The defunct Safe House Pilot (SHP) project 2009 which was the only known residential response to homelessness under JASL that was subsequently closed under cloudy circumstances in 2010 was actually entitled ‘Structurally addressing the vulnerabilities of MSM youth, physically and socially displaced due to violence and homophobia’, seeing JASL establishing a mechanism to provide life skills and training and other capacity building exposure to 12 carefully selected in the Street MSM Youth seeing that JFLAG did not have the resources following relocating from its Haughton Avenue offices at the time during which I was directly involved as funding challenges were imminent. The SHP as a pilot was to have run for three months August to October but commenced a little later in October. The early days on engaging agencies such as HEART and Jamaica Life Long Learning aka JAMAL prior to the SHP’s formation to provide information on training etc when the GLABCOM targeted intervention team worked on setting up scholarship was a prime example of the stonewalling by agencies, upon realizing the intended students would be gay and possible HIV positive they had some difficulty convincing the powers that be then to work with the project under the late T’Shawn Tai-Tonge and later Gareth Henry for e.g. Institutions such as the Caribbean Institute of Business, CIB owned and operated by the late Patrick Welsh a community legend had a scholarship program opened to members of the LGBT youth groups and indeed adults as well who displayed a propensity to perform well academically of which I only became aware of by a friend in 2004 where I made use of the outlet and pursued a Business Administration Diploma course while those who wanted to catch up on lost time by continuing their high school education in adult life could pursue GCE and CXC classes and overseas based degrees subject to JASL nomination. Unfortunately Mr Welsh passed just before any contact could be made with him on probably extending the facility to the 12 participants of the SHP 2009. Today some scholarships are awarded through the agency but quietly done and by questionable selection it seems as complains have brought to bear. The stonewalling however continued in some part by other learning and child care institutions in the height of the SHP and other such initiatives involving MSM as the targeted populations.
Other anecdotal information on homelessness was also gathered from sources and agencies such as older living MSM via oral histories, populations outside of Kingston, prior crisis intervention reports data review, The Underlined Response (a group subsequently formed in 2010 to address some of the homeless concerns with no interest from JFLAG), ACT2EMPOWER 2008 (a short lived empowerment project for MSM youth), respective GLABCOM Steering Committees (under JASL’s target interventions), concerned Peer Educators and community influentials to name a few long knew this as whenever the CDA or other similar agencies were approached in regards to minors we were ignored. These serious challenges today with a growing displaced/homeless population could have been far less if worked on sooner and some continuity if the safe house was kept open and the interest shown by the leadership, other problems were self made by some of the very organizations named especially JASL and a refusal to continue programs and projects that worked over time in a bid to solving this homeless MSM problem that predates any LGBT struggle for that matter over the nearly forty years. It was part and parcel of the reason to form some of these organizations and lobby groups in the first place. In the late 2010 period when the populations of homeless MSM were already on the rise we also saw the sharp increase in teens as well and even as the Safe House Project was in operation fifteen year olds were turning up, in my podcast on the MSM homelessness timeline recorded August 28, 2011 I had made mention of the that fact and that there was direct intervention by the then Executive Director of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, JASL, Miss Stacy Ann Jarrett under whose watch the pilot project was started to address the growing numbers she did manage to have a few of the youngsters reintegrate with their biological families as she, volunteers and the house mother with the skeleton staff relentlessly spoke to the parents of them to get them off the streets given the dangers posed and their age. A formal reintegration component I have since gathered was being looked at as a draft document was prepared but not completed as the project folded.
