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Free Up the Herb – On Herbs and Hypocrisy in the Commonwealth Caribbean

July 30, 2014

:: by Richie Maitland ::

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Ganja has been in the headlines a lot lately in the Caribbean.  Most recently in early June 2014, the Jamaican government announced plans to decriminalise personal possession of up to 2 ounces of ganja by September 2014 – a decision supported by the Drug Abuse Council (1). In May 2014, video emerged of a man who appeared to be the sports Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Anil Roberts smoking what appeared to be ganja (2). On April 20th 2014 – 4/20, ganja smokers in the Caribbean (the brave and less vulnerable ones), posted odes to weed. The braver and even less vulnerable ones posted images of themselves holding extra large size spliffs, fat buds, bongs, joints with bellies (hashtag novices), bashies with scissors cut weed and ganja paraphernalia. Others dare not risk the wrath of parents, employers (even potential ones), or society. The Caribbean reality is that the place small, people can be quite judgmental and parents can be quite brutal (trust me I know).

Anyways, days like 4/20, I picture smoke signals rising above those islands, like the husky smoke that rises from the open mouths of milk tins, converted to pots on three stone firesides. I picture the smoke signals rising, forming genie like smoke men in the Caribbean sky, arguing with each other about who has ‘the hardest’.

4/20 celebrations illustrate some ways cultural imperialism and geopolitics operate; mediated, replicated and perpetuated through virtual space and social media. We’re in the Caribbean celebrating 4/20, in the same way we’re beginning to celebrate thanksgiving – on social media, but also in real life, (roasting turkeys or roasting joints). Cultural significances are being pushed into our lives and the stronger party wins the pushing match. Culture entrenches modes of thought, modes of thought entrench systems and systems…systems entrench advantage and disadvantage, though 4/20 celebrations are relatively benign.

But I not here to talk about geopolitics but about ganja, though ganja and geo politics intersect so much that talking about geopolitics is inevitable when talking about the international herb.

Ganja is now decriminalised in about 25 countries worldwide, including parts of the US, Canada, Australia and Uruguay which has fully legalised its possession, sale and distribution. Regionally, the bill to decriminalise ganja has already been approved by the Jamaican House of Representatives and the Hon. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has shown leadership on starting the decriminalisation conversation. In late 2013, he wrote to CARICOM chair, the Hon. Kamla Persad Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, inviting CARICOM to address the issue (3); he himself has been raising the issue in different CARICOM platforms. Policy and law makers regionally and worldwide are realising more and more that the costs of ganja prohibition far outweigh the benefits, as concluded by the Jamaican National Ganja Commission in their report 13 years ago. But not everyone likes this wind of change and how it smells.

“Government’s position on this issue is very clear. The cultivation and use of marijuana in Grenada is illegal, and therefore, we will abide by the Laws of our Land.” (4) Words of Grenada’s Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, the Hon. Anthony Boatswain. He saw it fit to enlighten us, though I don’t think anybody thinks otherwise. Of course the law being what it is, the government can change it, as they often do; his remark reflects a wider symbolic stance against ganja use.

The Minister was speaking at a meeting of the Grenada Drug Epidemiology Network and National Observatory on Drugs (GRENDEN-NOD) in January 2014 and sending a message to decriminalisation movements in Grenada. He justified the government of Grenada’s position by referring to statistics on drug-related admissions to the Mt. Gay Psychiatric Hospital and by saying that the families of psychiatric patients and the state of Grenada were saddled with the responsibility of caring for these patients. To paraphrase, the argument went – ‘some people who smoke ganja go crazy, and when they do, other people and the state have to care for them’. I decided to look at the statistics myself.

People who have drug related mental and physical health problems interact with the General Hospital, Rathdune (the General Hospital’s psychiatric unit), the Mt.Gay Psychiatric institute and the Carlton home. The referenced data is drawn from those institutions. The other institutions drug users interact with on account of drug use are the courts and the prisons.

Between January 2006- June 2013 in the institutions mentioned above, of the complications treated, 37 Carlton home cases were for ganja related issues, compared to 60  for alcohol; 452 Rathdune  cases were ganja related, compared to 530 for alcohol;  33 General Hospital cases were ganja related compared to 1126 for alcohol. Many of the cases over this 7 year period were recurrent ie. the same people were readmitted and therefore reflected multiple times in the data.

Graphic - Free up Herb
The statistics show that alcohol is a much bigger public (including mental) health threat than ganja. If global statistics are any indication, cigarettes are also a much bigger public health threat than ganja. Yet, rightfully in my view, alcohol and cigarettes are legal. Policy makers understand, in relation to these drugs, that adults should be able to enjoy their substances and that most adults do so in ways that aren’t problematic to themselves, their families and societies. The hypocrisy comes in the fact that ganja is never given the benefit of those arguments although they apply even more strongly for ganja.

