Gays in Jamaica

The Gay Freedom Movement in Jamaica (GFM) was formed in 1974 as the first movement in the English Speaking Caribbean to seek rights for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) people

It focused on consciousness-raising within the LGBT community and professional organizations; issued a newsletter - the Jamaica Gaily News (JGN); and ran a Gay Youth Program, Prison Outreach Program and a free STD clinic.General Secretary, Larry Chang, who was also publisher and editor of JGN, was the first Jamaican to come out publicly, being interviewed on radio and the then JBC-TV and through his letters to the press.

These archives consist of the papers which relate to the work of the GFM which Mr Chang kept in his possession until he left Jamaica in 2000. The documents were kept by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (JFLAG).

The digitization of this archive was made possible through a City University of New York Diversity Grant. Special thanks to Stephanie Harvey, who organized and digitized the archive, and to Marianne LaBatto and the entire Brooklyn College Division of Archives & Special Collections, which facilitated that process.

This material is contributed to the Digital Library of the Caribbean by the Caribbean IRN, a network that connects activists, scholars, artists and other individuals and organizations who do research and work on issues related to diverse genders and sexualities in the Caribbean.  .

 

In 2020, Matthew Chin donated his scanned images of Jamaica Gaily News and some other items. His articles about the Gay Freedom Movement of Jamacia are :-

  1. Tracing “gay liberation” through post-independence Jamaica. Public Culture, 31 (2): 323-342.
  2. Constructing “Gaydren”: The Transnational Politics of Same-Sex Desire in 1970s and 1980s Jamaica. Small Axe 1 July 2019; 23 (2 (2)): 17–33. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-7703253

The collection is in the process of being uploaded and all 81 Issues should be finished by end of September 2020

 

Jamaica Gaily News Collection (1977-1984)

by Matthew Chin

August 2020

Background

The Jamaica Gaily News (JGN) was the publication of the anglophone Caribbean’s first gay activist organization, the Gay Freedom Movement (GFM) based in Jamaica. GFM grew out a community meeting on September 8, 1977 to address violence among patrons at the gay club The Closet in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston. GFM quickly came to be a grassroots initiative seeking to provide support and community building among gay women and men while also tackling the homophobic conditions of Jamaican society. Alongside producing JGN, GFM undertook a wide range of activities including a sexual health clinic, a speaker’s bureau, a youth program, and a prisoner support initiative. JGN started off as ad hoc venture whose participants did not originally envision a sustained initiative. Indeed, JGN was initially called Toilet Paper to suggest that readers only read it once. Toilet Paper was renamed to Jamaica Gaily News in a nod to the Jamaican newspaper in circulation at the time, the Jamaica Daily News. Both GFM and JGN came to an end in the throes of the island’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Larry Chang was GFM’s General Secretary and the Editor of JGN. During its existence, GFM produced 81 JGN issues between 1977-1984, in its heyday generating 250 copies of each issue every two weeks. Members of JGN production team would type up the 8-12-page issue on a typewriter and painstakingly copy it using a mimeograph machine. GFM relied on monetary and in-kind donations to keep JGN in production which meant that, during the island’s economic hardships under the leadership of Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley, there were significant gaps between issues. In addition to Chang’s editorials and the contribution of a handful of regular JGN columnists, the newsletter also printed entries submitted by JGN readers. The newsletter included a variety of written forms including essays, short stories, letters, poetry, and community and international reporting on gay related events. Starting in its fifteenth issue, JGN also began offering an anonymous pen pal service.

The Editorial Policy of the JGN stated that the Aims of JGN were to :

  • to keep members of the community informed of events of interest tome eg. instances of oppression and liberation, changs affecting the community, etc.

