I am still trying to recover from all that has been happening in recent times with community challenges but now to see that on May 17, 2013 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHOT a symposium named in the founder and general secretary of the defunct Gay Freedom Movement at the Courtleigh Hotel to discuss as the flyer above states homelessness yet the very representative group was NOT invited or present at the event. A war of words has since erupted and sadly I caught on late being involved in several other activities within the last few weeks, included interestingly in the ongoing spat are the former Program's Manager of JFLAG now residing in Canada, other stakeholders who are straight allies and JFLAG's management itself.
So heated as the rift become that a statement over the signature of the Executive Director Mr. Dane Lewis has come to hand which read as follows:
The coordinators of the symposium agonized over the potential absence of this group’s perspective and spoke at length about the need to be inclusive. Ultimately, they decided against inviting some of the men who are currently homeless to speak for ethical reasons. Many will disagree on this point, but we felt that fêting and tokenizing any of these men before returning them to the street while the rest of us returned to our homes was problematic and difficult to justify. In human and social development work, there is much criticism of groups who fetishize the suffering of vulnerable and marginalized groups—regardless of how great an organization's intentions are. Knowing fully well that the absence of homeless individuals from the panel would raise eyebrows, the organization made a principled decision that we stand by.
At the same time, even if it would be unethical to invite a homeless person to speak at the symposium, the coordinators of the program believed that including the perspectives of formerly homeless members of our community would help to shed some light on the homeless experience. During its operation, J-FLAG has supported many homeless individuals who turned to the organization soon after they were evicted from their homes and communities. Most were able to find a home in other communities, some sought asylum and now live abroad as refugees, while a few others remain homeless. Some of the most vocal individuals who have experienced high levels of displacement now live in the Diaspora and while many of them would be willing to return to Jamaica to speak about their experiences, they were unable to travel to Jamaica because of the conditions of their resident status in their adopted countries. We know this because we reached out to individuals who we felt were at the place in their journeys where they would be comfortable speaking to a public audience about intensely personal and painful experiences. Speakers were sought locally as well, but we were unable to find anyone who was willing to come out publicly. This is a concern we must wrestle with as J-FLAG seeks to move out of the shadows and increase the visibility of our work.
The Larry Chang Human Rights symposium was a public event open to our partners, members of the community and the public. Representatives from the media were invited and we also hired a photographer to cover the event. Recognizing the importance of documenting our programs for online audiences and for posterity, the event was live streamed and was recorded. We are now thinking about the best way to share the recording without jeopardizing the safety or violating the trust of the speakers and the attendants of the symposium.
J-FLAG interfaces with homeless LGBT group through its Crisis Intervention Programme. Both J-FLAG and Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) have participated in and facilitated numerous consultations with the subset of homeless in the Golden Triangle area in closed sessions as well as meetings with the New Kingston police, the Member of Parliament for the area, representatives of the business community, the mayor and the councillor. Despite efforts to collaborate with other NGO's and government institutions the task to launch a comprehensive project to house and rehabilitate these vulnerable individuals has fallen squarely on J-FLAG's lap. While we believe a collaborative effort that involves all stakeholders would be more successful, we recognize and take ownership of the responsibility that we have to respond to the needs of this segment of our community. J-FLAG expanded its programming for the homeless community and we have had up to three members of our staff working almost exclusively to support this group.
For over a year, J-FLAG sought a residential location for a safe house program. Until very recently, we also facilitated a feeding program that was suspended because of difficulties coordinating it without a main office in addition to funding constraints that we hope to resolve soon. The absence of homeless men from the symposium should not suggest that J-FLAG is not aware of and does not attend to the needs of these individuals. Without question, in the last year, they have received more of J-FLAG's resources on a per capita basis than any other subgroup in our community. We do not bemoan this fact. These men and transgender women are undeniably the most vulnerable group in our LGBT family and we continue to do all we can to support them.
Larry questioned the potential absence of homeless individuals in his presentation and Yvonne McCalla Sobers, convener of FAST (Families Against State Terrorism) noted the concern as well during the discussion segment. We are thankful that they raised the matter, because it shows that our community feels comfortable holding J-FLAG accountable to its mission. As representatives of the LGBT community in Jamaica and advocates for inclusivity, we agree that the absence of the perspectives of current or formerly homeless individuals may have reduced the quality and the impact of the symposium. We, too, are disappointed but we are content that we tried our best to bring together a cohort of speakers that could help to spur conversations about the treatment of LGBT people in Jamaica. This is one in a number of conversations that needs to be had about the issue.
As noted in our invitation, the symposium considered high levels of homelessness among Jamaican LGBT people as an outcome of the hostile cultural environment. While their unique perspective was not featured on the panel, some of the presenters spoke at length about the need to humanize the homeless in our community and to critically assess how our treatment of them betrays our self-hatred. The symposium also explored homelessness as a philosophical concept related to citizenship. Through various agents of socialization, we are taught that gender and sexual minorities do not belong in our communities. LGBT people therefore understand that they can be evicted from their communities without notice and might be forced to flee the island. LGBT
identities in Jamaica are shaped by an understanding that our sexual and gender identities do not align with our cultural and national identities. This creates angst, dissonance and ambivalence in our sense of being Jamaican.