There was and still is the dilemma of agencies knowingly harbouring minors who could pose a problem given the sensitivities involved here as well with homosexuality, perceptions of predatory behaviour by adults and legal implications as well. Interestingly the anti gay religious community and the church groups have been silent for the most part on the neglect, recent murders and frightening numbers of missing children in Jamaica and indeed gay youth displacement and homelessness but is very vocal when it comes to opposing homosexuality and only seem to link same gender sex and indeed innate homosexuality with abuse/paedophilia and HIV while not separating the two and compartmentalising homosexuality as a lifestyle or foreign imposition while excluding person’s orientation. Abuse is abuse despite the gender or orientation of the perpetrator as sexual attraction towards a prepubescent person is a sexually deviant diagnosable disorder as per the Diagnostic criteria for Psychology in the DSM-Diagnostic Statistical Manual recently revised in its fifth edition yet Judaea-Christian Psychologists and Psychotherapists seem not to want to abide by the guide for such professions. This lack of adherence to the guidelines seems present in the psycho social departments of the very agencies that say they are for child rights and protection. Homosexuality is not a disorder and has been removed since 1973 yet some refuse to abide even in the face of no major evidence to suggest that it is disorder. Apart from the religious/biblical fundamentalist anti-homosexuality imperative deeply engrained in our national psyche the ever present protection of vulnerable youth imperative as well while needed in certain respects the foundational assumption of this imperative is that homosexuality, especially in its male form, involves a strongly predatory paedophile tendency which is put into practice against innocent and powerless young people at every opportunity. Indeed paedophilia is unarguably a sexual pathology. The fact however that there are some predatory homosexuals who are also paedophiles and who have abused positions of power and trust (the priesthood, teaching/house-mastering, scout-mastering, etc.) is also undeniable and wholly deplorable but must never be applied in a wholesale manner to gay/bisexual men as if and when buggery is decriminalized that suddenly there will be mass abuse of boys without ceasing.
Attempts at reparative therapy for homosexuals as espoused by some in the very child agencies have only sought to create more problems on the backdrop of the supposed “cure” for homosexuality it is marketed as by well funded groups such as the American NARTH – National Association for Reparative Therapy for Homosexuals. Many persons locally and indeed abroad more so have shown clear evidence that it does not work and to ask persons and children found to be LGBT to suppress their real orientation has only sought to instil shame and create more harm than good.
In putting the final touches to the SHP 2009 3 main focus group sessions were convened with the identified homeless with 6 other smaller consultations – ‘In the Streets’ MSM youth in forming the rationale; Maslow’s hierarchy of needs establishes that in order to achieve behaviour change in any target group, there are some basic needs that must be satisfied to some degree. These needs include shelter, food, sex, and belonging. A 2007 snowball study of 201 MSM in Jamaica commissioned by the Ministry of Health indicated (include social issues) and a HIV prevalence of 31.8%. Initial participants were invited by three (3) homeless MSM that had been accessing the JASL services and facilities. A warm meal was provided after the focus group. The first focus group session had thirteen (13) persons and was facilitated by the then Executive Director, Ms. Stacey Jarrett and JASL co-founder and volunteer, the late Mr. Howard Daley and another staff member. Other sessions followed with myself and other influentials participation prior to the discontinuation of GLABCOM Kingston chapter and the formation of the short lived Gay Men’s Association of Jamaica, GMAJ as its replacement with similar goals. It too was made defunct and GLABCOM was returned some two years later under different leadership. Participants in the focus groups shared their individual experiences on the street and reported issues such as: • Lack of access to medical services, but increased risk of illness and skin conditions from sleeping out in the open.
• Regular beatings and attacks from thugs and police on the streets
• No access to showers, meals and clean clothes
• Pressure from other (non LGBT) homeless counterparts especially in the Half Way Tree, lower New Kingston, Downtown and Cross Roads nearing Tom Redcom Avenue
I recently highlighted the fact also at an impromptu influentials meeting following the disturbing revelation that JFLAG had excluded the homeless group from its symposium on homelessness on the IDAHOT that maybe the homelessness challenges seen today would have been far more larger, coming earlier and problematic that it is due to the diversion created by certain questionable illegal activity that came in the mid 2000s and some persons got involved in. The numbers were on the rise even back then as displaced persons would turn up at the agency’s doors literally or after outreach meetings persons could be seen loitering, roaming the streets and eventually sleeping on the steps or under the trees when those said offices closed at nights without security officers or night watchmen on staff then.
