LGBT History Month: Gay Freedom Movement archives properly re-posited overseas

The first post in the LGBT History month series going on its third year since I started blogging looks at the Gay Freedom Movement archives, this is the first local LGBT advocacy organization formed in 1974 by a group of Jamaicans including a Jesuit priest however its face and voice was its out and proud at the time General Secretary Larry Chang who left the archives in the care of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays JFLAG, if it were not for some noise making from my part at my time at the J and that of others who were shown the badly damaged pieces in some instances they would have withered away.

Thankfully there were retrieved and sent to Mr. Chang who now resides in the United States. Below please see Larry Chang’s speech at the Caribbean Region of the International Resource Network (IRN) laucnh of the archives. The Caribbean IRN was established in 2009 as a network for activists, scholars, artists, writers, and other individuals and organizations who do research and community work on issues related to diverse genders and sexualities in the Caribbean. One of our major goals has been to build a digital collection and help regional organizations and individuals preserve the histories/herstories of activism around issues affecting sexual minorities, it is only with regret that the delicate pieces and documents could not have been stored locally and respected for their true value that it had to take this evasive action to avoid them being lost forever.

Genesis of the Jamaica Gay Freedom Movement Archive

Larry Chang

Even at the time, I was fully cognizant of a responsibility to posterity to leave a paper trail. After all, we were creating history by being the first gay rights organization, as far as we knew, in the Caribbean.

As general secretary and editor of our newsletter, Jamaica Gaily News (JGN), the onus was on me to sort, file, and secure the archiving of our correspondence and publishing output. Duly labeled and boxed, these remained intact and in reasonable condition well past the demise of the Gay Freedom Movement. The materials survived the handover to my successor, St. Hope Thomas, who meticulously pasted instructions on the top of the box that they should revert to me in case of his death. When that did eventuate, his family duly complied with his wishes. In 1999, I left Kingston, passing the archives on to the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), which shared office space with an AIDS nonprofit organization. I included my personal collection of a complete set of JGN issues for safekeeping. Big mistake.

The first inkling I had of anything amiss was from e-mail messages I got, in succession, from Emily Paul and Anthony Hron, both Peace Corps volunteers with J-FLAG. They were concerned that the archives were not secured, casually placed in a room with a roof that leaked and that was subject to infestation. Tropical moisture and insects are no respecter of the written word. I contacted everyone I could think of who could possibly do anything to rectify the situation but it seemed no one could take any initiative. When Emily returned to the United States she arranged for the Tretter Collection of the University of Minnesota, which specializes in LGBT material, to receive the collection. Many e-mails flew back and forth but no one could come to a decision. The J-FLAG officers’ attention was understandably focused elsewhere, since their own survival and security as an organization was under constant threat. What’s a few boxes of old papers?

I felt powerless and helpless, unable to do anything to mitigate what I envisaged to be an impending great loss. Had I been on spot, I would have gone and rescued the papers myself. But there was nothing I could do from a thousand miles away, and without any encouraging or supportive response, much less consensus. The saddest part was the seeming lack of appreciation or understanding of what was at stake.

In 2003, I saw Gareth Henry, then co-chair of J-FLAG, at the premiere of Songs of Freedom in New York. [1] I spoke to him about retrieving my copies of JGN. He promised to look into it when he went back to Kingston. I never heard anything from him and the next thing I knew he had applied for asylum in Canada. Two years later, I discussed the matter with Thomas Glave, who offered to investigate on one his trips to Jamaica. I asked him to retrieve at least my personal set of JGN copies. During the course of several trips, many e-mails, and through direct contact with several people, it transpired that the newsletters could not be found. There was, however, a box of papers. We felt that it was imperative to secure whatever was left.

Wanting to be preemptive but not autocratic, we widened the conversation to include many more concerned parties to agonize over ownership, copyright, logistics, and procedure. At some stage of the discussion, Howard Fulton and Dane Lewis of J-FLAG; Julius Powell; Natalie Bennett; Stephen Fullwood of the Schomburg Center; Jonathan Ned Katz of OutHistory.org; and Rosamond King, Angelique Nixon, and Vidyaratha Kissoon of Caribbean IRN have been involved.

At every step of the way, Thomas Glave was instrumental as facilitator, go-between, and interlocutor, and ultimately as courier—he physically retrieved the material and brought it to New York in a suitcase. The material was then lodged with Jonathan Katz, who began digitizing but found it more than he bargained for; only a few documents made it to OutHistory.org. Eventually the Caribbean IRN saved the day by teaming with Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) to digitize the collection and make it available online. This is a major accomplishment, launched with appropriate gravitas at Brooklyn College in June 2011. A huge debt of gratitude is due to all involved.

