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A Review of “Obama’s” National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Will it Benefit Black People?

by Cleo Manago

(Taken from a posting on Facebook)
(Jul 15, 2010) – On Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010, president Obama presented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States. According to his administration, the NHAS is a concise plan for moving the country forward in the fight against HIV and AIDS with three primary goals: reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.

The NHAS is a good first start for America. What I appreciate about the strategy is its’ unprecedented existence. No other administration has created a White House Office of National HIV/AIDS Policy, or has had so many progressive people in its midst. (The NHAS is now available to the public: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/NHAS.pdf).

Theoretically, this is a history making initiative. However, upon close review, NHAS content features elements that are not necessarily signs of innovation or a framework shift in terms of how HIV services may roll out or be resourced. It appears that the strong [white] gay identity bias (to be explained in more detail later) will continue to skew attempts at culturally diversifying how HIV services are framed, funded and prioritized.

Though diverse groups in America are impacted by HIV/AIDS, blacks, by a large percentage, are more impacted than all other groups in the country. Yet, deciphering this could be a challenge as presented in this NHAS excerpt, “While anyone can become infected with HIV, some Americans are at greater risk than others. This includes gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities, black men and women, Latinos and Latinas, people struggling with addiction, including injection drug users, and people in geographic hot spots, including the United States South and Northeast, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By focusing our efforts in communities where HIV is concentrated, we can have the biggest impact in lowering all communities’ collective risk of acquiring HIV.”

This NHAS passage also abstracts the disproportionate depth of HIV in black communities by bundling everyone as “Communities where HIV is concentrated.” This passage, “While anyone can become infected with HIV, some Americans are at greater risk than others. This includes gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities…” muddles the fact that – by leaps and bounds – black men, specifically, are the most HIV impacted group in the United States. Yet, what is not abstract is how much the NHSA affirms gay identity, despite that many homosexual and bisexual men of color don’t identify with or as gay. Over the last 30 years, this gay identity bias and barrier has been a contributing factor to diverse black men at HIV sexual risk not seeking HIV services or internalizing prevention messages.

While Obama’s White House is committing resources and efforts to initiatives like HIV/AIDS and healthcare, the explicit context of race and culture continues to be overlooked.

The first HIV/AIDS services paradigm in America was designed by white gay men, and ultimately was very effective for that community. Despite the relative success of the white gay community at saving itself from HIV/AIDS, a once frequently deadly disease, the disease has since gotten blacker and blacker. To date, there are no published examples of similar HIV success among African Americans. Even after three decades. Not to mention, gay identified men – black and white – have controlled and directed this epidemic, and blamed its failure to blacks simply on “homophobia.”

The organization identified as the Black AIDS Institute once featured an article stating, “Homophobia Causes AIDS (http://www.blackaids.org/ShowArticle.aspx?articletype=NEWS&articleid=168&pagenumber=1).” Yet, if this was true, given the still very present existence of the rabidly anti-homosexual white right-wing – Pat Roberson, Rush Limbaugh, the legacy of Jerry Falwell and most republicans – the white gay community should still have an HIV problem – equal if not similar to African Americans. But they don’t.

Frequently, within the black HIV industry, while black gay identity and “pride” (in being gay identified) are often encouraged, engagement of the symptoms of social injustice toward black communities and self-concept, cultural affirmation, repair and restoration are very rarely included as HIV problem-solving strategies. The white gay community understood one thing: in order to eradicate the numbers of new HIV cases they had to empower their community, while at the same time address the self-esteem damage done by homophobia, discrimination, hatred and oppression. Their primary HIV prevention strategy was (because, ultimately, most finally knew how HIV was transmitted) to publicly and actively resist social injustice toward their community, and affirm [white] gay identity. As a result, it has been comparatively (to all others) very successful at managing HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately and concurrently, the white gay community has had little interest in resisting [white] racism within its community or society as a whole, just homophobia. And the black gay-identifying movement and approach (including within HIV services) has taken on that same paradigm; not an approach that is directly relevant to black culture, history, circumstance, problem-solving, diversity, process and under-engagement of relevant black issues. “Gay” acceptance is often more important than issues directly relevant to diverse black life, culture, history and healing. As a result, many black gay identified HIV leaders have become ill-equipped to address black community issues, to counter the risk behavior inducing impact of internalized racism, institutionalized racism, black male or female trauma and white biases internalized by [black] America.

Essentially identity politics have superseded capacity to effectively engage diverse black subgroups and communities facing disproportionate HIV threats. The NHAS, while strong on affirming gay identity, fails to affirm black specific culture, diversity and relevance.

The gay paradigm creates little to no encouragement for same-gender loving (SGL) and bisexual African American healing and cultural affirmation. Being limited to “gay” has created HIV issue disenchantment among Black men who have sex with men (MSM). As a result, black homosexual subgroups have emerged in an attempt to connect more with the rhythms of black life and culture. Many black homosexual and bisexual males do not have an affinity with gay identity and culture, seeing it as white or culturally unrelated. There are “homo-thugs,” men on the “down-low,” and more in the affirmative men who identify as same-gender-loving (SGL) or bisexual. If more space was created for homosexual and bisexual black males to be fluid and “black” regarding their identity, more would likely self-identify.

In the late 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that the term or label “gay” was a barrier in getting black and Latino men to identify as men who had sex with men, and disclose HIV risk factors. As a result, the now widely used term MSM, or men-who-have-sex with men was derived. Initially, white gays and black homosexuals who internalized the gay politic balked at the term, claiming it was homophobic. The fact of the matter was the term MSM was more neutral in terms of identity, inclusive and culturally responsive to the diverse ways of being among homosexual and bisexual black men.

A footnote excerpt from the NHAS states: “Throughout this document we use the terms “gay and bisexual men” and “gay men” interchangeably, and we intend these terms to be inclusive of all men who have sex with men (MSM); even those who do not identify as gay or bisexual.” In other words, even if you are not gay, or don’t identify as gay, or don’t want to, we are referring to all homosexual and bisexual men as gay regardless. This is not helpful to African Americans and is an example of an institutionally racist barrier to life and ways of being very present within black communities.

Sure, many of us are used to simply calling all homosexuals gay. In the black community this is not the result of an identify poll taken in the community, but because SGL black people have rarely been rationally engaged in a Black community context. While the powerful white gay community vigilantly profiles its gay idenity politics and ideas, this does not necessarily represent all homosexual and bisexual Black people.

Without these considerations or an examination of the relationship cultural barriers have to HIV risks among Black women and men, the NHAS will likely have limited impact on advancing the Black HIV landscape. As a result it may be discreetly shelved by many Black organizations.

While the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States does represent a potentially progressive step forward, its’ lack of specific strategies for African Americans has resulted in some response. National organizations are in the process of generating recommendations to the president as an addendum to the historic NHAS. All African Americans interested in getting involved or contributing somehow to this effort are earnestly invited to do so. If interested in contributing call The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) at 800-992-6531,  or the Black Men’s Xchange National at 888-472-2837

July 16, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, Obama, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conflicting Sexuality: Exploring sexual abuse in the Internet age

An autobiography with online chat rooms

By Antoine Craigwell

(New York, NY) – Cybersex: The Play, morphed from a 10-year-old seed, as an idea in the mind of Jason Duvall Hunter, to finally growing into and becoming a tree that bloomed and bore fruit with a performance at the New York City Producer’s Club.

