Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 13th 2014 Contents A24
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt April 13, 2014
Last week, the Gleaner
reported Jamaica s North-
ern Caribbean University
suspending a student for two
weeks and banning her perma-
nently from student activities.
Why? Seems like she was the
"cake-topper" in a cheerleading
human pyramid. Taking the part
of a man in a "marriage propos-
al" micro-drama, she lightly
kissed another girl s hand.
That was not her only crime.
She forgot her student ID when
summoned for an inquisition by
the university s Citizenship Com-
mittee. And she has a pierced
Northern Caribbean University
is a Seventh-day Adventist insti-
tution. Church members else-
where in Jamaica are dealing
with worse problems.
Two weeks ago, gang-war
gunmen asked Rohan Maragh of
their Regent Street church in
Kingston whose side he was on.
He said he was on the side of
Jesus. He was shot dead.
Seventh-day Adventists, with
12 per cent of the population,
were the largest religious group
in Jamaica s 2011 census. Only
"No Religion" led them, with 21
per cent. They were way in front
of the Catholics (two per cent).
Jamaica s Governor General, Sir
Patrick Allen, was formerly pres-
ident of the West Indies Union
of Seventh-day Adventists.
Jamaica has its strong points.
They placed 43 of 152 countries
this month in a newly-minted
Social Progress Index. T&T, with
more than three times their per
capita spending power, ranked
47.But Jamaica has a violent
streak. Let s just take this month:
a 12-year-old shot dead by gang-
sters; angry protestors accusing
Kingston s mayor of taking sides
in a gang war; government buses
repeatedly stoned en route to
Spanish Town; and the Gleaner
warning (again) of rampant
Big issues seem intractable.
Law-abiding Jamaicans are
tempted to fuss instead about
cheerleading routines or (last
July) a constable on court duty
with shaved eyebrows.
They can always fall back on
homophobia. That issue firmly
unites two decisive pressure
and gun-wielding criminals.
Violent homophobia is not just
Jamaican. In Trinidad last week,
and then in Jamaica, Judy and
Dennis Shepard from Wyoming
spoke movingly at a showing of
The Laramie Project, a film deal-
ing with the murder of their 21-
year-old son Matthew in 1998.
Two men gave Matthew a ride
"home" from a bar. Because he
was gay, they tied him to a fence
outside town, robbed him and
beat him savagely. He was found
unconscious, 18 hours later. He
died afterwards in hospital.
In America, that was a national
issue. President Clinton spoke his
mind. Two culprits---around
Matthew s age---were tried, found
guilty and sentenced to life in
prison. In 2009, President
Obama signed the Matthew
Shepard and James Byrd Hate
Crimes Prevention Act.
The film gives voice to many
in Laramie who knew Matthew,
or knew his killers. We hear a
clear-thinking Catholic priest. At
Matthew s funeral, we see Fred
Phelps, a Baptist preacher from
Kansas (who died last month)
carrying a "Matt in Hell" plac-
In Jamaica, a man was in court
this month, charged with the
murder of John Terry, the British
consul in Montego Bay, who was
strangled in 2009. A note by the
body called him a "batty man,"
and, oddly, was signed "Batty
Man." That killing was not a
lookalike for Matthew Shepard s,
but links to Jamaican homopho-
bia are clear. Bail was renewed;
next court hearing is in May.
Closer to Matthew Shepard s
murder was the killing of fashion
designer Christopher Lynch here
in T&T, back in 1997.
He had invited two younger
men he knew to his Carenage
home. They limed, and had some
drinks together. The men say he
made a pass at them. They
slashed him 42 times with a
Chinese chopper; then stole elec-
trical goods from his house, and
A security guard, one of the
assailants, was tried for the mur-
der. A jury found him guilty.
But in 2002, he was freed by
the appeal court, where he was
represented by Dana Seetahal. A
former chief justice Sat Sharma,
along with Justices Margot
Warner and Wendell Kangaloo,
found that the trial judge had
not adequately put the issue of
self-defence to the jury.
Their view seems to have been
that for a middle-aged gay man
to make a pass at two younger
men was a serious provocation.
Marcano was trying to defend his
friend, and if that had been put
to the jury "it would have raised
doubts in their minds whether or
not he acted in self-defence."
Christopher Lynch, naturally, was
not in court to give his side of
The Laramie film mentions the
"gay panic" defence, which holds
that murderous rage is a reason-
able response to a gay pass. It s
not clear whether that defence
could be used by a woman who
stabbed a man 42 times for
placing his hand on her knee.
But that s another story.
The Laramie Project showing
was organised by the US
Embassy. Right in the front row
were Chief Justice Ivor Archie,
Speaker Wade Mark, Attorney
General Anand Ramlogan, and
acting Police Commissioner
Stephen Williams. Also present
was Silverlining, an NGO which
deals with bullying and violence
in a sexual context. Change in
the air? Maybe.