The next stage will be to resume the conversation about ownership and custody of the collection. The Schomburg Center may still be interested, but now that the physical integrity of the archives is not at risk, perhaps we can take a more studied approach and explore other options. One thing that is underscored is the critical importance of securing our collective intellectual property so we can shape our own history and write our own stories. It will be imperative, then, to overcome the cavalier attitude toward documentation and preservation that seems to typify Caribbean response. Who writes the history determines the agenda.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall notes, “Silencing as well as remembering, identity is always a question of producing in the future an account of the past.”[2] Sexual minorities have for too long been silenced, written out of history. It is time that we find our voice, write our stories, and determine our place in that history. The process of reclamation has already begun, with Patricia Powell’s reference to Gaily News and its personals column in A Small Gathering of Bones, and through Kanika Batra’s scholarly treatment published in Small Axe.[3] The great pity, and great credit to Batra, is that to access the material she had to go to the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives, which inherited the collection from the defunct Body Politic, with which JGN had an exchange subscription. The other option I am told would have been the COK Archives in Amsterdam, but I have not been able to confirm this. The bottom line is that this material should be available to Jamaicans, in Jamaica.

My hope is that successive poets, writers, and painters will find in the archives the references and inspiration to launch their own visions and flights of the imagination to enlarge and embellish our ongoing stories. From a practical point of view, scholar Natalie Bennett is of the opinion that “current activists in JA could learn a lot from the strategies . . . used more than two decades ago.”[4] Would that the other box is found, placed in the capable hands of Caribbean IRN to be digitized and preserved. These are our stories.

Last word from Stuart Hall:

No cultural identity is produced out of thin air. It is produced out of those historical experiences, those cultural traditions, those lost and marginal languages, those marginalized experiences, those peoples and histories which remain unwritten. Those are the specific roots of identity. On the other hand, identity itself is not the rediscovery of them, but what they as cultural resources allow a people to produce. Identity is not in the past to be found, but in the future to be constructed.[5]

Larry Chang is an environmental designer, publisher, life counselor, and founder of EcolocityDC, which seeks to address environmental, economic, and social sustainability issues. He has been introducing the Transition model to the Washington DC region, with a particular focus on urban sustainability through farming and intentional community development. He was a co-founder of the Gay Freedom Movement of Jamaica; the general secretary, editor, and publisher of Jamaica Gaily News; and a co-founder of J-FLAG.


[1] Songs of Freedom is a Phillip Pike documentary on Jamaican LGBTs.

[2] Stuart Hall, “Negotiating Caribbean Identities,” in Gregory Castle, ed., Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 283.

[3] Patricia Powell, A Small Gathering of Bones, with an introduction by Thomas Glave (Boston: Beacon, 2003); originally published by Heinemann Educational Publishers in 1994. Kanika Batra, “‘Our Own Gayful Rest’: A Postcolonial Archive,” Small Axe, no. 31 (March 2010): 46–59.

[4] Personal correspondence with author, 13 August 2009.

[5] Hall, “Negotiating Caribbean Identities,” 291.

LGBT History Month – Hotness / Jamaica Outpost LGBT Newsletter

Now out of print but we thought I would remind you of this publication that ran in June 2004 – 2005 as done by GL Publishing.
The name was changed by its fifth issue to The Jamaica Outpost and continued so until its cessation.
Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays JFLAG were holders of limited archival copies of the publications courtesy of its originators but similar to the archives by Gay Freedom Movement they were not kept in proper condition under successive management. These were scanned by yours truly in my tenure there as I was pleasantly surprised to see that copies were kept, I since returned some of them to the original owners while the rest were filed away in zip locked bags, I hope they are in good hands there.
Sad our culture does not treat with importance archiving materials for preserving our history but thankfully the Gay Freedom Movement archives were finally retrieved by the owners after much to and froing.
thanks to
(GL Publishers)

Peace and tolerance

H

LGBT History Month Jamaica’s First Gay Organization – Gay Freedom Movement (updated 2011)

Originally posted October 6, 2008
The first gay organization in Jamaica was the Gay Freedom Movement (GFM), founded around 1974 by five Jamaicans and an American Jesuit then working in the island.
It focused on consciousness-raising within the LGBT community and professional organizations, issued a newsletter, Jamaica Gaily News, and ran a Gay Youth Program, Prison Outreach Program and a free STD clinic.
General Secretary, Larry Chang, who was also publisher and editor of JGN, was the first Jamaican to come out publicly, being interviewed on radio and the then JBC-TV and through his letters to the press.
Before he fled to the US in 2000 where he was granted political asylum in 2004, he had helped found Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG)
The Gaily News Publication (previously The Toilet Paper) – Original documentation draft outlay and typeset (front cover)

(owned by GFM and was held by JFLAG although not stored in proper conditions) this copy was digitized during my tenure as Administrative Assistant at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays JFLAG as at that time I was very concerned as to the conditions some of the pieces were in when I came across them, luckily we were able to get them to him thus preventing some important cultural objects being lost forever and thrown away and deemed on no value. 

