Rashawn & Beyond: Anti-Violence News for Queer People of Color

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund aims to establish a sustainable tribute to Rashawn that promotes critical thought about the impact of violence and intolerance, particularly upon queer communities of African descent.

Through this blog, we provide action alerts, event postings and breaking news as a means of informing these communities in ways that enable them to combat racism and homophobia.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The 'politicisation' of sexuality

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner
published: Sunday July 8, 2007

These little boys had stopped by Mr. Durex to have a closer look at the condoms at the Children Expo held at the National Arena on Thursday, May 12, 2005.

The Editor, Sir:

I would like to comment on the debate over recent attacks on alleged homosexual men in Jamaica.

The number, according to the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Gays and All-Sexuals (J-FLAG), the Kingston-based gay rights group in a recent Gleaner report, has skyrocketed to 16, more than for the same period last year.

Surely, this is cause for concern. However, not just at the level of the violence directed against these men, most of whom are young, black and definitely working class. There is also the question of how difference and prejudice are normalised by the state in such contexts. This has to do with the fact that, though the violence has been publicly deplored in all instances by state officials, there seems very little acknowledgement also of how public hysteria is mobilised as violence against persons who identify, whether under the label of sexuality or gender, et cetera, in ways different from mainstream ideas which gain their legitimacy from state apparatus, officers and culture.

The Public Defender, for example, in the face of this unfortunate state of affairs, advised 'the homosexual community' to exercise caution in their engagement with the public sphere. A timely comment, particularly in th atmosphere of anti-homosexual violence.

Is sexuality the problem?

However, what is interesting is that the public performance of gender read in this instance as (homo) sexuality may or may not have anything to do with actual sex, sexual orientation or, for that matter, the question of the vagaries of the sexual histories of those thus persecuted. This, then, means that the issue has been conceived of in a rhetoric of public denial, as represented in the comments of the of the Public Defender who indicates that 'homosexuals should hol' [dem] corner!', suggesting a level of disinterest, which in this context mirrors the extent of officialdom's silence on the abuse of minority groups under the law.

The need for a more developed and appropriate review of state policies, especially as it relates to groups defined as political minorities, is clear, as evidenced by these attacks. However, more than this there is a way in which there is need for acknowledgement that Jamaica is, indeed, a prejudiced society which, apparently, works out its anxieties over difference (race, class, sexuality, gender) through the use of violence and intimidation, in this instance against mostly male members of the working classes. They are, after all, the primary actors in reported stories of violence, murder and mayhem in the press.

The beating of Dr. Jephthah Ford which, while not directly connected to the violent attacks against the men identified at the start of this article, clearly shows the extent to which police excesses, themselves officers of the state, are almost accepted as a normal and normative part of those relations; that is, in treating with presumed disruptive (black, male) elements in society.

Whereas it may be argued that Dr. Ford's situation is different on account of his station and political connections, there is no mistaking how he may well have been 'mistaken' as a 'commoner' at the time of his shameful and merciless beating by the officers on account of his skin colour.

Notably, these incidents of crime have come at a time when there is a reported upsurge in violence by the police. This has come at a time when issues of sexuality and gender are themselves front and centre in the national psyche, especially in the context of a female head of state and the increasing politicisation of sexuality within the context of the law.

The legal age of consent for females in the sex act, the distribution of condoms in school, abortion rights and the definitions of rape as a gender-specific crime are all parts of this discussion, and focus attention on the fact that the modernisation of the state, as the nation undergoes therigours of change, is one that has brought with it many fallouts. Some of which are, indeed, very deadly.

Accordingly, the witch-hunt to persecute and kill all homosexuals in Jamaica finds resonance in a discourse of violence and, indeed, hate which does not discriminate, particularly when confronted with elements of black masculinity which are defined as objectionable. However, this is considered in the particular context.

It is, therefore, incumbent on the debaters that they also acknowledge the intersecting and complicated roles of race, class, gender, education and socialisation, inter alia, in their look at these issues, and that meaningful addressis given same. Otherwise, our young men will continue to die needlessly, and 'black people', whoever these are, will continue to strain under the burden of blackness as a sign of negativity.

True peace, after all, is not just the absence of war; it is also facilitated through meaningful laws and customs which seek to enshrine its protection.

I am, etc.,

Agostinho Pinnock

Kingston, Jamaica


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