Frank Relationships: Thomas Glave on Homosexuality in Jamaica

Monday, Dec. 30th 2013 11:48 PM

 

Equal rights and justice for all Jamaicans is what our guest advocates for. Stay tuned as we speak with the, author and co-founder of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays … on this edition of Frank Relationships.


FRANK RELATIONSHIPS: THOMAS GLAVE ON HOMOSEXUALITY IN JAMAICA
Guests: Thomas Glave
Date: December 30, 2013

Frank: Equal rights and justice for all Jamaicans is what our guest advocates for. Stay tuned as we speak with the, author and the co-founder of the Jamaica forum for lesbians, all-sexuals, and gays, on this edition of Frank Relationships.

Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com. You can also download the podcast of this and other archive shows on iTunes or with your favorite podcast app.

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Today’s guest has been admired for his unique style and exploration of taboo and politically volatile topics. He’s an award winning author and he has a new collection called, Among the Blood People. It contains all the power and daring of his earlier writings, but ventures even further into the political and personal and the secret.

His book is a collection of essays that reveals a passionate commitment to social justice and human truth, particularly that of lesbians and gays. Our guest is Mr. Thomas Glave. Welcome to the show.

Thomas: Thank you very much, Frank. Thank you.

Frank: Well, I want to kick it off with what I consider a powerful and possibly revealing to some of our audience questions, but you can be killed in Jamaica, if you’re gay. Is that correct?

Thomas: Yes, and I should point out in the beginning too, that of course in the United States these things can happen and they do happen as well. But the situation in Jamaica is particularly complicated and volatile, because of the social attitudes, primarily and those for the force of Christian churches that don’t help the kind of discussion that needs to happen to avoid this kind of violence in the future, you see? The same as in the U.S., just a little more intense.

Frank: What’s a Christian search?

Thomas: A Christian church–

Frank: Christian church. Okay, got you.

Thomas: Yep,

Frank: And what’s the message that the “Christian church” in Jamaica is delivering?

Thomas: Well, there are many different denominations in the church as there are in the U.S., once again. But essentially the messages are that homosexuality is wrong, evil; that it’s connected with pedophilia or molestation of children and that people who are lesbian or gay are generally perverted and not to be consorted with and socialized with and so on. Those attitudes of course in the context of Jamaica come out of the British Colonial history we have, which is a little different than a case for people in the United States, given the history altogether.

It’s kind of different context. So we’re still dealing with not only the British colonial laws that outlaw homosexuality. These are laws from the 18th Century doing the slave error when these laws were actually put into force, but also the legacy of colonialism through Christian churches and the attitudes that these voices-social voices, very powerful in Jamaica- still levy upon the population.

Frank: But the U.S. has a similar history in terms of British colonization.

Thomas: Yeah.

Frank: Why is it different?

Thomas: I think because also in the U.S. they’re competing if you will, if you want to use that word, competing religions for one thing. That’s one of my theories, because for example there are many people who are not Christians in the United States. I mean, Jamaica is the largely a Christian country right, but there are people from all over-from different religions in the United States and there’s been a very active kind of sequence of movements in the United States to recognize and acknowledge difference.

Whether it’s the women’s movement, or the Civil Rights Movement, which in many ways is of course, clearly cannot have been the kind of Christian context, but there was a bit of room at times in that struggle for the acknowledgement of people’s difference, social difference, racial difference, etc, and then of course the gay and lesbian Movement in the Unite States, which was very powerful. And the connection to Britain is very different, I think, because the British levied-Jamaica, for example, only got independence from the British in 1962. That’s more than 200 years after the U.S., right?

Frank: Yeah. What about Rastafarianism? Is there a connection that you are aware of? Is there a disdain? Do Rasta’s have a similar disdain, is what you’re saying for, Christians?

Thomas: Oh, I think the Rastafarian are probably much more conservative on this topic, on the topic of homosexuality than anyone. Rastafarianism as you know is a kind of, what we call, a synchronized religion. It has African elements. West African elements and in many ways is a response to colonialism. And in many ways also, it’s a response to the negative attitudes about the black body and black beauty and black attractiveness, but at the same time Rastafarianism is a deeply conservative religion and also has elements of Christian fundamentalism in it. There are ways in which Rastafarians in Jamaica-although in some ways they’re actually really very powerful as representatives of rebellion against colonialism and the subjugation of the black body, at the same time there are also very conservatives of their outlook on homosexuality. And I would say even at times, harshly critical. They have been very much so in the past.

It’s a very difficult kind of equation, because you have people on the one hand who are representing something very forceful and powerful which is a response to colonialism and how we’ve been put down in the past by all these negative forces, but at the same time, there’s this kind of abiding homophobia. It’s complicated.

Frank: Years ago, the song may be 20 years old now, I’m not sure, but years ago, Buju-Buju Banton, did a song called, well the, Bye Bye?