At the Producer’s Club, last Saturday night, Jul 10, more than 60 people gathered to share in Hunter’s dream of producing a play. A real estate broker by day and the play’s writer, producer, director, and sound and lighting master, Hunter was finally able to bring to the stage his vision of melding his story with current technology: exploring his sexual abuse as a child with his search for love and affection in Internet chat rooms.

“I’ve thought of this play for over 10 years and with the rise of the Internet and computers, this is also autobiographical where I explore sexual identity and conflict. It’s also an opportunity for me to create this using my own life experience as a template,” Hunter said.

CyberSex: The Play is an adult rated play, which describes in graphic detail the sexual escapades that people engage in online chat rooms. It features a cast and crew of 13, and consists of people of different racial backgrounds, who, according to Hunter, were chosen from an open casting call and is intended as a reflection of diversity in society.

The play, with Harmonica Sunbeam as the Online Host, began with introductions into Internet Chat Rooms by the character “YouMe69n” (a handle used by several of the characters), played and with dance sequences choreographed by FranCisco Vegas – in drag, Michael Smith, Oscar Salazar, Nick Dorvill, and DJ Baker as “Shine2Fine”. Using different chat room handles, the characters include “Boy1683n” played by Delvon Johnson, “ShavedFratboy” played by Yvette Quintero, “Kenny1744n” played by Tristan Sample, “Tyboy1215n” by Nemian Quaid, and “LindaSue49n” by Unique Mills. The play devolves into the story of David, played by Alton Alburo, dressed simply in a black T-shirt and pants, who interleaves into the play a monologue describing his seduction and rape when he was 8-years old by his older cousin.

FranCisco Vegas as "YouMe69n"

It is in Internet chat rooms that David turns to find his sexuality identity, to determine if he is gay, straight, or bisexual. And, it is by entering into the Chat Rooms, in six different scenes, that he encounters people who populate these Internet sites, and are not who they say or claim to be; that in fact, many are hiding their true selves behind masks and various costumes with attitudes and behaviors. He realizes that as he searches for meaning in the chat rooms, he is the only one being truthful.

David reveals toward the end that since he was raped, his sexual development has been stunted: although he has participated in several different sexual acts, including having a girlfriend who turned out to be a lesbian, and with many different people, the trauma of the rape has prevented him from ever achieving an orgasm.

A scene from a sex chat room

“I want people to come away from seeing this play with perceptions of themselves, to see in the people they know, the costumes and the masks people wear, and the lies people tell, especially the covers people use as they interact with each other online. This is basically an exploration of sexuality and sexual identity, and is a peeling away of the layers to reveal true selves,” said Hunter.

Sharing in the play’s production, associate producer Nathan James, a writer and advocate for and of the LGBT community, said that working with Hunter and Bill Johnson, the co-director, was a privilege to create a performance that is at once both provocative and groundbreaking.

“It is provocative in that it’s a play that steps outside the boundaries of convention and engages the audience with intriguing concepts regarding our sexual identity and some of our darker life experiences,” James said.

DJ Baker as "Shine2Fine"

Bill Johnson, 14 years as a director, who participated in productions such as “Colored Museum” by George C. Wolf, and “Bus Stop” by William Inge, said that he was glad to have been given the opportunity to give voice to Hunter’s personal story. He said he took the writer’s words to ensure that the story is told through direction, lighting, costumes, and props, which were minimal.

“It’s a good story. Unfortunately, molestation is too much part of life. Too many men have been molested and haven’t dealt with it, and don’t know how to deal with it. This play addresses this issue and I hope it opens some lines of communication,” the co-director said.

Hunter, who has been working on producing the play since January, had a

Alton Alburo as "David"

table reading in February this year and depending on the success of the play, plans to pursue an extended run for about three or four weeks in the Fall at a mid-level theater, such as the Helen Mills Theater or a theater with about 140 seats. His vision for the play’s future is that it would attract sponsors and with a bigger budget go off-Broadway or even ambitiously, to Broadway itself.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Guyana, Health, HIV, Immigrant rights, Jamaica, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Public Health, Theater | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the silence of depression in the Black gay community

Speaking out about a taboo subject

By Antoine Craigwell

Nationwide, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community on Friday, Apr 15, 2010, commemorated a day of silence – vowing not to speak for one 24-hour period as a unified protest action in solidarity with other LGBT and against the treatment members of the community receive from a majority of people. This day of silence was also an occasion to create a crack in the reluctance to speak about depression and its debilitating effects in the Black gay community.

In the Black community, there is significant resistance to addressing depression. Without regard to ethnic origin, whether African American, Afro Caribbean, or African, the cultural belief is that one does not speak his business, especially his personal business about himself, out of the family. Equally, in many Black families, with the emphasis on masculinity and survival in challenging times, including dealing with racial discrimination, speaking out about one’s inner feelings is often regarded as a weakness or a significant flaw, to be strengthen or eradicated, at all costs and by all means. Therefore, many Black gay men are caught in a vicious cycle: it is taboo to talk about what’s bothering him, and if he should try, he would be branded as weak.

A New Jersey-based journalist, Glenn Townes, when he lived in Kansas City, MO, wrote about his own depression, in “Tale of a Wounded Warrior: One Man’s Battle Against Depression” for the Infinity Institute International, Inc., Website, “I still find there’s a strong stigma to African Americans and therapy, particularly for brothers. Tell someone you’re seeing a shrink and they just may haul off and hit you with: “Man, you must be crazy.” But I think it’s just the opposite: Sometimes you’d have to be crazy not to seek therapy.”

Writing for the New York Amsterdam News in May 2008, Townes reported that the Depression Is Real Coalition, a collection of mental health agencies, was formed to promote and advance discussion of this mental illness as something not to be ashamed of, with a series of public service announcements nationwide, “It is Depression.”

In fact, research has shown that the causes of depression are often a combination of biological as well as external or environmental factors.

Townes reported that David Sham, president of Mental Health America, a member of the coalition said, “What people may not understand is that depression is not just a matter of being in a bad mood or something that’s in a person’s mind. It’s just like any other biologically based disease and is a condition that commonly co-occurs with chronic diseases.”

The issue of depression in the Black gay community has many layers: psychosocial, socioeconomic, cultural, and racial, to name a few. Addressing one complex layer, sexuality and racial identity and their relationship to socioeconomics, Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., professor of sociology with a specialization in HIV/AIDS issues in Black gay men at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, said, “I don’t think that we [Black gay men] have enough control over our economic destiny and how we bring together our resources around issues…about our inability to really embrace the “Blackness” and things get too anchored to the “gayness” and, without bringing all of me to the table. We have to respond to micro-aggressions as well as full-frontal discrimination based on sexual identity or on racial identity, so all of these things converge and create an environment in which we are constantly hyper vigilant in whether or not we take care of ourselves enough and sometimes those internalized experiences get manifested as external aggressions towards each other over the “sexualization” of the experience and the use of substances as a way of coping. So I think there are mental issues that have certain consequences.”

In an article, “HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Among Black Men Who Have Sex with Men: Current and Future Directions,” Gregorio Millett, MPH, senior policy advisor in the Office of National AIDS Policy and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC); David Malebranche, M.D, assistant professor, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; and John L. Peterson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, quoting from a 2004 CDC report, said that Black men who have sex with men (MSM) now account 30 percent, the largest proportion, of all Black men diagnosed with HIV.

