It is important to consider the right context within which to address gay issues. It can be difficult to address these in isolation, and so links should be made to the broader curriculum and wider social issues. Appropriate contexts might include human rights, equality, relationships or anti-bullying. A safe environment within which to discuss these issues is also important. Agreeing ‘ground rules’ with students is a good way to help maintain respectful behaviour within the group. These can be referred back to whenever necessary, and should include ideas around appropriate language, the right to be heard, and the responsibility to listen and treat others with respect. Emphasise that participation need not involve disclosing anything students are not comfortable with. Issues around confidentiality might also be included.
This observational documentary – the title of which is a derogatory term for homosexuals – follows Amos on a journey from his childhood homes in Brixton and Tooting, South London, all the way to Jamaica, where he tries to discover why prejudice, intimidation and violence against gay men remain so prevalent.
Amos canvasses the opinions of young people in London, and of audiences on the comedy circuit. In Kingston, he talks to several young people who are living in fear of their lives, and to some of the dancehall musicians whose lyrics preach hate and violence against gays.
Will he learn something on this journey about how attitudes might be changed for the benefit of the next generation of young, black gay men?
Sexual acts between men are prohibited in Jamaica, as they are in most of the English-speaking Caribbean. There is no reference in law to sexual activity between women, which is therefore legal by omission. The punishment for homosexual acts is ten years in prison with hard labour. Lesser offences around homosexual behaviour – even holding hands – can be deemed ‘gross indecency’ under Jamaica’s criminal code, whether in public or private.
According to Amnesty International, Jamaica is the most dangerous place in the Caribbean for sexual minorities, who face extreme prejudice, ill-treatment, harassment and even torture. There are frequent attacks against gay men, often fatal, and reports of them being driven from their homes by threats of murder. In addition, the police actively support homophobic violence, which has prompted many gay men to seek asylum in the UK and other countries.
The Gay Freedom Movement was founded in 1974. Its general secretary, Larry Chang, fled to the US and was granted political asylum in 2004, but not before he had helped found J-FLAG (Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays), which now operates underground and anonymously. According to Human Rights Watch, the high levels of public intolerance harm any efforts to combat violence and the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Jamaica. For many Jamaicans, their anti-gay stance is based on religious grounds – many are devoutly Christian and, in a recent poll, 96% were opposed to any move that would seek to legalise homosexuality.
Many popular Jamaican musicians record and perform songs that advocate the attack or murder of gays. Reggae and dancehall singers like Elephant Man, TOK and Shabba Ranks, influential in the black communities of South London, write lyrics about shooting and executing gay men. On top of this, male promiscuity and heterosexual activity are lauded as signs of male virility and superiority. An international campaign against homophobia in music has been launched by UK-based human rights groups, including Outrage and SMM (Stop Murder Music Coalition). In some countries, like Canada, performers wishing to perform there are required to sign a declaration stating that they will not engage in or advocate hatred against persons because of their sexual orientation.
Opens with Stephen Amos saying, ‘Before hitting the shops, I’d done my research and had printed out a list of homophobic lyrics…’
Closes with Stephen Amos saying, ‘They’re regurgitating what they’ve been told – by their idols.’
Amos compares the hatred of gays evident in the lyrics with the extreme racism of white supremacists. To begin thinking about the effects of extreme intolerance, students could list some of the rights we take for granted in the UK. How would they react if they were taken away? How might they defend themselves?
Ask students, in groups, to think of instances from the past that exemplify denial of human rights, and to feed back. Have lessons been learned from history? Students could investigate those who risked their lives to stand up for human rights. Are there any modern parallels of intolerance and the fight against it?
Later, Elephant Man talks about freedom of speech. Students could discuss what this means – in music, the press, for the individual. Is freedom of speech an inalienable right?
Opens with Stephen Amos saying, ‘The whole place was just engulfed with the sound of silence.’
Closes with Stephen Amos saying, ‘Thanks a lot – good night!’
Members of Amos’ audience feed back their views around the reasons for black homophobia. Remind students that homosexuality in the UK has been legal for 40 years. Were they surprised at the audience’s reactions? Ask them to discuss, in groups, the comments made about lack of family support, and the idea that anyone coming out as gay may risk being disowned by those closest to them, or even being stabbed in the street. How do they think it would feel to be gay in that sort of environment?
Opens with Pastor Ryan Simpson saying, ‘Can I say, certainly I believe, and I can say this clearly, that my church teach there are certain conditions…’
Closes with Stephen Amos saying, ‘The idea that my sexuality, and that of other gays, could be changed or reprogrammed, really annoyed me.’
Simpson and his colleagues believe that being gay is a condition that can be ‘cured’. Their church teaches an ‘ideal lifestyle’ – marriage between a man and a woman. Later, Archbishop Lawrence Burke says that to use Christianity to deny gay people rights is a lie, and that the Bible has been wrongly used to justify other human rights abuses such as apartheid. Discuss ways in which religion can be a force for both good and bad. This could be done in two groups in the form of a debate. Perhaps students could ask the school chaplain, or another religious leader from your community, to participate.
Opens with Stephen Amos saying, ‘But what if that leads to your murder?’
Closes with Stephen Amos saying, ‘We owe our kids better than this, I think.’
Stefan feels that families who disown their children can force them into the very type of life they don’t want for them – homelessness, drugs, even prostitution. Earlier, Olisa came out to his mum and was surprised to find her supportive. She only wants for him to be happy, healthy and safe.
What might be done to support young black gay people whose families cannot accept their sexuality? And what can be done to bring about change? Should help and support target the parents or the young person, or does a move towards a more tolerant black community start with educating the much younger? If gay intolerance is not a problem for your particular community, does that mean students needn’t be concerned? If it is, who is already out there trying to make a difference?
Students could work on producing a plan of action to tackle the problem in the UK. It might involve raising awareness of the problem, lobbying politicians to legislate against homophobic lyrics, engaging with religious leaders and parents, developing school programmes or supporting community projects.
On a smaller scale, students could investigate the prevalence of homophobic attitudes in school, or whichever setting you are in, and develop ways to address the problem – by developing or changing school policy, implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, developing a ‘charter’, or recognising and celebrating diversity some other way.