Thomas: Boom Bye Bye. Yeah. Uh-huh.

Frank: And so what do you say about that? What’s your commentary? What was the effect in Jamaica? What was the response in the U.S. and I certainly can chime into some degree on what the response was in the U.S. saying that I’m here-

Thomas: Yeah.

Frank: But weigh-in, please.

Thomas: Well, that song, Boom Bye Bye, actually came out in the 1980’s. I think it might have come out even in the 1982, but it definitely was a 1980’s song. And one of the tragedies about that song, I think, is that Buju was and is-although now he is incarcerated, but he was a very talented musician and a very talented singer. That song had a very captivating beat and appeal to a lot of people, partly because of the instrumentation and the structure of the song and the sound of the song. So it was a very danceable kind of tune.

But at the same time it absolutely put forth a clear hatred, a clear despising of gay and lesbian people and it kind of became an anthem for that very sort of sentiment. And it expressed, I think, really and truly the way a lot of Jamaicans, at the time, felt about gay and lesbian people. That song, in some ways did a lot of harm, but at the same time because of its extreme lyrics, it brought a lot of attention to the issue in Jamaica of homophobia and the ways in which we were looked at in Jamaica by the population at large. And that song served as kind of a lightning rod for some activists in Jamaica and elsewhere to start looking at how the attitudes in Jamaica were shaped around the issue of homosexuality.

Frank: How would you say the landscape has changed from 1980 to 2013?

Thomas: Oh, it’s changed quite a bit actually. I mean, I know having helped and found an organization-I’m one of the founders, I should stress of that organization, J-Flag, which is the Jamaica forum for lesbians, all-sexuals and gays. There are other people still living in Jamaica who are working with the organization.

It actually just celebrated its 15th year. This month is its 15th year of existence. 1998 is when we began. And 20 years before J-Flag began, there was an organization called, “The Gay Freedom Movement,” (GFM) that lasted a few years and was very successful.

What was interesting is that-

Frank: Why only a few years? Were they killed?

Thomas: No. No, people began to-some people died of HIV. HIV began to be a problem, of course, in the 1980’s. And then, the organization was a fairly small one. The Gay Freedom Movement, that is, in 1978 was a fairly small organization and it’s a lot of work to be an activist and to be a dedicated activist and to keep doing this work. It’s not romantic, although people think it is, and it’s not necessarily sexy either, although people think that it is.

It’s very hard work and you have to really have the stamina and the discipline to do it and keep doing it and keep doing it. Often in the face of a lot of opposition and that’s been the situation in Jamaica. It’s been the situation in many places.

They have their challenges, but they did a great deal of work at the same time-that early organization. And they founded, they formed a publication called the Jamaica Gaily News, which was a take-off on the Jamaica Daily News, which was a conservative paper at the time.

Frank: I’m sure they were pleased at that.

Thomas: It was excellent, actually. The Jamaica Gaily News was brilliant, because it reached out-they had a column in which people wrote articles about issues of homosexuality in Jamaica. And many people throughout out Jamaica, especially some of the younger people at the time, came across this publication-this was well before the internet, well before email and social media-and they wrote in letters to this newspaper, to this publication and it helped to foster a since of community.

J-Flag, when we began, we found it was very interesting to see that many of the headlines that responded to us, once we revealed ourselves to the public, were very similar to those that we’d seen in the 1978, the 80’s, organization. Very similar indeed-the same sorts of sentiments. But the discourse really changed the dialogue changed, the public dialogue, because we kept at the public. There were people in J-Flag, who went on the radio and spoke anonymously. Even that’s changed now, people are speaking more openly.

In fact, just this past couple of weeks ago, the present executive director of J-Flag made his face and his name public in Jamaica and on the front page of the Daily Gleaner, which is the paper of record in Jamaica. That would have been unthinkable, I think, 15 years ago. So things have really changed. People are actually saying “gay” now and not just using profanities for homosexuality. Or also we’ve gotten away from the silence that used to surround homosexuality.

I just did a reading from this book in Jamaica about a week ago, when I was there and that was fine, people came. I’m not saying that it’s without risk, obviously, to be gay there, but I think that the landscape has definitely changed. I know that a lot of that change has come about from the work that activists have done over the years, really keeping at it.

Frank: This may seem like an absurd question, but I feel like it’s appropriate to ask. Are you gay?

Thomas: Oh, yes. Yes of course. Yeah.

Frank: Okay. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing. Who are you? Where did you come from? What’s your story?

Thomas: Well, my story indeed, yes. I was born in the Bronx to Jamaican parents and I grew up in the Bronx and in Jamaica, so I’m bi-national in that sense. I have Jamaican citizenship and Jamaica remains very important to me. I go there all the time, partly to keep doing the work that I want to do as a writer, because the Jamaican language and culture obviously factor very much into what I do and partly because I want to keep abreast, really, of all the changes in the language and the political landscape.

