A common thread I have detected in worldwide sexuality work is that more established LGBTQ rights groups seem to overlook issues at the grassroots level or what they do not see as important in their eyes. In talking to other bloggers, influentials and smaller groups overseas they too face an uphill task in getting the older more powerful established groups to pay attention to fermenting issues and it’s often not until there is major fallout then the press release mechanisms go into effect complimented with linguistically perfect rhetoric and flowery prose. Dithering on & inadequate responses to MSM homelessness in Kingston predominantly and the rest of the island has caused just that, fallout leading to homelessness for two of our local powerhouses.
This should NEVER have occurred in the first instance. I decided to take a look back at some of the tell tale signs I saw that some things were obviously amiss especially within the last four plus years when the homeless problem was magnified. There must be a more robust structure, accountable yet proactive and forward thinking with vision to avoid outcomes such as this.
One could conclude that under normal circumstances with age and experience wisdom would increase and with each program and gained knowledge from mistakes after the last fifteen years an entity such as JFLAG or twenty two years that of Jamaica AIDS Support (for Life) sensibility would prevail instead with unwise decisions as to direction and unsatisfactory community responses we are left with agencies still in step-n-fetch it mode and now after avoiding a section of their homeless representative communities for all these years are in the same boat as they, how ironic?. Let me categorically state that I am very disappointed at the recent turn of events as many such before but this one stinks and like many persons still around or passed on I had high expectations from both aforementioned entities from 1997 when I first came into knowledge formally Jamaica AIDS Support (for Life) JASL as a service user to do my HIV tests although I was aware of them before at their Haughton Avenue days and attended a couple gay men meetings there then Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays, JFLAG when it was being put together through Brian Williamson in part in 1997/8 who also operated the famed Entourage night club where I was contracted as a DJ and I got to see some assisted living services in action at his complex, the late Donald Thompson (a friend who provided a form of community based assisted living during my own temporary displacement from 1996) and Thomas Glave (co-founder of JFLAG) via my own legal challenges at the time also caused me to be introduced formerly to JFLAG and joined the Stop Murder Music Campaign in 1999.
At the time we had seen challenges come and go but self made obstacles such as this latest sag are a totally different matter, now comes this weird set of circumstances leading to this disgraceful episode in LGBT history being kept oh so quiet then this is what it has come to? (many won’t admit same via the current code of silence on the matter) an organization I once held in high esteem I had lost some respect before after the Safe House Pilot fiasco among other things but now I am wondering and trying to locate if remotely any sympathy how I feel about them and am baffled as in recent days it has become known that the impromptu eviction notice which took everyone by surprise came into effect from March - April 2013 and expired so the agencies had to vacate the Upper Musgrave Avenue space which has been in use for over fifteen years. As far as I am concerned ALL of this could have been avoided and it is sad that just by clear classism and what could be described as institutional bigotry in a sense parading as inability to find resources and space to address this problem is what is at work here. A deeply entrenched and disturbing culture that has not changed in several years and seems more and more intent on not remaining in the shadows any more but revealing itself far more openly than before.
Quasi-political bodies or real NGOs?
Some NGOs these days in Jamaica are sounding more like corporate entities with press statements and sleek PR or quasi-political bodies adopting a culture of our political directorate similarly bereft of ideas and continuity of successful strategies and are just hobbling along bumping and crashing as they go. Double speak by having a gay image when needed especially for the foreign support and then a straight image for local agitation where activists pen letters as HIV specialists when in fact they are LGBT representatives is all part and parcel of our challenge and stunting the very growth and development of the community if ever there is one. Gone are the days of this kind of camouflaging as is needed then but not today and if we are to address really the social justice issues then it’s time real proactive leadership takes effect, a proactive group would have seen this coming and not wait to find themselves forced to leave their office space and homeless given there have been near misses before, there ought to have been some plan B or preparation for this eventuality given the backdrop of the media attention on the uncomfortable homeless msm situation.
Sadly too JASL’s “subsidiary” if you want to call it that and I do see it as such Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays, JFLAG has also been given marching orders they left some time before and are having great difficulty since then and as at the creation of this entry/podcast securing a space as well for both themselves and the long promised homeless shelter they have been forced to revisit and that was to have been opened to address the problematic homeless MSM in the business/residential district of New Kingston. The other tenants have also moved early to avoid the deadline and possible legal action.