The documented dangers of identifying and being recognized as LGBT in Jamaica led countries like Canada, the United States and the Netherlands to grant refugee status to those who can prove that there is a reasonable possibility that someone may try to hurt them. This is the first time J-FLAG hosted a forum to openly discuss the situations that lead to asylum and the process for obtaining refugee status in the United States, which is one of the major locations that LGBT Jamaicans seek refuge. The symposium also offered us an opportunity to honor the work of Larry Chang, and to situate the modern movement for LGBT equality in Jamaica as a decades-long struggle as opposed to a 21st century phenomenon.
J-FLAG welcomes feedback from our community. We will continue to develop and sustain programs that address the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We know there is much more work to be done and so we will continue to work towards a successful rehabilitation program. If anyone has any additional concerns or suggestions for how to improve our programming, not just around homelessness, we encourage you to send us an email at email@example.com, send us a message on our Facebook page, or ask us a question here. Myself, Jaevion and Javed monitor this space and we are more than willing to listen and learn as we try to make J-FLAG a more effective organization.
Yvonne McCallah Sobers of Families Against State Terrorism makes a point during the symposium, apparently she was the one who asked the all important question as to the absence of the homeless men
Carole Narcisee of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition makes a point
No report has been released since the symposium or as at the preparation of this entry.
Sad that this is where we are with this issue with marked culture of secrecy continuing as open discourse on social media groups is quashed (to hide something?) and trying to justify this most egregious error in judgement of the representative population being left out on a discussion about them, I was invited to attend but never bothered and thankfully I made the right decision. Some of the comments now coming to light have reflected my concerns about the service delivery and response to a long standing problem of the lack of proper leadership and foresight coupled with an elitist corporatist mentality, for e. g.
"What you do here is exactly what an organisation like the JCF is so skilled at doing to those perceived as its critics, Twisting words, dealing with personalities rather than issues or principles, assuming that comments are intended to "wear down individuals" rather than to challenge the organisation to do better at what it was set up to do. And then there is the labelling and the name-calling that says more about the person who uses the terms - like "callous and uncaring" - than those who are the targets of the barely veiled cussing. Been there and experienced that for over a decade when people corn get mash.
Hopefully, the defensiveness can end soon, and some problem-solving can begin. Meantime, have fun!!""............... your position sounds like something I hear from politicians when I advocate accountability when police kill people's children in what the police claim to be a shootout. So good people will say something like this, to borrow from your post,"I would just love for us to keep our discussions at the level that does not tear down an entire infrastructure just to make a small point. The people who work in [the police force] have real lives and they live in a real society. When we disagree with them by attacking them and they get worn down by that pressure, we gain nothing. In fact, we all lose. One thing that marginalised people must unlearn is the division around inessentials. We have been so thoroughly schooled in divisiveness it has become difficult for us to see the essentials." In other words, don't critique in the hope of improving the work of the JCF (or J-FLAG in the present discussion) because they will see a critique as an attack on the hardworking men and women of the force."
"It is my view that a lot of the rot in this country was caused because too many people kept quiet about things that were just not right. So those who spoke out were silenced or silenced themselves. As a result, coming generations pay the price for deterioration that could have been stopped if leaders had put their egos aside for a while, and used the criticism to grow the organisation and the country."
"As an example, I was in a meeting 20 years ago between the then Minister of Education and a group of students. One student asked the Minister what he was going to do about the violence in schools that most were not aware of at the time, it was so relatively minor. The Minister became irate and construed the concern as an attack. he said that matters like that should be raised with the police as security was not an educational matter. The Minister may well have seen the youth as trying to "tear down the infrastructure to make a small point." The lesson the youth learned that day was to mistrust his instincts and keep his opinions to himself no matter how valid he felt his concerns to be. Today, violence in Jamaican schools is close to endemic."
"Smart organisations prefer to have criticism in the open, and regard critics as friends intent on seeing the organisation improve. For the good of the LGBT community, JFLAG needs to appreciate take the criticisms as providing the organisation with evaluation that consultants would charge hefty fees to do only half as well and with none of the heart. J-FLAG needs all the help it can get. but some of the sentiments expressed on this thread suggest that J-FLAG leaders are trying to jettison those who have supported the cause before the organisation was created. I for one was trodding with Brian Williamson from the 1980s."
"The request to move the question to private e-mail does not say much for transparency. The question is not about someone's private business, but about a public event. Trust comes with transparency, and secrecy resembles fear of being found out, unless the questions relate to personal and private matters."
The press release factory kicks into effect again, see what you make of all this folks but it is clear what is at work here and my voice will not be closed by the establishment as a recent comment to one of my audiopost/podcast on the eviction issue of the J in the context of the homelessness matter over time from a former Management Committee member of JFLAG reflects the culture that still resides there:
I am concerned: In a homophobic society, is it fair to expect J-FLAG to easily find a home? Is it fair to compare the homelessness of these young men with the homelessness of J-FLAG? The bigger picture is being missed, I think. It seems as if there is some gloating over the officelessness of J-FLAG, as if that helps the homeless men. Officelessness is not comparable to HOMElessness! Bellyaching about the loss of a space by J-FLAG is less a problem for J-FLAG than it is for those served by the organisation!
I just saw it...and i waiting to know who is the producer and the writer and the person speaking to ask them a few questions of my own..hopefully some light will be shed soon
"We are pretending here as if J-FLAG is awash with cash to support a safe house. The thinking and introspection necessary is for us to strategise as a community to make the work being done by organisations such a J-FLAG possible."
more on my podcast:
Also in the Observer May 26, 2013
UPDATE June 5, 2013 - the video finally has arrived watch and listen carefully
Peace and tolerance