Drug related habits pervade society at every level, but we are socialised into attaching particularly negative associations with some habits; partly because of criminalisation. Grenadian Sociologist Claude Douglas says:

“The stereotypical views held about alcohol and marijuana has a more profound influence on their use and abuse. Because of its legal status and social character of its consumption, alcohol is not considered a drug by most of its consumers and even by stakeholders who invariably use the phrase “alcohol and drugs.”(5)

We also understand the friend who proudly proclaims their addiction to coffee; who ‘needs’ coffee to start their day; who takes great care to ensure a constant availability of coffee and who is queen B (not Beyonce) when they can’t get it. Same for our friends who smoke cigarettes. If a ganja user behaves similarly, that person has a ‘drug problem’. We are quick to point out how much money our weed smoking friends spend on ganja, never mind the expensive Starbucks dark roast we always trying to buy duty free, never mind that we have a percolator home and at the office, never mind the weekly investment in filters, cream and milk. Most of the people we know who use alcohol, coffee and cigarettes don’t have drug ‘problems’, they have drug habits (which cost money). It is the same with ganja smokers.

Some people think ganja smokers are lazy, unmotivated stoners who do nothing but sleep and raid their mothers’ kitchens, beating tracks between the bed and the fridge. Others associate ganja with criminality and decadence – their daughter dare not bring home a ganja smoker, and if she does bring one home they’ll check to make sure he didn’t ‘tief’ anything after they kick them out. Poor them for not knowing their doctor and architect smoke ganja too. The sad reality is that many ganja smokers remain closeted in the Caribbean. Those who know – know, but people rather avoid the stigma and criminality that smoking ganja carries in most circles. The productive, ‘normal’ people who smoke ganja pretend they don’t and so only the other kinds of ganja smokers are visible.  This is probably why this lazy-man stereotype is hard to shake.

Some people call Ganja a gateway drug. I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of the people who smoke ganja, smoked cigarettes and/or drank alcohol prior to smoking ganja. Are cigarettes and alcohol then the true gateway drugs? Why does the buck stop with ganja? People who are open to trying ganja are more likely to be open to trying other drugs than people who don’t do any drugs; the same is true for alcohol and cigarettes. This does not necessarily make marijuana, alcohol or cigarettes ‘gateway drugs’, a concept which implies that someone would not have used a perceived worse drug, but for the use of the alcohol, cigarettes or ganja.

People have fronted Grenada’s international obligations, suggesting that decriminalising would breach drug prohibition treaties that Grenada has signed. You know what other countries also have similar international obligations in relation to drug prohibition? The USA, Canada, Switzerland all of which have decriminalised to some extent, nationally or municipally, possession of small amounts of ganja. You know what other international obligation Grenada has? An obligation to respect and affirm the equality of LGBTI people – that government doesn’t give a shit about. Governments hide behind international obligations as pretexts when they want to avoid inconvenient action while disregarding other obligations with impunity. Emphasizing international obligations is therefore a weak argument against decriminalisation.

But to address the substance rather than the hypocrisy of the argument, this issue has actually been determined by Caribbean international law expert – Professor Stephen Vascianne (6) from Jamaica. Grenada and most of the rest of the Caribbean share the same drug prohibition international obligations as Jamaica. Vascianne concluded in a 2001 paper (7) that it was possible to decriminalise personal ganja use in Jamaica without being in breach of international obligations, once cultivation and distribution of ganja remained illegal.

I venture to say that a third of Grenada smokes ganja from time to time.  This is not such a grand figure when you consider that a study done in 2006 among people aged 15-35 in the villages of Woburn, Grenville and Gouyave, show ganja usage at 70%. (8) After horning, smoking weed is the second biggest open secret in the Caribbean; our second biggest horn child. Not everyone will be in on the secret because people fear repercussions. Yet, politicians who presumably know the scene quite well continue this performance of piety; ask the man who look like Min. Anil Roberts.

I applaud the National United Front and attorney-at-law Anselm Clouden in Grenada, for starting public conversations about ganja decriminalisation in Grenada at a panel discussion in December 2013.

Ganja possession is a victimless crime; one I’ve seen people convicted and fined for – repeat offenders risking prison. I know how much time, administrative resources and personal time the criminal process swallows and how disruptive it can be; how drug related convictions stain the lives of good, productive people; how marijuana can be useful; how pointless criminalising small amounts of marijuana is.

The danger and ineffectiveness of strict prohibition regimes has gained international attention. Ban Ki-moon, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in June 2014 (9):

“National laws that stigmatize and marginalize drug users also need to be addressed.  Known drug use or convictions for even minor use of drugs may deprive a person of a range of parental rights, including custody, as well as other legal rights, and may unalterably modify future opportunities, including employment.  In some States, ethnic minorities and marginalized groups living in poverty are disproportionately targeted by drug enforcement efforts.”

I urge all States to reconsider from a human rights perspective the decades-old approach to drug control based on repression. A number of States no longer incarcerate persons for minor drug offences, and some have de-criminalized minor drug offences. It is also possible, and consistent with current international drug control treaties, to re-frame some drug-related conduct as administrative offences, followed with a social and medical response.”

In a 2003 Grenada assessment on marijuana use and youth behaviour “[t]he majority of respondents from all groups excluding River Road dismissed the notion that marijuana encourages young people in crime. In fact, most respondents from Tivoli and Gouyave asserted that on the contrary marijuana instills a new consciousness in the individual, thus promoting positive attitudes and behaviours.” (10)

One female respondent in that assessment says:

“I was a wild child on the street and ah use to smoke more cigarettes, now I smoking more weed. Before them time I did not use to check up on me life but now as ah smoking and thing, I think a lot of things, and is like ah overs (understand) me life because ah smoking marijuana, now I get a meditation to change me life because ah seeing certain things and it change me a lot, so I could say it (marijuana) change me in a good way.”