Jamaica’s a very dynamic, very kind of quixotic kind of place where change occurs quite quickly often and in some ways; certainly in the language. So, that’s very important to me. In fact, I’m going there tomorrow actually. For about the Christmas holidays, but that aside, that’s my background. I’m a university professor and this is my fifth book now that’s come out. And all of my books are concerned with the Caribbean in one way or another.

But I did a book in 2008 called, Our Caribbean, a Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles, which is a anthology. It’s 37 writers from the Antillean region, different fortune, different countries and territories, talking about gay and lesbian issues through fiction and poetry and memoir and other kinds of recountings. And that book did very well. And I read from that book in Jamaica. Every book that I’ve done actually of all the five books I’ve read from in Jamaica at some point or another.

Frank: I want to hear about the other four books.

Thomas: Okay, the first book is a book of fiction. It’s called, Whose Song and Other Stories. That came out in 2000. Then, the next book was-

Frank: Tell me about the fiction.

Thomas: What can I tell you?

Frank: What’s it about?

Thomas: I don’t really know how to encapsulate what my books are about except to say that they explore the lives of characters who are diverse people and I’m merely interested in getting at the interior life of black men in particular, I think, and looking at how black men, different characters I’ve conjured, I suppose, and come up with-think about themselves and the world in which they live.

One of the things that I’ve always thought in the very beginning when I was a reader-which I still am, I read a great deal obviously, being a writer, but I think that we don’t get to see the interior lives of black men very much and actually what that whole imaginative inside life is about. No one’s really interested in looking at that. I think it’s not very profitable to look at it, and so instead we see a lot of the exterior stuff, the things that people think are going to sell and are interesting. But that doesn’t really interest me.

Exploration of those terrains was very much present in that first book, Whose Song. And then the next book was, my first book of essays which was titled, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent and that book won Lambda Literary Award actually, which was nice, very nice indeed, because many of the essays in that book I think, linked directly to what is the content of this book, Among the Blood People. And in fact, I can see a connection between each of the book thematically as time goes on.

And then the next book was The Torturer’s Wife, which was a little different than Whose Song. This is also a book of fiction. It came out in 2008 and a bit more geopolitical. Looking at, for example, the title story looked at a woman who is married to a professional executive torturer and what her-

Frank: Wow.

Thomas: Life is like.

Frank: A professional executive torturer?

Thomas: Yeah, like someone who worked in a dictatorship for example whose job is to oversee torture. And what I found very interesting about exploring that topic was that torture is, of course, if it’s going to be done well it has to be done professionally and very precisely. It can’t be done in a haphazard fashion, because you’re trying to get specific scientific results out of a human body.

Frank: Wow.

Thomas: That is to say like, for example, if you’re pulling out someone’s fingernails with wrenches or if you’re sewing someone’s eye lids shout, which are various forms of torture that had been used in the 20th century, you have to do that in such a way that you don’t kill the person, but you bring them to the point of absolute despair and you break their spirit and then you do it again and again and again if need be. So, just doing some of the research for that book and some of the stuff I was writing about was really fascinating.

And I’ve been fascinated in torture for a long time for lots of reasons. It’s something that is so much-I think it’s very much in the history in the lives of black people in the United States, right, if you think about slavery and the aftermath of the Klu Klux Klan and everything. I think if you see the film that’s out now, 12 years a Slave, which I just recently saw and I thought was brilliant, you see how torture is very much a part of that slavery regime. So, it never really goes too far away from us and the more we have technology to enable kinds of torture, the more torture can be efficient, which is always important for tortures success.

That was my third book, The Torturer’s Wife. And the fourth book was the anthology Our Caribbean, which took me about five and a half years to do, because it was the largest book and involved speaking with a lot of people and really actually doing it very much by foot. Just walking around to people I knew and asking if they had anything to write about that I could use in this book, as a seedling of an idea and then going on from there, because it was a book-all of these books and I think the anthology in particular, but all of them have been books that I really wanted to read and really wanted to see and I felt somehow they didn’t exist, so that if I were going to read them, I would have to make them myself. You see?

And then this most recent book, Among the Blood People, is as you know, a collection of essays, dealing with the Caribbean and Jamaica, but also dealing with my time in England. I spent time at Cambridge University last year as a visiting fellow there.

Frank: You get around.

Thomas: I suppose you could say that. And so, there were things that I was really fascinated by being in England and being in Cambridge. I’d been in the UK quite a bit. I’m going back next year, actually for a full year. Again, but although not to Cambridge this time, but being in the UK last year and at Cambridge in particular was really interesting and actually fascinating in terms of what I had been thinking about for a while in terms of my own connections as a person of Jamaican background to British Colonialism and the British Empire.