Noted intolerance to other groups/ideas, mistrust, secrecy and territorialism fully engrained in the organizational and social culture
There needs to be a total paradigm shift in the organizational culture and how LGBTQ business is done in this country and when I suggested this some years back on a Facebook thread persons from the “establishment” literally scuffed at the idea, obviously threatened by any new thought, so it seems now we are seeing the fallouts coming fast and furious and the failure of the groups to gain sustainability and even keep a roof over their heads all due to poor management and a lack of vision. As outlined in other examples below there is a noted long standing intolerance engrained in the organizational culture to any other group outside of their own who come up with ideas as a kind of territorial warfare goes into effect yet the public relations reaction to scrutiny is that JFLAG or JASL cannot do it alone yet when other persons or groups attempt to forge ahead even going as far as to inviting them to consultations they do not take up the offers to cooperate unless it is on their terms. Case in point, the launch of the entity The Underlined Response which was the brainchild of the former Executive Director of JASL who resigned February 26, 2010 after the tense situation with the board and the dubious closure of the Safe House Pilot. There were formal overtures from the board of the UR and no response came from JASL/JFLAG.
The Introspective Pride Fest exhibition which gave LGBT persons a chance to showcase businesses, cultural strengths and other groups was snubbed by both agencies when formally invited to set up booths free of charge for the spaces and even up to the day of the event no formal correspondence came to suggest interest or not. This continued intolerance has been experienced by many others if they choose to speak openly but the crap goes unimpeded as the code of silence persists (probably looking for future favours from the same establishment). In fact many complain of a kind of plagiarism of sorts where previously suggested ideas by others then suddenly turn up by the powers that be as if it was always theirs without any reference of origin by the conceptualizer(s), if we are to move forward it cannot be with another form of double speak and deceptive professionalism and a fear of losing their powerful position. So strong is the perception of intolerance and a fear of ideas being “stolen” that many persons who want to see a different trajectory become very secretive with their plans and activities and fear an idea bereft order may just plunder their work and claim it as their own, then we wonder why as a so called community we cannot grow when that all important trust as an ingredient is missing?
There would be no need to cooperate and share with the other influentials or groups and hand pick who can be manipulated to suit their ideology when one feels they should dictate the terms of such engagement when the gateways are blocked by the very personalities and groups. Talk about tolerance indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even how funding is disseminated has become problematic after all these years think it not strange that no other major GLBTQ specific NGO has been birthed and “allowed” to promulgate programs on its own platform and issues that it may see as needing attention with open cooperation from more established ones? Case in point homelessness or same gender loving women’s issues, they know the funding arena very well and as the LGBT dollars get scarce the avenues are closing fast hence the territorial patrol becomes even more pronounced. If funding is even filtered through other groups fronted by some of the same personalities that sit on the boards it is shared amongst those close to the family or filtered within the circle and keep away from other groups who wish to carry out their work not in a competing fashion but work on the ground for the most part. The fear of scrutiny by those who have become the wiser of the deceptive and unethical practices also is met with this engrained intolerance often dismissed as less intellectual discourse and or as inane babble or promptly sidelined via non-sequitur reasoning as no one must question their authority, their word is final take it or leave it. How can there be a call for tolerance overall from the mainstream when such is not espoused at the professional advocacy levels? The present networking with Jamaicans For Justice for example looks good at first glance but what if they discover the internal fiascos involved here and what do they now see following this news of their allies’ eviction? JFJ’s open support of the “We are Jamaicans” campaign probably already answers that question. What are the measuring sticks used by some NGOs for engaging others we may never know.
Secrecy goes far beyond just mistrust of the agencies and sharing working knowledge but also from a service delivery standpoint as well which is most egregious, the very community members who are to benefit from the crisis intervention and other psycho-social and psycho-sexual services often feel it is a waste of time to report infractions to their person to JFLAG. Many literally believe that it is only when one is chopped or maimed badly that they respond and lesser infractions are overlooked. Instead even after four and half years of leaving them I find myself the recipient of many a late night phone calls, emails, text messages and face to face meetings arranged or run-ins where the stories come flying out of persons. I often try not to be indelicate sometimes (or turn off my phone for some peace) and entertain the engagement but when I ask most times than not if the matter was formally reported to the relevant persons or JFLAG I am told 99% of the times a resounding “NO” and the accompanying reason is a lack of trust or they feel their issues won’t go anywhere to be solved or assisted. The tears from aggrieved individuals requiring a voice on the other end of the line, counselling is a constant that I myself needed to unleash it somewhere at times. The popular JFLAG hotline was made defunct over 13 years ago and even my time there when I suggested that it be reactivated as it was needed the proposal was quickly shot down, the proposal again was raised at the GLABCOM Steering level and also at the short lived JFLAG Mgmt subcommittee chaired by the late Dr Robert Carr for its reintroduction and they was all ignored. Presently the line now operated is only for incident reports mainly and not for general counselling as before so that in the moment desire for meaningful conversation has to be deferred to appointment via some counsellor usually outside of the GLBT community and who may not have a clue as to some of the sensitivities involved. Persons especially from the lower socio-economic classes have a higher propensity to this perception, to them it is real as they interpret that perception as some up-towners who do not care or understand their (the aggrieved) concerns. Also see the continuity section of this post.
