As I continue my search for qualitative changes in Jamaica, I was honestly surprised to find this in my way. Something odd happened this week. Jamaican politicians, in the rabble-rousing setting of political rallies, especially when the smell of general elections seem to be in the air, often jump headlong into the gutter and expect many to follow them in. However, they got a rude awakening this week; many did not follow and many took the opportunity to individually and collectively condemn what they had done. They got called out for bigotry in the form of homophobic remarks. That’s worth reading again.
Jamaicans tend to think they have certain rights to insult, and we’ve just gone through another period when women, especially, were saying loudly that they would not put up with men and their catcalls in public. One politician who rallied to that call was Alando Terrelonge, MP, who wrote a strong column on ‘toxic masculinity’ in last week’s Jamaica Observer. He’d written an earlier piece last year, Toxic Masculinity Affecting Our Boys, urging school teachers to ‘to let boys be their natural selves instead of pressuring them to conform to society’s views of masculinity’. He’s an energetic JLP MP, who has used his ministerial position in the Ministry of Youth, Education and Information to build support for a range of views that challenge many Jamaican social stereotypes. But, in politics, opponents don’t often want to pick fights over the good that their rivals have done; instead, they look to tear down. One of the ropes they often use is to tar someone with the hint of male homosexuality. I wont go into the taboos around that topic in Jamaica and how it’s complex and different from views about lesbianism, or how Jamaican men reconcile their often hostile attitudes to male homosexuality with their often open physical displays of close friendships with each other as true ‘manliness’.
Politicians rarely apologize, and in Jamaica, that’s no different; it’s one of the many pedestals of privilege on which politicians build their images. So, after two high-ranking members of the PNP took to a platform on Sunday to act as ‘attack dogs’ in the constituency held by Mr. Terrelonge and refer to their candidate’s [Dr. Winston De la Haye] ‘straightness’.
Dr. Mark Golding, MP, is reported as saying; “…I know seh Terrelonge, when him see the straightness of the man who is coming against him, going to wobble in his boots,”
Dr. Dayton Campbell, who was recently brought back into the fold of the PNP’s inner circle following a bruising presidential race back in September, added:
“The little fake Rastaman weh name Terrelonge…, all me hear him talking about is toxic masculinity. Me ask him, ‘A wah dat?’ Every day him get up, him deh pon ‘toxic masculinity’, and I don’t know what is that.”
Most Jamaicans knew what the ‘straightness’ alluded to.
But, public condemnation of the homophobic allusion, especially on social media was swift. But, usually, such reactions come to naught. However, on Tuesday morning, the PNP issued an apology that it ‘regrets homophobic innuendoes’, and later on Tuesday night, Mark Golding issued a personal apology on his Facebook page.
I’m not going to parse the statements here and will take them at face value.
Several things had struck me about the incidents, prior to the apologies. I’d long been amazed how some of the politicians with the best academic and experimental records (lawyers, doctors, Rhodes scholars) descended so readily into a style that should have been anathema to them on a number of grounds, including the spirit of things like the Hippocratic Oath (‘…to do no harm or injustice…’ ‘In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art’…’So long as I maintain this Oath faithfully and without corruption, may it be granted to me to partake of life fully and the practice of my art, gaining the respect of all men for all time. However, should I transgress this Oath and violate it, may the opposite be my fate.’). My somewhat cynical mind sometimes wondered if I’d misheard and it was in fact a hypocritical oath. Or, in a moment of whimsy, I’d wonder how a Rhodes scholar could so easily find himself under the road’s collar.
So, has Jamaica made a turn for what I see as the better is seeing that this kind of discriminatory behaviour is just unacceptable, and using it on political platforms is especially bad given its easy consumption as part of the rhetoric of division and hate?
I don’t think we are going to see anytime soon a public tolerance of people’s lifestyles (actual or perceived) that is as liberal as in many other countries. But, I hope we see that a certain civility is due to us all, irrespective of what people may wish to think.
My regret at this stage is that, in a country where people look to political leaders to guide many of their actions, the party leader was (as far as I know) silent on the matter.