And one of the things I think is really interesting about these kinds of investigations is that, you see looking at them how people’s histories are completely different, like that we might all be of African descent. Or we might say, let’s say, there are black people in the United States and there are black people in obviously *(inaudible) 20:21 and there are black people in Jamaica and so on, but we have very different cultural experiences obviously. But one of the things that I think is constantly challenging and fascinating for me is to look at how British colonialism impacts upon my life and my imagination in a way that it doesn’t impact upon the lives of African Americans, who have an entirely different existence in that sense.

Yeah, so it’s really interesting to think about these things. Last year was very productive. And that was, in fact, when I sold, Among the Blood People and then it was published this July, 2013. Sorry, actually Among the Blood People was sold in the spring of this year, so it came out actually quite quickly. Is that right? Can that be right? I think so. I’ve since forgotten the chronology. Anyway–

Frank: Who or what are “blood people?”

Thomas: In the context of Jamaica and the British Caribbean, blood people, it means many things to me. We say in Jamaica, “You’re my blood,” which means that “you’re my family,” which other people-I think African Americans say that as well. That’s one meaning of blood people. You’re my blood, right? The blood people. But I think blood people can also be extended to think about lesbian and gay people being a part of one’s community as blood people by extension, by metaphor. Bt I think the blood people can also be used to think about our history in terms of the violence that our history has taken us through and how blood is a kind of common factor throughout that.

To me, when I think about slavery and black people in the West who weren’t enslaved in the slave trade, the one thing that I think really unites the slave traders and the slave owners and the people who were slaves-the black people, is blood. Both in terms of the blood that was actually shed and all the catastrophic number of deaths that were the result of the slave trade, and also the blood that is commingled, the blood that is actually shared between those people, because of miscegenation that occurred both my way of rape and other sexual contexts in the history of slavery.

So, that blood people becomes a very kind of complex metaphor, I think, in some ways for the history of black people in the West and in terms of violence and also intimacy and personal history.

Frank: You’ve mentioned that this book, Among the Blood People, is a compilation of essays. Is there one or more that has attracted a significant amount of attention more than others?

Thomas: I think, because they’ve banned such a variety of topics, I think that different readers find obviously, different attractions in them. I think that one of the essays that probably-certainly to me has struck me with some force is the one’s that’s titled, The Blood People and the Language. That’s an essay that appears in the Caribbean and Jamaica section of the book and that essay is probably one of the most personal things I’ve ever written, and for that reason, it is actually a meditation on one of the reasons that I find myself in Jamaica so much and why I feel I need to be there.

Having to do very much with hearing the language of my parents and my grandparents in the daily conversational language of Jamaicans and our patois, our Creole, whatever we want to call that language that is not English.

Frank: Do you speak it?

Thomas: Yes.

Frank: Alright.

Thomas: And we have that language that reminds me of that past. But also because of some very accurate genealogy done in my family, we were able to trace-this is another reason why I have this kind of very focused sort of memory journey, concentration, whatever I want to call it, on the UK and Colonialism as it impacts upon my family and my history. We have a very accurate genealogy that tells us where some of my family came from, where some of the-and the patrilineal side, my father’s side, the Glave side, going back about 240 years to England.

In fact, I saw the grave of my great-great grandfather in Jamaica, Steven Sharp Glave and wrote about that. He was a white man who came from Yorkshire in the 19th Century. He came to Jamaica after the slave trade had officially been abolished. The British, of course, abolished the slave trade officially in 1807, but slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834. So, about 31 years, roughly before the U.S. and the Civil War, etc and the Emancipation Proclamation.

But Steven Sharp Glave came to Jamaica so in the post-Slavery Era and linked up with a woman-we’re not sure if it was actually a marriage. We don’t actually know that, but linked up with this woman who is brown- and, I’ll explain that in a moment-and then had children with her. But he also made a stipulation in his will, which we do have a copy of, that stated that any of his children who married a black person would be disinherited. And he did make good on that threat and he disinherited one woman who’ve been my great grandmother, whose name was Maria. And of course, in that time in the mid-19th century-Steven died in 1873 I think it was. Up until now the definition of black verses brown in Jamaica means, people who are brown, like medium brown-skinned, people who are black, are very dark-skinned. This definition isn’t used in the U.S. with black people-

Frank: Right.

Thomas: But it’s used in the Caribbean. And so, a person of my color would be considered brown, but actually of course, in the U.S., I’d be considered black politically and racially. Just seeing that will and seeing his grave stone and thinking about the connections back to England and thinking about the fact that’s I’ve seen my parents, British colonial passports, stamped by the Governor General and approved by the King of England. It was King George the 5th, George the 6th at the time, and thinking about the direct connection to all of this is really something. It brings history right home to your doorstep, that these things really happened.