Addressing the psychological issues surrounding Black MSM, in a section of their article, “HIV-positive Status, HIV Risk, and HIV-Protective Behavior Factors Among Black MSM,” Millett and co-authors quoted studies done in 2002 by Crawford, et al, and in 2003 by Myers, et al, which said that, “although no psychological variables were associated with HIV status, several psychological  variables were associated with sexual risk behavior among Black MSM.

“Few Black MSM studies examined associations between any of the dependent variables and HIV knowledge, mental health status, cultural beliefs, or self-esteem,” said Millett and co-authors.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, depression, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Mental Health, mental illness, Public Health, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The rights of a gay person are human rights.

This is a letter to the editor of Stabroek News, a daily newspapers in Guyana, in response to a letter to the editor by Abu Bakr, published on Sunday, Mar 14, 2010.

Dear Editor:

The letter published by Abu Bakr in your Sunday, Mar 14 edition deserves a direct response. It is unfortunate that this discussion has degenerated into a sexualizing of the issues. I am taking a stand for the human rights denied Mark and many like him who have no voice, or whose voices are drowned out in the cacophony of denial. There are many who have fled the country, such as Vermal from Soesdyke, whose story of sexual abuse, taunted, beaten and imprisoned in his home, was turned into a play performed on stages around the U.S., or those who still suffer in silence, forced to conform and dare not speak up. If Bakr and Williams are standing on preserving a homophobic and bigoted status quo, then I hope they realize the tenuousness of their position.

While Bakr’s letter contains numerous flaws, his arguments are illogical and inconsistent. There are two glaring non sequitur arguments. First, he stated that instead of apportioning blame to the community or the stepfather for Mark’s demise, that I should be held responsible and submit to guilt. Aside from being absurd, Mark came to see me for compassion, understanding and acceptance. Had I retreated behind a wall of dogma and fundamentalism, he would have been let down by at least one more person he trusted. With the altruism that Christianity calls forth from each of us, would I not be betraying him by asking him to deny himself and to embrace something that is against his nature, how is accepting yourself an “inversion of values”? The story of Mark, the pathos and the emotive aspects associated with it was intended to illustrate the point, that as one case, it was an exercise in compassion and acceptance, when the community and society had failed, and the ultimate tragic consequences. Also, if at the time I was aspiring to a deeper Christian way of life, how hypocritical would I be, that in my formation, I could not extend the compassion, understanding and acceptance that Jesus practiced and advocated to the marginalized of society, of which gays and lesbians are confined? Is Bakr implying that, as with many who profess one thing and do another, in that period of formation; I should squander my authenticity?

Despite the abuses and the negativity of those who preach or act in the name of Christianity, a friend, a deceased priest, once said that each person is called to strive for and achieve greatness. Bakr correctly suggests that I am inviting Guyanese to progress rather than to be lagging behind the rest of the world. And, to bring relevance to this discussion, since Guyanese are descendants of Africans, the examples of the struggles for rights and the violence against gays in Africa, ought to expand otherwise myopic or provincial views. Bakr claims a “gay militancy,” when is a call for acceptance and inclusion of human nature a militancy and not a human right? With the advances in gay rights, which several countries have recognized as synonymous with human rights and enacted appropriate laws to enshrine those rights, and with progress in Guyana, however little there is, is Bakr so jaded or disillusioned to the human condition to warrant such absolute denial?

UN Secretray General Ban Ki-Moon

Keeping to the aspirations of a better human condition, to which we are all called, in the context of global HIV and AIDS, in which many gays and lesbians are affected, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on World AIDS Day last December, called on member countries to decriminalize homosexuality, “This goal can be achieved only if we shine the full light of human rights on HIV. That means countering any form of HIV-related stigma and discrimination… I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices… In many countries, legal frameworks institutionalize discrimination against groups most at risk…”

Second, Bakr sought to draw comparisons to Africa, by saying that 29 countries on the continent outlawed homosexuality. He does not develop his argument or refute the evidence that homosexuality was practiced and accepted as part of the traditions before the colonialists arrived. He trundles out a list of countries, whose governments facing their respective crises, have chosen instead to demonize or pick on the vulnerable, and have declared that homosexuality is alien to the continent, and then undermines himself, “The ethnographic evidence contradicts their assertion.” He also confirms the position that India accepts homosexuality, inclusive of inter-sexism. However, the point he misses is that homosexuality exists in human nature and as a member of a civilized society he is denying acceptance and recognition, not as one commentator, F. Skinner, suggests, to suppress it.

David Kuria Mbote, director of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, in an opinion “You can’t wish away African gays,” published on Mar 10 in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan publication, responded to an article written by Fr. Dominic Waweru, published on Mar 8, in which he said that the attacks on young people on suspicion of being gay was “only too comprehensible”. In his article Mbote said, “It should be noted that compulsory heterosexuality has never converted any one from homosexuality, but in the context of modern diseases, the African community continues to place itself in a curiously unintelligent position. By affirming what is globally known to be an alternative and legitimate form of sexual expression for a minority within any population to be unAfrican, they are saying that the African falls beyond the ambit of what is human. Instead of giving tacit approval to violence against gays, churches should be in the forefront preaching reconciliation and love to even those who they regard as “sinners”. Gay rights activism has reached a point of no return even in Africa, events in Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia, and Mtwapa notwithstanding. It’s unfortunate that the Church stands at the vanguard for this extremely unjust violation of rights of gays, lesbians, transgender and intersex Kenyans.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Two days later, the distinguished Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa in an opinion article “In Africa, a step backward on human rights” published on Mar 12, in the Washington Post, said clearly, “Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion, or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity — or because of their sexual orientation…In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity. It is time to stand up against another wrong. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Addressing the wrongs committed against gays and lesbians in African countries, the Archbishop said, “That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said, “Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.” Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God… My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?”

Bakr, Williams and those who share repressive views would do well to remember that Guyana’s buggery laws, which are part of the Penal Code, were enacted in colonial days and remain unchanged, even though Guyana achieved independence and republic status with its own constitution, which guarantees the rights and protections of all its citizens. On Mar 11, the U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report, “Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity References, Human Rights Reports for 2009, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” In the introduction, against the backdrop of the 2009 Anti-homosexuality bill pending in the Ugandan Parliament, the report referred to the 1950’s colonial law against homosexuality, which the Ugandan High Court in December 2008 ruled as unconstitutional and that the rights of all persons are protected. This is a report that advises other nations, companies, and individuals of the quality of human rights in a particular country, so that appropriate decisions could be made regarding the level or degree of involvement, including investment, in that country. On Guyana the report says, “Sodomy is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison. There are no laws concerning female-to-female sex. On September 18, Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy publicly called for a Caribbean-wide discussion on the laws, stating that “many homosexuals suffer because of the stigma and discrimination attached” to their sexual orientation.”

Against these undeniable truths, what would Bakr, Williams and the others now say?

Respectfully,

Antoine Craigwell

March 16, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Politics, Public Health | Leave a comment

Positive: Retelling the HIV message

Trevor Rhone’s play, directed by Karl Williams.