The difference with then and now is that those populations were far more docile and introverted the newer displacees are far more extroverted and expressive hence the high visibility and unneeded attention, challenges and coverage in media. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays, JFLAG’s most late and limp wristed response to this in recent times after being forced to finally address it is only to feed some thirty kids three times a week according to the Executive Director Dane Lewis on a recent television interview is unsatisfactory, their decision to adopt a non inclusion stance of the homeless men in their International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia symposium on homelessness of all things due to a fear of “tokenizing” the men has left many persons including straight allied activists who were in attendance stunned and others upon learning of yet another bizarre decision by leadership there up in arms over it although tempers have cooled since, their attempt to rent a house for their version of a rehab centre was discontinued temporarily in April 2013 as they relocated to a new space yet we knew all along even from my time as Administrative Assistant doubling as Crisis Intervention Officer as one was not in full time employ and way before the sharp rise in numbers of men and teens on the streets especially after the mass displacement that came when a community party DVD mysteriously found its way in the bootleg market and was sold exposing many persons who had to flee for their lives from mostly rural Jamaica in 2007 with pre-existing groups in downtown and in New Kingston. Their present difficulty in finding a space to house their version of a shelter even as they ignored the closure of the SHP 2009 is only delaying the most urgent action that must be taken, their own temporary displacement after they were given notice to quit the office space along side JASL for some nearly twenty years also has impacted their new project bearing in mind that JFLAG’s last office space was indeed the defunct Safe House residency that was closed under dubious circumstances which left many wondering if it was closed to accommodate the J an office space. The repeated clashes with some of that older SHP resident population via very public multiple stoning incidents and stand offs involving the police as well with a print media carrying some of the episodes is a result of the men feeling they were ditched by both JASL and JFLAG. There have been several deliberate attempts to sweep this ugly chapter of LGBT history under the carpet via articles and other behind the scenes shenanigans but it must be kept alive in the interest of transparency.
Head of the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Diane Gordon who on May 19, 2013 on the religious station Love 101FM’s program Moment of Hope spoke to the role of the OCA, she said among other things that: The OCA was established in 2006 as a commission of the parliament of Jamaica whose main responsibility is to protect the rights and best interests of children with many departments that focus on specific areas. Areas such as an investigations department that responds to reported instances or by their own volition. There is an inspectorate that also keeps under review practices of some of the government run institutions and other entities that offer services to children including correctional facilities, juvenile facilities and so on in order that such services meet certain minimum international standards.. The legal department makes appearances for children in court when they appear, may assist in getting bail, legal representation when needed or family is not around or can’t afford same, provide some buffer for victims of sexual abuse or rape as they navigate the slow and sometimes insensitive court systems.
They also intervene in probate matters where parents are deceased and care financially is arranged. Their public education drives speak to the right to education, healthcare, to be heard and others yet the work by these groups seem too based on a rigid religious construct that omits sexual orientation as a part of development. Attached to that in my view is the real fear and loathing of homosexuals(ity) as played out in the removal of the Sex & Sexuality Manual by the Ministry of Education and a strident Minister who is also a Reverend on Christian Principles as he and others claim that there were attempts via persons who worked on the manual had hidden agendas as it looked prior to its removal to condition or in his own words “ ..... conditioning of students into homosexuality” as a section in the volumous document proposed a guided imagery exercise asking students to switch roles in terms of sexual orientation i.e. imagine themselves as gay in a heterosexual world. This was to be done by specially trained counsellors who would also be retrained on a continuous basis and not the general teaching staff. There was also a small section that delved into anal sex and presenting same sex couples as a form of a family, examining HIV risk via a self reporting mechanism and safer sex information yet the accompanying text/activity books for the students had no such information as I recently physically examined an Alpha Girls School’s copies the HFLE Book 3 in series, she also informed that the period for that class is now a free on so the students in essence are wasting time during school hours. Miss Gordon also spoke to the violence meted out to children neglect and sexual abuse with rape, secondary degrees of violence where children experience trauma even just by witnessing such yet the same neglect and subsequent homophobic violence meted out to LGBT teens the agencies do not act when called to do so. When asked what is the vision of the OCA? she said the following: “The vision is to have a Jamaica in which we have children who recognize that they have rights in and of themselves and they recognize with rights come responsibility............... the sexual abuse needs to go, the inappropriate exposure to violence needs to go and we need to recognize as a people that in just saying children are our future we need to act like they are our future and invest in them now so that they can become contributing adults in the future.” Nice sounding ideal and words but do we really care as a society when teens are thrown out due to the slightest perception of them being gay or gender nonconforming?