And as if that weren’t enough, some of the things I think inspired that essay perhaps, when I went to the church in central Jamaica where Steven is buried and where he was a warden in the 19th Century and you walk on this road to get to the church. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and it’s a de-concentrated church, so it’s not actually operative right now.

It’s a big skeleton of a building. You go to this church and you walk on this road, where you could walk for half a mile or longer if you like. The road is flanked by stone walls on either side. The walls are maybe about two and a half to three feet high. All these stones pile on top of one another. Well, those walls were made by slaves.

Frank: You have actually had a significant impact with Parliament too, haven’t you, as it pertains to gays and lesbians in Jamaica?

Thomas: I wouldn’t say that I have. No, no, not I. I did write a letter to the Prime Minister and challenged him. I did challenge the Prime Minister at the time publicly in 2008-Bruce Golding. I did criticize him for his attitudes on homosexuality, yes, but I don’t think-

Frank: And they were what? What were his attitudes?

Thomas: He had recently made a statement to the BBC. This is, again, in 2008 and this is the Prime Minister at the time, Bruce Golding, who since has been succeeded by Portia Simpson-Miller, the first woman Prime Minister. But I said that he had said that homosexuals would never have any place in his cabinets in Jamaica, which was a ridiculous statement to make, first of all, because there are already so many people-I mean, we have you say in Jamaica, veranda talk. You know, gossip about who’s gay and who’s not, but there are many open secrets about people’s sexuality and many of the people served in the Government in Jamaica in high positions have had some, shall we say, association with people of the same gender.

Frank: Association? Okay.

Thomas: Yeah, I’m being euphemistic, but I think you get the point.

Frank: Right.

Thomas: So, that was already a ridiculous thing for him to say. As the Prime Minister of Jamaica, he shouldn’t have said that anyway, because he’s saying something that’s actually inhumane and is a violation of human rights. And Jamaica is a signatory to the Declaration of Human Rights; a charter that back since the 1940’s. And it was an ill-considered comment.

When he made this remark on the BBC, I was really morally outraged by it and felt that I really had to challenge it in Jamaica. In fact, I was reading at a festival-the Calabash Literary Festival in Central Jamaica, I was actually opening the festival, that was June of 2008 and I was about to read from the anthology, which I barely come out, 10 minutes before, just barely been published and I felt I couldn’t be in Jamaica reading from that book and not say something about what the Prime Minister had said.

I did indeed write a short paragraph criticizing him on this statement and then the and sent it to the newspapers which didn’t print it, for whatever reasons. I don’t know why they didn’t print it, but it wasn’t printed. They had printed other things that I’ve written before, that had been critical of Jamaica, so I don’t know why that wasn’t printed. But in any event, I then said, “Okay well, what’s the next step,” and so on and I decided to put the paragraph into this essay that became a part of the book, dealing with the Prime Minister’s situation. But as far as Parliament and your question about my involvement with Parliament, no; J-Flag has been involved with Parliament-

Frank: Got you.

Thomas: In Jamica and they have actually partitioned Parliament to change the Buggery Law as it’s called and-

Frank: Buggery Law?

Thomas: Yeah, the Buggery Law is a British term for sodomy-buggery.

Frank: Okay.

Thomas: And it criminalizes anal sex between men particularly and it also criticizes-it makes taboo, the whole set of male-male connection. That’s what J-Flag seeks to change in the Parliamentary context.

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You’re listening to Frank Relationships, we’re talking with Thomas Glave, author of Among the Blood People, a beautiful evocative collection of essays. Thomas has a profound compassion for racial and sexual minorities, the oppressed and the colonized. Mr. Glave, please tell us how we can find you and your books.

Thomas: Sure, I don’t have a website at this time. I’m actually working on reconstituting that, so in time that will happen of course. But all of my books are available online. They’re available at amazon.com and other booksellers online. And to get this book, you can go right to the publisher’s website: akashicbooks.com. One word and purchase the book there.

Frank: If a Jamaican or if a non-Jamaican wanted to do something to change the laws or just the social atmosphere in Jamaica as it pertain to lesbian and gay issues, how would you suggest they go about doing so?

Thomas: The first thing I would recommend is to support J-Flag financially, because that would really help. After all, Jamaica is a developing country and there’s a very serious problem of inflation in the country right now with the Jamaican dollar being very devalued against the U.S. dollar. It’s roughly 100 Jamaican dollars to one U.S. dollar right now. And Jamaica’s an expensive country as well.

The organization always welcomes support by way of things like, paper, supplies for an office, but also financial support. And a small donations made to the organization is always appreciated and that can be done via their website: jflag.org.

Frank: That’s j-f-l-a-g.org?

Thomas: Yes, exactly.

