On August 16, 2013, CNN provided Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum For Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gay, an opportunity to condemn the murder of cross dresser Dwayne Jones who succumbed to homophobic violence at a party. Out of Dwayne Jones’s blood, Dane Lewis has been acquiring international media attention. But Lewis doesn’t use this visibility to amplify issues that worry prominent Jamaican gay lawyer and activist Maurice Tomlinson who says “Appeals to the Jamaican government to aggressively promote and protect the human rights of LGBT citizens have largely fallen on deaf ears.”
Rather, Dane Lewis drove a nail in the coffin of LGBT persons fleeing Jamaica each year out of fear for their lives. After Lewis’s interview, I think it’s correct to say that America, Canada, and England will not be so quick to issue political asylum awards to gay Jamaicans. To get political asylum abroad, gay Jamaicans must prove that they cannot live anywhere in Jamaican or else they will be killed.
Given JFLAG’s international announcement, gay Jamaicans are now left to fall by machetes and rot in Jamaica—however not in the privileged neighborhoods that shelter folks like Dane Lewis—but in the poorer ones that open easily to allow fires and stones a night’s rest.
The CNN interviewer asks Dane Lewis, “Does this in anyway, this case, represent a pervasive feeling in the country of Jamaica or is this an anomaly?”
“This is in fact an anomaly,” Dane Lewis blinked, replied, and later added, “thankfully, this is not the everyday reality.”
He did not interrogate his own statement with reference to evidence of many gay persons contacting JFLAG about how they were abused in their communities (or perhaps, JFLAG has not been properly archiving those histories). Neither did he allude to the statistics collected by American, English, and Canadian immigration bodies that shed light on the many incidences of gay Jamaicans fleeing to their borders as refugees. And Dane Lewis didn’t consider the reports and scholarships archived by international human rights organizations condemning Jamaican homophobia.
If Dane Lewis had just done his job a bit, he would have spoken to a tradition of violence that manifests itself even this past month alone, forcing Maurice Tomlinson to write about the “Jump In Reported Gay Attacks Across Jamaica.”
What is also unsettling about the interview is that the CNN interviewer seemed more disturbed about the issue than the executive director of the most prominent Jamaican LGBT organization. Dane Lewis showed no passion about the issue. He appeared bored, sleepy, even sounded like he was reading from a made up script. And this has been his pattern in other interviews—an appearance of disinterestedness in the subject followed by a subtle downplaying of the extent of violent Jamaican homophobia.
Might we speculate that, perhaps, JFLAG’s executive director was strictly advised not to talk too much or he might have gone off script? And if there was a script—who would have written it? Was/Is Dane Lewis really speaking on behalf of JFLAG? If not, who is the new JFLAG? Could it be the Jamaican government? Or—is Dane Lewis just afraid of becoming another dead victim so he lied to the world about the extent of homophobic Jamaican criminality?
I expect there will be some who will quickly ask me where is the evidence that permit speculation that Dane Lewis’s integrity might have been compromised. I will respond saying, the idea that we mustn’t announce our speculations when we have no “evidence” needs revision. If I were to assert that JFLAG’s Dane Lewis is “perhaps” compromised by government intrusion, my assertion must certainly be backed up with evidence.
But evidence shouldn’t mean I must be able to produce only facts of exchanges of political patronization or intimidation. Evidence also includes highlighting traditional modes of political corruption among organization leaderships in Jamaica, contextualizing sociological incidences of those patterns to JFLAG’s leadership, and also weighting the speculative viewpoint of community opinion/observations.
This understanding of what evidence also entails has traditionally led to the development of task forces and committee to sniff for corruption and intimidation in government and corporate environments. There is usually speculation, followed by allegation, and then the investigation of evidence indicators, prosecution, court trial, conviction or acquittal.
In many of these cases, if evidence, in terms of facts of corruption or intimidation exchange, were immediately present, there would have been no need for investigation. But rather a prosecution and court trial would have formed the beginning of the process. So reasonable speculation should never be easily dismissed—neither should the question of—Is JFLAG’s leadership compromised by the politics of patronage or intimidation?—be ignored.
In fact, if there were more such speculation of the most charming and sweet-faced leadership figures in Jamaica, there would have been more transparency across industries and less criminality. And Jamaica wouldn’t have consistently retained a global slot as a unique manufacturer of dead human bodies.