A social worker linked to the issue of the homeless MSM adult and teens in New Kingston specifically spoke to the continued stone-walling by the Child Development Agency, CDA in responding to calls from him as before to investigate suspected neglect by parents who forcibly evict their teens who they suspect are homosexual for the past two years. A telephone call only however as far as I understand it from a identified professional to the CDA on any matter does not constitute a formal report a follow up communiqué or some sort of interview maybe required plus a site visit(s) as the said professional maybe called upon to appear in any litigation or actions regarding the case and identified persons involved. He didn’t indicate either if any such formal approaches were taken. That same television interview spoke to the fact of the CDA’s numbness to the matter of gay teen homelessness which was aired on CVM TV May 6, 2013 host Simon Crosskill invited the Child Development Agency to appear on the program they declined and instead sent a statement that read as follows:
The statement leaves more questions than answers for me;
Does the CDA management or watch television or follow the news & current affairs programs (media monitoring) where repeated reports speak to the homeless MSM issues for the past four years?
Is it that it was not made clear to them (the CDA) by JFLAG that teens are present in the population?
Was the CDA fed up with JFLAG’s poor and late response to the matter in the first place post the closure of the Safe House Pilot in 2009/10 owing to the fact that they were aware of the group?
On the matter of the National Homeless Committee is the CDA a member and if not why hasn’t this CMT/JFLAG formerly written to them regarding the problem?
Is the perception that JFLAG abandoned the men still a strong one so other agencies do not feel the need to get involved?
Were formal reports filed to the CDA by JFLAG’s staff or the social worker mentioned above or were they just phone in conversations?
In filing the formal report to the CDA does the particular professional have to identify themselves?
In implying ignorance of the population’s demographic couldn’t there have been checks done by the CDA anyway to quantify if any minors in the group?
Why didn’t JASL/JFLAG follow up after the closure of the Safe House pilot with the CDA on homeless youth seeing that it had anecdotal information regarding gay homeless teens?
The CDA statement screams loudly to me that a formal report or communiqué seems missing from the equation apart from their turning the other way on this matter given the over exposure of the New Kingston homeless MSM group and their migration to northern parts nearing Barbican as recent newspaper reports confirm. I have long said that if any work with agencies who stonewall as is typical or who do not really understand the full grasp of populations such as ours needs to be done by the book, make the formal report and if no answer then there is cause for alarm and concern when they do not act as per their remit. They seem not caring about a simple set of phone calls on the matter although by moral suasion through the airing of the issue they claim they will investigate. As we are in the month of June pride month the first anniversary of the death of two of the homeless youth now even a third of a mile from JASL/JFLAG former offices that was highly publicized is approaching be it on the 13th with the case still languishing at the preliminary hearing stage in court when I last checked, sadly no closure for this one while the other group dynamics play out elsewhere with fights and clashes and territorial warfare even with other non LGBT homeless youth as has happened before. I am still distraught that we did not jump on the first instance of a solution when it was presented despite the challenges instead of agencies finding themselves having to deal with it forcibly.
