News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean


June 2012

Jamaica and Gays: Are We Homophobic or Not?

homophobia (Photo credit: the|G|™)

It’s an old argument. Jamaica is homophobic. No! goes up the cry. Jamaicans are very tolerant of gays! So which is it? The Oxford Dictionary, by the way, defines homophobia as the fear or hatred of gays. (My emphasis).

In 2004, international human rights group Human Rights Watch put out a report titled Hated to Death:  Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

The report’s summary began thus:

“On June 9, 2004, Brian Williamson, Jamaica’s leading gay rights activist, was murdered in his home, his body mutilated by multiple knife wounds.  Within an hour after his body was discovered, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed a crowd gathered outside the crime scene.  A smiling man called out, “Battyman [homosexual] he get killed!”

Many others celebrated Williamson’s murder, laughing and calling out, “let’s get them one at a time,” “that’s what you get for sin,” “let’s kill all of them.”  Some sang “boom bye bye,” a line from a popular Jamaican song about killing and burning gay men.

The report went on:

English: Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Лого...
English: Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Логотип Хьюман Райтс Вотч (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Violent acts against men who have sex with men are commonplace in Jamaica.  Verbal and physical violence, ranging from beatings to brutal armed attacks to murder, are widespread.  For many, there is no sanctuary from such abuse.  Men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women reported being driven from their homes and their towns by neighbors who threatened to kill them if they remained, forcing them to abandon their possessions and leaving many homeless.

The testimony of Vincent G., twenty-two, is typical of the accounts documented by Human Rights Watch: “I don’t live anywhere now. . . . Some guys in the area threatened me.  ‘Battyman, you have to leave.  If you don’t leave, we’ll kill you.’”

Claims that members of the gay community are either at risk or have been victims of violence are often greeted with derision. The reports are often disbelieved. Activists are accused of lying. After all, the argument goes, we all know gays who live among us and nobody troubles them.

The trouble is, we Jamaicans don’t make it easy for ourselves. The condemnatory statements from human rights bodies are not pulled out of thin air. In 2007, Amnesty International, in condemning violence against gays in Jamaica referenced their statement as follows:

“On Sunday 8 April 2007, a crowd allegedly surrounded a church in Mandeville and hurled different objects through a window at the back of the church. The attacks were directed at persons in attendance of the funeral being held there, who the crowd believed to be homosexual.

On 2 April 2007, another crowd reportedly threw stones and bottles at a group of costumed men who were dancing in the carnival procession along Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay. According to reports, the crowd was angered because the men were supposedly gyrating in a sexually suggestive manner and demanded that they leave the stage. According to eye-witnesses, the men were attacked, chased and beaten by the mob of around 30 or 40 people. At least one of them had to be hospitalized due to injuries.

These two incidents occurred only two months after a group of men were targeted in a similar manner in a pharmacy in Tropical Plaza, Half-Way Tree, in Kingston. A human rights defender told Amnesty International that a mob of at least 200 people had gathered outside the store, calling for the men to be beaten to death because they were homosexual.”

Jamaicans argue that these incidents are isolated.  But while the incidents of reported mob violence are not frequent, we need to understand how brutish and vicious we appear when images are broadcast of crowds baying for blood outside a building in which gays are holed up.

Just last week, CVM TV broadcast a story in which community members in Jones Town burst into a private dwelling because the occupants were suspected of being homosexuals. The suspicions allegedly confirmed, the crowd started to beat the men, and police had to rescue the occupants, incurring the wrath of the crowd. One man wanted to know why taxpayers’ money was being used to rescue gays.

I cannot find words to describe how backward this story makes us look. Go and try to convince a sceptic now that we are not homophobic!

So let’s acknowledge that violence against gays is real. We are not as uniformly tolerant as we would have the outside world believe. But neither have the gay activists done their cause any good by overstating the extent of the problem.  Gay-on-gay violence is also real.