Jamaican LGBT Community Divided Under Dave Lewis’s Leadership
My view on this subject of Dane Lewis is what many gay Jamaicans think. But their exchanges remain in private forums. In fact, let me tell you straight up that the Jamaican LGBT community is currently divided. They are divided because Dane Lewis isn’t representing downtrodden gay Jamaicans. JFLAG has been increasingly associated with the intellectual class that avoids the LGBT subjects and the privileged elitist gay class that doesn’t appreciate activists annoying the government with bad international press that threatens tourism.
For this very reason it’s even misrepresentative to continue referring to JFLAG as the leading gay Jamaican organization. For whom is JFLAG leading? Where is the core support of its membership? Increasing numbers of gay activists are critical of JFLAG’s public announcements and strategies that threaten the visibility and success of other grassroots activist movements. It appears clear that the current JFLAG leadership doesn’t care one damn about that. This disregard has been alienating persons who could and had meaningfully volunteered their services to JFLAG.
Dane Lewis’s leadership and the secret person/s that supervise his leadership seem secure, thinking that JFLAG is the most prominent Jamaican gay organization and so its base of funding and its global image cannot be fragmented. But with more articles like mine and increase social media aggression, JFLAG will be fully exposed as increasingly appearing like a mouth piece of the Jamaican government. This appearance must in no way be tolerated. Too many dead bodies and nightmares are still screaming!
Given that it retains the status of prominence, and it is widely cited and referenced, and its viewpoints are locally and internationally desired by unsuspicious media houses, JFLAG is probably now poised as the perfect sweetheart for the government. Yes, the government needs JFLAG to add character to Jamaica, to make Jamaica appear like there is permitted opposition there. At the same time, JFLAG is now the nightmare of fearless gay activism.
There will be much resistance from a few activists to my criticism of JFLAG’s leadership. These are the kinds of well-intentioned activists who get easily seduced by the ability to get their phone calls answered by certain names that glorify JFLAG’s leadership. They conflate friendship loyalties with loyalty to activism. Yet I welcome their disagreements if they promise to compliment moving activism forward rather than moving the career of JFLAG’s leadership across a few more years.
A good friend of mine suggested that activists must “pool” their strategies and get along. She seems to think that “pooling” means all activists must be at peace with each other. Somehow, she mistakenly believes that peace will produce progress. That is because the majority of societies have not been trained to understand that the greatest strategies that changed problematic paradigms also included explosive revolutions.
Note that I’m not discounting the usefulness of peacefulness amongst activists. Rather, I am questioning why so many of us think it brilliant to demonize the activist strategies of rebellion and ideological separatism. In essence, I’m saying we all don’t have to get along. It is because of politicians getting along party lines why Jamaica remains so corrupt. More than ever, JFLAG needs loud opposition, and stronger break away organizations might emerge out of that.
And gay Jamaicans mustn’t assume that JFLAG is Dane Lewis, although increasingly it appears so. And they mustn’t think that criticizing JFLAG is being ungrateful because JFLAG (not Dane Lewis) has been there for many when they needed it. That is like some Jamaicans saying they will die for the Peoples National Party because a minister gave them a bed for their vote during the last election. Gay Jamaicans must remember that JFLAG comes from a tradition of out-and-loud names such as Larry Chang, Thomas Glave, and Brian Williamson.
The well-known Jamaican activist Larry Chang wouldn’t have gotten political asylum if what Dane Lewis told CNN were true; and Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey among many others would be alive today. If there was only talk and no activist work, I would endorse comments that suggest gay activists must get along. But there has been significant activist progress currently by rising movements such as Jamaica Anti-homophobia Stand which has been leading frequent protests in front of the Jamaican Consulate in New York and organizations such JAGLA (Jamaica Association of Gays and Lesbians Abroad). Indeed, the Jamaican government is realizing the gay community is fighting back.
To say we should all get along and therefore keep quiet about Dane Lewis’s destruction of a legacy of gay activist work is a dangerous suggestion. It leaves JFLAG uninvestigated by other activists. It leaves JFLAG therefore as prominent but unauthentic gay community spokesperson that is increasingly utilizing the rhetoric of the Jamaican government that says, “Oh, the gay community is overstating things.”
By the way, I give credit where it is due. And so in the past, I had sent a complimentary note to Dane Lewis through Facebook because I had thought he had been unfairly criticized by other activists. But subsequently observing the pattern of his work, I am making a public announcement that he resign.
Dane Lewis, you need to go quietly before your reputation is further ruined!