By Antoine Craigwell

Trevor Rhone (1940-2009)

Dressed in black with a long red silk stole draped around his neck, he hovered in the background as a specter, visible to all, yet intending to be unseen by those he haunted. He chortled and skipped with glee, announcing “another one gone” when someone’s test results were positive or someone had succumbed and died from complications associated with HIV, and gnashed his teeth in chagrin when someone’s results was negative or despite his attempts at influencing, someone chose to use a condom. He was the embodiment of HIV.

Poster - Trevor Rhone's Positive
Poster – Trevor Rhone’s Positive

The image of HIV, familiar yet menacing, was the central theme of the play written by the late Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone (1940 to 2009). Set in the island nation of Jamaica, “Positive” explores and examines different sections of society, unconfined to the island, which remain as obstacles to effective dissemination of information, prevention, and treatment of HIV. Originally, Rhone intended “Positive” as a musical, incorporating the pulsating, suggestive lyrics, and beats of reggae, music from Jamaica. The play, when it was presented at the New Perspectives Theater on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010, although it was a first performance, the small theater space was packed, standing room only, with friends, guests, and possible sponsors. In this production, an old story of the devastating consequences wreaked on those infected, HIV was told with the definitive accent and vernacular of Jamaicans at home in their city, according to the director, Karl O’Brian Williams, at the post performance Q&A, without music. Two companies collaborated to produce Positive, Barata Productions and Banana Boat Productions, with a nine-member cast, whose intensity and passion found identification with the characters, and with the shifting scenes, at its conclusion received sustained and enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Trevor Rhone

The play examines frequently colliding and juxtaposed religious dilemmas and socio-economic issues, cultural mores and pressures, and of sexual abuse and promiscuity, which runs as an undercurrent in society. It tells of the story of Devon, played by Kyino Cunningham, a late teenager of his time, tall, muscular, lithe, and physically attractive, who is already jaded by the experiences of his life: the many family and friends who have died from HIV. He is caught in a position where he has to choose between the demands of his peers and immediate society to prove his manhood through multiple sexual conquests, and what he knows would protect him from the fate of those he mourn, as he declares resignedly, “there’s no tomorrow in my reality.” In exasperation he exclaims, when asked about his preference for not using condoms, that since he was about nine or 10-years-old, when he first had sex, condoms were too small for his penis and the girls he had sex with wanted the intimate feel of skin on skin, insisting that “true intimacy is sex without a condom.” As the play progresses, Devon meets and is smitten by Melissa, played by Annmarie Cole, who is voluptuous, sexy, beautiful and desirable; everything about her screams sex. She is a willing partner for sex, not only with Devon, who she desperately desires, but also with his friends in a sexual orgy, termed “to run battery”. She wants to prove herself, to her peers, and to share in the experience she has heard from her friends. She agrees to have sex with Devon, but he cautions her that it would not be with him alone, he tells her she would be having sex with six men. All the while, as Devon and Melissa negotiate their impending sexual encounter, HIV, played by Lemark McPherson, lurks behind them as a specter, miming, gesticulating suggestions, and as if he was a master puppeteer, manipulating the strings to ensnare one more victim. Melissa agrees and when the time arrives, in a simulation of the act, surrounded by the males in the cast, she falls to the floor, holds her abdomen and utters a guttural scream from the pain of the number of penetrations, which are imagined to be not all vaginal.

from a production of "Positive"

The playwright explores, addresses, and reconciles the conflicts the religious institutions experience when faced with the stark reality of the suffering of ordinary people. In one scene, Sister, a habited member of a Roman Catholic religious order, played by Hillary Roosevelt Ricketts, is recruited to assist with outreach. She quickly learns how removed she is from the real world when she answers a call to the agency from someone enquiring about how HIV is  contracted and about “eating at a two-foot table”, a term which perplexed and  embarrassed her when Joe, the head of the HIV prevention and outreach agency, played by Andrew Clarke, explained that it was another term for oral sex on a woman, “I’ve learned more out here than from all the books I’ve read,” she said.

Poster - Smile Orange

Revealing is the reconciliation which occurred when the pastor of the evangelical church, played by Ian Forrest, demonizes Joe’s outreach enterprise, condemning to hellfire and damnation with vehement denouncements all those who lead lives of the flesh, “people must change their evil ways.” The pastor himself undergoes a conversion and comes to a realization when he meets Marilyn, played by Kara Colley, and a romance blossoms. He invites her to attend and hear him preach at a crusade, to dinner and just as he was making moves to consummate their relationship, Marilyn stops him, insisting that he use a condom and explains that she is HIV-positive. Meanwhile, the specter of HIV hovering in the background, turns away in disgust at Marilyn’s revelation. So enamored is the pastor that he approaches Joe and the Sister to discuss what he should do, especially since he couldn’t understand how someone as physically attractive and sexy with no outward manifestations of the disease as Marilyn could be HIV-positive. After a conversation with Joe and Sister, he renounces the hellfire and damnation vitriol, asks what he could do to help spread the word about HIV, and asks Marilyn if she would be his wife.

In another scene, a mother, Delrose, played by Camile Deans, comes to the agency asking for help. She does not know what to do,  she knows that her boyfriend, who tom-cats all over the town, having sex with many people, has also been having sex with her 13-year-old daughter. Although she has sent her daughter away to live with an aunt and had once evicted the boyfriend from her home, she is desperate, because his financial contribution to the home provides for her and the other children, but he demands that his turn to the house is conditional on the daughter coming back home. Joe and Sister are themselves shocked by the revelation and perplexed as to how to advise Delrose, except to suggest that the daughter stay with the aunt.

Then in another scene, the daughter, Jane, played also by Cole, comes to the agency one year later, because as she said, her mother told her that if ever she needed any help she should go and ask for the Sister. To the chortles of glee from the HIV specter in the background, she recounts that her mother had died from HIV and that she is also HIV-positive. She explains that she works in a strip bar and asks for some condoms so she could go to work. Sister hesitates, as once again she faces a conflict, the church’s stance against condom use and the desperation before her: as Jane explained that she is now the sole breadwinner of the family and has to work in the sex industry to support herself and other siblings. As if not wanting to seem complicit, Sister asks to be excused from the room, and as soon as she leaves, Jane grabs a handful of condoms and flees.

Poster - The Harder They Come

While audience participation in the post performance Q&A was spirited and engaging, asking questions and offering comments, there was no consensus on retaining the strong Jamaican accent and dialects, and how to address the sexual suggestiveness of some of the portrayals as Rhone intended, if the desire is to take the play into the New York City public school system. One of the objectives of the performance was to attract sponsors for future performances. The producers thanked Rhone’s estate for permission to stage the play.

Poster - One Love

Rhone, who died suddenly last September from a heart attack, was a prolific writer, producer, director, and lecturer, being involved in films such as the cult classic “The Harder They Come” (1969), “One Love” produced in Jamaica, and his stage works, which included “Smile Orange” (1971), “Old Story Time” (1979), and “Two Can Play” (1982). He was a consultant to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Global AIDS Program in Guyana, with oversight and responsibility for a serialized radio drama production. As a member of the Caribbean theatre, he advocated that his work should “mirror the lives of the ordinary man, and to reaffirm his strengths in such a way that he learns to diminish his weaknesses and to believe that he can make a positive difference in his society.”