Frank: What about the international community, just generally speaking? Do you feel like there’s pressure from outside of Jamaica, whether it be from other governments or other people? Do you feel like there’s enough of pressure on Jamaica, the government or even the people to change their attitudes?

Thomas: I don’t think that’s going to necessarily do much good, because unless it is directed by the people who are actually doing the activism work in Jamaica themselves. In other words, J-Flag and the other LGBT organizations that have since emerged in recent years in Jamaica on the ground, people who are living there and doing the work, if they direct these efforts I think that’s a good thing. But for international people to come in and try to dictate things themselves that’s obviously not good and it’s not desirable. I think the international community-which people in the international community made this mistake before, particularly with so-called Third World countries and-

Frank: When they did what?

Thomas: When they have trumpeted and gone into places that they feel were perhaps backward or perhaps just ignorance and so on and so forth, as the so-called Third World is often regarded by the north and by the so-called First World. And they’ve taken on their own initiative to tell people in these countries such as, for example, Uganda is current case, how to behave and how to operate.

When in fact, I find that some of the British and the American activists who have gone on to do these things, should actually look at their own instances of racism and homophobia in their own countries and think about-It’s not a bad thing that people wish to help, obviously that’s always very welcomed, but I think that they must listen to the people who are actually there in those countries, whether it’s Trinidad. Listen to the people in Trinidad first or Guyana.

Trinidad and Guyana both have very active LGBT movements, but they must be led by the people living in those countries and people who want to help should first and foremost ask them. And the reason I’m stressing this so much is, because some years ago there was a question of a boycott in Jamaica of tourism etc. and some people wrote to me about this, and I said, “I think that you should first and foremost take your ideas to J-Flag and let them tell you what they want to do, rather than you deciding what you wish to do, because you feel that you know best.” This is another form of colonialism that keeps coming up and I think and it comes up by way of individuals. It’s important to think about that.

Frank: Good point, interesting perspective. What are your thoughts on the legalization of marriage amongst the gay and lesbian population in the U.S.?

Thomas: I think that’s a very important and useful gain. I think it’s a very important issue. I consider myself to be a political leftist and to some degree, really a radical leftist. And I think that while I’m really happy about LGBT marriage, gay marriage, I think it’s important, there are many other issues that affect gay people in the United States, let’s say right now, which are not being addressed.

Amongst these issues are those which affect the poor, so poor gay and lesbian people who become very invisible. And I’m talking about things like immigrations, proper and safe housing; access to healthcare, access to education for everyone, really and truly, safe clean drinking water, all kinds of things; the possibility of living in a community not diseased by the police. What happened to Trayvon Martin that affected so many people emotionally, myself included. Also impacts upon the lives of gays and lesbian people who also suffer occasionally police brutality. But again, many of these poor people are not looked at.

In many ways the marriage issue is very much a middle class issue. And I’m not saying that I don’t consider it important, I’m saying very much the opposite. But I just think that we must keep in mind these other concerns as well that aren’t rarely discussed in this present and historical moment in the United States as much as marriage is discussed.

Marriage generates capital, obviously, so obviously it’s important for that sense, for those people order all kinds of things for their marriage and marriage is recognized and so on and so. All that is useful for the economy as well, but again, and talking about real justice for all human beings, we have to look at the people who are most vulnerable. And often, if not always, the people who are the most vulnerable in any country are the poorest people.

Frank: You had-

Thomas: There are gay and lesbian people living in projects.

Frank: Yeah.

Thomas: I want to add that. There are gay and lesbian people living in trailer parks. There are gay and lesbian people who are affected by Hurricane Katrina and certainly people like those. There are gay and lesbian people who are affected by NAFTA and all the terrible backward ignorant attitudes in Arizona right now by immigration. There are gay and lesbian people affected who are working in food tortures and food farms in California and South Florida who are doing migrant work who are affected by all these issues as well.

What I just get is kind of concerned when there’s a division made between the people who are doing that kind of work, let’s say Mexicans and then gays and lesbians, as if somehow there can’t be people in both groups who are overlapping. You know what I mean?

Frank: Yeah, and if they are overlapping is there, is there possibly a lack of need for organization like J-Flag, because people fall into some other category, where they may be active or-

Thomas: There’s absolutely-no, no, J-Flag is absolutely necessary.

Frank: Okay.

Thomas: I think, yeah. Absolutely necessary, because what else really is there? It’s not as if we have ten thousand million billion gay and lesbian organizations in Jamaica.

Frank: In another interview you said that the U.S. despises blacks and gays. Please weigh-in on that. Go deeper.

