Americas

Jamaica needs urgent action to save LGBT people’s lives

Maurice-Tomlinson-and-LGBT-protesters-stand-09-2013

Maurice Tomlinson and other protesters take part in Sept. 10 2protest, LGBT Jamaicans Stand Against Violence.

High-horse of urgency vs. callous indifference

I met some remarkably resilient young Jamaican men on Sept. 10, 2013.  We were together at the latest anti-homophobia stand [protest] in Kingston entitled “Even in Private.”

Police evicted gay men from abandoned house in Millborough. (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner)

Police recently evicted gay men from abandoned house in Millborough. (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner)

These brave front-line warriors in the Jamaican LGBT liberation struggle were all kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.  Some have been on the streets surviving by their wits from as early as 11 years old.

After being hounded by the police and an uncaring society from one abandoned building to another, some of these individuals  now sleep in the gullies and drain pipes across the city, only re-emerging at night to scrounge for a living.  They even watched as buildings they once occupied were demolished soon after their forcible eviction by police so that the youngsters could not “re-infest” them.

Desperation drives these homeless men who have sex with men (MSM) to do just about anything.  Some engage in sex work with married men from uptown Kingston.  Yet the society remains largely ignorant as to just how our national homophobia creates opportunities for HIV and other sexual transmitted infections to spread.

Nearly a third of all Jamaican MSM have HIV and a full 60 percent of them also have sex with women.  This creates a bridge for HIV to pass between the MSM and general populations.

Demolition of abandoned house where homeless homosexual men were living. (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

Demolition of abandoned house where homeless homosexual men were living. (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

However, as far as most Jamaicans are concerned, out of sight, out of mind. We no longer talk about homeless MSM, so the problem must have been solved.  Hardly.  What we have is a ticking time-bomb, just when the Global Fund is pulling financial support for our HIV and AIDS response.

Sadly, even leaders in the local LGBT movement have failed these youngsters.  This is partly a function of the intense class divide which has come to define the Jamaican LGBT liberation struggle.  When I first suggested that we have a public stand with some of the homeless MSM to protest their treatment, I was advised by a senior member of the LGBT movement that I should not, as the youngsters would first need to be taught how to behave at a stand.  Quite likely, this elitist statement was born out of a desire not to have the homeless men distract from the nice middle-class look and feel of the emerging LGBT movement in Jamaica.

I tried to secure Precautionary Measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of the homeless youth and was advised that I had to provide specific information on the types of abuses that individual members of the group had experienced.

This should have been relatively simple to accomplish.   Several dozen persons on the island had been trained in documenting human rights abuses against LGBT and J-FLAG was the secretariat for this exercise.  J-FLAG and most of the documentarians were based in Kingston.  Many of these men were known to J-FLAG.  Their interactions with J-FLAG were also part of the reason the organization had to move location.

However, at the expiration of the two-week deadline for the collection of this information for the IACHR, J-FLAG sent me a list of the names, aliases and phone numbers of some of the homeless youth.  Nothing more.  The clear implication was that I am to contact all these youngsters myself.  Thankfully, there is a new organization on the island willing to work with these youngsters.  Together we will seek to get the necessary information before a further extended IACHR deadline has passed.

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo by Jalna Broderick, courtesy of Gay Star News)

Maurice Tomlinson in an earlier protest. (Photo by Jalna Broderick, courtesy of Gay Star News)

A cruel twist to this sorry tale is an accusation by a Caribbean LGBT academic (activist is hardly fitting in this case) that those like myself who are urging immediate action to end Jamaican homophobia are riding a “high-horse of urgency.”  His perspective is not surprising because in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago, a recent study indicated that nearly half the population is tolerant of LGBT persons and savage anti-gay attacks are rare.

On the other hand, nearly 80 percent of Jamaicans self-identify as homophobic in a recent study produced by the University of the West Indies. The month of August 2013 saw a string of vicious homophobic attacks all across the country.

Today, Saturday, Sept. 14, fundamentalist religious groups on the island are mounting yet another anti-gay march, following several similar events launched to coincide with the domestic challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law.  This case is currently before the courts and over a dozen religious groups have been joined as interested parties to oppose the repeal of the archaic and discriminatory law.  These groups have incredibly high-powered legal counsel and the government’s legal representative is known to be a member of one of these groups.  At the same time, it has been difficult to identify and retain legal counsel who are willing to challenge the law.  Such an act is considered professional suicide.

Dwayne Jones, also known as "Gully Queen." (Photo courtesy of Minority-Insight)

Dwayne Jones, also known as “Gully Queen.” (Photo courtesy of Minority-Insight)

Powerful religious leaders have also declared publicly that they are willing to die to prevent the recognition of human rights for LGBT Jamaicans.  This rhetoric is clearly being picked up by their congregants.  It was a female member of Dwayne Jones’ church that outed him to a barbaric mob at a street dance on July 22.  These brutes stabbed and shot Dwayne to death before tossing his body in a nearby ditch.  They all continued dancing and no one called the police.  Not surprisingly, no arrests have yet been made in this very public act of murder.

Dwayne was kicked out of his home at age 14 because of his sexual orientation.  He was killed just two years later.  Some Jamaican LGBT academics even blame us for “milking” Dwayne’s death.  I disagree.  His death was not an anomaly, as these individuals assert, but represents the sickening froth of a bubbling cauldron that is homophobic hate being stirred by religious zealots in the country.

Urgent action is needed to address this situation, or MORE PEOPLE WILL DIE.