For more information and for sponsorship opportunities, contact Andrew Clarke, executive director, Barata Productions at zuzu92_2000@yahoo.com

March 12, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Public Health, Theater | Leave a comment

Letter to Editor – answer the detractors, bringing discussion closer to home

On Feb 26, 2010, Kaieteur News, a local daily in Guyana, published an article I had written as a letter to the editor in response to the cross-dressing suit brought by five young men and the organization SASOD in the High Court. Following publication of that letter, there were response letters to the editor in the same papers and in Stabroek News, another local daily. Below is my response to those comments:

Dear Editor,

I first met Mark, a young man in his late teens and early twenties, when he came to join the Catholic-sponsored Scout troupe at Sacred Heart Church. Then he wasn’t a Catholic and since it was a requirement for membership, he did what was necessary to become a member, including converting and receiving the initial sacraments; I was his godfather and sponsor. As a leader of the troupe, I sensed that Mark desperately wanted to belong, and when he was able to join, he fit right in and was happiest when the troupe went on camps, because there, being in charge of the food and kitchen, he was in his element, ensuring that more than 50 teenage boys had three meals on time every day for the duration of the camp. When we weren’t at camp and had regular meetings, Mark was fastidious with the gear: the ropes and staves, ensuring that everything was well taken care of and properly stored. To my knowledge, while Mark was in the KBS, he never displayed or perpetuated any inappropriate behavior to and with any of the boys. He wasn’t effeminate or flamboyant and did the boys care that Mark may or may not be gay? I don’t believe that concerned them. But a few years later when I was in my novitiate in a religious organization, he came to see me. He was troubled; the pain of suffering and abuse was evident in his eyes. His face was gaunt, he was thin, his clothes hung on him, and he appeared tired, he had lost weight and was homeless. He told me how his stepfather beat him and put him out the house he shared with his mother and other siblings because the stepfather suspected that he was gay. He looked at me and as the tears streamed down his face, told me of some of the abuses he had endured and I realized then, even though there was no definitive confirmation, that he was gay. Also, knowing the society’s reaction to anyone who they think is an “anti-man”, and by association anyone seen with someone they perceive as such, I told Mark that I was proud of him and I would not be ashamed to walk with him on the street. After our conversation, we walked north on Camp Street, oblivious to the stares. I knew he felt proud, supported and accepted.

Sometime in August 1995, as was related to me, Mark died. I was told that in the circumstances surrounding his death he had attended a party on the West Bank of Demerara and while on his way home, after the party, he was set upon by a group of young men and beaten, all the while accused of being an “anti-man,” ostensibly because of how he was dressed. According to the report, with a broken arm, sustained in the attack, he dragged himself to a nearby police station for assistance and instead of receiving help, he was placed in a cell beaten again, suffered a concussion, and when he lapsed into unconsciousness, he was transported to the Public Hospital Georgetown, where he later died – alone, abused, battered and probably wondering why he deserved this treatment. Who should be held responsible for his death: the misguided who are blinded by their beliefs to forget that the person they are attacking is another human being, someone who could be their brother, son, cousin, nephew, uncle, or close friend; by extension, the religious organizations that demonize homosexuality and advocate curing by any means, but who are just as guilty of the same offenses they ascribe to gays and lesbians; or the stepfather who put him out of the house?

I recall this story because of the vitriol, hatred, and bigotry spewing from the many commentators incited by the equally misguided and brainwashed Roger Williams and Abu Bakr, both of whom leveled criticism against my letter published in the Kaieteur News on Feb 26, 2010. In his response, Bakr correctly stated in the beginning of his critique that I was attempting to encourage a change when I wrote about the far reaching consequences of the cross-dressing suit before the High Court as a break with the mental slavery in which many Guyanese are still living, victims of a colonial power that is physically absent, but yet present in the laws. I ask those who continue with their hatemongering, using religion, convenient morality and pseudo-scientific examples to justify their misogyny how would you feel if your son, brother, daughter, sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, cousin, or close friend was treated as Mark. Some would say, “pray for him,” others “beat it out of him,” but, in this world of religious indoctrination, where is the acceptance and compassion that are tenets of Christian teachings?

Why couldn’t Mark be allowed to live, as he was, a same-gender loving man? Is our society so hypocritical that we would rather kill than show compassion? Mark was rejected by at least three important pillars of his society: his family, those sworn to protect and defend the laws, and by the community. I could again be accused of romanticizing this issue before the court, but Mark’s suffering in life and his death are real. By extension what the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking, is it not to claim the guarantee and the rights provided by the Constitution, the acceptance it assures? Is denying someone the right to live as he feels, free from fear of abuse and of discrimination, depriving him of his human right?

No one is advocating turning the society lawless, no one is promoting incestuous practices, bestiality or any perverted behavior to which being gay was associated. Bakr and Williams have conveniently chosen to cherry pick, ignore, and deny historical facts, that homosexuality was practiced and accepted as a part of the way of life in superior African civilizations and cultures long before the colonialists arrived. In a conference paper, “Homosexuality in Africa: Myth or Reality? An Ethnographic Exploration in Togo, West Africa” presented by Virgile Capo-Chichi and Sethson Kassegné at the 5th African Population Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, December 2007, quoted in the introduction: “Same-sex relations are denied in most African countries even though studies have found cultural and traditional practices that demonstrate their existence for centuries (Roscoe & Murray, 1998)” and “Compared to other regions, Africa has the lowest levels of awareness and communication with regards to male-to-male sex (McKenna, 1996) and the most repressive laws against it.” The report continues, “Other gatekeepers believe that same sex relations and homosexuality have always existed in traditional societies in Togo “…tendencies towards homosexual behavior have always existed among men as well as women. It is more pronounced among men and that’s why they were called ‘nyonu – sunu’ (man – woman); that is, a man living as a woman. Or, alternatively, ‘sunu nyonu’ (woman-man) because they tend to behave like a person of the opposite sex.”(Gatekeeper, Aneho)”.”

We can all choose the material we want to justify or support an argument, but there has to be a meeting point, of agreement, that in human nature, homosexuality is as natural as being male or female. Dr. Tiger H. Devore, a New York-based psychologist, in a recent interview said that Western civilizations created the binary delineation, male and female. In reality, he said, there are three genders, male, intersex, and female. In India where on Nov 12, 2009 the Indian election authorities granted independent identity status to those who are intersex or transsexual, allowing them to be counted in the census and to vote – both democratic rights. It is reported that in remote villages in the Dominican Republic and other countries, there are the “guevedoces,” (literal translation: penis at 12) people identified as female at birth and transformed into male at puberty; all accepted as part of their respective societies and cultures. According to the Oct 2006 The Medical News report, 1,500 species in the animal kingdom practice homosexuality. Petter Boeckman, academic advisor for the “Against Nature’s Order?” exhibition at the Norwegian Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo, said, “One fundamental premise in social debates has been that homosexuality is unnatural. This premise is wrong. Homosexuality is both common and highly essential in the lives of a number of species.”

