans in relation to homosexuality are uninformed, as when undertaking his bachelor’s degree he learnt a great deal about British homophobia, which 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.”
The organisers say that there is a need for an academic response because the issue of sexuality in Jamaica and similar countries has been placed on the international agenda of Western agencies, institutions, and activists. Dr Stanislas said:
“We need to separate the actual facts of homophobia from the racism which is driving the agenda of some 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.”
Dr Stanislas said 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.
Papers are welcomed on the following themes:
- Theology and sexuality in Jamaica, the English Caribbean and its Diasporas
- Policing, criminal justice, human rights and sexuality in Jamaica, the English Caribbean and its Diasporas
- Caribbean music forms and sexuality
- Historical powers of sexuality in Jamaica and the English speaking Caribbean
- Literature and sexuality in Jamaica, the English Caribbean and its Diasporas
- Media representation and sexuality in Jamaica, the English Caribbean and its Diasporas
- Politics and sexuality in Jamaica, the English Caribbean and its Diasporas
- Sexuality in visual cultures
- Education, youth and sexuality
- Public health and sexuality
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 email@example.com) or Dr Robert Beckford.
The assertion by Dr Beckford that “not one black Caribbean police organisation has ever carried out a raid on gay men in their private space” is patently false
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’ 3 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;
8) 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.
Last month, the police in Montego Bay Jamaica assaulted a gay bar night in MoBay. See the following link, which was also reported on in the J’can press http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2011/03/jamaica-police-beat-patrons-in-bar-raid.html These are common occurances in Jamaica. This occurance, which was widely reported, shows that the author doesn’t know anything about the treatment of LGBT J’cans.
Jamaica has richly earned its reputation for massive levels of violence, shameful official mistreatment, and staggering hatred of its’ LGBT population.
Maurice’s comments is correct having read some of the materials we have received from him yesterday which shows the importance of having such a conference and sharing information. Jamaica is unique amongst Caribbean countries in terms of the police carrying out raids in private space. But in most English speaking Caribbean islands the type of aggressive homophobia which we learn coming from the Jamaican police is not common. From what we know the police in the overwhealming majority English speaking islands, of which there are many, do not carry out such raids. Reading the information received from Maurice only one of the long list of incidents coming from Jamaica involves the raiding of private space and interestingly it is quite recent. This suggests that police victimisation is intensifying, hence the need to violate people in their private/personal space.
Thanks for the information and keep it coming because you are sharing the information which is what we want to come from this conference. The majority of what we know about what is going on in Jamaica will come from what is written or from personal experiences or if we are lucky to meet somebody who can share that. I think there is no doubt objectively there is a lot of homophobia in Jamaica, especially if we compare it to other Caribbean nations, not to say they like all societies do not share negative views on homosexuality or same sex relations.
Whether Jamaica deserves the reputation it has assumes all that is said about it by its detractors is correct, compared to other countries, and there is no ulterior agenda in making such statements. Objectively there are far more homophobic countries than Jamaica, but an important factor shaping what is taking place there is a culture of lawlesness which allows particular violations and criminal behaviour to take place. But this culture of violence affects most people, but some groups far worse than others, as we can see by the homicide rate.
There is little serious writting or studies on issues relating to Jamaica and we know for a fact that a lot of what is communicated in the western media is untrue. Moreover, a lot of the information we do have is dated hence the need for a conference to update what we know is taking place in various parts of the English speaking Caribbean.
It has been a serious concern to many of us that the primary vehicle for receiving information about what is happening to the GLBT communities in Jamaica comes from white western activists not from Jamaicans themselve. For example to my knowledge JFLAG has not come to England and addressed this issue directly for us to hear first hand or any similar organisation or group of people. So if anything your comments underline the need for structured communication and education on these and other matters.
One correction Robert Beckford did not make those comments you referred to I did, even though in a more detailed context than in the article. The issue of the policing of private space is a very serious one in demonstrating the degree of repression in any given society. So I note with interest that if you go through all the major reports on Jamaican homophobia produced by various advocates, such as Human Rights Watch etc you will not find one example of GBLT people being raided in their own space and that is literature of gay rights groups, academics, agencies and in newspaper articles.
So why this crucial point has been ommitted interests me, given I would have thought it is one of the first issues that would be highlighted. My more broader point in separating facts from fiction, which we have to do to truly grasp a problem, is that many of those who claim to be advancing the Jamaican GBLT case in Western countries are hypocritical in many respects. Britain and other western advanced and rich countries only recently officially developed a more responsive attitude to these issues and have histories of homophobia which would really undemines any claim of legitmacy they may now want to assume with poorer less advanced nations.