This disconnect has been a worrying factor for me over many years long before I got bitten by the advocacy bug, the clear disparity between classes plays out in the social scene mostly and now that social media has joined the populations in the virtual world we see it playing out more openly online with sometimes very disparaging, contemptuous and plain elitist remarks made about or on other persons, it is even more disturbing when it is done on the groups administered by or populated in large part by JFLAG representatives and apologists.
Some more contexts
Let us not forget JFLAG was silent when the ultimatum was given by JASL via a board decision to the 12 residents then of the now defunct Safe House Pilot then of the impending doom in 2009/10 hence the men were sent back on the streets and the problems followed from then to now. They never found it necessary to intervene or could not intervene as some persons who sit on JASL’s board then also sat on JFLAG’s Mgmt Cmt as well hence the then Programs Manager turned ED could not and dare not stand up to the authority as he would have probably found himself without a contract. The Executive Director of JASL at the time under whose watch the house was started also resigned or was forced to do so as there were no known infractions against her stewardship hence my reference to the bizarre or dubious decision shrouded in secrecy in previous posts/entries. The very space from which JFLAG was evicted lately was in fact the Safe House Pilot’s residence for the 12+ men and a woman who stayed by another space, the former spaces was taken over no sooner the men had moved.
The J had moved from a previous location due to some funding challenges and was storing some of its items at JASL with some limited operation there. Strange, was their acquiring office space more important than dealing with lives interrupted in a project already in motion? A question I have been asking for years and it seems the answer is coming but in a round-about way as speculation is rife that there may be a lawsuit slapped against JASL by the former owners of the property as there was an alleged breach of the rental agreement where JASL should not have housed or sublet JFLAG space under its confines so hence the thrust to possibly move the shelter in order to get the space in 2010.
Even with the change in the makeup of JASL’s board after the previous Chairman stepped down under whose watch the Safe House was closed the doom was unavoidable as the serious damage was already done way before this and the new Chairman had to contend with an organizational culture and mindset that was cemented and unchanged for decades both on the part of the staff and also the representative populations who are service users intertwined with the battyman entitlement phenomenon (more below on that), to ask a new Chair to reverse those is giving them a basket to carry water with the water being miles away. The new makeup as well of JFLAG with all the new faces placed on its board as well shows clearly that the collective is still working from the same old ideologies in a kind of condescending approach hence the needed directions the agencies needed to have gone has not happened.
Why is it so difficult to do the right thing?
A new group of young gay/bi homeless men in Kingston proper if not for their own consistent extroverted attitudes quite the opposite to their predecessors and public anti-social behaviours would have been ignored by both agencies after the dubious closure of a Safe House Pilot Project in 2009 that was opened under JAS (for Life) and by the looks of things they really need a lifeline now as they are forced to survive elsewhere. The said homeless men are deemed to be a cause or the straw that broke the camel’s back apart from JASL/JFLAG’s dithering with the local governing authorities massaged in part and eventually forced to getting involved and not even they could stop the problems which just pushed the landlord over the edge and causing the decision to sell the property apart from other personal reasons, they have clearly had enough.
They (the NGOs) including the National Council on Drug Abuse, NCDA and others have been forced to address the problematic population as a supposed coalition but to no avail as they couldn’t seem to coalesce around anything and came too little too late with very little success on the longer termed homeless persons while playing on the tolerance of the friendly landlord who has put up with all kinds of issues for years on end but now the sands of that time have run out. Not even the damage control attempted via CVM TV where they tried to paint JFLAG as trying to address the issue complete with someone claiming to be formerly homeless did not work and let us not forget the infamous interview with a certain gay attorney where he used an old scripted narrative about gay men not having access to condoms when right on camera the representative from the NCDA said she issued condoms to the men when she could the footage as well of a previous news cast where some of the men were removed from an open lot on Cargill Avenue showed the truckers holding up the condoms on camera and lamenting that the men were practising safer sex thus making the PR attempt an epic fail.
