There exists a chasm between the expectations of the LGBT community (and even the Heteros ) of J-Flag and how J-Flag defines itself.
Indeed, the J-Flag of old had much more zeal in its public engagements, and the impression given through the smoke and mirrors was that this was a substantive lobby group with a clear position, and explicitly defined roles. They were the mouth piece for an invisible, disenfranchised community that wanted legitimacy through diplomacy and the provocation of critical thinking on the subject of sexual minority status in the hypocritical society in which they existed. They seemed to stand firmly beside their constituents and would defend and protect them by any means necessary including legal challenges, emergency housing assistance, and bare-faced public representation.
Based on dialogue with its current Executive Director I am left with the lingering feeling that J-Flag in its current dispensation, a decade after its conception, is an advocacy body with an affinity for government policy, intermittent interventions in the electronic media, building networks with international civil society organizations, and nothing more.
I will forgive the unfortunately inarticulate expression of the role and objectives of the organization given that the question was posed in a somewhat combative community consultation which had the ED in defence mode. However, the sentiment persists in the community that J-Flag is not fulfilling its role as the only lobby group acting on behalf of the LGBT community.
The acts of civil disobedience by the street boys that we have witnessed in the past few days in response to the executive decision taken to ban poorly behaving homeless MSMs from the JFLAG and Jamaica AIDS Support compound are but the tip of the iceberg in relation to the resentment the community has for JFLAG.
According to their website:
J-FLAG’s mission is to work towards a Jamaican society in which the Human Rights and Equality of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays are guaranteed. To foster the acceptance and enrichment of the lives of same-gender-loving persons who have been, and continue to be, an integral part of society. J-FLAG holds the vision to move forward in a spirit of oneness, love, dignity and respect towards the establishment of a Jamaica, and world, devoid of prejudice, injustice, discrimination and oppression. And, furthermore, to ensure the human rights of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, as set out in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
J-FLAG, among other things:
1. provides support in the event of a crisis or impending crisis; emergency housing assistance, counselling and assistance with medical bills
2. does significant personal development and community building in the gay community;
3. offers counseling and referral services to gay people and their families;
4. has consultations and collaborations with noted local and international figures and human rights/health/political interest groups, in the process of working for constitutional and other legislative changes;
5. has made written submissions to the Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament for the inclusion of “Sexual Orientation” as a basis on which the Constitution of Jamaica prohibits discrimination;
6. has provided documentation for asylum cases based on sexual discrimination and violence in Canada, Great Britain and the United States;
7. maintains a library and archive of resource for academic research
The major challenge now is that the community demands front-line services that JFLAG is not capable of or interested in providing. The staff, largely administrators with the glaring absence of social workers or psychologists, is naturally going to call the police on rowdy and violent MSMs because they do not know how to handle such a scenario. They are not prepared.
Where JFLAG's board of governors has failed its staff and clients is by essentially giving them baskets to carry water. They have not birthed an organization capable of providing front-line services and neither have they groomed the organization to fulfill this role in its 10 years of existence. They as the architects for the type of advocacy JFLAG is supposed to execute have allowed the organization to hobble into redundancy.
What needs to happen now is a series of frank and unavoidably uncomfortable conversations about the present and future role of the organization in light of the fact that the community it intends to serve has in large part grown disenchanted, and in some cases bitterly so.
JFLAG must define itself, its roles and the type of advocacy it has the capacity to carry out.
One major criticism of the organization is that its architects have access to, and jealously guard, a large network of international NGOs and donor agencies that turn the cogs of HIV and sexual minority rights advocacy all over the world. They are the gate keepers. The sentiment expressed is that dissenting voices are forcibly silenced or black listed, that the status quo is ruthlessly enforced, and that the business of HIV and LGBT rights is one that does not always act in the best interest of the most vulnerable and more often than not takes economic decisions rather than moral ones. In other words, if they say they cannot do something they are lying to your face. They are not saying they cannot, they are saying they will not.
That appears to be the general consensus on the ground as it relates to this homeless MSM issue. The idea that there is no money to tackle the problem is inexcusable and it really is a lack of will and initiative that lands us in this predicament, which of course speaks to the sinister self-serving attitude that the gate-keepers are accused of having.
What do we do now?
I maintain that either JFLAG holds itself accountable and responsible for the advancement of the rights of the LGBT community, including the provision of the front-line services that they demand, OR remain as back-seat advocates while fostering an environment of collaboration, inclusion, and the development of alternate voices that can carry out the functions that they are unable to.
If the former is to be realized it will be a revolution, a mutiny, an earthquake, and a complete overhaul of the organization and how things are done. Most observers are very cynical that this will ever take place given the personalities that are involved.
Therefore the latter is a more likely reality to come to fruition... though the same cynicism persists for many.
Very interesting times are ahead.