The point about raiding people in their private space served to illustrate a practice which was the favourite of the British police and still goes on but to a less a degree which was transported abroad.
Most English Caribbean speaking police forces do not now or historically attempt to regulate what people do in private and even in Jamaica, according to writers on the subject, it is only in the last couple of decades or so that the police have begun to take a far more aggressive attitude towards the whole issue of sexuality. So if this is now a common practice then I would like to see the evidence and hope this is the type of information that will be shared at the conference. Even the examples you and others cite pale into significance when you compare how other countries have responded to the same issue. So by having up to date and accurate information we are able to understand the quantity and quality of experiences and various practices and how they compare with other places.
Similar issues surround the whole issue of legislation in Caribbean countries regarding male same sex relationships. We need to know how the law is actually used in practice, rather than theory and how many people are prosecuted under the existing law. This is actually crucial to reforming these laws in many countries. If these laws are not or rarely ever enforced, which is the case in the majority of English and French speaking countries based on current knowledge, why keep them? If they are enforced what are the circumstances of their use and how does that square with other legislation which guarentees citizens basic personal freedoms etc. There are far more pieces of legislation in Caribbean countries about basic personal freedoms than there is about sexuality so why is one being priviledged against other more important values and principles? Regretably, whenever the question how many people have been arrested under these antiquated legislation is posed the response tends to be silence.
The Jamaican Forum of All Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG) have accepted the invitation to participate in the October Conference and confirmed their attendance, along with Cecil Guztmore (University of the West Indies) and author of ‘On Judgements’.
Updates of confirmed speakers will be provided.
I am a white Gay man who lives in the West. I do have a right to speak out on injustice in Jamaica, especially when that culture attempts to present itself in a favorable light in my nation (as they do when they advertise tourism or send dancehall artists to my community). I’ll defer to Mr. Tomlinson, who is far braver than I will ever be, in this case. I’m glad he reached out to you. I strongly encourage you to reach out to him for information regarding mob violence directed at persons specifically because they are Gay. These cases do not help a hypothesis that the violence against Gay Jamaicans can or should be understood within the context of ‘general violence within a society’. You might also wish to speak with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of whom have written extensively on this topic.
If you are concerned about persons such as myself becoming the voice of information regarding Jamaica’s environment towards its’ LGBT population, perhaps it might be instructive to understand that J-FLAG faces serious security issues and many of its members must remain anonymous for fear of their lives. This is not an idle fear, as several out Gay Jamaican activists have been murdered in the last few years. Those murders took out a significant portion of the openly Gay leadership on the island. As a result, when atrocities occur, it has been difficult for them to respond and to gain access to the worlds media. I don’t speak for them, but I will ensure that SOMEONE speaks when these atrocities occur.
However, to understand the issue, here is the view of one white gay man who lives in the West.
In no case will I remain silent while persons attempt to excuse the inexcusable (we’re talking about lynchings, blatent police brutality, and mob violence here) by blaming the current environment on racism or colonialism or anything else other than the behavior of the current leaders of Jamaica’s clergy, media, culture, and government. Those leaders know exactly what they are doing, yet do it anyway.
There is very little leadership in Jamaica. Conversely, many leaders in Jamaica appear to be fostering the climate of violence in Jamaica, especially the PM, who even told the BBC that Gay persons, simply by virtue of being Gay, are unfit to be employed in his government.
I look forward to reading about your conference. And to the day when the violence, police brutality, cultural celebration of violence against Gay J’cans and political hatred is no longer an issue for LGBT Jamaicans. And to the day when all Gay Jamaicans live in an environment where they feel secure enough to be as open as Mr. Tomlinson.
Minor correction. I developed an interest in the aformentioned issue as part of research module topic as an undergraduate. My undergraduate degree is not in matters related to sexuality.
Hasn’t Maurice or Tom got a valid point about people living in Britain not knowing anything about Jamaican homophobia?
No I dont think he has because pefect knowledge doesnt exit. I have been working in a particular Caribbean country for three years now and been visting it for over 20 years and I know a fair bit about it, but no sooner as I make a comment things could have changed and that statement is incorrect. Most of the scholars who write on this topic are Jamaican and many would disagree with Maurice about Jamaica’s well deserved reputation etc.
This is part of the politics and games being played. When white GLBT people who know literally nothing about Jamaica make claims which suports the likes of Maurice they are embraced, but when other Jamaicans or Caribbean people disagree they are dismissed as knowing nothing of what is happening in Jamaica. This is traditional Caribbean politics. In St Lucia when Professor Walcott criticised the government he was told to shut up as a foreigner despite being a national hero born there with buildings etc named after him. But the family of the minister who he was criticising who live in the US etc are not foreigners right?. OK. But the assumption that only people who agree with you are important is naieve or the belief that a white foreign minority will bring about your liberation.