In 2012 I was talking to a client, a mother whose son I was representing in a legal matter. Because we were both from Petite Martinique, she asked me to talk to her son who was a few years younger than me and encourage him to change some of his ways. I asked her what ways; she said she wanted him to stop smoking ganja. I asked her how she knew he smokes. She said that she could just tell – his eyes look funny, he gets a lot calmer, he doesn’t ‘get on’ with her when she talks to him, he smiles and does whatever she asks him to do around the house, talks to her nicely and just wants to stay home. My head voice asked ‘why the hell you want him stop smoking weed then?’ In her mind, she’d rather have a rude, aggressive, unhelpful, absent son than a ganja smoking son.

I have friends & acquaintances who struggle with being psychologically dependent on ganja and with quitting; I’m not giving ganja an easy pass. But they are a very small percentage compared to  my friends & acquaintances who are struggling with being physically and psychologically addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and who struggle even worse.

It is also probably true that children will have more access to ganja if it is decriminalised, but, certainly still less than they have access to alcohol and tobacco.

The responsibility is on parents to provide meaningful information to their children and to protect them from what they consider harmful substances. The responsibility is on adults to not sell or give drugs to minors. The responsibility is on the state to criminalise adults who do. This is the approach taken in relation to alcohol and cigarettes and should be the approach taken in relation to ganja. It is the approach that strikes the best balance between protecting children from the potentially harmful effects of substances and allowing adults the right to make their own decisions about what to put into their bodies.

We have the data, the arguments and the examples of other countries that have decriminalised. Will we dare to be progressive?

I say, free up the herb.

 


richie bio pic 3Richie Maitland
Co-Founder Groundation Grenada

Richie Maitland is a Grenadian attorney and activist. He is a graduate of the Presentation Brothers College  and T.A. Marryshow Community College. He earned his Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, Barbados in 2010. Richie is a member of the Hugh Wooding Law School class of 2012 and is currently working as an attorney-at-law in Grenada.

Love as Revolutionary Practice (Call for Submissions)

July 15, 2014

Q-zine 10_Call for contributions (1)Q-zine is the first pan-African, bilingual art and culture LGBTQI magazine.

In the next edition Q-zine collaborates with OurSpaceIsLove for a special issue exploring the politics and practice of love as a revolutionary force. OurSpaceIsLove is an online community platform created by two African feminist friends in order to quench poetic, revolutionary and questioning thirsts. As African women and as feminists, we look to an understanding of love that recognizes the intentional act of embracing people who may be different from us but share the fact of being human. When we say ‘love’ we are talking about a concept beyond romance. We are talking about the feeling emanating from our hearts that seeks to instigate liberation in all that we do – individually and collectively. We are talking about love that inspires the desire to create spaces of peace for people harassed by discrimination and violence. We are talking about a love that motivates us to give, share, risk and speak up in the name of our collective happiness.

Recognizing love as revolutionary and as the guiding principle of our feminist practice and the principle upon which we build our communities, we are interested in exploring what it means for Africans to be connected both in the spirit and practice of ‘revolutionary love.’ We are interested in hearing reflections by Africans scattered across the continent and diaspora who share this ‘revolutionary love’ with and for each other and for the struggle for social transformation. In this Q-zine special issue, we invite Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to submit opinions, essays, reviews, literature, fashion, art, poems, short stories and audio-visual contributions that explore the theme of ‘Love as Revolutionary Practice.’ As stimulation, submissions could explore:

• How a politics of love inspires your activism or art as Queer Africans / on your work on LGBTI and human rights for all;
• How varied understandings of love shape your relationships,politics and practice;
• Stories of African queer love, from history, the present and your imaginations;
• Expressions of revolutionary love in building community and working for social justice.

 

Please send your submissions to the co-editors, Amina Doherty, Jessica Horn and Q-zine at: OurSpaceIsLove@gmail.com and/or contact@qayn-center.org.

Deadline August 10th 2014

 


tumblr_m7f3i9eTDm1rpytmgo2_500Amina Doherty is a young Nigerian feminist and activist living in Kingston, Jamaica. A ‘curious creative mind’ and ‘restless nomad soul’, Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, and poetry.

 

 

 
tumblr_m7f3i9eTDm1rpytmgo1_500Jessica Horn is a feminist writer, poet and women’s rights activist with roots in Uganda. Her life’s work focuses on questions of sexuality, health, violence, and embodied liberations.

Grenada’s Last Africans: Indentured Africans in Grenada and Their Legacy

July 4, 2014

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Image Source: Shango Ceremony, Levera, St. Patrick, 1962. Courtesy Cultural Equity

 

Dr. James D. Pitt Voices of Grenada Lecture Series

         A presentation on

 “Grenada’s Last Africans:

Indentured Africans in Grenada and Their Legacy

by Shantelle George, PhD student

 Wednesday 9 July 2014

5:15 to 7:00 PM

The Grenada National Museum

British suppression of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade resulted in the diversion of enslaved Africans, destined for the plantations of Brazil and Cuba, into the British Caribbean from 1807 to the 1860s. Around 2,700 Africans were sent to Grenada in this manner, pressured into labour agreements lasting for up to three years. Thus, the indentureship scheme was another form of labour coercion following chattel enslavement, enacted to fulfill the perceived post-Emancipation labour shortages on the plantations.