Thomas: I think that’s very obvious. We can talk about the fact that there’s a black family in the White House and so on and we have come a long way. I think that basically if you just look at the U.S. operations on a daily basis in terms of how the US operates as an empire around the world and how it destroys-goes into people’s countries and invades them. We pay taxes to support all of this, of course, as U.S. citizens. But it goes into people’s countries and invades these countries all the time. Many of these countries are countries of people of color, whether it’s Vietnam or whether it’s Angola or whether it’s Iraq, you name it. Nicaragua. You name it, but all of these-

Frank: Are you saying that the U.S. is its own form of colonizer?

Thomas: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, yes. We call it neocolonialism now, but yeah, there’s no question about that and it happens in so many different ways. Whether it happens by actual direct bombing or military occupation or whether it happens by bringing in all kinds of corporate entities like, Citibank and AT&T and Verizon, all these companies and so on.

But yeah, just in that sense alone, I think you can see how, if you look at the demographics of the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army happens to be the most integrated institution of any U.S. institution, any American institution is the U.S. Army and that’s because you have a lot of black people and working class people, I’m including white people, working side by side. But when it’s time to go off to war, many of those people who are going off to war to fight and be killed are poor and working class people. Many of those people are also black people.

You look at the rate of incarceration in the United States, my God, that in itself tells you who’s behind bars mostly, is black men, and which are a minority of the population if you think about the population of black men in the U.S. I don’t know the actual statistic numbers of black men in the actual full population of the United States verses white men.

Let’s say that the African American population is roughly, let’s say between 12 and 14 percent and the numbers of black men incarcerated are way above that percentage. I’ve told my students at the State University of New York recently when I taught in a prison at one point a couple of years ago, in one evening I taught more black men in this maximum security prison than I taught in something like 10 years at the State of University of New York in Binghamton.

Frank: Wow.

Thomas: And that was really something. That was very-it was devastating and also really moving and very powerful. But I think I could go on about that, but we ought to know that that’s certainly a reality in terms of incarceration in the United States.

That’s a form of actually-that really is a form of modern day slavery. Obviously, those people can’t vote, they have no real rights as citizens and they are forced to do labor in prison for very little recompence, if any. You have a kind of captive population that you can force to do all this kind of work.

And then, I think just instead of looking at the U.S. history to the very present day, you see all these constant assaults against black people, particularly in so many different ways, big ways and small ways. And I think the Trayvon Martin case is only one recent example of the insanity that is white supremacy that just keeps on going and going and going. What happened to Trayvon Martin is one thing, but the verdict is something else altogether too and that’s part of the parcel. Think about all of that.

Frank: Have you received any backlash from your activism in the U.S. or in Jamaica?

Thomas: I don’t think, not really. I mean, I don’t know if that many people know about what I’m doing, because that could make for a backlash. No, not necessarily. Not to say that there couldn’t be something that might happen, but no, not so far. And I just wanted to just add though to fully answer your question though-the last question.

I spoke about black people being subjugated and affected by racism and bigotry in the U.S. and that goes on. How the U.S. hates black people. I think that’s still true. But also with gays and lesbians, it’s a little more subtle but in some ways it’s really not, because until we have, I think, real visibility on all levels, I think one of the places that’s probably is actually a kind of popular culture example, but until you really see gays and lesbians portrayed in the exact same ways that you see heterosexuals portrayed in films-and when I say that, because films are very important to the U.S. imagination. Many Americans take a lot of their cultural values from movies.

What do you see in movies? You see often people of the same class and the same race often white in romantic relationships and you rarely see interracial couples, you rarely see-you don’t see black couples very much and when you do see them they’re more often than not, middle class people, but you rarely see homosexuals in those romantic couplings and doing the same sorts of things, the kissing, the cuddling, the sex that you see with the heterosexuals. So, until you see that, until we actually start seeing some more of like, equal representation, I think that will then really show me-then I’ll believe that there’s equality.

Tony Morrison said something very interesting. The writer Toni Morrison, she said that she believed that-and I would apply this to gay and lesbian stuff as well, gay and lesbian reality-she believed that racial relations had really finally changed in the United States when a black police officer shot a white man 41 times and then said, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that was a wallet in his back pocket.”

Frank: Okay. If there was any change that you would really like to see in the U.S. and Jamaica, regarding gay and lesbian politics, what would be your dream?

Thomas: Really just the full granting of human rights. I talk about gay and lesbian politics and gay and lesbian reality, but this is a human rights issue, so that it’s related to rights that ought to be given fully to women-these would be human rights-and to all people so that-gays and lesbians are sort of like the most might say, visible group right now in some ways these vis-à-vis human rights-in human rights discussions, but all people should have the right to their lives, should have the right to live a wholesome fulfilling productive life that’s not cut off at the age of nine or 10 or 15 or whatever.