Below as well I will go more into the unfinished or discontinued programs and initiatives that were working but the bizarre decisions sometimes to end such is still a mystery to me sometimes case in point the homeless numbers in MSM could have been probably much larger if it weren’t for the arrival of certain other distractions that caught the attention of the that group but prior to those distractions and illegal activities that group of young men were involved in an arts and dancing/performance program run by the late Howard Daly with some assistance from former Ashe Ensemble persons that program ended still and the men were left out in the cold basically save and except for the GLABCOM general meetings on second and fourth Tuesdays. After effects of that program can be seen today with some of the noted drag queens now matured who can dance very well at parties and design and make their own costumes or dresses for such LGBT events but who is really paying close attention?
Simply relying on legacy to remain relevant in a fast changing Jamaica without the needed changes from inside out literally to meet the new demands from a younger more vibrant LGBTQ populace is not going to last very long, there is going to come a time when the foreign and indeed local support that is so important in keeping up the charade is going to catch up to the truth and then what? Deception, contempt, corporatism and territorialism cannot be the basis of running any organization worse yet a non-governmental one where reputation and or legacy devoid of unethical tinges is your main trump card for existence but if the world is given the impression that there are no other worthy groups or individuals on the ground that can speak to or work on our issues here hence the same persons interviewed thus the narratives are well controlled then it is no wonder the need to hold on to that power?
More independence needed, autonomy anyone?
Both entities act as if they are inextricably tied to each other (hence my incestuous mess references over the years) more so than independent non aligned NGOs they ought to be while cooperating and consulting with each other for mutual benefit and by extension the population’s improvement they just hobble along with mind boggling decisions from the higher ups. Clear separation of roles and fiduciary responsibility has been obviously missing for some time and it seems this recent eviction episode is the major fallout this time around due to this particular problem at the board and executive levels of both entities. No one saw this coming, visionless leadership?
Given the high visibility in the media of the mostly younger homeless MSM and the perception via editorials from both major newspapers that JFLAG abandoned them, given also the repeated clashes with staff at JASL and JFLAG with certain exceptional personalities amongst the men that were kept quiet from the very LGBT community on the over patrolled Facebook by advocates there how long did they think they could hold out the charade while tacitly hosting the men they describe in their own words as “Rowdy” or “Maladjusted miscreants” on the property yet giving them the impression they could stay claiming the feeding program was the reason why yet no sustained commensurate psycho social stabilization interventions were in place?
Several other ideas though almost seen through were not brought to the end despite hours of discourse, meetings, action items, reports and the list goes on for example again the selection of a subcommittee for supposed “report to” the then management committee of JFLAG as if it were some all seeing and powerful quasi-political body and rest of us are kiss asses anyway we went along with the plan only for it to be scrapped in the end wasting so much manhours. Why does most activities have to be mired in a overly political construct has often puzzled myself and others, the time taken to be so rigid over simple matters is so over bearing and sometimes lead to the actual matter to be addressed left unattended to case in point the homeless MSM issue, despite a committee of stake holders including local government authorities nothing good has come out of this and now the main agencies at the centre of this find them roofless when the constituted authority if you will was to address the very conundrum they find themselves in.
If JFLAG is to really perform properly and become a fully non-alligned independent LGBT NGO it needs to be FULLY free of the incestuous tentacles via cross sitting individuals on its board and be FREE of its mother JASL and the later formed CVC’s influence as well and forge ahead with its own mandate and make its own board and executive decisions without considerations for other imperatives. That deeply troubling organizational ideology also has to be CURED and a fresh or paradigm shift take place with REAL community based consultations as implied in its name that being forum “Forum” however if it feels it is too proud or won’t capitulate to the community’s wishes then it may have to rethink its mandate and probably have a name/acronym change to reflect its true mission otherwise it will be eventually viewed via cynical lenses (which has already been happening) and as a shell.