These indentured Africans, like the enslaved Africans before them, resisted attempts by the state to control their labour, time and space, by balancing wage labour with more independent economic activities. It is important to note that these indentured Africans became culturally distinctive within the wider population as they retained some of their African cultures. This meant that this relatively small number of Africans left a remarkable cultural legacy in Grenada, rejuvenating existing traditions as well as bringing new traditions to the island, such as Shango.

3rd Executive Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism

July 2, 2014

If there wasn’ no sea, I must would feel lock up. In a box with only the top open to the sky…” Oonya Kempadoo, Tide Running

 

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As a small island developing state dependent on tourism and agriculture, Grenada is particularly vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change. Recognizing this, the Grenada Tourism Authority together with the Centre for Responsible Travel (CREST), the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association are facilitating the 3rd Executive Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism from 9th to 11th July, 2014 at the St. George’s University.
The Symposium will serve as a platform for those on the cutting edge of innovative coastal tourism models to share what they have accomplished, what they have learned and challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Panels will explore social and environmental innovations from designers, operators and planners at both the destination and resort level, and also examine issues of climate change and what it means for coastal tourism development in terms of both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

This Innovators Symposium – like the previous Symposiums at Stanford University, CA and Los Cabos, Mexico— will be an intimate event with high quality participants and ample time for informal networking.

The programme includes:
• Round table Discussion on sustainable financing for Grenada’s protected areas such as Grand Étang National Park or the World First Marine Sculpture Park. Hosted by The Nature Conservancy, (Wednesday, prior to the Symposium’s official opening).
• Film showing and discussion of two provocative documentaries on the negative impacts of large scale coastal tourism in Jamaica and Costa Rica.
• 16 Workshops addressing topics like Marketing and Branding Sustainable tourism- Communicating your message; Creating Sustainable Destinations; Marina & Yachting – Impacts and Innovators; and Sustainable Tourism Trends – Media Panel
• Keynote address by Minister Otway-Noel M.P. at the opening ceremony, Showcasing Pure Grenada.

Come out to learn from these thought leaders who are breaking the mold of cookie-cutter mass tourism and moving responsibly into the future.

For more information and registration please visit http://www.ctocrestsymposium.com

Child sexual abuse as a health issue

July 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, a panel discussion on the topic “Talking About It: Child Sexual Abuse As A Public Health Issue,” was held at the Brooks–Smith–Lowe Institute. The purpose of the discussion was to merge the correlation between child sexual abuse and its impact on public health as it relates to the rise in chronic non-communicable diseases, psychoneuroimmunological irregularities and psychological impact.

Group shot - talking about it

Photograph by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe

 The panel, seen in order of appearance in the photo, consisted of St. George’s University’s (SGU) Inaugural Dame Hilda Bynoe Writer–in–Residence, Lisa Allen–Agostini; Fatima Friday, MEd, a St. George’s University Public Health Lecturer with a special interest in psychoneuroimmunology; Dr. Kecia Lowe, Board Certified Internist and Pediatrician who was recently inducted into the American College of Medicine as a Fellow; and Malaika Brooks–Smith–Lowe, Founder and Co-Director of Groundation Grenada who served as moderator for the panel discussion and also organized the event.

SGU’s Writer in Residence Allen–Agostini a journalist from Trinidad and Tobago read an excerpt from her work in progress book, which details the journey of a young girl who became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle. The pages Allen–Agostini read from graphically detailed the hostile home which the child lived in with her mother. The rapist was visiting.

The excerpt described a gut wrenching account of a physical and verbal abuse attack endured by the child from her rough and heavy handed mother. The reason for the beating appeared inconsequential. It then moved to the first gruesome sexual attack, which occurred after the child’s mother left the house shortly after the excessive beating. A beating that was cut short after pleads of mercy from the visiting uncle. This particular uncle was the child’s mother’s brother.

Allen–Agostini’s continued to walk the listeners through the manipulative process of the perpetrator.Through her storytelling she showed how the little girl’s uncle used a counter strategy of gentleness and comforting voice tones to sooth the distraught child. After gaining more and more trust with his apparent friendliness and gentle touches, he slowing and calculatingly began threatening her into submission. After the horrific sexual attack the writer revealed the child’s dichotomy. The child never told her mother of the attack because she was deathly afraid of the physical consequences, to the point it did not occur to her to say anything, while at the same time was intimidated and petrified of her uncle. The snippet of Allen-Agostini’s work also revealed that the child’s mother noticed the bruises after returning from shopping, but casted a blind eye. She instead gave her daughter a doll, a gift from the uncle who earlier forcefully covered her mouth to muffle her screams.

