Justice and Penal Issues · Local Issues · Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Contemplating the ‘Gay Gang’

Earlier this week in the Lovely twin-isle of Trinidad & Tobago, renowned local artist LeRoy Clarke connected the ‘prevalence’ of homosexuality to a rise in crime in the nation. He’s claiming that young people entering gangs are initiated through sodomy and respond in their lives using the gun as an extension of their own masculinity.

Now, for one obvious reason, I have issues taking that seriously. It’s another ignorant conservative conversation from folks responding subconsciously to the sexual status quo. But, at the same time, there’s one (maybe only one) intelligent quote in this from Mr. Clarke…

“We need to get in a more contemplative, a more meditative space, an understanding of problems that are facing the society and start to group them and see where those arrows lead and what will be the consequence if we don’t take an attitude…” – LeRoy Clarke

With that in mind, I’m going to contemplate what’s really wrong with this conversation in a way I think sheds more light on the real issues…

Socially Acceptable Ignorance

“We have a shopping list of ills in our society…why do we want to add [homosexuality] to it?” – Pastor Clive Dottin

Our society is still very young, only 50 years old. There’s a lot that we’re still figuring out whether we can handle. But the interesting thing is, with societies of all shapes and sizes all over the world already attempting to solve some of the problems we still face, you’d think we’d make a little better progress for our age… We’ve allowed completely conservative and incredibly dangerous voices control the narratives of crime and justice, education, youth, women’s rights and…well, LGBT rights. And it’s not even an attempt to carry our nation into the next 50 years, just a desire to return it to the 50 years before.

Now, let me tell you what I can understand – compromise. If a right-winger came up to me and said “Look, I can understand the whole LGBT rights thing, but I feel a lil weird about the idea that one of my kid’s teachers might be gay…that’s a lot for a kid to take in,” I’d probably say okay (and suppress a little eye roll). So if he followed up by suggesting something a little Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-esque, I’d pat him on the back for trying. What I am not good at understanding is ignorance. And right now, that’s where the conversation is.

LeRoy Clarke’s statements intersect at the conservative crossroads where homosexuality is unusual and crime is a serious problem. Except, in the real world, there are no such crossroads. Now, there is a lot of value in what LeRoy tried to say about crime and the effects that gang culture has on young men; a sort of hypermasculinity that involves the gun as an extension of the man. But I’m hard-pressed to believe that it’s got anything to do with some sort of militant gay gang that forces young members to be sodomized by their superiors. If you give it just 10 seconds of thought

…I’ll give you some time…

…You’ll find that the very notion of that runs counter to the idea of a hypermasculine gang culture – one that itself wants to ‘bun out de chi-chi man dem’. Whether they’re restricted from heterosexual relationships doesn’t mean they’re sodomized. Whether gangs are purely male doesn’t automatically suggest they’re sodomized. There’s just no foundation here.

But this is a statement that we empower certain opinion leaders to make regardless of evidence. It’s what the voting public want to hear. The nation’s right-wing politics is one of socially acceptable ignorance; saying things than run counter to reason and information, as a tool to maintain a group of people. It’s a form of societal growth-stunting that ensures that people don’t spend enough time analyzing issue to come to any real truth (and it’s the reason we can’t get distinctions in Literature and History in our country’s secondary school examinations). If our people try to rationalize what LeRoy Clarke is saying, we wouldn’t really be able to. Because it’s not rational.

Passing the Blame – Projected Violation

For those who may be unaware, here are a couple definitions;

homosexual (noun)
– a person who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex.

paedophile (noun)
– a person who is sexually attracted to children.

The issue with the conservative homosexuality debate is that somehow, terms get used interchangeably. A homosexual becomes a paedophile. I’ve actually heard a Pentecostal UWI student stand up in a human rights lecture to say that if LGBT Trinbagonians had their civil rights protected, ‘it would be an open field day for little boys’.

Let me clarify; gay men are attracted to men, gay women are attracted to women, paedophiles are attracted to boys and girls. Men and women give consent, boys and girls do not. LGBT persons are not asking for rights to target boys and girls who cannot consent. They want to be able to safely connect with men and women who can.

And that’s the fundamental problem with LeRoy Clarke’s argument. He proposes that older gang leaders are praying on young gang initiates. But sexual predation on youth is paedophilia. Did LeRoy say paedophilia is a focal point for crime? No. He said homosexuality is. That’s misleading.

And most Trinbagonians seem comfortable with passing the blame. Leading back to our inability to analyze the society that we’re in, we as a nation have not been able to view the LGBT community as a community within its own right. They can’t see that giving human beings the rights to live with dignity and without fear actually empowers them to better deal with those ills within their community. They can’t analyze that the majority of LGBT persons are not paedophiles, and the majority of paedophiles are actually not LGBT.

The thing about passing blame is, it means making a correlation where there is none truly possible.

What Is Manhood Anyway?

“Whatever threatens manhood, in the spiritual and Biblical perspective, will leave an erosion of values in the society.” – Pastor Clive Dottin

I always get lost at this part of the Bigotry 101 lecture. It supposes that there is a definite heteronormative manhood that is ideal for society to function. And I’m not even sure what that manhood looks like yet…

I can guess that it has something to do with aggression and shows of strength. We accept societally that it requires sexual prowess and frequency. But outside of that…what is a man anyway? Is he a leader? An elder? Is he called or conditioned to be wise? Is he expected to defend a community and its people from all harms? No, he’s not called to do any of those things by our societal standards. He’s expected to have lots of sex and look big, fight off other men and even other women to an extent.

Now, I can’t argue with the Biblical perspective of manhood. In fact, to some major degree I agree with it. But at the same time, does that apply to a diverse racial and religious space such as Trinidad & Tobago? Do they all see the roles of the man, and its treatment of other genders, orientations and communities the same way? No. In fact, they don’t color most of the conversations about masculinity that men in T&T have anyway.

So are we completely convinced of how our masculinity as threatened and how to respond to it? I think you can guess the answer to that. I do concede, though, that our men are in danger. In fact, they’ve been attacked for decades now…by our uninformed and superficial ideas of manhood that do not create valuable male contributors but rather people trained to perform sex and machismo.

So, to conclude, I think I want to share just two quotes. One is from me, about LeRoy likening the community to a community of rapists;

“I don’t know what rape is where you’re from.
Down here,
It’s when the muscles of a mouth can’t push back against some wrong-intentioned warrior’s willpower…”

The other is a comment from my brother, when he heard LeRoy Clarke’s comments on the television this morning;

“At what point do you tell an elder he’s on sh*t?” – Brandon O’Brien


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