Recently, the Jamaica Forum for Lesians Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG) publicly condemned the killing of gay men. In a statement (re-tweeted by Amnesty Caribbean), they said:

“Members of the LGBT community have reported to J-FLAG that eight gay men have been murdered within the last three months bringing to the fore the reality that despite progress towards greater tolerance, the LGBT community continues to be at great risk of violence. Among the most recent attacks against the gay community was the savage killing of two young men.

“The men were apparently brutally murdered with blunt instruments in the vicinity of the intersection of Trafalgar Road and Lady Musgrave Road. Persons who are homeless frequented this area; among them are young gay men who have been made homeless because of the continued intolerance of homosexuality in Jamaica.”

In an interview with me on my radio programme Beyond the Headlines a few days later, JFLAG spokesman Dane Lewis admitted that the organisation had jumped the gun, and that his later information was that the two men in question had been killed by members of the gay community. He said he withdrew that part of the statement and promised a corrected version. I haven’t seen that yet.

So which is it? Are we homophobic or are we tolerant of the gay lifestyle?

I submit that we are both. However, the incidents of violence and public hatred against gays are so embarrassing and so horrifying that nothing else matters. There is no room for any other depiction of our attitudes when the images seared into people’s minds are those of police having to be deployed to protect men from a bloodthirsty crowd. Given those graphic realities, our reputation as an extremely homophobic country will continue to dog us, protest as we might.

So when Prime Minister Simpson Miller courageously declared that sexual orientation would not affect how she chose her Cabinet, and that she would initiate a review of the buggery law, she should understand that outside Jamaica, gay activists saw her statement as a beacon of hope in a country of darkness, or near darkness. That was one of the reasons for her inclusion on that Time 100 List, misrepresented as her position was. 

The outside world sees us as homophobic and violent. We don’t see ourselves that way.

As always, the truth lies obscured, somewhere in the middle.


Lessons from the Jamaica 50 Song Fiasco

A map of Jamaica
A map of Jamaica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The predictable chorus of voices asking why Jamaicans are spending so much time talking about the Jamaica 50 song, misses, as we tend to do, the real issue. (If you missed the debate of the last few days check out my post on the Jamaica 50 song controversy here). People have real concerns  about the way this process has been handled, about inclusiveness, and most of all about what many feel has been the marring of a national celebration by political bickering and one-upmanship.

The Culture Ministry’s determined insistence that there is no problem, that we all should just hold hands and get along, ignores, deliberately, its role in the problem.  The latest statement from the Ministry has managed to blame almost everybody but itself, saying that:

“It is unfortunate and regrettable that the promotional agency associated with the producer of  the “On a Mission” marketing campaign song and a corporate sponsor of Jamaica 50, as part of the sponsor’s undertaking to promote the song, incorrectly  branded a released CD and associated printed materials with the declaration of the “On a Mission” marketing campaign song as the Official Jamaica 50 Song, without the required vetting or approval of the Jamaica 50 Secretariat.”

I think only Shaggy escaped censure there.

English: Shaggy Deutsch: Shaggy
English: Shaggy Deutsch: Shaggy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are lessons here for the future, though, if only we would heed them.

1. Allow the annual Festival celebrations to be the vehicle driving such national celebrations. The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) puts on the annual Festival events. They are fun, well-produced, and well-attended.  With those already scheduled events themed for Jamaica 50,  or Jamaica 60 or whatever,  there would be no need for any additional big,costly national events. Each parish also already has its own programme, eg the JCDC Evenings of Excellence, which again are well attended.   With perhaps the addition of a western Grand Gala, or something else to ensure that Kingston is not the only focus, we could achieve the goal of a national celebration with not too much more additional cost.

2. The National Secretariat of such a big event should never again be located in a Ministry, with all the political issues that we have seen develop here. If the secretariat had been independently situated and truly national in composition, the disturbing changing of gear and shifting of focus that has caused a lot of the fuss would never have been necessary.