Lisa - Talking about it 2

Photograph by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe

After the reading, the program then shifted into a vibrant discussion about how society tends to ignore the ramifications and repercussions of sexual abuse on an individual and its impact on public health in terms of rises in illnesses. Panelist – Dr. Lowe, listed out some of the unhealthy coping behaviors individuals who suffered this trauma tend to participate in, “Cigarette smoking, obesity, inactivity, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide, [and] sexual promiscuity.” Dr. Lowe went on to say, “These people have a higher risk of diabetes, liver disease, cancers, and stroke and general poor health in adulthood. And that alone can tell you it is definitely a public health issue because these people manifest these chronic non-communicable diseases at higher rates. And this adversely affects all societies.”

Allen-Agostini who stated that many of her past journalistic articles focused on children and gender issues, introduced the audience to a campaign called, “Break the Silence”. This initiative is a multi-pronged approach to protect children against sexual abuse. One of its aims is to reach victims and their families with a message to speak out and denounce sexual violence against children. The initiative seeks to engage and encourage influential groups and members of society such as policy makers, health workers, and police authorities to create and/or improve support and care for victims. According to the World Health Organization, “Globally, at least 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 years had experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact. In several Caribbean countries the first sexual experience of young girls is often, forced; studies have shown that this was the case for 42.8% of girls below age 12.”

From a psychoneuroimmunological perspective, a field of study that examines the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body, panelist Fatima Friday stated that trauma occurring at a young age can have adverse effects on the developmental process of the human brain causing overdevelopment of the area of the brain that analyzes stress and fear. This can lead to post-traumatic stress. However, Ms. Friday views child sexual abuse more broadly, “It’s not just a public health issue, it’s an issue of humanity.” She went on to say, “ You can look at your mother’s life, your father’s life to see different connectivity points and ask — how has the way I have been trained by my parents, by my siblings affect the way I treat myself and treat others. Because that is public health. How we engage with each other, how we interact is public health as well.”

SourceNow Grenada


Roslyn A. DouRoslyn A. Douglas, M.Aglas, MA is the Founder of Central Health Grenada ©. The mission of this initiative is to increase the awareness of chronic diseases that affect Grenadians and those of the diaspora by discussing treatment options, team care approaches, health activism, services and the importance of having a rewarding spiritual health.

Ms. Douglas is currently running a six month effort to increase signatures from Grenadians for the Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s End Cervical Cancer Campaign End Cervical Cancer Now Campaign  by 500.

No Science is Neutral : A long hard look at Bain’s Affidavit and the Aftermath  

July 1, 2014

 :: by Tonya Haynes & Angelique V. Nixon ::

 

 “Expectations” from The Neighbourhood Report by Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson

 

Since the announcement of the termination of Professor Bain’s short post-retirement contract with CHART (Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network), there has been a growing movement in protest over his termination. Most recently, the Jamaica Supreme Court has granted an injunction which prevents UWI from removing Bain from the post. And so the story continues to unfold and the issues at hand debated from a variety of perspectives. What is most intriguing, however, is the way in which the affidavit itself has been framed as neutral and an objective use of research.

Noted writers and scholars such as Carolyn Cooper and Kei Miller have argued that having read Professor Bain’s affidavit there was very little in it that was objectionable, that essentially he is a scientist reporting “facts.” Even though Kei Miller does raise questions about how Bain frames the evidence, he also states that the “Bain’s affidavit does not take or register a stance against gay communities or gay men. It earnestly steers clear from such opinions and tries to stick to the figures.”

Frankly, this is difficult to accept upon a close reading of the affidavit because there is certainly a stance being taken in the affidavit, and in particular, because Dr. Bain’s “facts” are presented with a bias and use of research to support a particular point of view. Kei Miller brings up this very issue in his critique regarding the silences and how the conclusions of the research he uses are buried, yet Miller maintains that Professor Bain’s affidavit has a “neutral tone.” But is the tone really neutral? Is that even possible? And what is at the root of Bain’s framing of research, facts, and figures?

 

The Human Factor & Public Health

The criteria by which Dr. Bain, as a public health professional, says he evaluates private behaviour like “productivity,” “social disruption,” “premature death” and “public cost” are not value-neutral. In fact, Dr. Bain’s assertion that the decriminalization of anal sex would be “public approval to risky behaviours” is filled with a specific value judgement on the meaning of decriminalization. And while anal sex may be “risky,” it is certainly not the case that there aren’t means of reducing risk nor does it follow that decriminalization would “encourage” said “behaviours.” Contrary to what Dr. Bain suggests, the call for decriminalization is about ending stigma and discrimination, and in many ways connected to the need for greater understanding and awareness of sex, sexuality, and related public health issues.

Dr. Bain extends his concern about “risky behaviors” and STIs further in his argument that to prevent STIs people should include “learning and practising assertive skills to avoid coercive sex” yet he says nothing about not “coercing” others into sex. This is offensive and an insult to sexual assault survivors. Moreover, it implies that people who are raped/assaulted are at fault and is tantamount to victim-blaming.

The more obvious target here is gay men or men who have sex with men. Professor Bain’s affidavit attempts to make the argument that decriminalization would do nothing to prevent this high risk group from continuing to be high risk because (as his logic goes) “they” will keep on having this “risky” sex and therefore will get STIs. At the root of his engagement and description of sex acts between men is homophobia. Some may argue that Dr. Bain’s comments certainly didn’t say “all batty boy fi get eliminate,” (or something overtly homophobic) yet his submission is completely biased. It is not a neutral or objective perspective (if that were ever possible), but rather, he offers value judgements on research with a political agenda. In other words, his expert testimony was also not offered neutrally. It was offered in support of retention of laws, which criminalise anal sex. Further, it has also been reported that his testimony was offered at the request of a church.