Despite new hierarchy still the same old culture
What is even more disturbing to me is that the group did a major restructuring of its hierarchy and separated roles so no longer was there a Programs Manager only to act as front man and all things to all people but now there is an Executive Director and a Programs Manager separate with supporting staff hence more time and diligence should have been spent on the development of programs, monitoring of the community challenges and sourcing every dwindling funding sources possible but it seems persons aligned to the agency spend more time on Facebook and Blackberry messenger these days crowd sourcing more so than dealing the issues on the ground, not that social media aren’t needed but is LGBT activism in Jamaica about or limited to virtual spaces? .... Only when one gets a real awful battering or beating then you get attention? Then comes the hue and cry of homophobia, what about development of the least amongst us?
Another long standing problem or tolerated arrangement I have observed is that many persons in the system either also have employment elsewhere usually in HIV related fields sometimes within the national programs or sit on so many boards and committees hence the time needed to carry out the due diligence and duties may not be there.
Are these persons deliberately placed there in the web of the politically sticky HIV MSM prevention arena?
Are the long standing tense situations between the national programs on HIV & MSM and the private NGO community part and parcel of the kinds of inept management and problems?
I doubt we are going to see any resignations as is the honourable thing to do at the board level. If JFLAG for example was any non aligned independent agency it would NOT have sat quietly and watch a well needed semi transitional rehabilitation project, due to lack of funding then it could not start itself, close via a summary execution of it and its core representative population be made homeless once again when the project was to temporarily relieve the men of that challenge. Now they find themselves in the same boat. JASL was once the role model in the Caribbean and Latin America indeed so much so that others looked in admiration to as most successful private HIV Treatment and Prevention NGO but over the years they have been reduced to slowly hobbling along due to their own making in part and now this?
Silence is consent, hypocrisy and invisibility
What is also equally concerning is the quiet from other persons so moved by this latest fiasco and indeed others before, by being silent I conclude they are complicit and are as equally guilty of the wrongs over the years as those in leadership, how can you see the blatant activities occurring and knowing that it is about the bigger issues for the so called community that of lifting the profile of same whatever their socio-economic backgrounds maybe. As for persons who have come through the very systems and have simply walked off into the sunset they too are probably more damaged in guilt as they have a chance to make real suggestions based on their intimate understanding of the systems yet they remain quiet or curtail their criticisms on blogs so as not to upset the status quo, maybe future favours are in order or a job, who knows, snouts in the trough, a reward for keeping it down?
The other side of silence is the omission or deliberate overlooking of some other groups under the LGBT umbrella, lesbian and transgender invisibility is still a worrying trend to me despite under the We are Jamaicans campaign some attempt was made to address it but was it a band-aid response due to the critics’ pressure or a funding requirement seeing international trends dictate how advocacy also is carried out? Trans and SGL female issues have been made far more visible these days owing to the positive gay marriage rights freedom worldwide now the other groups are calling for recognition. Why do we have to wait till the rest of the world pulls us along or we go wherever the wind takes us?
Bisexual invisibility as well is another disturbing matter in the matter of silence or omission and in fact JASL and JFLAG could be found culpable in fuelling this negative bisexual population perception by homosexuals that they are disease carriers and the “bridge to HIV infection” in the general population. While academically the latter suits the narratives from an HIV prevention point of view for JASL and the robust national program in the minds what seems a good percentage of homosexuals bisexuals are confused individuals and must be avoided as they cannot make up their minds. Save and except for myself, a few concerned influentials and when the Couture Elements/Underlined Response team were active we attempted to address this serious misconception sans any help from JFLAG though they have been invited to attend several sessions. The refusal/silence on this issue has let a bi-phobic rant to become a real fear in parts of the population which rolls easily off the tongue.
Let us remember that the “Allsexual” demarcation in JFLAG’s acronym covers bisexuals as well. If it is that its mainly gay issues they intend to cover and leave out the others since the buggery repeal is the all important prize then I suggest a name/acronym change and owing to the fact that they complain they can’t do everything then maybe that name/focus/acronym change may be a plausible solution. Drop some of the populations that are not currently serviced or not of interest to the male dominated entity and keep the ones that are of import in their eyes. In reverse individual bloggers and small groups cannot change a deeply entrenched mindset so the formal agencies that are recognizable MUST do what they assign themselves to do.