Despite the airs and pretensions with which we have clothed ourselves, and the exploitative and oppressive effects of religion, we should not forget that in the wider scheme of nature, we are still part of the animal kingdom. Many of the detractors have ignored the qualitative contributions gay men and lesbians make to society: they don’t walk around wearing a sign on their foreheads announcing their sexual orientation, instead they go about their tasks or jobs without fanfare. Looking beyond the colonial mindset, one wonders at the preference of perpetuating the “rod of correction” and beat that which is natural out of the child or continue to have a society where there are men and women living unhappy, trapped lives, resorting to violence against their spouses, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity, which of course means that many of the men would be down-low, and a consequence the rise in HIV infections. Or, would the preference be to perpetuate the hypocrisy of those men and women who sneak around for trysts and assignations, but profess heterosexism and homophobia, and deride anyone who is gay with their friends? While many people like to pretend that there is no one gay or lesbian in their family, “not in my family”, it is a fact, homosexuality is a part of human nature. What would these commentators do if their son or daughter were to declare they were in love with someone of the same gender?

Respectfully,

Antoine Craigwell

March 6, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Public Health, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cry wolf: Uganda and the anti-homosexuality bill

Has the international gay community bought into a red herring- a national distraction?

by Antoine Craigwell, published Feb 13, 2010, OutInJersey.net

For centuries in Uganda, long before White men came, there were traditional kings, leaders of tribes, clans, and peoples, as the colonialists, those coming from England, or Scotland, knew very well. In this country steeped in tradition, there existed ample evidence that same-sex relations were practiced and were part of the culture. Wikipedia the online reference describes the rule of Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, who was the Kabaka or king, from 1884 to 1888, and from1889 to 1897, and was the thirty-first Kabaka of Buganda. The king was known to have sexual relations with his pages and courtiers, and the colonists after their arrival, made efforts to impose their Christian morality and to stop him. The Church then became embroiled in a three-way struggle between the English Protestants, the French White Fathers and the Muslims to control the Bugandan court. In retaliation against the threats to his sovereignty, the king killed 22 of those who had converted to Christianity. Nearly 100 years later, in Oct 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized the group led by Charles Lwanga and his companions as the Uganda Martyrs. But, it was through various schemes and plots that Mwanga was eventually killed and the practice of homosexuality outlawed.

So it was, in the early history of Uganda, that the Christians battled with the civil authorities over traditional and cultural practices. Understanding Uganda’s societal structure requires an understanding of the cultural dynamics, which consists of three distinct ethno-religious groups: the traditionalists with tribes and kings; the Christians, many of whom have broken away from the established Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion (Episcopal) to embrace the evangelical movement; and the Muslims, who adhere to the precepts of their religion.

Not Admitted graphic designed by Sandra LubranoIt is from this religious and cultural cauldron that members of the Ugandan Christian evangelical movement emerged and joined forces with American Christians to exploit moral loopholes in four sections of the country’s Penal Code (pg 68 and 69). Sections 145 of the Penal Code states that anyone who allows or participates in any sexual act considered against the order of nature, including bestiality and homosexuality, would be punishable with life imprisonment. Section 146 imposes a sentence of seven years imprisonment on any one who attempts to commit any offence considered unnatural under Section 145. Section 147 states that anyone who indecently assaulted a boy younger than 18 years is liable to 14 years imprisonment and corporal punishment. Additionally, Section 148 stipulates that if anyone, in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person, or participates in obtaining anyone to participate in any indecent acts; he or she would be subject to a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

To the Christian evangelists, while these laws violated the human rights of their own people, they were sanctioned and capitalizing on the Ugandan penchant for sexualizing all conduct or behavior perceived as inappropriate, sought to pin their hopes of furthering the cause of anti-homosexuality as a violation of morality.

The three Americans who came to Uganda in March of 2009 were recruited by the Uganda-based Family Life Network to speak at workshops on ways to change people from gay to straight, said Val Kalende, a Ugandan activist with the organization Freedom and Roam Uganda. Two of the Americans, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively, spoke in favor of keeping homosexuality illegal but giving those convicted an option of therapy to cure them of their gayness, suggesting in their address to the parliament, that homosexuality is learned and curable, Kalende said.

Back home in the U.S., the American evangelists know that the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution, but in a country where vestiges of the shame of homosexuality and the animosity from the past still lingered, their action had the effect of pouring jet fuel on smoldering embers.

Kalende, who is 28 years old and a board member of SMUG, the Ugandan gay and lesbian organization, is a spokesperson for the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and in an email response said that religious fundamentalists have been for a long time behind the war against gays and lesbians in Uganda.

“Their ideas took hold and that is why the anti-homosexuality bill is in our parliament today. U.S based religious groups should be held accountable for the effects this bill has caused and will cause if it passes into law. They do not have such laws in their country. I do not see why they come here to brainwash Ugandans with their bent gospel,” Kalende said.

But, said Kalende, the anti-homosexuality bill is a political populist gimmick to distract the attention of Ugandans from the real issues affecting the nation.

“Homosexuals have nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of families that sleep without a meal or the millions of children who die unnecessarily every day from preventable or treatable diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, measles, or pneumonia; homosexuals are not the ones responsible for the lack of drugs and supplies at primary health care centers. It is easier to make people hate homosexuals than to create social change. The sponsors of this bill are playing escapist politics. They choose to blame homosexuals for the moral degeneration in the country when what they should be doing [is] to find the root causes of the problems and finding solutions,” said Kalende.

Anne Mugisha, a Ugandan lawyer, human rights activist and a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), maintains a blog, and in one of her posts she quotes Dr. Sylvia Tamale’s presentation at a public dialogue on the anti-homosexuality bill at Makerere University, in Nov, 2009, “Anyone who cares to read history books knows very well that in times of crisis, when people at the locus of power are feeling vulnerable and their power is being threatened, they will turn against the weaker groups in society.”

On the other side of the coin, is the mixing of religious tenets and civil law, a comingling forbidden in the U.S. as it would violate the separation of Church and State, which the evangelists sought, one to influence the other, in Uganda. Realizing that they were fast loosing ground to a strengthening and rising gay and lesbian community asserting their rights in the U.S., American evangelists decided to utilize other means to export their brand of  anti-gay Christianity to vulnerable countries. The two terms of the Bush presidency, from 2000 to 2008, significantly advanced the Christian evangelists cause of strict morality beyond U.S. borders. This was apparent in the hogtying of African and other economically deprived countries dependent on U.S. aid, forcing all to conform to strict stipulations that American funding be contingent on compliance with abstinence only, anti-abortion, and anti-gay and anti-HIV treatment policies.

Members of the gay community world over are understandably horrified by the incidences of persecution of lesbians and gays in Uganda, as reported by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, SMUG; and from stories of individual gays and lesbians who have fled the country for fear of their lives. Moreover, while no one would or should attempt to minimize these incidences of persecution based on sexual orientation, it should be remembered that the hunting down and violence against homosexuals in Uganda mirrors, Jamaica, a country that has, with the government’s approval, persecuted those who are gay or lesbian. It is also important to note that Uganda and Jamaica were British colonies.

Nevertheless, as a country Uganda, with its deep religious divisions, is ripe and susceptible to American religious influence. In recent times, there has been a tendency for those in government to demonize or sexualize their political opponents with accusations of being gay or homosexual, or accusations of sexual immorality, as had been done to opponents of President Yoweri Museveni’s. Museveni seized power in 1986 and was elected president 10 years later.