Clearly, Professor Bain has an agenda, and he was asked to offer his expertise in order to support the continuation of a law that is archaic, colonial, and targets certain bodies and sex acts. This encourages and fuels an atmosphere of homophobia and discrimination against same sex desire and sex acts between men who sleep with men. Again, this is not neutral — it reinforces a pathological view of sex acts between men specifically and also enforces a heterosexist (i.e. straight and male centered) point of view about sex and sexuality.

Dr. Bain’s testimony not only reinscribes homophobia, it also uses a dominant heterosexual and patriarchal (male dominated) perspective when it comes to discussing sex and sex acts. In his cataloguing “adult male-female” sexual behavior, Professor Bain outlines that “the usual climax of male-female intercourse involves penetration of the vagina by the penis with ejaculation by the male and an orgasm or series of orgasms experiences by the female [emphasis added].” His bias is so obvious here with the primary focus on male penetration and female receptacles. He does mention the possibility of male ejaculation into the mouth or anus of the female, but women are conveniently left out as recipients of oral sex or as capable of anally penetrating their male partners. This reveals even more that Dr. Bain’s hetero and male centered bias cannot even allow for other ways of thinking about “risky behavior” or understanding men who sleep with men. Therefore, upon a close reading of this affidavit, we are left to conclude that heterosexual activity is largely mutual orgasms brought on by penis-in-vagina sex — very straight sex — that somehow is not “risky” or the assumption that they very same people engaging in this kind of sex would not also be engaging in anal sex. It would seem that “straight” people don’t also contract STIs or specifically HIV through “straight sex.” And since we know this is not the case and that these issues and sex acts between people are way more complex than Dr. Bain has offered, then we have to question the logic and bias here — if in fact this is about a “public health issue” at all.

If the point of Professor Bain’s testimony was really about “public health,” then he might have focused equally on the “risks” involved with different kinds of sex acts, considering that receptive anal sex does carry a higher risk of HIV transmission than other activities. However, what he focuses on instead is “straight” sex versus “homosexual” sex. He describes both heterosexual and homosexual sexual practices, but goes into extensive detail about homosexual sex to make these seem extremely different in order to “prove” his point about the “risk” factor.  He references several examples of what he deems as levels of “risky” or unsafe sexual practices regarding “male-male sexual behaviors” — fisting, rimming, analingus, golden showers, scat and felching. (These are all very specific references to sex acts among men, but certainly not exclusively so.) In seven lines, anal sex or anus is mentioned just as many times with oro-anal contact mentioned twice, along with defecation on another person (a sexual practice that is certainly rare regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved).

The result is to deliberately juxtapose the very straight, purportedly mutually orgasmic, sex of heterosexual men and women with risky and taboo male homosexual practices. (Women who have sex with women, women’s same-sex sexual practices and the relative risk of those practices are not mentioned, nor is the possibility of safe sex among men). Dr. Bain once again reifies a pathologizing of men who sleep with men and STIs, while at the same time, mapping deviance onto what he is calling risk. The takeaway here from Professor Bain’s affidavit is that men should not have sex with men, period — that it is risky, unsafe, hazardous, nasty even. (Granted though, as Kei Miller points out, at the end of the affidavit, Bain makes recommendations about prevention of STIs, but this is only after a long and detailed description of research that frames male-male sexual practice as the most unsafe and hazardous in terms of STIs — seemingly globally.) In other words, Bain’s affidavit even though it purports to be grounded in research and simply sharing the facts, it is doing so within a particular context and for a specific purpose.

 

Why human dignity must be central to HIV/AIDS policies

Professor of Biology and Gender Studies, Anne Fausto-Sterling, has argued, in a different context, that “social arguments sustain scientific disputes,” concluding that “we will not resolve the science at issue until we have reached some consensus on the social policy at hand.” What is at issue then in supporting or fighting against the “buggery laws” is not just whether it has been scientifically established that anal sex carries a greater risk for HIV transmission than other sex acts or that gay men have higher rates of HIV. There is the argument (and organising) for social policy aimed at ensuring that human rights are respected, that stigma and shame no longer serve as barriers to access to preventative services and treatment. A professional opinion that supports criminalizing sexual activity between adults as a means of reducing risk is not a logical conclusion one could come to even from the studies which Professor Bain cites. But beyond logic, it is not a humane conclusion. Gay men and men who have sex with men are not reducible to sexual behaviours or practices, they are not reducible to anal sex. Gay-identified men and men who have sex with men must be understood in their full human complexity, their identities respected, their relationships recognized, and their human rights guaranteed.

Prominent HIV activist Robert Carr, whose work Professor Bain didn’t engage, identified the lack of recognition of the humanity of men who have sex with men as a key failing of the public health response to HIV. His now famous call to action is worth remembering here:

We have to refuse to be constrained to a small department in a ministry while the rest of the government arrests us, the rest of the government refuses to acknowledge our partnerships, the rest of the government refuses to acknowledge the need for people to be able to visit their loved ones when they are sick, because all of those things conspire to ensure that the work we are doing to reduce infection will never be effective.  …  We have got to break this mindset that gathering 20, or 30 or 50 of us into a room and teaching us how to put a condom on a dildo is doing anything to address the raging epidemic that is going on across the world. It is bullshit and we have to call it bullshit and we have to let people know that we will not stand by and let them get away with this anymore.

