An Article from The Jamaica Gleaner
Whenever we read articles such as this from the Jamaica Gleaner, we at Right From Yaad believe that there maybe some remote chance that Jamaica can reverse course. This young man Jaevion Nelson (whatever his orientation, we care not and it is irrelevant) has been consistent in his columns in the Gleaner regarding our society’s approach to sex, gender roles and sexual orientation.
If we are to truly progress and evolve into a more mature and productive nation, where everyone can live freely and free from fear, then individuals in Jamaica must understand what human freedom is about. Jaevion gets it. The State does not.
HURLING THE FIRST STONE
By Jaevion Nelson
THE VIOLENT expression of our ignorance and prejudices must be a hallmark of Jamaican identity. Seemingly, this is, especially, to deprecate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. What compels Jamaicans to articulate disapproval of homosexuality and gender non-conformity with hate and violence?
It’s not surprising there was an altercation at the 2013 carnival between a few homosexual men and others who disapproved of their appearance, actions, sexual orientation and lower social status. Of course, the more “respectable” throngs of gays and lesbians, who gyrated in US$250 costumes, revelled without interference. Who gave this small group of cross-dressing gay men permission to provoke our disdain for public displays of queerness? Who told them they could be bacchanalists like the rest of us? How dare they force their homosexuality down our intolerant throats and assault our morals and self-righteous sensibilities?
I expect Jamaicans to resent and disapprove of homosexual men gyrating by themselves or with each other. But do we have to do so with such vehemence and violence? Thankfully, a majority of Jamaicans understand it is possible to express disapproval of activities and behaviour we deem immoral, unjust, vulgar, and indecent, without resorting to barbarism.
I did not witness the incident in Half-Way Tree. My commentary is in reference to an incident on Lady Musgrave Road where many of us were (again) at risk of being hit by missiles after a few gay men retaliated against efforts to exclude them from the road march. These instigators, who ignored the police’s presence as they seemingly guarded the entrance of the property where the males were, didn’t realise that, unlike the average gay Jamaican, these guys do not retreat when confronted with bigotry. They fought back. In the end, one set of mischief-makers bent on parading their ignorance put countless civilians at risk of injury. In fact, reports suggest that at least three persons were injured in the incident at Half-Way Tree.
BLAMING THE VULNERABLE
Learning that Jamaica belongs to all Jamaicans and that we must learn to coexist with people we disagree with or do not understand will not happen overnight. I understand that it will take some time before lesbian and gay Jamaicans, especially those from the lowest socio-economic strata, will live without fear of discrimination and violence. However, I am furious that we continue to blame vulnerable people for violence perpetrated against them. The Jamaica Observer claims “the melée was sparked by the actions of the gay men who – mostly dressed in skimpy, tight-fitting outfits – gyrated to the soca music … while showing off acrobatic moves.” In this account of the event, the real culprits are the gay men, not the unscrupulous individuals who provoked them.
When a woman gets raped, we ask what she wore, because she was probably asking for it. A man beats his wife and we ask what she did to make him so angry, then console her by asking her to comply with his demands. Gays get beaten, and instead of sanctioning the mean-spirited people who attack them, we say the victims should know better than to express themselves freely.
It’s always the victim’s fault. By focusing our attention on the actions of victims, we unwittingly exonerate those most deserving of blame and contempt. I long for the day when we stop rationalising the use of violence. I want to help to create a Jamaica where the vulnerable and the abused are not interrogated and accused when they describe their suffering and show us their wounds.
PREJUDICES PUT ASIDE ABROAD
I often wonder why it is that anti-gay Jamaicans go abroad and do nothing when they see gays and lesbians or even transgender people in public. In a different cultural context, we put aside our prejudices; even while we grumble, we accept that everyone has a right to self-expression. However, in Jamaica, impunity creates a haven for violent condemnation and censure of homosexuality. We know we will be given the benefit of the doubt and will be fêted with impunity when we perpetrate violence against certain classes of people. This is painfully obvious in our treatment of gay and lesbian people who dare to defy our limited and unreasonable cultural expectations.
The truth is, we can be loving and respectful of each other. We live and let live when we visit and live in societies that decry intolerance. However, this can only happen when we divorce the culture that legitimises anti-gay attitudes -when religious, political and business leaders help in condemning homophobic violence and empathise with victims.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.