What is even more disturbing is that the few women who sit on JFLAG’s committee seem to read themselves and their representative populations out of advocacy all together, why aren’t they speaking up more and highlighting the “L” issues, the lone female who also is connected to WomenforWomen seems either overpowered or afraid to open her mouth on SGL female issues so disturbing is the silence on such matters that women who are sexually abused do not come forward in the numbers that they ought to and suffer in silence over time recovering on their own in fact if one is to check the records JFLAG has NEVER put out any statement/press release EXCLUSIVELY on Same gender loving women’s issues. In 2011 there were two major cases involving a missing and a murdered lesbian and not a word came from the entity on support of or in sympathy with or even a representative to attend the funeral of the deceased. So much for gay women, they obviously do not factor in the scheme of things. I should know I still get the stories sometimes directly from victims.
Lack of continuity .......... suggestions/ideas left dormant
Continuity and follow up of workable and successful initiatives are woefully lacking in some respects for example the aforementioned Safe House Pilot 2009 like other projects such as the Gay Men’s Association of Jamaica (GMAJ) which died the day it was launched which was to have been a GLABCOM Kgn replacement, ACT2EMPOWER(A2E) it too did not have the necessary follow up despite several attempts for same, BOYMEETSBOY, the defunct Lesbians in Action (LIA) turned WomenforWomen (WFW) though still around has become limpwristed and has discontinued several of its vital social programs namely the Friday night socials and most valuable panel discussions, these and other ideas/related programs and interventions some suggested and hosted by individuals and small groups were never taken on board while the JASL related on that could have been continued were shut down for all kinds of sometimes bizarre reasons. The Safe House Pilot 2009 was started under JASL due to the urgent situation that presented itself post the 2007 population explosion and related serious crisis challenges, such a project should never have had to come from JASL as it bore little relation to HIV prevention but more so MSM advocacy/welfare and should have come more so from JFLAG as its mandate among other things include LGBT social justice issues. It is no wonder that many older volunteers do not return to assist when if all was going well they (the NOGs) should have been turning away persons who would gladly participate but instead newer persons are recruited ignorant to the long standing issues only to end up at the same place of disillusionment and regret in some cases in ever engaging the agencies in the first place, if one were to get a truthful look at how persons feel one would walk away feeling that they wasted their time in essence but for what it is worth the incremental achievements could be far more monumental in hindsight. Yet we do not seem to want to learn from those lessons in the past and dismiss any form of introspection in an escapist thinking so as to avoid scrutiny.
Many of the above mentioned now defunct programs and ideas never left the pages they were typed on and rest somewhere in a filing cabinet under lock and key if not shredded. I do not expect that all the draft programs/ideas/suggestions would have been made operational but to have so many and very few that are now left to show or have been made to last for the benefit of the representative populations, case in point the now 32% + HIV infection rate in MSM despite a well funded robust national program and yet the former most successful private NGO in HIV prevention is made to become a kiss ass to that system while waiting for Global Fund money when all along (from 1991) they had DIRECT access to the community via several suggested and indeed partly successful interventions some of which have been unjustifiably abandoned or from lack of continuity as hinted above.
Historical examples of poor engagement with committees and volunteers
The GLABCOM committee at one juncture prepared a proposal to serious examine homelessness and have more of JASL’s services at the time become available to include psychological testing as a Psychologist at the time had offered pro-bono service for a period but the proposal was rejected as it was deemed to be over-reach of the Steering Committee’s based on the by-laws and their role therein, so even in problem solving by supposed extra work the ideas were shot down. Many have concluded that if ideas or suggestions do not come from the core leadership then any other suggestions are not worth entertaining and this has been proven over and over again. A clothing collection drive, a walk-a-thon, a car wash and other activities were also suggested as fund raising activities by a female member of the GLABCOM committee and who also happen to sit on the WomenforWomen group at the time that never was allowed to take wings yet in defence from criticisms from persons like myself attempts have been made by some to give others the impression that critics have not contributed any new ideas. The ones that do make it on paper often are left there as archives and go no further than the borders of the sheets they are printed on or saved as attachments in emails. The monthly lymes and film show with paid entry that were used to also raise money for the GLABCOM planned activities were subsequently discontinued as when we amassed a good amount of cash and wanted to properly repose these funds to an old JASL account we were refused and told a litany of woes and “explain aways,” so the committee used the funds for a fun day out rightly and discontinued any finance raising activities as steering committee members wanted no part in holding any cash on their person on behalf of any NGO. Some now feel in hindsight that their hundreds of man hours of volunteer time have gone in vain and it was a waste, I tacitly support the thought too, a sad comment to make when all we want to see is good and real development as we seem stuck in a groove. Many of the suggestions made did not require any expendable resources on any of the agencies part. Then one wonders why we feel so jaded?