A colonel in the Ugandan army, Kizza Besigye, challenged Museveni, and was charged with treason in 2001. After fleeing to the U.S., he returned to Uganda in 2005 to mount another challenge to the president, he was again arrested on treason and charged with rape; he was eventually acquitted of rape, but the treason charges are still being debated. With Besigye, who is a medical doctor, neutralized, Museveni assumed office again in 2006 for another term. The 1995 Uganda Constitution states that the president should serve no more than two terms, of five years each. Now, after fiddling with parts of the Constitution and with elections scheduled for 2011, as Museveni is attempting yet another term as president, one of his primary opponents, Olara Otunnu, has been accused of being gay.

Despite living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., Mugisha plans to return to Uganda as a candidate for public office, said, “The anti-homosexuality bill is intended to mask the true state of affairs, because if there is no focus on the length of his time in office, he [Museveni] would become the longest serving president.”

Since making her intentions known, she vehemently denied the calumnies being bandied about her, “I’m being accused of being a lesbian. I’m not a lesbian. I’m a mother of three children and I’m a heterosexual.”

The 50-year-old Otunnu is an advocate for children’s rights, especially those caught in conflicts zones. He was a former Ugandan ambassador to the United Nations and an UN Under-Secretary General whose resume reads like a Who’s Who of African diplomats. As a bachelor and since declaring his candidacy for president, Otunnu has been accused of being gay. Sources in Uganda claim that he is supposedly trying to find a wife to prove that he is not gay. However, of greater significance, should the anti-homosexuality bill continue and become law before the elections, then on the simple accusation – should Otunnu not find a wife to prove his heterosexuality – he would be arrested, imprisoned and disqualified; effectively as the opposition, he is removed from the electoral process. These accusations in Ugandan politics mirror those now facing Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister and a political opponent to the incumbent prime minister in Malaysia. Ibrahim is facing his second battery of charges of sodomizing one of his aids; the only difference here between Uganda and Malaysia, that the latter is a predominantly Islamic country.

The opposition, led by Otunnu has been calling for greater accountability. Reports state that since Museveni has been in power, despite his many previous electoral promises, basic social services have not been met or those in existence have not been improved. There are calls from many people, including members of the opposition, for the investigation of several government ministers, who it is alleged have misappropriated and embezzled significant sums of money given to the country when it hosted the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Additionally, with the recent discoveries of oil, which promises untold riches for those in government, there has been no transparency in the bidding and contract award process especially for exploration, extraction, refinement, shipping and distribution.

In recent times Museveni has restored some of the traditional kingdoms, although only ceremonially, which were banned when Milton Obote (1966 to 1971) became president and maintained during the presidency of Idi Amin (1971 to 1979). With these restorations, Museveni now runs the risk of either the kings amassing power and influence to destabilize him, or he plans to employ the British tactic of divide and rule, to control the people: the Bugunda against the Baganda, both with longstanding animosities toward each other.

It is into this volatile mixture, which has become a confluence of circumstance, mostly created and stoked by the government that David Bahati, a member of parliament and a member the Family Life Network, a branch of the secretive Washington, DC-based The Family, presented the anti-homosexuality bill in Oct 2009 that is making its way through parliament. When Bahati first introduced the bill, the president said he would support it. But, under pressure from foreign governments, Museveni has softened his stance to include mouthing platitudes that he would refuse to sign the bill if passed. He has made no effort to stop it from proceeding in committees. People familiar with the political process in Uganda suggest that the president is likely to continue stoking the flames of the anti-homosexuality bill as a tool to discredit his political rivals, create public hysteria, and do nothing for the benefit of the mounting international pressure, and still to appear to have reconsidered his position.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Blogroll, community, Health, Jamaica, LGBT community, Politics, Uganda | Leave a comment

Bank stoops low: sneaky stealing

Okay, let me explain, because while some may agree with the headline above, others may see it as inflammatory. So, for those who disagree, I leave you to arrive at your own conclusion.

On Friday, Mar 6, I received a check drawn on an out of state bank account for $300. With only $1.35 in my Chase Manhattan Bank account and knowing that my Time Warner Cable would be suspended for non-payment, I was eager for the check to clear. After depositing it, I left the teller’s window and looked at the deposit receipt, which did not indicate when the entire amount would be available. I was later informed that, even though tellers are supposed to notify customers and have it printed on the receipt when their funds would be completely available, if the deposit is $300 or more, the customers are also, according to Chase, expected to ask when the funds would be available.

The next day, in keeping with a banking regulation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2005, $100 was available. From conversations I’ve had with “back office” Chase employees, including those who have worked at the institution for many years, when a customer deposits a check, usually, the entire amount, because of our electronic age, is available to the bank but held by them and turned over – that is, sold, loaned and “interest-ed,” earned interest for the bank. Banks claim holds and other dubious circumstances to delay making the funds available to customer who are told that their funds would not be available, especially for an out of state check, for four to five business days. For an instate check, funds could be available in two to three business days. Business days do not include Saturday, Sunday or holidays; these are working days, Monday to Friday.

Short on food, I went out the next day $100 empowered and spent $48. Then just as I expected, Time Warner suspended my service. That night, I called in a check payment for $106 to the cable company and my service was restored. Having done this type of payment before, I had an idea or a rough guess of how long the Time Warner check payment would take to clear and I figured that by that time, the out of state check, the $200 balance would also clear and keep me solvent. That didn’t happen and is still in dispute as to when – it came down to a time determination- did the balance clear and the cable check hit my account. Nonetheless, I noticed that Chase hit me with a $25 insufficient funds fee, also called an NSF fee. Still thinking I had funds in my bank account, I treated myself to a $6 McDonald’s breakfast.

That is when it all went down hill. My account was overdrawn and I was in the red for 23 cents. Hurrying to the Chase branch at the corner of Broadway and 165th Street, I spoke with the branch manager, asking her about the $25 fee. Not wanting to have a negative balance, I scrounged up $3 for a deposit, and as I was standing in the line waiting to be restored to good standing, I asked the manager about being charged another $25 because my account was over by .23 cents. She assured me that when the charge hit, she would remove it, because she had the authority to remove NSF fee charges on negative balances less than $3. But then, accepting that I miscalculated, an automatic payment of $19.99 to Verizon also hit my account, which forced my account into a further negative balance of $17. The next day, I deposited $504 and saw my balance reduced to $486, and the next day I deposited another check for $880. This time, when I made the two latter deposits I enquired when they would be available and was told the next day. Confident in my new found wealth, I went shopping for necessities. But on Thursday, when I looked at my statement online, I noticed that there was a $64 NSF fee charged to my account. I hastened once again to the bank and enquired from the manager. She explained that the bank’s policy was that more than an initial NSF charge, $25, was charged at $32, and the $64 charge consisted of $32 for the .23cents and for the negative $17. I proceeded to remind her of the discussion and the assurance she made the previous Friday. After much wrangling and derogatory comments and saying she would have to take the loss at her branch because she made the promise to refund the NSF fee, she reluctantly reversed the charge.

But, what struck me was that without knowing, Chase had not only charged me $32 for a negative .23cents, but that the charge had been automatically increased from $25. The manager, referring me to a thick booklet containing Chase’s policies and procedures in 8-point print, stated that any amounts that go into a negative balance, regardless of how much, even if one cent is charged $25 or $32. When I pointed out that people designed the system which automatically charged customer, she found it difficult to accept that concept, which enabled Chase, under the guise of legality, to gouge its customers. Now, I wonder how many customers, who do not carefully monitor their bank balances or statements, does Chase fleece in such a flagrant manner. There are those who say that what Chase is doing is the fundamental of capitalism, that it is, a bank is in the business of making money. But, isn’t that same philosophy that has caused the financial sector to be in so low, corporate greed?