As Robert Carr argues, we must call out the silences and call out the bullshit — particularly when it comes to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the failures of governments to deal with the crisis. When we fail to deal with the human aspect of these issues and address the dire need for rights and protection, then how can we expect to create change (particularly when it comes to public health)? Professor Bain’s support for retention of laws criminalizing anal sex is a step backwards, to say the least. Supporting this law doesn’t even on a basic level address what Bain deems as the “costs” associated with STIs to the community and the government. The testimony focuses on the “cost of behavior” (i.e. risk of STI transmission through sexual contact; that so called private behavior has a public cost), which Professor Bain then seems to argue means “private behaviors” that are “risky” must be regulated then by the state — i.e. only “private behaviors” that are associated with male-male sexual practices.

The fact is that sex is risky. It is risky for all of us. Some practices are riskier than others. But risk does not equal criminality. One does not forfeit one’s humanity because one engages in risk-taking. Risk can be mitigated. We all need access to the information and services that allow us to make informed decisions. We need to address the poverty, age discrimination, child sexual abuse, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and gender inequality that create conditions of lack of access to services and information, as well as the inability to navigate and negotiate healthy intimate relations with others. We need to deal with the intense amount of shaming and politics of respectability that affects how we talk about sex and sexuality.

Leading sexual citizenship activist, Colin Robinson of CAISO and CARIFLAGS noted that some prominent gay men came out in public support of Professor Bain. He posits that these men may themselves be ashamed of the gay sex other gay men are having. Maybe. Or maybe they have been convinced of the facticity and neutrality of Bain’s testimony. Certainly, many people have supported Professor Bain and have suggested that this is an issue of academic freedom, while others have argued that the so called “powerful gay lobby” is responsible — as opposed to dealing with the fact that a broad spectrum of people called for his termination, even his own colleagues in CHART who questioned his leadership. As Kei Miller explains in his thoughtful response to the issue, the list of signatures was NOT dominated or even mostly LGBT persons — or the so called gay lobby. Or as Colin Robinson poignantly asserts what “gay lobby? People struggling to carve out some space for humanity and dignity is a “lobby” now?”

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding argues that  Professor Bain’s affidavit does not “compromise his ability or commitment to fulfil” CHART’s mandate. Yet upon close reading of the affidavit it is clear that Dr. Bain perspectives do not fully align with the mission of CHART for quality access (considering that criminalization of sex acts does in fact affect people’s ability to access services because of fear and discrimination.) Further, PM Golding also says that “the gay lobby has successfully positioned its campaign as a human-rights issue. If that is what it is, there is virtually no choice in terms of personal behaviour that cannot be justified on similar grounds. At its core, it is an issue of values. That is where the battle must be pitched and fought and won.” But is this really about values in the way that Golding perceives? And what powerful gay lobby is Golding imagining?If there was such a powerful gay lobby then certainly the buggery laws would have been revoked by now. The idea that once decriminalization happens then anything goes — any personal behavior can suddenly be justified is ludicrous. But it is most certainly a human rights issue! This is about human beings, rights, and our very humanity. And yes it is most certainly about freedom — the freedom of all of us to be our full selves.

Kei Miller put his well-honed talents to offering a nuanced look at Professor Bain and the issues which arose. He also offered an important analysis of the protests and the ways in which the imagined “powerful gay lobby” has been created and pitted against the “vulnerable” church. And he called out the hypocrisies within the protests in response to Bain’s termination and asked us all to think about the question of power and language. His articles on Professor Bain are among the most shared and commented on. And rightfully so. He documented the media manipulation of a gullible public. He demonstrated that there are no winners in this unfortunate series of events. Nonetheless he does not acknowledge the extent to which Professor Bain’s affidavit is harmful, heterosexist and not just a mere presentation of “facts” about risk. Regardless, Kei Miller presented Professor Bain in his full human complexity. That is the lesson for all of us.

 

The Need for Sexuality Education

no science is neutral image Image Source: Jamaica Observer

Protests over Professor Bain’s termination or what the church has deemed “speaking the truth” has escalated in the past month. The pro-Bain protesters outside of the Mona Campus of the UWI with whom I spoke (Tonya), conflated their support for Bain with support for the retention of the buggery law. They offered a number of reasons why they thought Jamaica should retain this law — citing that the law serves symbolically to “keep dem in dem closet,” ensures that Jamaica does not slide down a slippery slope toward rampant child sexual abuse and protects the religious freedom of Christians in Jamaica. One young man explained that Christians in Jamaica were losing their jobs as a result of pressure from “the gay lobby.” It seems there is a fear that repeal of the buggery law would infringe on the right to converge in droves at a shopping mall in response to reports of a “man applying lipstick” or turn out in thousands (some say 25,000) at an anti-gay church rally.

So it was never about truth all along. Or science. Or freedom of speech. Or the children. It was and is about being able to publicly express bigoted anti-homosexual views without social censure or professional repercussions. Stirring up hate while professing Christian love.

