The Walk, aftermath and suggestions

After the April 7th 2010 Jamaica AIDS Support for Life’s and others historic Walk for Tolerance which was supposed to be HIV specific dealing with acceptance and tolerance of persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) irrespective of sexual orientation instead has raised a fire storm in the public arena with hints that it was front for the GLBTQ community to launch a gay pride in Jamaica.

“De gay dem a force dem ting pon wi again” one female caller to a popular talk show said. Similar negative comments have been made both in writing and verbally on talk shows and on mostly Jamaican chat forums online.

Some have hinted to the fact that since the controversial Dudus Coke extradition affair, the current economic climate, a weak majority government struggling to stay afloat and dancehall acts feeling severe pressure from their all important international markets the gay community has taken the opportunity to jump in and flex its muscles supposedly capitalising on the weakness of its opponents.

One particular online publication, The Kingston Chronicle in a subtle form reminded us of the proposed Half Way Tree March some years ago and the call for machetes suggesting gays ought to be attacked if we tried to launch any such supposed bold attempt, they cleverly insinuated that message again in their latest homo hate post. That particular blog post clearly hints to calling for persons to arm themselves with weapons of any sort so as to attack gays and lesbians if they should come out publicly. A letter demanding gays to leave Montego Bay was published in the Jamaica Observer and Jason Macfarlane of JFLAG has answered the same paper’s editorial “On Tolerating Homosexuals and such.” Half hearted letters alone won’t do Jason there has to be a Jamaica AIDS Support on their own in response to this situation on television to separate the issues as that’s where the crap started in the first place

With the presence of international religious and gay groups in the tolerance march that has just added fuel to the fire of speculation as to whether it was really a walk for HIV/AIDS or GLBTQ issues. The publication on Michael Petrelis’ blog, Petrelis Files of the actual invitation letter circulated to groups and individuals in its entirety days before advising them of the intended walk on the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life’s letterhead over the signature of its Chairman, Mr. Ian McKnight added more dangerous gas to the firestorm I feel, the letter including the names of individuals and telephone number of JFLAG and not JASL listed as the contact point were major blunders in my view, Mr. Petrelis’ blog like my blogs and other such pro gay blogs are read by homophobes as well so they know well before hand and are able to plan whatever sinister strategy they wish to enact.

The online publication referred to above mentioned Petrelis Files in their scaving hateful post on Homosexuals Marching openly in Montego Bay. While I can concur with Mr. Petrelis for providing information to his readers and making his blog stand out it was grossly irresponsible for publishing a private correspondence in such a fashion knowing the sensitivities involved here
I am no Public Relations expert but a proper press release should have been done and let that speak for itself instead of inviting the press as was done only for them to speculate with negative outcomes. It is clear to me that Television Jamaica has an agenda here they are the only television station that carried the Walk repeatedly and they deliberately showed the rainbow flag several times with the follow up story on the controversial issue of the hired marching band’s upset of them allegedly not being properly informed of JFLAG persons being present in the Walk.

As I had suggested in a previous post on the Marching band controversy Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and who ever else who hired this band missed a golden opportunity to sensitise a vibrant group of teens on HIV/AIDS issues and tolerance which were the main thrusts of the walk according to the JASL Chairman when he was interviewed on Nationwide radio that very evening. They, the band members could have been used to become outreach ambassadors in their respective communities instead on the face of it no serious preparatory work seemed to have been done in having all the would be participants on one page.

If that was done I feel the unfortunate interview aired on TVJ the following day with a female Rollington Town band member complaining that her and other member’s family and community compatriots were upset that they were involved in a gay march without prior knowledge as it is now known in the public’s opinion. They are being accused of supporting homosexuals in this effort, the life of the band is also under threat as several parents are considering removing their children from its membership. Days after the controversy aired on television there is still talk of the issue in Rollington Town and its environs persons are upset that their marching who has developed a reputation of being one of the more respected ones in the eastern part of the country has now lost its good image it took so long to build according to one parent of a member I managed to speak to. Several of the mainly teen band members themselves are trying to live it out and defend themselves from their accusers by rebutting that they never knew that it was as was reported on television and that other groups were present outlining that HIV tests and talks were done suggesting it wasn’t all a gay thing.