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Blogroll, community, Economy, Washington Heights Community | , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections: Mr. President Obama

Could this be true? America has a Black president

There is an emotional catch in my throat as I look and listen to all the commentaries and analyses, historical comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, who was spot on when he said the U.S. would have an African-American president in 40 years; and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who suggested a Black president in about 25 years, and contemporary parallels: the economic crises with Bank of America needing money to help them stay afloat; the three automotive industry giants needing money to keep more than half a million employees and subsidiary concerns, two of them forecasting being unable to stay in business come March; the second half of the promised $750 billion appropriated as a financial bailout of the finance sector: people are asking where has the first half gone, has it evaporated?There is no evidence financial institutions have resumed inter-bank lending, that businesses have been getting the advance credit they need to operate and produce, and an average 500,000 homes per month are going into foreclosure, there has been no mortgage renegotiation.

In recent days, there has been no mention of the issue of immigration. It was touching indeed to see his paternal grandmother who traveled from Kenya sharing the dais. Obama himself knew that without the strong support of the Hispanic community, who had grown to despise the Bush administration for the draconian immigration policies and renditions, the Berlin-like wall along the border between Mexico and the U.S.; that he would not have won.

Looking at television close up shots of the faces of people who had gathered on the National Mall, many men and women whose eyes welled with tears, many women their mascara running – haven’t they heard of waterproof mascara, or for many for whom the tears brim over their eye lids, like the waters of Lake Pontchartrain cresting the banks of the levees and inundating the basin below – sliding down their cheeks? Tears which hold not just the salt from their bodies, but the expectations commingled with longing, for all those who are Black in America, who struggled and endured ignominies and humiliations of every kind, yet did not live to see this day, when a Black man is president. The tears flow as many think of those Blacks who still endure slave like conditions, whose lives are inextricably bound to their white counterparts, and who dare not murmur a word or breathe a sigh of discontent or disagreement for fear of a disengagement or termination, which would reduce them to penury.

In a commentary on the eve of the Inauguration on BBC America’s Notes to Obama, national poet Maya Angelou said that she was not presenting a poem, she was presenting ruminations or reflections of what an Obama presidency means to and for her. She said that while the nation needs him, it is he who needs us more.

“We need him, the race needs him, the banks need him, and the economy needs him. He brought to us something we cannot live without, hope. He offers us the chance to have a great president, with whom we can identify, not as a Black president, but a president who would speak for the voiceless, for the poor black, poor white and for the disadvantaged Hispanic person.

I believe he needs us more than we need him. I believe that each of us has to do something more. I believe that we Americans deserve the most we can get. I will work alongside being of use and I will look for you working alongside, being of use,” she said.

During the Inauguration, when Obama took the oat of office, was there a hint of petty vindictiveness and partisanship, even subtle racism? Could it be that because Obama opposed John Roberts’ confirmation as Chief Justice, that Roberts felt to get back at Obama, to fumbled the words of the oat of office while the world looked on, as if to remind the President that he is still subject to the White establishment? Roberts’ subsequent apologies to the President, even re-administering the oat of office, have only highlighted the shadow of incompetence of the Bush administration, but which with tiny wisps and tendrils are trying to reach out to contaminate the new administration. What a mark on an historic and memorable day. Did anyone see the television close up of Obama’s expression during the fumbling? No doubt if it hadn’t been re-administered, constitutional lawyers would have had a field day on the legitimacy of the President.

As he promised, Obama has issued executive orders closing Guantanamo Bay within a year, which while keeping a campaign promise to the American people and assuaging the Islamic world, opens up other problems: reports suggest that some of the detainees would be brought at imprisoned at Levanworth prisons, which is on U.S. soil and places the detainees under the dictates of the Constitution: is there justification to holding them, how are the rules of evidence applied and exercised, what proof is there of involvement or collusion, except for some of the 250 detainees, who were held on hearsay or suspicion, and what about the Patriot’s Act? He has also ordered troops home within 16 months, and outlawed torture.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | African-American News, Black Men, Blogroll, community, Economy, Obama, Politics | 1 Comment

Reflections: Obama, a President

Interregnum: the between time

Obama, should remember only too well the Roman observation: how fickle the populace of Rome – who briefly rejoiced in the victories of Pompeii and before the last sound of praise could be heard in his honor, turned against and reviled him. If he cannot deliver on the promises, like every politician before him, he has made, he would be hounded out of office in infamy. He is a lawyer and like all of his profession, he has over the last several weeks, since the elections, when the campaigning was over and he became starkly aware that his rhetoric had now to become practical, began to cover himself with a disclaimer. Not wanting to seem as though he has stepped away from his promises of change, he has begun to temper the expectations he created in the people of what HE would do. In the later days of the interregnum, he has changed his tune, repeatedly he has cautioned that in the first 100 days of his administration, he may not be able to meet all the expectations people have of him, not that he has created in a people thirsty and desperate for a new American direction, and more importantly, being able to fulfill the promises he made to win; admitting to the possibility of making mistakes and missteps. His electoral victory was a demonstration of who could fool all of the people better; everyone saw through Sen. John McCain’s weak political strategies and rejected his posturing as a continuation of a Republican party steeped in the corrupt machinery born and developed since the Regan presidential era.

Many Black leaders, after the euphoria of the electoral victory and the prospect of a Black president in the White House had worn off, have admitted that he cannot achieve and accomplish all he promised. They recognized that they were fooled, but preferred to abandon their righteous anger of being deceived by one of their own, to celebrating the accomplishment of one of their kind; as opposed to the anger if John McCain would have won. Can anyone imagine what would have been the national reaction if McCain had won, the abject apathy of many Black people – many of whom would have said, “see I could’ve told you the White man would never allow a Black man to get higher,” “Did that Black man, Obama, think he is better than the Whites,” or the disgust and increased disrespect of the wider international community, who laughed at and mocked Americans for reelecting George Bush for a second term, what would they say should McCain have won the elections?

With the vapors of his electoral victory’s honeymoon quickly dissipating under the heat and starkness of the light of people looking for satisfaction, Obama has acknowledged that closing Guantanamo Bay may not be as immediate as he first thought, it would take the better part of the year. Why, this new administration has to find a way to either bring the inmates to a fair trial – grounds which so far are dubious – or to export them to other countries, many of whom the outgoing administration was looking for help, and as recent reports revealed, many stalled on committing to the Bush administration, but have now agreed to accept prisoners; he won’t be able to bring the troops home from Iraq as soon as he had originally planned, because now the Iraqi government has locked the Americans in a contract binding their presence up into 2011, yet some battalions may be withdrawn; there is doubt in Congress, where once he felt he was confident in bipartisan support, about passing his proposed $850 billion economic stimulus package, which has raised fears of at least a $2 trillion budget deficit, which would be visited on the next two generations; but held true to his word he would make torture illegal for the armed services.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | African-American News, Black Men, Blogroll, community, Obama, Politics | Leave a comment