It’s time to call bullshit on those who insist that Bain’s firing demonstrates that academic freedom is under threat, that UWI has bowed to the gay lobby, or that Bain is being punished for speaking “the truth.”

It’s time to ensure that all young people receive comprehensive sexuality education so that they can make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

It’s time to rebuke the the unsubstantiated claim that comprehensive sexuality education is the means by which the imaginary “gay lobby” induces children to homosexuality.

It’s time to address the rape and sexual abuse of girls and boys in state care and in their homes.

Referencing data for Jamaica, UNFPA notes that “girls in the 15-19 age group are three times more likely to be infected with the [HIV] virus than young men in the same age group”. These girls and the 32% of boys who described their first sexual experience as forced or somewhat forced are the ones in need of an outraged public that will take to the streets and demand justice for them or at least listen to their voices when they demand it for themselves.

As Annie Paul writes:

If there is indeed such widespread concern over the education of children why don’t we express the same angst over the rape and buggery of their little bodies? The lessons in horror these children are taught, come not from any textbook smuggled into the curriculum by ‘the gay lobby’ but as a result of the vile predations of those entrusted with their care. Yet such flagrant violations earn no reaction– let alone action–from the innumerable Christian pulpits dotting this island or the churches braying so vigorously on behalf of Bain’s so-called rights.

Where is our outrage over the lives, rights and bodily integrity of our young people and children? How is it that so many people who violate these very bodies are protected too often in our communities? Why is the Church doing nothing about this? Why are responses from state managers too often either callous or oblivious? These are the questions that reverberate under the surface as we think through the reasons that some issues are taken up over others by our leaders. These are reasons we should be outraged and taking to the streets — not just in Jamaica but across the region.

 


1tonyacatchafyah

Tonya Haynes loves all things coconut and fried ripe plantain.  In another life she would have dedicated herself full-time to weaving words and telling tall tales and fantastic stories. In this one, her creative energy is directed at the multi-faceted work that comes with being a Caribbean feminist scholar-activist-teacher inheriting a rich legacy of feminist livity and thought from generations of get-things-done women.  She is a founding member of CODE RED for gender justice! and CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network.  With Sherlina Nageer, she conceptualised, organised and co-hosted the historic CatchAFyah grounding in Barbados in 2012.  Tonya researches in the area of Caribbean feminisms and is currently conducting research on gender-based violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and Barbados (with Halimah DeShong). Tonya’s creative writing has been published in The Caribbean Writer and Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal. Her popular writing appears in Stabroek News, Outlish Magazine, AWID’s Friday File and CODE RED’s blog. She holds a PhD in Gender and Development Studies and speaks fluent Spanish. Join her on twitter @redforgender

 

Angelique V. Nixon

Angelique V. Nixon is a writer, artist, teacher,scholar, activist and poet – born and raised in The Bahamas who carves spaces for resistance and desire. She earned her Ph.D. in English specializing in Caribbean studies and women and gender studies at the University of Florida. She is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Her work has been published widely in academic and creative journals, namely Anthurium, Black Renaissance Noire, MaComere, and small axe salon. Angelique is deeply invested in grassroots activism and is involved with several organizations, including Ayiti Resurrect, Caribbean IRN, and Critical Resistance. Follow her on instagram @sistellablack or on her blog consciousvibration

Voices of the Rising Youth – June 2014

June 2, 2014

The Writer’s Association of Grenada (WAG) are at it again with their third instalment in their ‘Voices’ series. This year’s event will be held under the theme Voices of the Rising Youth. Carded for Friday June 27th 6:30pm at the Trade Centre Gazibo in Grand Anse and Saturday June 28th, 6:30pm in The Deluxe Cinema in Grenville admission is $15. This year’s line-up includes many of the prolific writers and performers we have come to know and love such as Amilia ‘MeMe’ Jones: author of Beyond Fables: Poetry, Sherry ‘The Wordy Pheonix’ Hamlet, Damarlie ‘Equity’ Antoine, Josiah ‘Prodigy’ Bayne, Carlene Perryman and Kamille John among others.

The ‘Voices’ series was birthed in June 2012; the brainchild of Youth Activist and WAG’s P.R.O. Carlene Perryman. The event debuted under the theme: Voices of the Crying Youth at the Youth Centre, Grand Anse and focused on highlighting the pressing issues faced by the younger population. Building momentum, the show returned the following year featuring combinations of poetry with art, dance and music under the theme Voices of the Daring Youth. The performers dared the Marryshow House audience to take a stand against the wrong that was happening in society and aimed to inspire positive change in the minds of listeners. 

This year’s edition Voices of the Rising Youth will highlight the ‘Rising Youth’ in Grenada and feature appearances from Teddy D. Frederick as well a special performance by Ms Chanda Stafford the winner of the 2014 BabyRas Lyrically Fit Competition. Voices 2014 promises to be another spectacular show that intertwines poetry and the arts with social commentary and wit.

voices 2013

The cast from last year’s Voices performance

Come out and enjoy an evening of entertaining enlightenment and support the Writer’s Association of Grenada as they seek to make this venture bigger and better.

Contact:  Writers Association of Grenada WritersAG@gmail.com Russel John (President) – 406 2028 

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