Show up wi self eeh?
Behaviour patterns on the road during the walk is a key factor as well a recent talk show has some callers allegedly from Montego Bay who witnessed the Walk and they complained slightly of the behaviour of some of the male participants one caller said she thought it was a gay thing the way the men were acting carrying a sign that said freedom or something to that effect as she couldn’t confirm when pressed by the host as to what it read. I don’t think Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and its allies should take this issue lightly as it has serious implications I fear.

Innocent persons may well suffer the consequences out of this episode almost becoming involuntary martyrs for a cause they never subscribed to. Some of the male participants in the walk are allegedly under threat or at the very least under siege in their own homes as they fear from venturing into public on a regular basis. One particular male participant was said to be under threat from family members demanding that he not return to their space. So the fallout has begun ladies and gentlemen not surprising but I hope it doesn’t escalate.

World AIDS Day would have been better
World AIDS Day would have been a better occasion to do this kind of HIV specific sensitization I feel then one could include all the various groups affected including MSMs, JFLAG could probably highlight the pride section of it during the same month of December where they celebrate their anniversary on the 10th.
The selection and preparation of participants would also be of import and how to sensitise the public on such an action too. I don’t know if Jamaica AIDS Support for Life will recover from this latest public relations blunder as I see it. If the walk is to be HIV specific then let it be so while tempering how the GLBTQ messages are delivered in Jamaica’s controversial homophobic setting. The so called gay in your face attempts won’t help anyone at this time, yes I agree the public needs to be made aware of the impact of the disease on individuals but there must be other ways to engage the public over time. Of note the JASL website like JFLAG’s has not had any serious updates so why have such a powerful medium up and running at your disposal and not use them effectively to facilitate discussion and field queries from the public on these and other sensitive issues? Half hearted advocacy I say as I have always had that criticism of them and others.

Many ordinary gay persons here in commenting on the issue are not pleased either at the outcome many complain that while they welcome the support of the overseas groups namely Metropolitan Community Church (MCC Florida), Interpride and the others who were present many never knew their names or even that a walk of any kind was being planned until seeing it on television, they the visitors can always jump on a plane and return to their respective safe spaces while we have to live this out. “What help is that?” one gay person who I quizzed on the matter asked. Others suggested they donate funds to help JFLAG or even JASL to deal with the related social problems with HIV/AIDS and advocacy. Others asked why wasn’t it properly advertised around the community so they could decide to go or not? This hints to another criticism of mine where the powers that be are out of touch with sections of the community whether intentionally or not. Others persons however are in agreement with the walk and said that if gays were involved then so be it as it was about time gays made their voices heard.

Public backlash
Since this latest negative episode in our GLBTQ history the plethora of anti gay songs being creatively infused on radio by looping and one liners mixed into playlists by disc jocks has increased with fervency. Songs like TOK’s “Chi Chi Man” are used where the first middle and end parts are carefully injected over another song in a set mix for example. I have been making the rounds at some of the major weekly dancehall events and it’s clear that this issue has struck a nerve. Dancehall events Disc Jocks and sound selectors are venting over their microphones on the JASL issue and marrying it to the visa revocations of some major dancehall acts such as the self proclaimed king of dancehall Beenieman who has since responded in song obviously trying to capitalise on the occurrence as he is known for and the legal troubles now faced by Buju Banton, the low wearing pants and bleached faced issues as well as resurfaced all being brought together to reinforce the Jamaican gay stereotype.

Nearly all the main anti gay songs including Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye” and Beenieman’s “All Batty man fi Dead” have been drawn from the storage shelves dusted off and returned to playlists in full earnest in response to all of these occurrences. I am afraid that the walk for tolerance has set us back some five or so years in as far as the climate for tolerance is concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised unfortunately if we saw an increase again in homophobic violence on the ground.

A walk that was to help has instead inadvertently created some problems.

Anyway let us keep hope alive that someday we will see tolerance and learn from this another in our GLBTQ chapter.

Peace and tolerance.

H

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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