(Items have since been returned in 2010 to the GFM originator Larry Chang who now resides in the United States)

This was a then handmade and typed set via typewriter gay tabloid circulation that was done by the first gay activist movement in Jamaica in the late seventies to early eighties the Gay Freedom Movement. It was named the “Toilet Paper” before but only two editions were produced before the decision to change the name came about.

Computers weren’t so readily available as yet on the Jamaican landscape so drafts were hand made thus adding more value to the early work by these pioneers.

This captioned photo above is actually one of the original drafts design for the outlay of the publication. It was so named to parody the then mainstream Jamaica Daily News newspaper now merged to be known as the Gleaner.
The archives since this original post entry have since been retrieved by the former General Secretary of the movement Mr. Larry Chang who now resides overseas after seeking asylum in 2000 and was successful. They are stored on the captioned site above for viewing and purchase from same.

Authors and contributors would literally spend hours researching and coming up with interesting and sometimes patois written pieces for the paper. Based on the old archives of the publication it was circulated for a good two some years before it ended. It contained letters to the editor of the respected newspapers of the day, the Daily News, Gleaner and the Daily Star.

The Jamaica Observer was not birthed as yet.

Events and other intervention activities were also included with rich comedic content as homophobia was not as rife as now so the community was more relaxed and could entertain themselves effortlessly.

Thanks to the Gay Freedom Movement for opening the door to activism in Jamaica.

Battyman Learning Series UK

Before viewing
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.

Comedian and actor Stephen K Amos uses his own experiences as a black gay man to explore why homophobia still exists in his own community.
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?
Background Information

Gay rights in Jamaica
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.
Gay activists
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.
Musical influence
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.
Dancehall lyrics Clip two: 12:50 – 13:42
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?

Brixton gig Clip 1: 08:00 – 09:20
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?
Seventh Day Adventists Clip 4: 29:52 – 30:54
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.
Meeting Stefan Clip five: 44:35 – 45:52
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.

Larry Chang …….. a Reintroduction

Chinese-Jamaican gay man, political organizer and spiritual counselor, Larry Chang has much to offer the Asian-American, LGBT, Caribbean-American, and People of Color communities.

Larry was born in Jamaica of Hakka Chinese immigrant parents; he is a founding member of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays, J-FLAG . He had previously organized a gay group in Jamaica, the Gay Freedom Movement (GFM) as early as 1978 in a fiercely hostile climate. He held the position of General Secretary and was Publisher and Editor of its newsletter, Jamaica Gaily News .

A leader and active participant of the community for equal justice, Chang came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2000, and was granted political asylum in 2004. He currently resides in Washington, D.C., where he continues to educate and work for equal justice in the United States and for Jamaica. He is featured in the Phillip Pike documentary, Songs of Freedom, which had its world premiere in Toronto in January 2003, and has been shown in selected US cities, Toronto, Montreal and Kingston. He also appears in Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World , which documents the struggle for human rights of LGBT people in the global south; it premiered at the New York Film Festival in June 2003.

He completed Religious Science Studies to Level 3 under Dr. Rev. Elma Lumsden at the Temple of Light Church of Religious Science in Kingston, Jamaica, and has been profoundly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Introduced in May 2006 to much acclaim at Book Expo America, Larry’s anthology of quotations, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing is now available in bookstores and online, as well as the follow-up, Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk . He’s currently at work on Wisdom for the Soul of Queer Folk, slated for release in 2008.