3. Similarly, regional planning committees could develop events that are celebratory but also money-making in scope, for example special community festivals and cultural events that could be put on the national calendar and marketed as tourist attractions.

4. The addition of  a series of national discussions about Jamaica at 50, and our path ahead for the next 50 years, would add the contemplative note many people feel we need at this time. Hey, I would love to see Parliament spending a few days debating that issue.

5. Let the Festival Song stand as the official song of the celebrations. Barbara Gloudon made the point on All Angles, my TV show on Television Jamaica (you can view the programme on the All Angles page at that people have hated some festival Songs and that many veteran producers would feel they are too big to participate in any kind of a national competition to choose a song. Well, so be it. We need to nurture new talent anyway.

Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zast...
Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zastava Jamajke “The Sun shineth, the land is green, and the people are strong and bold” is the symbolism of the colours of the flag. BLACK represents the strength and creativity of the people; GREEN represents hope and agricultural resources; GOLD represents the natural wealth and beauty of sunlight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For us to benefit from this experience, however, there first has to be an admission that there was a problem, and so far we haven’t seen that. That is the real pity here.

PS – Oh, Culture Ministry – blaming the media? Really? The latest statement on the issue says:

“It is unfortunate that extended media attention has been devoted to a debate about a song for Jamaica 50 rather than about the real significance the Jamaica 50 milestone in the life the nation.”

I guess the folk up at Culture have been so busy not knowing what was happening with the mission-campaign-song-incorrectly-branded-as-a-Jamaica-50-song, they haven’t realized how much work the media have been doing on exactly that – contemplation of where we are at 50 years. Taking a few minutes to note the concerns people have doesn’t negate that. But hey, you have to blame somebody. Our backs are broad, we’re used to it.

Our Jamaica 50 Song….What the Hell Is It?

Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zast...
Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zastava Jamajke “The Sun shineth, the land is green, and the people are strong and bold” is the symbolism of the colours of the flag. BLACK represents the strength and creativity of the people; GREEN represents hope and agricultural resources; GOLD represents the natural wealth and beauty of sunlight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So even our music has fallen victim to that agent of change – the election. Some months ago, I was perplexed to see people calling for Eric Donaldson’s “Land of my Birth” to be made the official Jamaica 50 song. What the hell? I thought. We already HAVE a Jamaica 50 song! Remember? The song, “Find the Flag” was produced by the respected veteran Mikey Bennett and officially presented to the country.

Let me reiterate that. The song was officially and publicly presented to the country last October. If you don’t believe me, or never heard about it, read this story by Mel Cooke in the Jamaica Gleaner.

A Reporter’s Guide to Jamaica 50 sent out by the Culture Ministry in December stated that:

“The Jamaica 50 song ‘Fly (sic)  the Flag in Your Heart’, written by Michael Bennett, captures Jamaica’s journey of challenges and triumphs.”

So I posted to that effect, saying that we have a Jamaica 50 song.

Except… silly me. There was an election. For months we heard nothing of Find the Flag  – the official Jamaica 50 song – until another story in the Observer told us the song had been shelved.–No-word-on-JA-50-song_11513407

Shelved? How could it be shelved? It’s the Jamaica 50 song! Not any more, apparently!

The Jamaica 50 secretariat (under, as they say, new management) now says that there was no documentation that the song had been commissioned or was the Jamaica 50 song. Emm….. it was officially presented to the country! No, that didn’t count.

Mikey Bennett says it is customary for him to work based on verbal agreements, and after all, this was an agreement with officials from the Government of Jamaica, not some fly-by-night outfit. He also says there were some disagreements over the cost of the song, until he and the artistes decided that they would donate the song for use in the celebrations for free, and communicated this fact to the Ministry. He told me that his publisher was in the process of putting together the necessary documentation.

He has since realized that the song has been dumped as the Jamaica 50 song, and all the artistes who worked for many passionate, excited hours with him have been calling to ask what the hell is going on. Bennett says one of his primary concerns is whether anyone thinks he was “trying a ting,” pulling a fast one, and misrepresenting the agreement with the Culture Ministry.