I hope that I am numbered amongst those riding the “high-horse of urgency” demanding respect for the human rights of Jamaican LGBT.  I would consider it a badge of honour.  I am seriously impatient with those who stay in the comfort of their middle-class locales and determine what is best for our movement, all this while people are dying.

Finally, some wimpy Caribbean LGBT leaders always raise the false choice between urgently responding to LGBT human rights abuses and forming strategic alliances to move the society along the path for tolerance.  Sadly, this set of Caribbean LGBT leaders is  unable to do both.

Dr. Robert Carr (Photo courtesy of CVC Coalition)

Dr. Robert Carr (Photo courtesy of CVC Coalition)

However, the late Dr. Robert Carr certainly could.  He was on the streets of Kingston distributing condoms to sex workers and getting arrested in the process, while making invaluable connections between all the liberation movements across the region and the globe.  His vision led to the creation of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, the preeminent HIV advocacy group in the region.

Some of those who would now choose to speak for the region in the way this great man did are simply unworthy of the task.  They even trumpeted the news of his untimely passing as if it was now their time to take centre stage.  They are woefully misinformed and inadequate for this undertaking, despite their undeniable eloquence and mastery of passive-aggressive tactics.

Talking nice at conferences changes little.  Doing the real work of advocacy is frustrating and dirty, but it is worthwhile.   Some of us need to leave our air-conditioned offices long enough to see that.

Pardon this rant.  However, on this cold Saturday morning while I plan my next intervention to address Jamaican and Caribbean homophobia, I needed some perspective.

The work IS urgent.  It is truly regrettable that some of the current LGBT leadership fail to see that, or are just too comfortable and callous to care.

23 thoughts on “Jamaica needs urgent action to save LGBT people’s lives

  1. Well said Maurice Tomlinson. I support all that you have said and assert. Unfortunately, here in T&T, the apathy of our local LGBTQI citizenry has allowed this “callous indifference” to flourish unchallenged. I like yourself am disgusted by the state of LGBTQI activism in the region and join you in calling for a complete overhaul, accountability, transparency and proper consultation with the communities who are NOT currently be served adequately by these “organisations”.

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  2. Who are we as human beings if we ignore the suffering of others? homosexual have the rights too to live just like heterosexual, are we not one people under the same universe.

    When gays and lesbians in Africa would enjoy the same privilege like the gays and lesbians in the west are living and work with heterosexual people.

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  3. Reblogged this on Misskinx's Blog and commented:
    there is a unique level of homophobia present in jamaica but it is important to recognize that this is not solely specific to jamaica…we all, as humans, have a vested interest in preserving the lives of our community members!

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  4. Why Jamaica, Russia and some countries in Africa are so difficult to change the law that makes homosexuality illegal to legal, and we should live as one people and this world belongs to us.

    I am very happy that the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a warning to governments not to harass people who take part in U.N. human rights reviews.

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  5. Finding a way to highlight the problems that LGBT citizens are facing in Jamaica is challenging, However, the struggle has been going on for a long time by others who have come before including JFLAG. If a useful dialogue is to continue between the relevant groups involved, it should not include pointing fingers at organizations like JFLAG. Rather, the dialogue needs to build on the work of others and show the world that the LGBT community is unified and productive. Dividing to conquer has not worked in the past and should be avoided at all costs in the future.

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  7. Let me state that gay rights activists do what they do in defense of the rights of gay people as long as such sexual practice do not infringe on the rights of others.

    People against same-sex relationships think that such relationships are sinful, harmful, immortal and unnatural.

    It is the business of same sex couples to worry about that. If we are living in a global village and a free world, we should give those in same-sex relationships the freedom we want for ourselves, as long as such freedom do not affect others.

    LGBT people around world should not worried about being discrimination, stigma, harassment and attacks. Throughout history lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender have been made fun of persecuted or killed in Jamaica and other parts of the world like the African continent.

    With all of these recorded events, when will people wake up to the call of gay and lesbians rights and hearken to the cry of activist? As long as what gays, Lesbians and bisexuals practice do not affects us, we should let them be.

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  12. lol where was Maurice Tomlinson and others when they were really needed to address homelessness in MSM populations when it mattered (excluding JFLAG’s & JASL’s mishandling and imperviousness of the issues) even as Maurice was a member of the board of Jamaica AIDS Support under whose watch the only serious attempt that being a Safe House Pilot was started yet dubiously closed in 2009 after the explosion of the numbers due to a series of incidents starting in his own parish of St James, what pretentiousness, some of the same men in the photo enclosed in this piece were residents of the house but found themselves moving here there and everywhere while making mainstream news for all the wrong reasons, he too was a part of the “indifferent sect” that this article refers to yet they turned your noses up when others tried to address the issue and requested their input.

    This ugly business of homelessness has been a long standing matter (from before Gay Freedom Movement, GFM) let alone it is the most visible outcome of homo-negativity for all these years of the struggle and how convenient it now is used for public relations when hundreds of men have simply fallen through the cracks before under the watchful eye of agencies and superstars who claim they are for “vulnerable populations” some influentials have tried at the local level to assist by literally opening their doors and offering temporary shelter etc but that can only go thus far without the proper pyscho-social interventions to guide their rehabilitation.

    Continue the subtle deceptive crisis reporting while using the least amongst us as convenient reasons to when there was no genuine concern from the get go.

    Those around long enough cannot be so easily fooled by a sudden concern, homeless gay/bi men existed all along but who cares really except but to prepare flowery articles on them and recline in the comfort of rhetoric and intellectual masturbation while the men are desperate, bearing in mind that it is not only Kingston homeless MSM exist they are all over the island.

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