But I must tell you, Frank, if you think about the profound strangeness of the bigotry against gays and lesbians, it’s really profound and disturbing, because you’re telling people not you-people who have this prejudice against gays and lesbians are saying in essence, “You do not have the right to love the way that you do.” People are actually trying to dictate and say that “the way that you love is wrong, the way that you desire is wrong.” Those are fundamental human needs, love and desire, and to tell people that they cannot love and desire in a particular way is incredibly destructive. It’s cutting at the core of human existence.

That’s what I want to see change. It’s going to take time, but I have seen change happen. Just by virtue of having done activism myself I know that-I was just saying in fact to J-Flag when I was there last week that with this 15th year anniversary of the organization that it made me realize that actually you could say against the most colossal odds, just a bunch of us got together and just really acted with faith and hope-faith and hope that we really could make social change happen and we didn’t even call it activism, we just said, “We have to do this, because it needs to be done.” Nobody was paying us. We were just doing things ourselves as best we could, using each other’s computers and borrowing someone’s car or walking, if need be, to photocopy.

I think that having been involved in activism it makes me see the change really is possible. And when I look at Nelson Mandela’s death recently, I think it has to have been for something. He has to have been in prison for something. All of that can’t have happened to Nelson Mandela and then for him to have been released and to die at the age of 90, 94, 95 and us not learn something from all of that. Certainly for myself, I feel like if I can’t get something out of all of all that that he did to make life more possible for the people on this planet while I’m here then it’s all a waste. But it wasn’t a waste it can’t be a waste.

Frank: What do you think of the conservative, the staunch conservative that says-or what would you say to that person, who says, “Yeah, you can love however you want, you can have sex with however you want, but don’t show those images to my children, because it’s destructive, it’s sick, it’s a-” gracious, what are some of the other terms?

Thomas: It’s perverted, it’s-

Frank: Yeah. Yeah.

Thomas: Degenerate, it’s all that. Well, what if their children happen to be gay? First of all, I wouldn’t waste too much time talking to somebody like that, because in the time that I waste arguing with them-and it would be a waste of time. If somebody’s determined not to really hear what you have to say, it is a waste of time talking to them, I think. I would rather be photocopying pamphlet or something like that or doing something to help someone else.

But all the same, if I had to speak to this person, I would just say, “Well, if your child is gay, think about that. If your grandfather is gay, think about that. Who are you silencing around you by your ignorant words and who are you making silent by your refusal to open your eyes and your mind?” But people have to take responsibility for their own bigotry and if they’re going to be determined that I’m not a proselytizer. It’s not my job to change people’s minds. Trying to work with social change is not the same as changing people’s minds actually. People have to change their own minds.

Frank: Interesting delineation.

Thomas: Yeah.

Frank: So, I basically, last question. What is your take away message? If you’ve got one, wrap it up, put a bow on it and send it out to the audience.

Thomas: That’s not very easy to do, of course, but briefly I would say that, I think it’s just very important-I can only speak for myself and say that I’ve learned a great deal from the activism that I was involved in, the community work, I would call it that, if that’s easier to hear for some people and to understand. I think that in making a connection between myself and other people whom I didn’t know, either by my writing or by direct community work, I really felt that I was really enriching my existence here on this planet and helping other people. And at the day’s end I really don’t know what else there is to do.

I would just offer that to people and say, “What can we do,” and think about people like Nelson Mandela, who died or Rosa Parks who died a while ago and other people and these great leaders.

We don’t have to work on that level and go to prison for 27 years or risk being beaten on a bus in the deep south, but we can do small things. People do all kinds of everyday acts of heroism. I would say lastly, the one thing, read more, read more books. I think it’s very important. There are so many amazing stories that are out here and I think we really need to read more.

I often think it’s really too bad, the U.S. is supposedly the First World of all First World countries and this is what it’s gotten us, is a big TV set. I think it would be really great if we could actually really get to read and have our kids read, because by reading you really are engaging in a compassionate activity, you’re listening to somebody else’s story and you’re actually having to react to it in private. I think that’s important, especially for young people.

Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’ve been talking with Thomas Glave, author of Among the Blood People, a beautiful evocative collection of essays. He has a profound compassion for racial and sexual minorities, the oppressed and the colonized. Mr. Glave, last time, please tell our listeners how they can find you and your book.

Thomas: Yes, the book can be found on any website that sells books from amazon.com to chapters.ca, to any number of other websites. You can Google it and you can also find it on the publisher’s website at akashicbooks.com. And you can Google me if you like. I don’t have a website yet, but I will soon, very soon.

Frank: Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed the church and homophobia, legalization of gay marriage and main stream entertaining images. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had learning and discussing Jamaica culture and gay and lesbianism and politics.

As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that’ll help you create a relationship that’s as loving and accepting as possible. Let us know what you thought of today’s show at facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter @mrfranklove or franklove.com. On behalf of my producer, Phileta Legette, my assistant producer, Anayza Stewart and my engineer, Jeff Newman, keep rising. This is Frank Love.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

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