Monday, April 30, 2007

New Anti-Gay Attack in Jamaica + Poem: Audre Lorde

I don't have time to post anything original tonight, but today I received the following email from Colin Robinson about yet another vicious anti-gay attack in Jamaica, and it's worth reading.

By now most of you have heard of the mob attack on a drag queen in Falmouth, Jamaica Friday morning. Or maybe you haven't and are confusing it with any of the three similar attacks you may have heard of in the past 11 weeks, in greater Kingston (Feb. 14), Montego Bay (Apr. 2) and near Mandeville (Apr. 8). This time there is a photo and video. There have been no public announcements of arrests in any of the incidents. Please circulate widely to bring broad attention to the specific dangers gay/Trans folks in Jamaica face, on top of a climate of general violence and murder, and the general inattention of the police and government. In response to the attacks, Jamaica's public defender (the chief constitutional ombudsman and anti-discrimination official) recently publicly suggested that gay men recognise that "tolerance has its limits," not be so "brazen", and "confine their activities to their bed chambers."

Thanks for your actions!! So many of you showed tremendous leadership in protesting recent dancehall peformances in New York; this is so much more serious. Please let those at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) know what you are planning and how they can work with you.

News story: Jamaican Daily Gleaner

Video: YouTube (just a forewarning: the video is extremely disturbing)

The incomparable Rod 2.0 has background information on the homophobic warning given to Jamaican gay men by public defender (the irony isn't mine alone) Earl Witter....

In tribute to the people who have been attacked simply for trying to live their lives as they see fit, as they want and need to, the final poem for this poetry month will be by none other than Audre Lorde (1934-199x), whose artistry and vision have made it possible for countless poets to write the poems they want and need to write, and countless people to live the lives they want and need--must--live. Here is one of her most important poems, from The Black Unicorn


For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

Copyright © 1995, Audre Lorde, from The Black Unicorn, New York: W. W. Norton Co.


  1. Part of what's interesting about Earl Witter's comments is they echo what many gay leaders here, in the US, have been urging for a long time. I'm still not convinced that the call for gay respectability is not, ultimately, harmful.

    I'm also a little troubled by some of the US responses: stop giving Jamaica tourist money, for one. This response refuses to recognize how the sexualized paradigm of island tourism reinforces notions of sexual normativity, even as it troubles them. This is not simply a matter of what "Jamaicans" do to "their" gays, but a more complex matter of how sexual identities travel and are received.

  2. Keguro, you're right. This has been a parallel discourse from before the Stonewall Riots; remember that the Mattachine Society advocated a respectable public presentation to a certain degree, and alongside the gay liberation rhetoric, which strongly tinged the emerging gay cultures of the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a similar counter-argument, or rather parallel argument, that bemoaned the public (and private excesses). I think of Larry Kramer's Faggots as a part of this parallel, not always complementary (or complimentary) discourse. But the Jamaican "public defender"'s comments go further, don't they? In essence, he accepts homosexual orientation, and even object choice, but any representation or performance of homosexual identity, however broadly construed, is acceptable, and brooks a violent, possibly deadly response. I also recall that there have been a number of attacks on people *suspected* of being "gay," particularly men, and even a public official who is known to be straight was denounced as possibly being gay because he was pushing better HIV prevention policies and equal treatment for LGBTs. I think the call for gay respectability is quite harmful, especially given that so often it's born out of an unquestioned acceptance of a heteronormativity and a phantasmal heterosexist model that many heterosexuals don't even buy into.

    I agree with you about the responses. I also do think, however, that rather than urging boycotting, finding ways to address the violence against LGBTs in Jamaica, which seems to me to be a displacement, in brutal fashion, of other anxieties (economic, social, etc.), is important.