  • to provide a reflection of the Jamaican gay community for the international community and the straight community

  • to provide a forum for gay literature and points of view

  • to stimulate the thoughts and widen the points of view of members of the community, through international news, opinion columns, features on topics of interest, stories behind the news, etc

JGN’s circulation was extensive, reaching across Jamaica and beyond the island’s shores. The pen pal entries that JGN published suggest that far from being confined to the island’s major cities, the newsletter also circulated throughout the island’s rural areas. Though initially distributed for free by GFM members and at Kingston’s underground gay clubs, JGN soon began offering yearly subscriptions for a fee that it delivered via mail in discrete and confidential packaging. JGN subscribers were located not only in Jamaica but also across North America and Europe. Through its relationships with gay organizations in other countries, GFM also participated in subscription exchanges with newsletters such as the Gay Community News in the United States, the Body Politic in Canada, and Gay Scotland in Scotland. Offshore JGN readers included not only foreigners but Jamaicans living in the diaspora who both subscribed and contributed their writing to be included in GFM’s newsletter.

 

Making the collection

Records of GFM and JGN exist in Jamaica at the National Library of Jamaica; in Canada at the ArQuives in Toronto; in the Netherlands at the IHLIA LGBT Heritage in Amsterdam; and in the United States at the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture in New York, and the Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. The collection of all 81 issues of JGN assembled here are drawn from the ArQuives, IHLIA LGBTI Heritage, and Larry Chang’s personal archives. While the IHLIA LGBTI Heritage sent pdf copies of three JGN issues, I photographed each page of the remaining seventy-eight print issues of JGN from the ArQuives and Chang’s personal collection. Vidyaratha Kissoon of the Caribbean International Resource Network processed these images and uploaded them onto the Digital Library of the Caribbean. I am eternally grateful to Chang for permitting access to his archives and for allowing the digital publication of JGN. I would also like to thank the staff at the ArQuives and the IHLIA LGBTI Heritage for their help in locating JGN materials. Kissoon’s tremendous support was also invaluable in getting JGN online.

In discussing the logistics of putting JGN online, Kissoon and I discussed how to navigate the issue of confidentiality. As an anthropologist whose previous experience involved engaging with interlocutors before writing about them, I was in uncharted territory in considering publicizing information about individuals I had not met and from whom I had not personally sought permission. I was concerned about the potential negative repercussions of this online publication for those included in JGN’s pages. Kara Keeling (2009)1 notes that it is important to both “look for” and “look after” the individuals that become the subjects of historical inquiry. If locating GFM and JGN materials was a success in “looking for” Jamaican queer subjects, would publicizing these materials result in failing to “looking after” them? Kissoon noted however that JGN was not a private collection. It was a published newsletter that sought to reach and succeeded in reaching same gender desiring Jamaicans, Jamaican society in general, international audiences. JGN was also intensely aware about consent and confidentiality. Its editorial policy stated that “The names of members of the community are not to be published in full without written permission. Instead, their first name and first initial of their surname is to be used e.g. Peter B except in cases where the first name is very unusual.” The newsletter also included a statement from time to time that “the appearance of names in the Jamaica Gaily News does not indicate sexual preference”

Kissoon and I realized that it was important for us to trust JGN’s editorial process and that failing to do could be problematic. Should we attempt to redact names that JGN had published, we would perhaps be going against the wishes of individuals who wanted their names to appear in GFM’s newsletter. Such acts of redaction perhaps also reproduced stigma against same-gender desire by assuming that association with a gay publication would necessarily be interpreted negatively. Finally, the fact that institutions such as the ArQuives in Canada or the IHLIA LGBTI Heritage in the Netherlands did not restrict access to JGN issues or redact its content would mean that, if the DLOC were to do so, information about GFM and JGN would be more accessible in North American and European institutions than in Caribbean digital spaces. Unequal power relations are already at play in the way that historical materials of the Caribbean are more likely to be found in European institutions of empire than within the region itself.

Though the politics of gender and sexuality are not the same across these different spaces, we did not want to reproduce these colonial dynamics by censoring JGN. We thus chose to upload the entire JGN collection without altering its contents.

1 Keeling, K. (2009). LOOKING FOR M— Queer Temporality, Black Political Possibility, and Poetry from the Future. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies15(4), 565-582.  

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Feel free to email us at caribbeanirn@gmail.com for any questions about the GFM collection.