Just PR, nice videos and buggery repeal?
One of the main reasons why JFLAG was formed out of JASL in 1998 was to not only to work on the decriminalization or repealing of buggery but also particularly taking MSM psycho-social and non HIV related matters from JASL as JASL did not want to be seen as a gay organization by the public while their mandate was HIV Treatment, Prevention and Care towards the general public which included LGBT people. The numbers of MSM who would access such services were also in need of serious crisis intervention responses from the fallout from not only HIV related stigma leading to displacement and violence but also homophobic profiling and related violence as well owing to the fact that HIV/AIDS sadly were conjoined with male homosexuality in the national psyche, a conjoining that persist today in some quarters. Here is my major disappointment with JFLAG in particular, when I was introduced to one of its founders and first public faces Mr. Brian Williamson way back in 1997 just before they were formalised one of the reasons I was made to understand then (though not bitten by the advocacy bug as yet) the matter of displacements, Brian as he was affectionately known literally would use his drapery/awning factory floor as a overnight drop in sleep centre for selected men who were struggling at the time due to displacement from either HIV or homophobic related stigma and violence and who were stabilized in a sense as no other residential type set up were around save and except for the 3 hospices under JASL’s management for AIDS related illness patients. His club, The Entourage situated on the same complex that he owned and which I was a disc jock for many years as well would open on weekends and literally when it ended at four in the mornings the place would be transformed to its look with movable white picket separators on wheels and one could see the temporary residents carrying out the adjustments as was a stipulation for persons who were afforded a stay there.
One can also remember his impromptu lectures on deportment, how to maintain a job and self improvement and not to see the temporary setback as the end, the men would often complain they were tired of the talk but that was how Brian operated, he was concerned, that concern these days seemed lost and more interest is placed in careers and image more so on solving some of the communities challenges. A recent war of words showed just that, see:
Juxtapose the above items to the day to day management of the NGOs as well and we can see why there are some serious concerns here. Over the years we have heard of funding running out and lapses in service delivery and operations yet there is a contracted Programs Manager on staff that ought to have been monitoring both the finances and time factors as to the ending of the cycles and so on. If such programs namely the Safe House that came at a time when the populations were far more docile and lesser in numbers than today with all the lack of resources it could have been tweaked and make to work if there was the will but to close it down due to “Rowdy behaviour” by a few without any attempt to address the behaviour with stabilization mechanisms instead what was attempted was a dictatorial regiment that sped up the rebellious streak in the men and an expectation that the men would simply or ought to change their behaviour by their own recognisance which backfired hence the repeated public spectacles over the last four years plus. A pilot like most is designed to test the veracity and limits and learn from same then prepare whatever programs, strategies and budgets to shop around for available funding outlets instead we were told they could not find a place when it turns out they were looking mainly in New Kingston to rent a house! ........... So keep the problem nearby because they cannot separate themselves from mother?
Jamaica AIDS Support (for Life was added in latter years) was formed in 1991 to address the rising rates of infection in predominantly gay and bisexual men, the Men who have sex with men (MSM) terminology was not coined as yet neither was the “Battyman entitlement phenomenon” which I coined in 2011 after a sharp increase in its presence on the property of JASL and mainly is scant regard or numbness to authority by some of the same MSM who access services at the facility at its various locations with the last address being the sixth or seventh one, the men would (given the lack of safe spaces elsewhere) “let their hair down” effeminate behaviour exaggerated and have a lot to say whilst on the property knowing full well that is was run by other powerful gay figures hence a feeling of a carefree attitude and sometimes a flagrant disregard for the office’s guidelines and common decency. This phenomenon is partly to be blamed for the problems that finally led to the eviction notice being issued to both entities in my estimation but that alone is not the real issue here, the well needed psycho-social programs that ought to have been operationalized as some have been written and archived in filing cabinets under lock and key after several community consultations have not been allowed to come to fruition. The on again off again gay, lesbian, bisexual community GLABCOM interface initiative that fell under what became to be Targeted Interventions as before it was under Programs directly while HIV prevention driven was also bombarded with the associated visible stigma related consequences hence too the long arduous consultations at varying levels including the GLABCOM Steering Committee itself under several dispensations that led to the Safe House Project finally launched yet boom!! Visible signs of displacement fallout were seen for years when long before the in house security persons were made a permanent feature of the office the older populations of homeless gay/bi men would return at nights and make anywhere a bed, under a tree, the veranda and so on after the bi-weekly Tuesday night general GLABCOM HIV outreach meetings, things came to a head when a brawl years before the present impasse forced the decision to control the traffic and service user access. Other reasons as well were owing to the fact that persons mostly unemployed would arrive at the JASL office without a scheduled appointment or any valid reason leading to idle hands during office hours as well. Staff would spend inordinate amounts of time chasing away or finding some activity to occupy the mostly males time but that strategy soon became useless hence the imposition of control measures.