On the very day ANR
Robinson, the former
prime minister and pres-
ident of this country, died, I was
due to give a lecture to UWI stu-
dents on multimedia.
It was one of those crazy
weeks when the deadlines had
come crashing. My brain was a
knotted jangle jungle.
All that I could think of was a
warning. An exclusion clause. It s
a big high and a big low blow.
It s the high of being a firefly,
illuminating, however briefly,
injustice and corruption in public
life, and the low of bad pay,
crazy hours, nerve-wracking
deadlines, coffee and cigarette
and alcohol-fuelled adrenaline. It
was about regret. I didn t get to
cover the big wars worldwide. A
friend reminded me that we are
all fighting a war here. It came to
us with the attempted coup in
Actually, the war began long
before that. And we are losing it.
Our war is not about money.
Not about more guns, soldiers,
equipment to fight crime. Not
about schools, shinier labs,
another hospital or highway.
Money hasn t bought us literacy
(400,000 of us are functionally
illiterate), or humanity (among
the highest rates of murder in a
non-warring country), or institu-
tions (opaque, increasingly cor-
rupt), or infrastructure (50-year-
old rotting WASA pipes), or a
work ethic (a rage-fuelled
dependency), or environmental
awareness (we are among the
worst offenders worldwide).
We didn t know what to do
with the oil money because we
didn t know what to do with
It seems as if we never got
over our collective post-traumatic
stress disorder of being dragged
or coerced here from India and
Africa and being put to work.
Even when the captors went
away, we kept hacking away with
our cutlasses, and now guns,
blindly beating at our pain.
When I came here as a young
adolescent to Tobago and a
young adult to Trinidad, I was so
curious about this country, I set
I figured out that when Eric
Williams said, "Massa day done,"
he didn t mean stop working. He
said: start being authentic. Don t
ape the trappings of the First
World. Dare to be ourselves,
whatever we are.
Through Sam Selvon s The
Lonely Londoners and Ways of
Sunlight, I discovered the wit and
glittering bravery behind the
bravado of the West Indian man.
Through VS Naipaul s Mimic
Men (who can forget Guerrillas,
written as starkly as sun beating
down on fresh concrete over a
white dead woman?) there is the
wound of a chaotic New World.
Through Walcott, an atavistic
recovery of our essential selves,
with rhythm, movement, the way
we put our arms around one
another in unguarded moments;
the beauty of the faces that could
be painted by Gauguin; the
access to many continents in
pinhead tiny islands.
I saw us in our landscape, the
incline of the mountain range,
daubed with whispers of yellow
and pink, the strain of a steel
drum from the hills, the cricket
Through Peter Minshall, our
essential selves of Tan Tan and
Saga Boy, our bloodied rivers and
I discovered Eric Williams---
prolific, introspective, earnest
writer, orator, manoeuvrer.
I discovered the quick wit of
the silver fox, Basdeo Panday,
even when he outwitted himself.
I saw us in Kamla Persad-
Bissessar, the woman who dared
to outfox the foxes.
Then there was the father of
our Constitution. Sir Ellis
Clarke s glittering mind was
always in the horizon of these
islands. Some ideas I saw over
his famous Brandy Alexanders,
always with laughter shot with a
deep compassion for this country,
and with the serious understand-
ing of the responsibility we all
have---to build up our islands,
How foolish we ve been to
ignore the contribution of the
points of light in our country
simply because they are human,
flawed. We are dying here with
ignorance of ourselves.
After hearing of the death of
our former president and prime
minister ANR Robinson, my
mother spoke not of his politics
but his origins. She remembered
Granny Robinson, ANR Robin-
son s mother, as a "refined, hos-
pitable woman who never gushed
over anyone," adding simply:
"She knew who she was."
On Robinson s last birthday, a
few of us were invited to cele-
brate with him: among them, my
parents, Selby Wilson, Jennifer
Johnson, the late Karl Hudson-
Phillips. We understood it as a
family gathering of sorts. It was
separate from politics.
I felt a huge sadness as I held
his hand for the last time on his
bed, because he represented a
dead promise, a losing war.
Now, as we lose the war, can
we fight back? Can we please let
every schoolchild know that it
was never about the money and
the wining? Can we please have
a museum of Minshall, a steelpan
musical literacy school, a nation-
wide literacy drive, a transparent
health system, a museum of the
works of Eric Williams, ANR
Robinson, CLR James, and com-
pulsory reading on all national
luminaries? The fireflies are being
extinguished in droves.
Rest in peace, ANR Robinson.
In your memory, may we attack
the dark with full force.
ON BEING A FIREFLY
NO SEX PLEASE: WE'RE JAMAICAN
Can we please let every schoolchild know that it was never about
the money and the wining? Can we please have a museum of
Minshall, a steelpan musical literacy school, a nationwide literacy
drive, a transparent health system, a museum of the works of Eric
Williams, ANR Robinson, CLR James, and compulsory reading on
all national luminaries
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