Like some other community members who are fearful of only an increase in the numbers as other factors play out I am worried too, the lotto scamming crackdown has certainly caused some fallout in western Jamaica as persons who once got rich by ill-gotten gains now find themselves on the fault line and new additions as outlined in previous posts here from social media outings via Facebook and BlackBerry messenger and continued forced evictions. Why do we always have to wait until things get really out of hand before some action is taken? There seems to be a mimicking of how the political directorate operates as is only when things get really bad then we see some knee jerk reaction. We need better quality leadership with vision to be able to plan ahead of eventualities and be more present on the ground to spot them instead of the desktop typed advocacy and knee jerked reactions we see now well late in the day. Nationally we also need agencies with insight and depth to deal with the new realities as well and respond to emerging previously hidden identities far more proactively and openly instead of hiding behind processes and rigid old ideological fences out of fear of recrimination. The Jamaican LGBT lobby’s crisis communication, public agitations and indeed campaigns should hint to some support for other rights issues especially child rights and must also have and be included in whatever forumatic activity they conduct, to simply be locked into buggery review/repeal/decriminalization is not enough in engaging an ever more cynical public and roaring religious right movement with even more open intolerance with the conflation of same genders sex as prepubescent abuse as one of its main foothold. With gay marriage and normalization of same sex family life on the horizon the lobby can no longer overlook that couples may want children and as part of the resistance to that gay family unit is also that same perception of abuse and or initiation of children into homosexuality, proper public education drives may be needed in the cadre of programs in advocacy to begin to break down the fundamentals and reveal the false dichotomy in that regard to prove that the sexual orientation of a child even in a healthy same sexed family unit will not impact that child’s development as their orientation would have been predetermined by age five or six. I personally know of heterosexual individuals who have grown up with same sex parents here in Jamaica virtually unscaved by the so called homosexual scourge.
Recent media appearances by JFLAG with other stake holders for example to try to fix its image or re-position itself with regards to the specific stormy three and a half year homeless MSM matter in New Kingston now moved northwards to Barbican by creating “another population” other than the so called rowdy gay men who are mostly adults and who are still are up in arms in part with the agency and JASL on the SHP’s closure and feeling abandoned while displaying serious antisocial behaviours only lasted a couple days as the timeline suggest, the May 6th CMV interview on gay teens had the J presenting two persons identified as gay teens who told their stories but 11 days later JFLAG decided to exclude the very teens interviewed on camera in that discourse from a symposium on LGBT homelessness then days later the Jamaica Observer’s camera team cry of being “attacked” by members of the “rowdy” section who illegally occupy a house in Barbican (complete with problematic photos of two of the alleged stone throwers) then the backlash from activists gay and straight allied alike locally and abroad, then the Press Association of Jamaica PAJ’s damning rebuke in the form of a letter to JFLAG on behalf of the Observer team (victim ploy) while using JFLAG and other rights’ groups own themes of freedom of movement etc. What has incensed me of that last sequence of events was that the PAJ had to write to JFLAG (strange motives or not) to remind them of the principles of press freedom etc and that the agency should remind or educate its own constituents on such rights. Apart from the clear shenanigans on the paper’s part it also reveals more on the lack of engagement with certain homeless groups on JFLAG’s part than we care to admit and suddenly teen homeless men are found conveniently to make an agency look good, why weren’t these teens found presented before now when we knew they were around all along? Sad to see that the step-n-fetch it is continuing.
The recent pronouncements by the Minister of Education as well on the unaffordability of hiring more teachers in the system as it may amount to failing the upcoming International Monetary Fund test as part of our latest agreement has stunned the teacher’s union and indeed sections of the public, with a ratio of 50 students to one teacher that is a shocking announcement to make at this time with all the impasse with the union on wage freezes and a discontinued benefit of paid study leave arrangement and to expect the existing cadre of educators to simply make do comes across as uncaring for children and more concern for IMF tests when it is the very political directorate’s poor leadership and economic policies for one that has landed us in this mess as a nation.
Peace and tolerance
additional news: Buggery law conscience vote for parliament soon ....