The LGBT “Community” if there is one if ever is going to have to decide what kind of leadership it wants and if it wants to continue the hero worship of supposed stalwarts without holding them to account, a friends based approach where scrutiny is not a pre-requisite of measurement for results, half hearted glossy public relations game that now exists or real meaningful & ethically sound and decisive operations towards solving some of the challenges on the ground. It is all well and good to try gain the help of a sympathetic international support but to dither and mislead locals while covering up the truth from everyone else?
Fiduciary responsibility and real service towards growth for all
Persons who put themselves to serve on these boards and or at management levels need to be made to understand that careful thought MUST be put into making decisions in ALL matters and foresight as there can be consequences as this has brought to bear, we are no longer in the nineties further to that forward thinking and vision MUST be a pre-requisite in order to avoid such surprise eventualities such as this latest fiasco. As for the allies including Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition of which both Js are members they seem to be coalescing around both entities without checking the ethical and moral base, fiduciary responsibility and principled centred leadership of which the latter CSS stands for but seem either not to be able to bring to bear the listed virtues or are looking the other way. Where are the checks and balances?
Interestingly there is an upcoming May 17th symposium on Homelessness of (more affluent)Jamaicans in their own country so to speak as they reside overseas via asylum seeking but what of the local ones is left to be seen especially those from the lower socio-economic classes who face the brunt of Jamaica’s homophobic culture deeply engrained in our national psyche that is plays out even in gay on gay violence. Guest speakers include Co-founder of Gay Freedom Movement Larry Chang and representatives from the US based Immigration Equality so as a friend said to me cynically foreigners are coming here to tell us about our situation.
JFLAG’s own 2012 - 2017 strategic plan that was shared at a town hall meeting in November 7, 2012 where the promised the yet to be seen homeless response was alluded to said the following:
“Transforming J-FLAG into a strong umbrella group; The Strategy: Strong Proactive Leadership of the LGBT Community – J-FLAG is to become truly national in scope with a majority of the community agreeing that they are generally experiencing an acceptable level of cohesion.”
As for the promised homeless shelter we saw that it turned out to be a fiasco as the premature announcement left the group embarrassed and some of the men angry feeling they were duped as the negotiations were not complete and the property they wanted could not be used due to the zoning laws of the area and the manager of the property said no in the final analysis.
Also in the Strategic plan document was:
“Increased Organizational sustainability; The Strategy: Create a culture of excellence that attracts creative, high calibre personnel who will develop efficient operating systems and a buoyant stream of donors – J-FLAG’s ability to fund all its programmes and attract and retain the high calibre people required to transform it into an organisation that compares favourably with any NGO in the region.”
The other two points on the four point plan spoke to public tolerance via improving its brand and legal reform NOWHERE in the strategic plan spoke directly to social justice matters and the overall health and well being of the LGBTQ populations in Jamaica. As per their mission as per the document which says “To promote social change through empowering members of the Jamaican LGBT community and build tolerance for an acceptance of LGBT community by the wider members of Jamaican Society.”
Empowering whom though and which class of persons I ask? The very language and tone of the line items seems elitist, power hungry and exclusionary and suggest that if other persons want to engage the agency you many not stand a chance. Funny how organizational culture can filter out in statements. Maybe the recent unexpected criticism by a certain gay lawyer that JFLAG was more interested about its image than about the homeless men when the matter of their eviction came up is true but coming from the person that it did it lacked credibility when the speaker has not been consistent regarding homelessness and other on the ground matters.
When if ever are we going to see a clean, open and workable advocacy that just does what it says with a genuine thrust towards growth and improved quality of life for LGBTQ people here?
Be vigilant, be safe
Peace and tolerance
- GLBTQ Jamaican Issues