He has the enthusiastic support of many scholars:

“Larry Chang is a first-rate activist, and a superb thinker and analyst of political/social issues. Anyone who hears him speak will not be disappointed.”
– Thomas Glave
Assistant Professor, Department of English, General Literature and Rhetoric
State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton, NY, USA
Author of Whose Song

“Larry Chang brings a special spirituality to whomever he meets. He has the amazing ability to transcend race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation in his efforts to heal the planet. His wisdom might well be the path that we need to lead us to both individual and global peace.”
– Jerry Wright
Professor, Social Work and Anthropology
Savannah State University, Savannah, Georgia, USA

“… dependable, thorough, focused, and knowledgeable about the arts … He is not, however, limited to being an “expert” in the arts. His interests are diverse, and he has been able to combine history, mathematics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology into an integrated whole that define him as both an intellectual and a practitioner of his craft.”
– Davilla T. Davis
Former Professor/Director, Study Abroad Programs
Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

“I have had many opportunities to meet with Larry Chang. Invariably I have come away greatly enriched. He is a man of enormous knowledge and wisdom, an excellent counseller and speaker, a true humanist. I have learned a lot about Jamaican culture, about spirituality, about human nature, from him.”
– Wolfgang Binder
Professor/Academic Director, North American & Caribbean Literatures
University of Erlangen, Erlangen, Germany

“Larry Chang is original and insightful. He is a speaker well worth inviting to provide new perspectives and stimulate discussion.”
– Frank H. Wu
Professor, Howard University School of Law
Washington, DC, USA
Author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White

Larry Chang is an ENGAGING SPEAKER with experience as a SPIRITUAL COUNSELOR, WORKSHOP FACILITATOR, WRITER and ARTIST. His diverse background caters to a spectrum of communities such as the LGBT, People of Color (POC), Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), Caribbean Diaspora Communities and in fields of LGBT, Asian-American, Gender, History, Latin American & Caribbean Studies.

Background and Topics:

SPIRITUAL UNFOLDMENT
– with training in Religious Science and dharma study, Larry assists in the exploration of life questions within the paradigm of the sanctity and beauty of the individual ensconced in and inseparable from the multidimensional whole. He has developed a playful yet incisive tool, reading Wisdom Cards a la Tarot, to facilitate this process. His ideas are even now coalescing into a discourse known as I-sight.

EMPOWERMENT
– based on training and experience in the human potential movement and drawing from experience of working with LGBT, spiritual and alternative health groups, artisanal and rural micro-entrepreneurs.

“Larry Chang was contracted to provide technical design expertise and training in product development to mainly small and medium size enterprises focused in the innovative industries. He has a capacity for connecting with the client and assisting in bringing forth their highest potential.”
– Valerie Veira, CEO, Jamaica Business Development Centre, Kingston, Jamaica

WORKING WITH DIVERSITY/BUILDING BRIDGES
– being an Anomaly: Asian in Black Jamaica, Gay in homophobic Jamaica, Asian-Jamaican in African-America, Hakka in predominantly Cantonese Chinese-America, Free-Thinker in an increasingly Fundamentalist Orthodoxy, Exile with no Country, A ROLE FOR THE ETERNAL OUTSIDER.

WORKING IN THE LGBT PEOPLE OF COLOR COMMUNITY

HISTORY of Gay Activism in Jamaica, Chinese in Jamaica, Legacy of Slavery in Gender Roles, Violence & Homophobia

INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS : Asian/Black intimacy

THE TYRANNY of anal sexism among MSM

Larry is available to individuals, groups and organizations as a presenter and facilitator at a nominal fee. He is initiating a new service,
SoulVentures – Exploring the Possible
offering counselling, coaching, imagineering, spiritual/holistic marketing and promotion.

Recent Presentations Include:

Participant, HIV Community Coalition Seminar on Religion, Spirituality, and Sexuality
Washington, DC, February 2002
Panelist, 12th Biennial Midwest Asian Pacific American Student’s Conference, “Transcending Boundaries: Communities, Crisis, and Resistance”
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, March 2002
Presenter, Asian Pacific American Awareness Conference (APAAC): “Affirming Identity”
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, April 2003
Presentation/Workshop – “Building Then Breaking Out of the Box: Claiming, Creating and Transcending Identities”
Panellist, “Examining Jamaica’s Policy towards Homosexuality & Dealing with the Impact of International Scrutiny”
presented by Jampact , St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY, January 2005
Speaker, Amnesty International 2005 Get On the Bus Rally
All Souls Church, NY, April 2005
Speaker, hosted by Rainbow Pride Union
SUNY Binghamton, NY, April 2005
Panellist, “Beyond the Music: Reggae and the Cultural Contours of Homophobia,” Stanford University Black Law Students Association Conference, Stanford, CA, February 2006
Speaker, hosted jointly by Amnesty International and Lambda Union
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, April 2007
Speaker, hosted jointly by Asian Students Union and Rainbow Pride
SUNY Binghamton, NY, April 2007