Apparently, some kind of compromise has since been cobbled together which should see the song being used somewhere in the Jamaica 50 celebrations. Former Culture Minister Babsy Grange, who has said she is upset at how the situation was handled, met with current Minister Lisa Hanna and says this was one of the matters discussed.

Please note that I’m not commenting on whether I like Find the Flag or the song which has now been introduced to the country as the Jamaica 50 campaign song, Nation on a Mission. My problem is much more fundamental – it’s how we do things.

I’m not getting into any argument with anybody about which song is better.

The fact is, a song was chosen and then rejected by a subsequent government. I have a serious issue with how this has been handled. This smacks of disrespect of the highest order.

The same Reporter’s Guide to Jamaica 50 listed the following singers as participants in the Jamaica 50 song – Bunny Rugs, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, Freddy McGregor,Tarrus Riley, Cocoa T, Konshens, Mr Vegas, Ernie Smith, Agent Sasko, Capleton, Chevelle Franklyn, Stitchie and Admiral Bailey. These are among our best artistes. There were also the musicians and technical crew, many of them also well-known names.

Photo from Wikipedia

I make no comment on the Culture Minister’s claims that the Jamaica 50 programme had to be streamlined and re-organised. I’ll leave that argument to the current and former holders of that office.

I am, however, saying that the work of the professionals involved in creating the song should have been respected. The clear decision of the previous administration that Find the Flag was the official Jamaica 50 song should have been let alone.

I think that the shelving of Find the Flag was totally unnecessary and brings to mind some of the sillier parts of our political history – remember the change from Jamaica Information Service (JIS) to Agency for Public Information (API) back to JIS  anyone?

I hold no brief for Mikey Bennet and the musicians and artistes who worked on Find the Flag.  I am not a musician. But I am a Jamaican, and I don’t like what happened here.

Mission Catwalk – Review

Reality Television
Reality Television (Photo credit: badjonni)


For the uninitiated, Mission Catwalk is a Caribbean reality show, where aspiring fashion designers create outfits each week based on a specific challenge. Every week, one gets booted out. There has been great talent on display, and it’s a fun show, but could be even more fun. Here’s how.

The contestants need to be more natural. We WANT to see ourselves on screen. Those of us who like (love!) reality shows want to watch contestants chop some creole and drop some Jamaican (or Trini or whatever) attitude. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Project Runway or Fashion Star.

 “Dah dress deh shot like M-16!”

Ok, no one actually said that but how much more fun it would be if the contestants would let down their hair a little more and talk the way they really talk! Caribbean people are hilarious. In every gathering, you have loud talk and laughter and a couple of  crazy storytellers and jokers who can turn a trip to the patty shop into a rolling on the ground laughfest. I refuse to believe the contestants are really that quiet and emmm, ok, boring. I’m not saying make a jackass of yourself for the camera but, you know, loosen up!

Check out the fan favourites. Gregory and Keshon, the contestants who talked Jamaican, acted Jamaican and generally came across as entirely natural and uninhibited.  Our language is fun and colourful, and so were Gregory and Keshon. Big up to them. Gregory also made it to top three, so he’s also talented, I thought Keshon was too, and could see him developing a Biggy-type clientèle eventually.

I watch reality shows for the competition and talent, but you also want some energy and interaction. I don’t care how good the music is, unless it’s Rising Stars! Using music to fill the gaps and try to pump up the energy didn’t work for me.

Photo from Wikipedia

The show, like many local productions, has great potential. Expanding beyond Jamaica to include designers from other Caribbean countries was a smart marketing idea, plus helped to mix it up a little.

TV is as much about style as content. Great designers yes, but we also want super entertaining TV. Mission Catwalk  can get there. And yes, I’ll be watching next season!

Memo to Jamaican Politicians : Long Speeches? Bad Idea!