I should say both sides of the argument play this game of ‘who are you to speak’. When many criticised the homophobic content of particular lyrics too often they were told that you do not understand Jamaican culture or particular sub culture. This is true to a certain degree, but many of those who criticised homophobia were Jamaicans born and bred, including government ministers etc who banned the music from national stations. Moreover this argument is quite weak when we consider the fact that more dancehall music is sold outside of Jamaica than within it. Some of the stuff is so crude it does not require much cultural information to work out what is being said.
By the same token if you demand accuracy in statments made or try to provide a balanced account you can be labbled trying to rationalise and defend homophobia. I am from the ‘sticks and stone’school and primarily concerned with the facts of the matter however they may stack up or fall and name calling and other politically generated tactics are lost on me.
I have received mail from someone who is interested in the conference, but like others not able to attend. We have received communications from people questioning why we chose not to hold this conference in central London where more people who are interested can attend. That was our original intention, but due to circumstances beyond our control that was not possible.
The mail asked why so many people have a vested interest in misrepresenting Jamaican homophobia. A bit like the representation of women in crime whenever black people are associated with homophobia it takes on an added significance or ‘super evil quality’. Jamaica has been given special treatment no doubt about that. You cannot compare a poor developing country or city like Kingston with California. It is probably more accurate to say Jamaica is the most homophobic country in the Caribbean.
There are western campaigners and some GLBT people in Jamaica who will exaggerate or present their claims in a particular way in order to achieve their objectives. The fight to extend legal asylum in western countries has created an additional incentive for misrepresentation. In various parts of the world I have no doubts that asylum is an appropriate remedy for homophobic repression. But I am not convinced as yet that applies to Jamaica. For that to be the case one would have to assume there are no areas of safety for GLBT people in that country. We need to know much more about police homophobia. We know it exists, but not how extensive it is for us to say no gay person can rely on the police for intervention. Maurice’s examples tell us little about the concentration or frequency of these incidents.
There are safe spaces for GLBT people in Jamaica for the middle classes. We know from Cooper (1992) that there are Jamaicans who live openly as transvestites. We know there are British gays who live in Jamaica. An article reprinted in the Daily Mail about the death of John Terry (Jones 2009) states. Terry ‘who had lived in Jamaica for 40 years as the only white man in a remote rural area, and well liked openly enjoyed his sexual preferences for relations with youths in spite of Jamaican law’(Jones 2009).
The representation of Jamaican homophobia utilised by many GLTB activists is politically driven, as you are not going to stand much of a chance of gaining asylum if you say well I live in a particularly violent neighbourhood etc. You have to present it as all Jamaicans are homophobic and constitute a real threat to your life.
If the geography of Jamaica is a complete no go area why don’t those who are in fear of their lives move to one of a dozen English speaking Caribbean islands, where homophobia has not infected the political rhetoric or aspects of popular culture? It is not that difficult to gain citizenship legally or otherwise if you are a Caribbean citizen. There are many African refugees who have been granted citizenship in Caribbean countries who I know personally, who have gone onto play a productive role in those countries. Why have they not lobbied their colleagues in various English speaking Caribbean countries and have the matter raised at CARICOM and have a regional debate on the matter?. Instead we are told the only solution to this very unique problem, and it must be given that the research on hate crime tells us that only a small number of people actively carry out acts of violence or harassment against any group, is being granted citizenship in economically advanced and rich countries such as the UK? These tactics are very short sighted and extremely dangerous. Caribbean people at home and abroad do not take kindly to the inferences underpinning these strategies. M15 would pay special attention to anybody or group who dare played those games here by aligning yourself to ‘foreigners’ who clearly seek to misrepresent the country and harm its interests; and so they should. From my personal experiences the international Caribbean security and intelligence community, where I started my policing career, are no different.
There is nothing wrong with agendas as long as they are honourable and do not play fast and loose with the actual facts. In Wikipedia there is an entry for every Caribbean country under homophobia created by GBTL activists, who are monitoring international developments. Every entry starts by informing the reader that same sex male relations is outlawed in that specific country. Where there are allegations of homophobic incidents they are entered under the country in question. Most Caribbean countries have no entries regarding homophobic violence. But what is particularly interesting is the omission that the aforementioned laws were actually introduced by the British and most islands do not enforce the law on acts which take place in private which has been the practice since kicking the British out. If this was not the case those entries would be full of cases from the Caribbean press of men being prosecuted. These omissions I suggest are not accidental, because if they were included it weakens the basis of the political strategies and the rhetoric of those who want to misrepresent the region for their own ends.