Public Speaking University (cover shot)
Public Speaking University (cover shot) (Photo credit: justinplambert)

We have just finished the Budget Debate in the Jamaican Parliament with the predictably, overly long speeches. Later this year, we’ll once again have the political party conferences and the leaders will again deliver speeches that are way too long. I just don’t get it.

The observation that long speeches, in 2012, are a bad idea seems so self-evident it is almost ridiculous to be making it. Almost, but not quite, since you, the politicians, haven’t got the memo yet.

You still seem to harbour delusions that time has stood still since the 1970s when the only broadcast media outlets were JBC and RJR, and Michael Manley was fascinating Jamaicans with his hours of oratory.

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IMAGELIBRARY/576 Persistent URL:… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only are today’s politicians no Michael Manley, even Manley would have had a problem holding people’s interest with three- and four-hour speeches today. If he were here  and giving speeches,  I would give him the same advice.

At any given time we all have a million things to do, different media to check and tons of information coming at us. Jamaicans are paying as much attention (probably more attention) to the NBA play-offs,  President Obama’s prospects for re-election, the latest music videos and the Diamond League, as to the ramblings in Gordon House.

Yes, ramblings, I use that word unapologetically. Who has time to listen to self-indulgent ramblings for two or three hours? It’s much more efficient to just check the papers the next day, or the newscasts for the highlights. So, we, the members of the public, really don’t have a problem. We can just turn off the live presentations. And many of us do. So what’s the problem?

Well, I confess to some amount of curiosity. What is the purpose of the speeches? Help me here. Don’t you want people to actually, I dunno, listen to you? While you’re talking? Are you really happy talking to yourself, your fans and the civil servants forced to attend Parliament? Or the green and orange die-hard fans in the National Arena?  I kinda thought the idea was to reach a broader audience. Silly me.

I’m going to go ahead and make these suggestions anyway.

1. Have real speech writers  help with the speech. AND LISTEN TO THEM!!!! Speech writing is actually work, you know. It’s a real job. I’ve heard some of your half-baked presentations by politicians who pride themselves on writing their own speeches. Often, they suck. A professionally written speech ensures structure and flow which will make it easier for people to follow. While I’m listening  (I have to, because of my job) I can just visualize the red ink pen or delete button which need to be used much more extensively.

"It's always interesting to see how invol...
“It’s always interesting to see how involved the President is with editing his speeches. A few hours before his first nationally televised address to the nation, the President works on edits with aides Carol Browner, David Axelrod, and Jon Favreau in the Outer Oval Office.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) License on Flickr (2011-01-12): United States Government Work Flickr tags: WASHINGTON, DC, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Aim for an hour long speech. Hey, I’d actually suggest half an hour, but I’m sure you think that’s impossible. I would refer you to Barack Obama’s speeches, usually way less than an hour. And he is a hell of a lot better at speaking than anyone we have here.

English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral...
English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral victory speech on Election Night ´08, in Grant Park, Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


3. Fifteen minutes of thanking and greeting people is ridiculous. Why should we have to sit and listen to you thank everybody who has supported you in your political career? Take them to lunch instead.

4. Recognise that many of you are simply not interesting speakers, hence, shorter is definitely better. This is where it would be really good to have around you people who tell you the truth about yourselves. Dump the sycophants.

5. Realize that attention spans have gotten shorter. By the time you get to the meat of the speech, you’ve already turned off a lot of people. Forget the young people. Do you think the Twitter generation is hanging around for half an hour for you to really get started? And then for another hour or two? Why on earth would you want to turn off people like that?

6. The longer your speech, the less of it will be captured in subsequent news reports. Most people get their news from TV and radio. Why have such a long speech that most of it gets dumped?

NB Many of these speeches are carried by commercial broadcast media which have to forego regular programming to do so. The abuse of the availability of free airtime with these long-winded speeches may inevitably lead to fewer entities carrying them at all. Then you  really will be talking to yourselves.

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